Putting a jungle gym in your backyard is a great way to give your kids something to do other than sit inside staring at screens all day.
The kinds of features and activities found in jungle gyms promote health and wellness, inspire creative expression, and aid in developing crucial problem-solving skills. They serve to burn off pent-up energy, too, which is no small benefit come bedtime.
Many parents, however, worry that they might also present a risk of injury.
Despite their somewhat undeserved reputation as boo-boo factories, jungle gyms are actually pretty harmless—provided they’re properly maintained and used in a (more or less) cautious manner.
The following guide will help you minimize the threat level of your home jungle gym and make sure that your kids’ playtime is as safe and enriching as possible.
Are Jungle Gyms Safe for Your Kids?
According to the National Safety Council, ER doctors treat more than 200,000 children for playground-related injuries each year. Of these, over 30% are related to structures like jungle gyms. Yikes.
Some of the most common injuries sustained on playgrounds include:
- Cuts, scrapes, and bruises
- Black eyes
- Sprained ankles
- Muscle pulls and strains
These sorts of bang-ups are often pretty minor and not altogether out of the ordinary for children of prime playing age. That said, jungle gyms have been known to contribute to more severe injuries, such as:
- Severe lacerations and contusions
- Fractured or broken bones
- Concussions and other forms of brain trauma
- Strangulation resulting from snagged or tangled clothing
In light of these statistics, it’s not hard to understand why some parents break into a cold sweat when they see their little ones racing excitedly toward the monkey bars.
Like most manufactured inventions, though, jungle gyms are only as dangerous as you allow them to be. While they do come with their share of inherent hazards, in reality, they’re no more menacing a form of recreation than, say, participating in youth sports, jumping on the bed, or taking a running dive at a Slip’ N Slide.
Let’s face it: the world is a pretty rough place. And while it’s natural to want to shield our offspring from harm, putting them in a bubble and strictly forbidding all chance-taking behavior, including the constructive variety, can ultimately do them a disservice.
Furthermore, the advantages that jungle gyms offer growing children can’t be overlooked. These are so significant that they deserve their own list:
- Improved coordination, balance, and agility
- Increased muscular strength
- Enhanced learning and cognitive function
- Strong emphasis on creativity and imagination
- Exposure to basic risk-management and problem-solving situations
- Heightened sense of self-confidence
- Opportunity for family bonding and socializing with friends
In our opinion, the “pros” of letting your kids tap into their inner Tarzan vastly outnumber the “cons,” which essentially boil down to the possibility of injury.
Still, it’s worth acknowledging the kinds of worst-case scenarios that fretful parents have floating around in their heads, as most of them are entirely avoidable with a bit of foresight.
Playground safety is primarily a matter of prevention. In the next section, we’ll be going over some simple ways to disaster-proof your jungle gym.
Jungle Gym Safety Checklist
If you’re going to let your monkeys go ape (which we highly recommend—it’s good for them), be sure to implement these common-sense safety measures. Most of these tips are things you should be doing already, but it never hurts to have a helpful refresher.
Provide Some Forgiving Ground Cover
Nearly 80% of serious playground injuries result from falls. Therefore, your first order of business should be to give your rugrats a soft place to land should they happen to take an unexpected spill.
The best way to do this is to cushion the ground surrounding your jungle gym with rubber flooring, like the type found at school playgrounds and community parks. This type of ground cover is ideal because it absorbs impact well, stays locked in place at all times, and offers excellent traction underfoot.
If rubber mats aren’t an option, your next best bet is to put down a thick layer of mulch, wood chips, sand, straw, or pea gravel. Be sure to pile loose materials like these to a minimum depth of 12″ to ensure maximum protection.
Stay on Top of Regular Maintenance
Loose bars, wobbly posts, and rusted metal components are all accidents waiting to happen.
Fortunately, keeping your home jungle gym in sound condition is generally as simple as performing routine safety inspections and tightening a few bolts every once in a while.
While examining your jungle gym, keep an eye out for red flags like:
- Loose bars, grips, or handles
- Wobbly frames or posts
- Rusty metal components
- Rot, corrosion, or other deterioration
If you bought your jungle gym used or have had it for a while, it may also be time to replace features and accessories showing visible wear. You should have no problem figuring out how to install the new parts—the majority of these contraptions aren’t overly complicated in terms of construction.
Check the Weather Forecast
Jungle gym surfaces can become extremely slick after a downpour, freeze, or even a heavy fog.
For this reason, we recommend making your jungle gym a no-fly zone until it’s had a chance to dry out completely (unless you’re willing to spend half an hour wiping down every part of the structure with a bath towel, that is).
You’ll no doubt hear plenty of bellyaching over this rule, to the point where you may be tempted to give in. Don’t. We know you don’t want to rain on your kids’ proverbial parade, but the sting of disappointment is much shorter-lived than the sting of a dislocated shoulder.
Make Sure Your Structure is Suitable
Not all jungle gyms are created equal.
Some are designed to give toddlers their first taste of hands-on exploration. Others are made with bigger, heavier, rangier adolescents in mind. Letting one group run amok on a structure intended for another can have disastrous consequences.
Before you give your kids free reign over your home jungle gym, double-check the age range and weight limit it was built to accommodate. You can usually find this information in the product description on the website from which you ordered it.
Assuming it’s too small to support safely, you’ll have no choice but to trade it in for a sturdier model.
Limit the Number of Kids Playing at One Time
As much of a hoot as it may be for your little hellions to bum rush the jungle gym with a dozen of their closest playmates, the chaos that ensues can easily lead to bumped noggins, scraped elbows, or worse.
A good rule of thumb is to only allow two to three children on a given feature at once, depending on its size and weight limit. This guideline leaves some wiggle room for your specific play-place, as well as the particular makeup of your family unit.
For example, there’s no harm in several ankle-biters sharing the climbing dome, so long as they’re not roughhousing. The “one-person-on-the-slide-at-a-time” rule, on the other hand, exists for a reason.
Teach Your Kids to Use Each Feature Safely
Don’t just turn your tots loose on the jungle gym with no rules or guidance. Show them how it’s done.
By teaching them responsible play habits—like waiting their turn and giving other users who are already in motion the right-of-way—and setting an example for them to emulate, you’ll effectively be giving them the ability to safeguard themselves from danger.
Plus, none of the paltry pleasures of adulthood can compete with the childlike joy that comes from teaching your progeny how to traverse the monkey bars or hang upside down by their knees. Who knows? With enough practice, your mini-me might grow up to become the next Ninja Warrior.
Lastly, and perhaps most obviously, you should always make it a point to stick close to your kids and keep an eye on them while they play, especially when they’re younger. That way, you can be on standby in case they lose their footing or need assistance navigating some confusing obstacle.
That’s not to say that you can’t ever let them out of your sight. Just make sure you’re around to prevent the occasional mishaps that are bound to occur in spite of all the other precautions you’ve taken.
No parent likes the idea of their child getting hurt. But we should like the idea of them not being able to exercise their full range of faculties even less, and they can’t reap the rewards of open-ended physical activity without braving a few risks.
Take it from us—those risks aren’t anywhere near significant enough to outweigh the good that can come from encouraging them to get into the swing of things. If you’re considering getting a jungle gym, make sure to check out our backyard jungle gym buying guide for all the other considerations besides safety that you should factor in to your decision.