How to Make a Pond Safe for Toddlers (ChildProof Methods)

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How to Make a Pond Safe for Toddlers (ChildProof Pond Methods)

Child with mother and grandmother by a pond
Ponds are a great learning tool for children to learn about nature and animals, but there are also risks if they’re left unsupervised. Image by Ron Porter from Pixabay

Garden ponds are a great learning tool to introduce young children to the wonderful world of nature. By observing animals and plants, they can develop firm respect for the environment. Children begin to recognize ecological connections from a tender age, and their initial experiences with wildlife may influence their eventual passions and interests.

While we ourselves can re-establish our interest in ponds through the curious eyes of a child, we must remember that exposing toddlers to them does come with many dangers. Though seemingly harmless to us, even a shallow garden pond can become extremely hazardous when freely accessed by unsupervised children. Keep in mind that toddlers can drown in as little as a few inches of water. Every year, hundreds of children in the US perish due to drowning incidents.

Some pond enthusiasts opt to fill-in their garden ponds once a child becomes a permanent member of their homes. While this is the surest way of preventing pond-related accidents, it unfortunately comes with the loss of such a beautiful garden resource. This doesn’t always have to be the only form of danger prevention. It’s possible to childproof a pond, though full effectiveness does require consistent child supervision. This involves making use of a combination of barrier materials and natural tools.

Design Features for Child Safety

1) Thick mesh

Pond with a thick mesh cover
You can place thick, sturdy mesh on top of your pond to stop toddlers from falling into it. Fiona Redhead / CC BY 2.0

A thick and sturdy metal mesh, such as the type used to reinforce concrete, can be placed on top of a pond to prevent anything from falling into the water. The mesh size needs to be small, as larger holes are a hazard to any small objects that may move above the metal. This type of barrier permits the growth of marginal and floating plants, as sunlight is not blocked off completely. Moreover, it should still allow for observing and feeding fish.

As a plus, a thick mesh would prevent any curious fish from jumping out of the pond. It would also afford them protection from potential terrestrial predators. More importantly, it should support the weight of toddlers (and possibly the full weight of adults) without dipping into the water. For large ponds, certain segments of the mesh will have to be reinforced with a strengthening material, such as steel bars, to fortify the full width of the structure. The edges of the mesh will have to be secured with sturdy pegs or screws, depending on the qualities of your pond’s margins.

Avoid using chicken wire, bamboo, thin pond netting, and plastic fencing as these materials are unreliable. A major downside to this childproofing method is it is seldom aesthetically pleasing, especially as it must be level or higher than the water’s surface. It can also be bothersome to install and remove as needed.  Nonetheless, its contribution to child safety cannot be discounted. Even toddlers that attempt to stray into the pond itself should remain safe from the pond water.

2) Pond cover/netting

Pond with a cover over it
A pond cover serves 2 purposes at once: a pond fence & a sturdy net. Yortw / CC BY 2.0

A well-made pond cover or strong netting that creates a dome above the pond can be an attractive yet effective barrier. Creative Pond Covers is a UK-based company that produces handmade and bespoke metal covers for a wide assortment of water features. They have made it their mission to allow viewers to closely peer at a pond without the danger of falling into it. They can even create custom abstract designs for irregularly structured water features.

Unlike a thick mesh cover, a domed metal one discourages toddlers from attempting to step onto the pond’s surface. It serves the purpose of both a pond fence and a sturdy net in one. Pond viewers can easily peer through the gaps in between the metal spokes. Fish can be fed without the impediment of a mesh that directly lies on the water’s surface. Moreover, this childproofing method would allow pond enthusiasts to liberally decorate the pond with marginal and floating plants.  

3) Pond fence

Child by a pond fence
A low pond fence should prevent toddlers from getting into your pond, though try to make sure that there are no gaps at the bottom. Tony Wills, CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

A low pond fence placed around the perimeter of the entire pond should ideally prevent toddlers from coming to the water’s edge. The spaces in between the fence’s vertical spokes should be narrow enough to discourage young children from attempting to slip through them. The height of this vertical barrier should be at least a meter or higher depending on the child’s height. Make sure to use a sufficiently tall fence that older children can’t easily climb over.

There should be no gaps underneath the fence as children may attempt to squeeze through this space. Climbing aids, such as chairs, blocks of wood, and stepping stones should not be placed close to the fence structure. The gate of the fence must have some safety features as well. Ideally, the lock itself should be childproof and placed close to the top of the gate. The gate should open towards the garden instead of into the pond area and should have a mechanism that allows it to automatically return to its closed position once opened.

Though this type of barrier can ensure that toddlers don’t crawl to the pond’s edge, it can be visually unappealing and block out the entire pond. It can also be inconvenient to always have to make your way through the fence just to feed your fish or prune your pond plants. Still, it may be a cost-effective and easily removable means to childproof the pond and keep it bio-secure.

4) Elevated pond edges

Girl playing by a pond
Creating elevated edges with natural materials, such as stones and rocks, can help kids to not fall into your pond, but it is recommended to use other childproofing methods as well. Photo by Marko Milivojevic on Pixnio

A raised pond edge made of natural materials, such as boulders and stones, can help prevent children from falling into a pond. These have to be fully secured, however, as any loose materials can be just as detrimental as a freely accessed pond in the long run. Consider using cement to keep the raised edges in place. The marginal area just beyond the edge should be fairly shallow in case of any mishaps.

While this design feature can maintain the natural appearance of a garden pond, it is not an effective means of childproofing a pond. This will likely have to be used in combination with other childproofing tools.

5) Pond lighting

Garden pond at night lit up
Adding lights around the edges of your pond is helpful for both adults and children alike. Huw / CC BY-SA 2.0

For additional safety, especially at night or during winter, consider equipping your pond and garden with waterproof lights. This would help you keep an eye on anything that might be moving around the pond in the dark. Even without children, pond lights are always a good idea. Not only are they attractive but they can also help adults maneuver around the pond at night with ease. Think of the convenience the lights would provide as opposed to having to search for wandering children around the garden with just a flashlight.

6) Pool alarm

Koi pond
A pool alarm may be useful if there are children around, but it’s not ideal if you have a fish pond as their movement can falsely trigger the alarm. Bibi’s Culinary Journey / CC BY 2.0

A pool alarm system is usually triggered by surface waves or changes in water pressure. A device is mounted to the side of a pool or pond and its sensor usually sits just above the water or right at the surface. If a child falls into the water, the alarm is instantly triggered. This mechanism, though not entirely preventative of accidents, allows for a timely response that can save a child from drowning. Unfortunately, it is not ideal for wildlife or fish ponds as the movement of animals can trigger the alarm.

Dos and Don’ts for Pond Safety

Mother and child by a koi pond
The best way to keep kids safe by ponds is to supervise them at all times, but it’s also important to learn skills like CPR if there is ever an emergencyPatrick Denker / CC BY 2.0

The best way to keep your child safe outdoors will always be to provide close supervision at all times. Nothing beats the full attention of a caring parent, which the child will often look up to for guidance and protection in unfamiliar environments.

The childproofing methods above should only serve as safety measures to go hand-in-hand with supervision. They definitely should not serve as replacements for the watchful eye of an adult. Below are some important tips to help pond owners keep their children safe from pond-related accidents at all times.

  • Do not let young children get used to feeding the fish, even if they want to, as this may encourage them to frequently attempt sneaking off to the pond.
  • Do emphasize the need for safe practices in the garden. This should be done not only with young children, but with teenagers and young adults as well.
  • Do familiarize yourself with all the potential dangers that could occur and devise a plan of action in the event that they do.
  • Do enforce rules about proper behavior around a pond.
  • Do learn CPR just in case of accidents. Keep life-saving equipment on hand.
  • Do have a list of emergency numbers ready at all times. This can be placed in an easily accessible area of the house, such as on the refrigerator in a common kitchen.
  • Aim to keep pond water very clean. Children may attempt to drink or touch the water. If it is contaminated with parasites and pathogens, they may fall ill due to the exposure.
  • Do not use barriers made of weak or corrosive materials. These can fail when you least expect them to and may cause, instead of prevent, harm.
  • Do make sure the pond is clearly visible from an ideal vantage point in your home.
  • Do consider investing in a good quality immersion alarm band and place one on your child’s wrist whenever he/she is outdoors. This will alert the alarm’s base unit whenever the band is submerged in water.
  • Do train your children to swim from a young age, preferably under the guidance of a reputable swimming teacher.
  • Don’t allow children to run or play near ponds.

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