Grain isn’t child’s play: Concern raised about corn play areas

2012-11-01T14:58:00Z Grain isn’t child’s play: Concern raised about corn play areasBy Jane Fyksen, Crops Editor Agri-View
November 01, 2012 2:58 pm  • 

It’s not uncommon to see wading pools or sandboxes filled with shelled corn for youngsters to play in at fall harvest festivals and other agri-tourism events, fairs, on-farm breakfasts, and other fun family activities with “country” flavor. While appearing to be a harmless form of entertainment and way to promote one of Wisconsin’s agricultural products, these in-grain play areas for kids are actually a really bad idea.

When Sara Sievert, DePere, a former Iowa farm kid who works in the agricultural industry in Wisconsin, expressed dismay about these kiddy pools of grain to Agri-View and her perception that young children probably don’t have the ability to separate the very real danger of the grain they might encounter on a real working farm with the grain they were encouraged to play in at some ag promotional event, this newspaper decided to contact some farm safety organizations to see whether or not the experts agreed. Not only do they concur with Sievert’s opinion, but they also brought up that having been exposed to one of these grain play boxes may actually attract youngsters to play in larger quantities of grain they encounter on a working farm – with potentially deadly consequences.

Sievert says she gets pretty riled when she sees sand boxes filled with shelled corn promoted as play areas at pumpkin patches, corn maizes and the like. She tells Agri-View that she personally knows of adults and children who have died in farm accidents, specifically in grain bins and grain wagons. Further, when kids go through farm safety training, one of the main areas of on-farm danger they’re warned about is the “danger of shelled corn” (and other flowing grain). Yet at the same time, Sievert says preschoolers are learning that piles of shelled corn are a “fun thing” to be enjoyed. She’s frankly surprised this is the case.

“I’m not a mom,” Sievert tells Agri-View. Nevertheless she questions whether 2 and 3-year-olds “have the ability” to differentiate between grain in a play area and grain being handled or stored on farms. “I don’t think kids have the ability to separate the danger from fun,” she remarks.

Scott Heiberger, communications director for the National Farm Medicine Center in Marshfield, thinks Sievert’s concern is right on.

“We (the farm safety experts at the Farm Medicine Center) agree that ‘sandboxes’ or other activities that involve playing in grain or corn are never recommended” for the following reasons: First, they “desensitize” kids to the actual dangers of grain, and second, they may even provoke an attractant reaction in youngsters to something that “can get them in a lot of trouble.”

Heiberger stresses that children have no place climbing on gravity-flow wagons and other vehicles, in addition to grain bins. They definitely should be forbidden from playing in hopper wagons and big piles of grain. Grain flow can cover them quickly – before they realize what’s happening. It only takes several seconds for an adult to be rendered helpless in flowing grain. It takes less than 20 seconds to be completely submerged in flowing grain.

Heiberger shares a poster from the North American Guidelines for Children’s Agricultural Tasks focused on youth working with grain (

These guidelines involving kids working in agriculture were developed because children can grow up right before our eyes and each child has unique characteristics that develop over time. Because every child’s growth and development is different, these recommendations for children’s agricultural chores are not based on age. By using these guidelines farm parents and grandparents can match up a child’s growth and development with the requirements of different farm chores. Ideally children and teenagers will gain meaningful work experience with less risk of farm related disease or injury. Each farm chore covered in the NAGCAT recommendations include adult responsibilities – steps that should be taken to make sure the work setting is safe.

There are checklists to help evaluate a child’s abilities. Farmers can learn about training and adult supervision needed. They can see a picture of the chore being done in a safe manner. Go online to

Heiberger adds that grain safety will be prominently featured at an upcoming major farm safety conference in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The Midwest rural Agriculture Safety and Health Conference will be held Nov. 14-16 (

Tracy Schlater, marketing director for Farm Safety 4 Just Kids ( The Urbandale, Iowa-based organization founded 25 years ago by Iowa farm woman Marilyn Adams after her 11-year-old son was killed in a wagon of grain. Since 1987, Farm Safety 4 Just Kids has promoted farm safety to over six million people through local programs and education. Schlater says the blog encourages exchanges on protecting families on farms.

She says using corn as something to play in is “encouraging something dangerous” (in a real-life farm setting). While these corn boxes make for cute photos of kids playing in golden corn, and they may even foster an “idyllic image” of farming and agriculture, Schlater says that “ultimately, they’re probably not the best place for kids to be playing.”

FS4JK has established a network of over 120 local chapters across the U.S. and Canada that offer farm safety presentations on a local level. In addition, outreach coordinators cover nine different states. In the past 25 years, over 35,600 volunteers have donated over 280,000 hours of their time. FS4JK is funded by corporate sponsors and individual donors. Its website is packed with materials to deliver farm safety messages to children.

Earlier this year, FS4JK’s blog featured concern similar to Sievert’s regarding “corn pools” for entertaining children at county fairs, summer festivals, pumpkin patches, apple orchards and other locations (

Though innocently all in good fun, from a farm safety perspective, FS4JK highlights that in “a different situation that same fun could be dangerous – even deadly.” It’s suggested this type of play undermines grain safety lessons and sets a bad example.

When farm parents encounter these in-grain play areas, they might take the opportunity to initiate conversation with their children about the danger of playing in grain, definitely explaining the difference between the corn at a community event and corn in wagons back home in the farm yard, FS4JK advises.

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