Surfacing is the most important decision you will make for your playspace.The right surfacing helps to ensure your playspace is safe and accessible. More than 70% of playground injuries are due to falls on unsafe surfaces.* Investing in a safe surface will go a long way toward creating a safe playspace overall. An accessible surface is also the first step toward creating a playspace everyone can enjoy (children must be able to get to your structures to play on them).
Playground surfacing materials vary widely in terms of safety, accessibility, cost, and maintenance requirements. The following provides basic information to get you started.
New technology has made the surfaces available for playspaces safer and more accessible than ever before. In addition to basing your decision on safety and accessibility, plan for how your playspace will be funded and maintained. If you will not have access to or money for ongoing maintenance, you should consider a surface material that won't need to be raked every week to stay safe and accessible.
$ = $1 per square foot**
Four main organizations publish standards for playground surfacing. You should be familiar with all of them. Playground manufacturers and other people who have built playgrounds can often help you understand how the various standards apply to your playspace.
Different surfaces can accommodate, signify, and enhance various types of play. Poured-in-place rubber provides a great surface for riding and bouncing toys, and is also safer under climbing structures.Consider diverse pathway surfaces to demarcate play areas. Provide a smooth transition between distinct surfaces so wheelchairs can easily maneuver between spaces.
Surfacing material can provide tactile stimulation to children, enhancing the play experience. Children like and benefit from playing with various surfacing under their feet. Consider adding textures like rumble strips and undulations to the concrete or asphalt surfaces. Also, the transitions from one type of surfacing to another can signify different areas of the playspace.
(Photos courtesy of eibe and Kompan)