It’s time to go outside. Children love the outdoors, with its puddles to play in and berries to eat. However, as a homeowner, you also need to be responsible and create an outdoor space that’s easy to supervise and relatively safe for children. While bumps and bruises from exploration are the stuff of childhood, you need to make sure that no child will get seriously hurt in your garden. Whether you’re welcoming a new baby, moving into a new home, or you like to entertain families with children, it’s your responsibility to make sure that your garden is safe for them. How can you child-proof your outdoor living space?
Watch Ponds and Pools
Water is a beautiful feature to have in your garden. For adults, it’s a pleasure to sit next to a small water fountain or a pond. Having a pool in your garden can help make it a relaxing place to spend time, and it can be a delight for children to grow up in an environment where they can live and play outdoors all summer. However, water is also dangerous, and younger children need to be supervised around water features, no matter how small the pond or fountain. Watch children around small water features, and use fencing, metal mesh, or a sculptural pond cover to prevent children from accessing the pool or a pond without an adult present. Ask for expert advice about the product that would best suit your water feature or pool, as all ponds and pools are different sizes and have different levels of accessibility and danger to children.
Mind the Stairs
You use baby gates to lock off the steep stairs inside your home, but when it comes to staircases outdoors, are you thinking about safety? While older children can easily navigate your garden landscape, younger children and toddlers need careful observation. Children need places to climb and explore, but you want to avoid having them fall down an embankment or a tall set of stairs.
If you have porches, patios, and stairs, make sure that they have railings if they’re off the ground. Inspect these railings frequently to look for rot, so that adults and children are safe in your outdoor living space. Check to make sure that the spaces between the railings are not so large that children can fall through or get their head stuck in the crack. If your porch has a crawl space underneath, block it off unless you want animals and small children to play underneath.
Lock Up Chemicals
If you’re trying to keep your lawn and garden tidy, you may have a selection of garden amendments. These include fertilizers and pesticides, but they can also include other outdoor items, such as pool chemicals. If you store chemicals, make sure that you store them out of the reach of small children. This includes many substances, even those that are natural or organic. Eating a load of kelp meal may not be toxic, but it probably is not good for your toddler. Make sure that the items that you house in your garden are nontoxic to children as well. According to Parents.com, “older pressure-treated wood, (can be) found in sandboxes, playgrounds, swing sets, and decks. Pressure-treated wood can usually be identified by the numerous short slits cut into the surface.” This wood is a source of chemical exposure for children, specifically arsenic.
Find a Safe Place for Equipment
You remember those days of getting paid to mow your neighbor’s lawn. How exciting it was to make some money doing a real job. However, for children who are too young to use equipment properly, mowers and other lawn and garden equipment can be dangerous, even to older children who may be more likely to find it and play with it. Keep garden equipment in a locked shed, and model its safe use to children, letting them know how old they need to be before they can use it to maintain the garden.
Consider What You Plant
Your garden is beautiful, but is it also deadly? Many plants are not safe to eat. Some toxic garden plants include:
- Lily of the valley
- Mountain Laurel
Other planets are not toxic but contain small, interesting-looking pieces that look edible, such as bitter cherries. These can be attractive to small children, and they can be choking hazards.
If your garden contains toxic shrubs, bulbs, or other permanent plants that are dangerous, you can either educate your older children about the dangers or fence off areas so that younger children can’t access them until they’re old enough to understand. What should you plant instead? Consider planting edible plants such as lettuce, kale, or larger plants such as blueberry or raspberry bushes. Remember that some edibles such as potatoes and tomatoes also have dangerous parts. If your children are at an age when they eat everything in sight, it’s better to lean toward the edible, at least for a time.
Watch Your Wilderness
If you’re lucky enough to have a larger outdoor space, you may have some wilder parts of your property or your garden. These are ideal places for children to roam and play, and they’ll quite possibly be the home for some of your children’s best memories. However, you also need to make sure that they’re at least somewhat safe. Set boundaries around access to these areas if they contain ponds or fast-flowing rivers. Let children know about potential wildlife encounters and about plants that could be toxic to eat or potentially itch-inducing, such as poison ivy. One key safety check you can do is to take a look at the trees in your forested areas and around your garden. Assess them seasonally, looking for branches that might drop and looking for trees that are entirely rotten. This will not only protect the children who play underneath them, it can also protect your home if the trees are close to your home.
Deter Over-Enthusiastic Animals
Is your garden a haven for birds and other animals? If so, it’s an ideal environment for a child to grow up as an engaged nature lover, but you also need to be conscious of what animals you invite in, and when. If you let debris pile up in your gutters, wasps can use this debris as a starting point for a nest.
- Aggressive raccoons who come for the garbage or cat food
- Skunks, who can be smelly and problematic for both humans and dogs
- Crows or other birds that tend to be very territorial about their nest
- Wasps, who build a home and defend it by stinging
- Foxes and coyotes who are attracted by old food or rats
- Mosquitoes, who breed in standing water such as old children’s toys and tire swings
If you have children who frequent your garden, it’s even more important to monitor your relationship with the local animals. Keep the area around your home clean and free of debris, close up holes under patios and stairs to prevent raccoons and skunks from nesting, and add gutter covers or clean your gutters to prevent wasp nests.
Keep Your Pathways Safe
In addition to watching your stairs, you also need to maintain the flatter surfaces in your garden. If you have babies or toddlers or they visit regularly, look for pathway or landscaping materials that can act as choking hazards, such as bark mulch and pea gravel.
Pathways also need to be maintained. Clean up debris from pathways after storms, and repair large holes that act as tripping hazards for adults and children alike. Make sure that your landscape slopes away from pathways so that they don’t get extremely slick and muddy after a rain. If your gutters are clogged and water is moving toward the pathways, clean them out and add gutter covers to prevent future problems.
Maintain Child-Friendly Equipment
Do your children love trampolines? Do they enjoy swinging on the swing set? As a homeowner, it’s your responsibility to keep your play equipment clean and well-maintained. Check out that equipment on a regular basis. For example, according to the American Association of Pediatrics as quoted in Healthy Children, if your children use a trampoline, they require:
- Adult supervision
- One jumper at a time
- No somersaults
- Protective padding on the trampoline
- Equipment that’s checked, repaired and replaced as necessary
Do the same for all of your play equipment. Perform regular, seasonal checks of all child play equipment and other durable items such as benches. This will help keep everyone safe in your garden, including children.
At Harry Helmet, we’re here to help keep your home and family safe. We’re happy to offer you a selection of home renovation products that will help you maintain your roof, shade your home, and manage the flow of water around your home. Contact us today to learn more about gutter guards, patio awnings, and roofing.