My daughter knew the definition of mulch by age 2. Because everyday she would come home with mulch in her shoes from playing on the playground at school, which means mulch on my door rug, mulch in the shoe cubbie, mulch in the laundry basket. I should have collected it. We could have redone the front yard flower beds in a year. I am glad there is safety surfacing on her school playground, and I suppose it could be worse. Have you ever seen the look of a parent when you tell them their 5 year old has pea gravel stuck in their ear and they may need to see a doctor because the school nurse can't get it out? Well, let me tell you its awkward. And it happens at elementary schools everywhere.... that have pea gravel.
Thankfully we are living more and more in a world of inclusiveness, where we try to set a standard where anyone and everyone can enjoy the same things, especially at the playgrounds we visit. Because of advances in ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) and ADA standards (Americans with Disabilities Act, Standards for Accessible Design) we now have safe, approved and accessible playground safety surfacing options. Because did you know... as many as 70% of all injuries and 90% of serious injuries on the playground are related to falls (CPSC). We know that we can decrease the risk of injury by restricting height levels of playground equipment to age-appropriate levels and maintaining the correct thickness and shock absorption of safety surface materials.
The two most popular and sought out playground surfaces are Poured In Place and Bonded Rubber. Poured in Place is my, and my two kiddos', favorite. No fear of scraped knees, muddy pants, or mulch in the shoes (or gravel in the ear). Also, even if it is has rained all morning, I know the park with the rubber surfacing is still an afternoon option. Poured in Place is Eco friendly and super durable with a two layer, rubber surfacing system consisting of a base "impact layer" and a top "wearing" layer. The thickness of the Poured In Place, when done correctly and meeting ASTM and ADA standards, depends on the height of the tallest equipment piece of the play area, referred to as the fall height. Because lets be honest, we all know that kid who climbs to the highest point of the piece you shouldn't be climbing (at least I know that kid, because he is my son). Poured In Place is a child and parent's dream come true. I wish I saw it at more parks and schools. It is more expensive than the mulch and gravel, but it is safer and virtually maintenance free. You are paying your money up front and then sitting back for it to last 10-15 years, versus raking, fluffing and replacing your mulch every spring for thousands of dollars.
The other surfacing I am fond of is the bonded rubber. Bonded rubber looks like compacted mulch. Except its rubber mulch, all glued together. It is environmentally friendly as it is made from recycled tires, and it gives off a very natural look. Again the thickness depends on the fall height. It is maintenance free and a little cheaper than Poured In Place.
There is Loose Fill Rubber. It has the Eco friendly thing going on with the recycled tires, too. However, I just don't like that my kid can pick it up and throw it or worse yet, eat it. And it has been said to leave a mess on clothes and shoes, depending on its color, and now your also back to raking and replacing often.
I like to think I am pretty low maintenance and don't need all the bells and whistles when it comes to playgrounds and playing, however I want top notch when it comes to safety. I also want top notch if it means everybody's kid can have access and play. I hope as we become more aware of these advancements in safety and inclusiveness, our schools, parks and communities can get on board and give us the best in playground safety.