Summer fun on the playground! Many of our children spend hours playing on their backyard playground equipment. As parents, we've researched the design, creativity and safety of the equipment, but we often forget the importance of the cushioning below the playground. Join WBTV meteorologist Jim Lytle and Blue Max Materials' Mike Bishop to learn about options to keep your children clean and safe.
Statistics indicate that 60% of all playground injuries occur as a result of a fall to the ground, so it's very important to research your options for cushioning under your playground equipment. Let's explore some of the available options:
- Washed natural sand is one possibility. Washed sand is relatively inexpensive and easy to install, as well as permanent, but it has several drawbacks. Sand tends to be abrasive and will stick to sweaty skin. It tends to get into kids' clothes and, under windy conditions, blowing sand can be irritating to the eyes. Sand is also a favorite litter box for all of the local cats! (Note: if you choose to use sand, you definitely would want washed sand as opposed to unwashed since the unwashed is very dirty and will stain clothing.)
- A small natural gravel with smooth edges is a second possibility. Again, gravel is easy to install and is permanent, however it doesn't provide much of a cushion from a fall and is difficult for especially young children to walk on. In addition, kids often can't resist the temptation to pick up these pebbles and throw them, scatter them throughout the yard or fill their pockets - and then they show up in your washing machine!
- A manufactured wood product is a third possibility, one that is recommended by Blue Max Materials. We carry two types of these mulches - Soft Landing and Tumblesafe - both of which are specifically designed and engineered for playground use, are certified by the Play Equipment Manufacturers Association and are handicap accessible. They are both natural wood with no chemical additives, with the main difference being in the size of the pieces of wood. These alternatives provide a soft cushion to protect children when they fall by significantly absorbing the impact of a fall. Guidelines for the depth of mulch needed are provided and are based on the fall height of your particular playground equipment. For example, if your fall height is less than 7', you should put down at least 6" of Tumblesafe or Soft Landing mulch.
Soft Landing playground mulch.
Tumblesafe playground mulch under playground equipment.
- Shredded tire chips are another alternative, one that we have shied away from at Blue Max Materials for several reasons. These chips tend to get very hot when exposed to hours of summer sun and some of the chips can contain remnants of the steel belting and can prick kids' skin when they fall or step on it at just the right angle. Probably the most important reason for not recommending shredded tires is the chemicals in rubber. While none of the products we've discussed here are tasty, all except the shredded tires are natural; a child holding the shredded tire chip in his or her mouth for any length of time can be exposed to chemicals that none of us would want in our bodies.
As you can see, there are several products available for use as a ground cover under play equipment. It will be up to you to investigate which is the best choice for your situation. As a side note, once you've decided on the type of playground covering you plan to use, you will probably want to put down a landscape fabric before installing it. Choosing a landscape fabric that allows water to penetrate it while still acting as a weed barrier will make your playground maintenance a lot easier down the road!