National Program for Playground Safety

National Program for Playground Safety

The National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS) was founded in 1995 by Dr. Donna Thompson of the University of Northern Iowa with a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As a non-profit organization, NPPS is committed to research and safety education for both the public and the playground industry. NPPS is guided by the following goals:

  • To act as the clearinghouse for materials on playground safety
  • To educate the public on issues of playground safety and make information readily available
  • To develop and conduct training programs for playground personnel and the public covering playground design, age-appropriateness, maintenance, and supervision
  • To conduct on-going research on playground surfaces and playground injuries1

In keeping with these goals, NPPS developed a “National Action Plan for the Prevention of Playground Injuries” which is based on four elements of playground safety: S.A.F.E.Supervision, Age-Appropriate, Fall Surface, and Equipment Maintenance. Supervision means that adults need to be present and observant when children are playing. It also means that rules are posted that state that adult supervision is recommended. Age-Appropriate design means that there are separate play areas for children aged 6 months to 23 months, 2-5 years old, and 5-12 years with signs to explain the play areas. Fall Surface means that loose fill surfaces (sand, pea gravel, wood products, or shredded rubber) need to be 12 inches deep or the fall surface needs to be some other form of soft material, such as rubber mats or poured-in-place rubber. Equipment Maintenance means all play surfaces should be smooth without rust or splinters and all equipment in good working order.

By setting standards in each of these areas in straight-forward and easy to understand language, NPPS began to spread the word among the public education system, parents, and civic leaders about playground safety for new as well as existing structures.

In 1997, NPPS started their Safety School to offer more in-depth playground safety learning for those in the playground industry, educational system, and civic entities. Originally being hosted at the University of Northern Iowa and now held at NPPS's headquarters in Cedar Falls, Iowa, this three and a half day school teaches recognition of playground safety problems and how to prevent injuries through rules on acceptable playground behavior, play supervision, playground equipment issues, and encouraging good playground design.

In addition to the NPPS Safety School, NPPS offers a growing selection of online trainings for “school administrators, teachers, nurses, child care specialists, park and recreational professionals, risk managers, military personnel, and federal, state, and county officials.”2 Currently, there are courses offered for Child Care Providers and Elementary Schools.

NPPS offers three other levels of safety education:  Awareness Training, which is a half day school; Focus Training, which is a one day school; and Intensive Training, which is a two day school. A consulting service is also available.

For educating the children about playground safety, NPPS has the Kidd brothers who inspired, introduced, and promoted the NPPS's Kids' Checker program that came out in 2002. In 1994 Andrew Kidd was seriously injured on a playground and needed 15 surgeries to heal. Because of this, Andrew joined NPPS to promote playground safety. In 2000, Andrew's brother, John, had a serious fall at a playground but was not seriously hurt due to the soft surfacing. Together they teach playground safety, give interviews, and promote the Kids' Checker Checklist.

Using an interactive and kid-friendly web site,3 the Kids' Checker program teaches the S.A.F.E. Program and gives them a way to evaluate their own play areas. The Kids' Checker Checklist evaluation involves simple math skills and everyday measuring tools, such as dollar bills, dimes, and their bodies, to assess playground safety. With these tools the kids check for head entrapment hazards, dangerous S-hook openings, depth of surfacing, and height of equipment. These kid evaluations and others on the one page Safety Report Card Checklist are given to the responsible supervisors of that facility for necessary corrections.

For younger children, NPPS offers a video/DVD, Sammy's Playground Pointers, which teaches grades K-3 through “music, drama, humor and rhyme.”4 For all ages there are also books, brochures, videos, CD-ROMs, and assessment kits for assistance and information and even lapel pins, hats, and T-shirts for fun or fund raising. They also have suggestions for fundraising.

In 1997, NPPS started the National Playground Safety Week each April, giving the nation a time to yearly assess playground safety and express gratitude to those who are making playgrounds safer. The number of states participating has grown from two to as many as 45. There were 30 participating in 2010.

Since 2002, NPPS has awarded the Ahrens Playground Safety Advocate of the Year Award for an individual that is making children safer on playgrounds. In 2005 they began awarding the John Preston Playground Safety Award for organizations or agencies that are creating safe play spaces.

Additionally, in 2000, NPPS gave report cards to the United States in general and each state specifically concerning their schools, child care, and park playgrounds. New report cards were given again in 2010 with the United States generally improving from a C grade to a C+ grade.

Starting in 2001, NPPS published Playground Safety News, a newsletter with suggestions, success stories, announcements, playground news, and further safety helps. Since 2005, the newsletter is available in an on-line format on their website. NPPS's website also has resources for child care, schools, residential sites, and youth organizations, including a way to submit specific questions about play area safety.

One of NPPS's original goals was to further research that addressed playground surfaces and injuries. In 2004, NPPS was awarded a $500,000 grant from the Iowa Legislature to study the safety of playground surfacing material manufactured in Iowa. This research grant, called the Iowa SAFE Surfacing Initiative (ISSI), was specifically about the concern of surfacing mats made from recycled tires. Though 97% of the grant money was used to purchase and install rubber mats in schools and state parks in Iowa, injury data for before and after installation was also collected. Research findings indicated that with proper playground training and education, injuries can be reduced by 50%.

Data collected nationwide on injuries, demographics of injuries, and equipment and injuries is posted on their web site for ready reference.

Today, NPPS continues to advocate that every child has the right to play, that all children need to learn to play and play to learn, and that every child is entitled to a safe, positive, nurturing, and fun play experience in the play environment.5

  • 1. NPPS publication: About the National Program for Playground Safety 9 Aug. 2010.
  • 2. “Training.” NPPS. < > 9 Aug. 2010.
  • 3. < > 9 Aug. 2010.
  • 4. “Playground Pointers.” NPPS. < > 9 Aug. 2010.
  • 5. “About NPPS – Our Mission.” NPPS. < > 9 Aug. 2010.