Farms and ranches offer children a unique environment in which to live, play, work and grow up.

With all the excitement and whirlwind of activities, potential hazards lurk around every machine shed, tractor, silo and grain bin.

Like a moth to a flame, belching diesel smoke, the roar of engines and rubber wheels on tractors, combines or silage cutters draw children to them. And like fire, they can be dangerous.

Such equipment can cut, crush, trap or kill children. It can harm the ones we want to protect the most -- our children.

Childhood farm injuries and fatalities most often occur while children play where farm activities are going on, or the youngsters are innocent bystanders.

Each year, hundreds of children are killed, and thousands more are injured in farm-related incidents, according to National Safety Council statistics.

Children younger than 10 years old experience one of the highest rates of pediatric farm-related injuries, said Holly Higgins, Kansas Farm Bureau safety director.

"In an ideal world, parents should keep children away from farming activities and environmental hazards associated with farming and ranching," Higgins said. "Never invite children to ride in the tractor. Stress that your youngsters stay away from machinery. Don't let them play or hide under or around machinery like tractors."

Education and awareness are the key ingredients to help make the farm a safer place for children to play, Higgins said. Brushing up on some of the potential hazards can also make it safer for parents.

While barns, grain-handling facilities and big buildings can be fun to play in, children can fall or be exposed to harmful substances like chemicals and electricity.

Explain the dangers associated with stored grain. Stress that grain can entrap a person almost immediately. Children should never play around, or in grain that is stored in bins, trucks or wagons. Emphasize it is difficult, or can be impossible, to pull a child out of grain if he/she becomes trapped.

Discuss with your children the potential dangers involved with farm animals. Remind them that while animals are fun to be around they can also bite, trample and stomp.

Tell your youngsters the signs that show an animal might be dangerous. Some of them include pawing the ground, snorting, raised hair and ears laid back.

"Animals -- even friendly ones -- can be unpredictable," Higgins said. "Have children stay away from large ones. Emphasize they stay away from animals with newborn or young. Tell them to remain calm, speak quietly and move slowly when around animals."

Wide-open spaces can provide children with ideal playgrounds. However, this isolation might also lead to difficulty finding help in the event of an emergency.

Remember, it is important youngsters have a safe place to play. Ask them to identify safe play areas. Talk about areas away from farm machinery, animals, manure pits and silos.

Carefully define safe boundaries. Let children know where they can and cannot play.

Safe play areas remain the best alternative to bringing children into the worksite. This is especially important when off-farm child care is not available.

Keep your youngsters safe while they play on the farm.

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwest Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.