By Emma Wunsch
Ahhh, signs warning of frost heaves, giant melted snow puddles in parking lots, and mud, mud, mud. Welcome to spring in the Upper Valley. While snow-free days and above freezing temperatures might make you dig out the Crocs and send the kids outside, spring in the Upper Valley can come with its own set of safety issues. Here are some tips from the experts about spring safety for your family.
Parents can learn a lot from Elise Thayer. Thayer, the founder and administrator of the Montessori Discovery School in Lebanon, N.H., has been supervising children for more than 18 years. For her students to be especially safe on the school playground, younger children (3 and 4) are only permitted on the smaller structures that don’t have monkey bars, high slides or any balancing activities. Older children can use the bigger structures but are always closely monitored by the school’s staff. Constant supervision means that the school’s staff will notice if a swing seems loose or a slide gets a crack.
In addition to checking your backyard slides and swings, spring is also the time to check and possibly replenish the surface underneath a play structure. Mother of two and Dartmouth-Hitchcock pediatrician Tricia Groff says that wood chips, a common cover for playgrounds, “work well to break a fall.”
Groff says one of the most common, preventable playground injuries she encounters is a parent riding a slide with a child in their lap. While this may seem safe, Groff says that having the adult with them can cause a child’s leg to get caught on the slide and “easily break.”
While running around in the fresh grass can be a wonderful respite from winter, spring is the beginning of tick season in the Upper Valley. Ticks are small insects that live on the blood of mammals, birds and sometimes reptiles and amphibians. They are carriers of a number of infectious diseases, including Lyme disease. Symptoms range from headaches and fatigue to a circular rash and fever.
Groff recommends “nightly head-to-toe tick checking during the spring to fall months because as long as a tick is not in place for more than 36 hours, it is unlikely to transmit Lyme disease.” Groff also thinks the head-to-toe checks are important because they can help parents “catch the rash of Lyme disease (target lesion) early on.” Lyme disease caught early can often be successfully treated with antibiotics.
Spring is the time to get kids back on their bikes, but before you send them on their way, you want to make sure that their bikes are 100 percent safe. Jonathan Wilmot, one of the owners of the Omer and Bob’s Sport Shop in Lebanon, N.H., has a few recommendations for children to be as safe as possible on their bikes. First, squeeze the tires to be certain that there’s enough air. After sitting unused all winter, it’s common for tires to be flat. Also, parents should test their child’s bike’s brakes before allowing their child to ride.
Bike helmet laws for minors vary from state to state, but it’s undisputed that bike helmets make riding infinitely safer. Generally, bike helmet manufacturers recommend replacing bike helmets every three to five years. Wilmot says it’s the small impact damage, like being thrown on a hard surface, that can undermine a helmet’s strength, so look to make sure there’s no visible damage.
The other crucial part of helmet safety is making sure that they cover the child’s forehead. Wilmot says he often sees children with their “foreheads exposed” because their bike helmets have been “perched on the top of the child’s head like a bird’s nest.” According to Wilmot a good rule of thumb for helmet placement is to “have the front of the helmet be a finger width above the eyebrow.”
Bike helmets come in three sizes: child, toddler and youth and, unlike clothes, helmet size does not strictly go by age. Wilmot has seen some 6 year olds with the same head sizes as 12 year olds so making sure a helmet fits is essential for optimum safety. If the helmet has a dial adjust fit system, it should be adjusted up snugly so the helmet will not easily move out of position and helmet straps should also be adjusted so they are comfortable around the ears and snug under the chin. Wilmot says parents should trust their instincts and if a helmet “looks small it probably is.”
In addition to properly maintained bikes and low-fitting helmets, Wilmot recommends getting your child a pair of gloves, especially if they are new to riding. He says that the gloves can help keep bike riding more positive since it’s common for kids to fall and cut up their hands. Gloves that prevent minor scrapes and cuts can help a kid get back on his bike long into spring.
Emma Wunsch lives with her husband and two daughters in Lebanon, N.H. She works in donor relations at Dartmouth Hillel and writes fiction in her free time.