When you were a kid, the sanitary status of ball pits probably never crossed your mind. After you finished your Happy Meal, you headed straight to the McDonald’s PlayPlace and jumped right in!
Ball pits have been a beloved attraction at fast food restaurants, children’s play centers, theme parks, and arcades since the 1970s. While their popularity has drastically declined over the last decade or two, they’re not dead yet. You can still find them here and there—you can even put one in your own home!
What dragged them down? Concerns about cleanliness, mostly. But there are actually ample benefits of ball pits, especially for little ones! On the other hand, ball pit dangers are worth considering as well.
All in all, are ball pits dangerous? Let’s dive in and find out!
Benefits of Ball Pits
In addition to being just plain fun, there are many benefits of ball pits for little ones:
Refined Motor Skills
Playing around in ball pits refines multiple motor skills and muscle groups for children.
Jumping into, “swimming” through, and maneuvering around ball pits utilizes children’s greater muscle strength, putting their gross motor skills to work.
Smaller movements of the fingers, hands, and wrists—like sorting, counting, grabbing, throwing, and catching balls—stimulate development of children’s fine motor skills. Ball pits help to make that happen, too!
Nothing but your child and a pit full of plastic balls means your child can confidently take control of playtime! Maybe they’ll be a mermaid swimming in the sea. Or perhaps they’ll be a pirate on the hunt for gold!
Whatever imaginary mission they embark on, leaving your child to play in a ball pit encourages them to explore their creativity.
Improved Social Skills
Either in a public place or with friends at home, ball pits offer an opportunity for children to accomplish common goals together. Counting balls, taking turns jumping in, assigning and completing tasks, and communicating with one another are all valuable parts of playtime—and social skill development.
Besides jumping in and “splashing” around, there’s so much more your child can do in a ball pit. You can even join in on the fun!
Hide toys in the ball pit for them to find, or ask them to count and sort the balls by color or size. Playtime just got smarter!
Enhanced Balance & Coordination
Turn playtime into an opportunity for improved balance and coordination! Add a slide, small platform, or incorporate other elements to create an obstacle course.
Ball Pit Dangers
As it turns out, those tales added up to little more than urban legend. However, there are still a handful of ball pit dangers to consider before letting your little one loose:
While children cannot truly “drown” in a waterless ball pit, they can become stuck or trapped.
If older children are playing alongside younger children, there may be some accidental falls that endanger kids of a smaller size. Less-coordinated children could also lose their footing, take a tumble, and struggle to get back up.
Ensuring the ball pit is limited to children close in age and size will help prevent injuries and other scares. Choosing shallow ball pits and maintaining supervision at all times will also help!
Bacteria & Sickness
The primary concern that led to the demise of public ball pits? Sanitation. (Rather, the lack thereof.)
Like any other playground, there’s bound to be bacteria and other germs all over any ball pit. Children put things in their mouth and touch everything they can get their hands on! Also like most playgrounds, ball pits aren’t properly cleaned or sanitized on a regular basis—if ever.
But Dr. Frank Esper, a physician at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Pediatric Infectious Diseases, had this to say about ball pits: “A lot of bacteria can live in ball pits. The majority of the bacteria itself . . . is normally found on your skin . . . in your mouth, and . . . in your gut.”
He recommends “washing your hands before and after jumping into a ball pit, understanding that they [your children] will get exposed to germs in a ball pit just like they would be exposed to germs at any playground facility.”
To really put parents at ease, he ends with, “Nearly everybody who jumps into a ball pit is going to be fine when they come out of the ball pit!”
While your child may wind up with a case of the sniffles a few days later, they’ll only be building the strength of their immune system. Unless your child suffers from serious health concerns or a compromised immune system, ball pits aren’t any more threatening to their health than another public play area.
So, Are Ball Pits Safe?
For most healthy children, yes! Ball pits are plenty safe as long as parental supervision is nearby. To make sure your child is ready for ball pit play—particularly in a public place—consider these points:
- Can your child sit in the ball pit without their face being covered by plastic balls? Make sure they have plenty of space to breathe.
- Is your child claustrophobic? Being in a ball pit might make them anxious.
- Does your child have any health concerns? A weakened immune system may not be able to handle a ball pit.
- Is your child toilet trained? An accident in a ball pit can be supremely messy!
Ultimately, ball pits are not inherently dangerous. But as far as cleanliness and crowd control are concerned, a ball pit in your home is the safest way to go.
Jump in and have a ball!
And for more parenting tips, be sure to check back on the Troomi blog! Troomi is dedicated to helping you keep your kiddos safe in the real world and online.