Sliding down the tall, straight slide with a thud. Hanging on as long as possible through the monkey bars before falling to the ground. Swinging back and forth over and over and then jumping free.

Playground memories. They’re the best, right? Everyone experiences at least one of these in their lives. And they all have one thing in common: They all involve the surface material you jump onto at a playground.

Do you remember the impact when you hit the ground -- whether it was from the velocity caused by the slide or swing or the straight drop down from the bars? That impact can feel different and cause different results, depending on the material that’s beneath your feet.

Let’s review different playground ground covers to determine which one might be best for your commercial clients’ educational facility landscapes.

3 Best Playground Surface Materials

Playgrounds are fun, safe spaces for children to play. That’s why they are fun to incorporate on school and educational facility landscapes.

swing with playground

Outside play can help children develop important cognitive, physical, social, and emotional skills. Playgrounds can:

  • Improve children’s flexibility and balance
  • Develop their overall motor skills, dexterity, and hand-eye coordination
  • Provide them with opportunities to learn how to control their movements
  • Refine their instincts
  • Promote healthy heart and lung function
  • Build muscle
  • Improve their immunity
  • Lower their risk of obesity and diabetes
  • Help them learn how to get along with other children, take turns, embrace patience, resolve conflict, overcome shyness, share, and build friendships

Playgrounds are especially important today when children need to balance screen time with safe outdoor enjoyment.

To be effective, however, playgrounds need to be safe, durable, and functional. They also need to be regularly maintained to ensure these qualities remain intact.

playground with rubber surface

While minor bumps, bruises, and cuts frequently happen when children play outdoors, broken bones, sprains, strains, and other injuries are common playground occurrences, which is why making them safe is essential.

The good news is that the number and severity of injuries can be reduced using softer playground surface materials, such as shredded wood chips, rubber mulch, or pea gravel, over harder surfaces like asphalt and concrete.

Pea Gravel for Playgrounds

Pea gravel is the type of stones that are smooth, round, and clean. Roughly the size of peas, these stones offer a natural, organic appearance to any public or school playground.

This loose fill option is fairly inexpensive as well. Maintenance includes removing occasional weeds and leaf litter and raking it to keep it at a consistent depth, topping it off with a new layer every few years.

But using pea gravel for playgrounds involves following some important rules.

Installation needs to be monitored to ensure proper and adequate depth. And pea gravel should not be used with fall heights greater than 5 feet.

Pea gravel is also not ADA compliant, meaning it is not part of the Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design.

One other con for areas with lots of children is that kids may pick up and throw the tiny pebbles or place them in their mouths.

Wood Chips for Playgrounds

Wood chips are also a natural-looking, organic choice for your commercial playground. You can get mulch in brown, which is most popular, but also black as well.

They are easy to install and are generally a low-cost option -- relatively inexpensive at $60 to $70 per yard installed -- so they won’t break your budget.

playground with wood chips

Wood chips require at least a 9-inch depth on playgrounds, which can be deeper than you originally expect. Wood chips are also not ADA compliant.

Because mulch breaks down over time, you may have to reapply it more often so it continues to provide a safe layer for play. Since mulch is lighter than some other options, weeds can occasionally push through wood chips for playgrounds, especially if your layer is getting thin.

Rubber Mulch for Playgrounds

Rubber mulch is the only ADA-compliant playground surface material on this list. Many commercial playgrounds are required to comply with the ADA to ensure Americans with disabilities receive equal opportunities. This includes making sure an individual in a wheelchair can navigate easily across the surface and that children can absorb impacts from falls.

playground with rubber surface

A low-cost rubber surface, this playground ground cover is easy to install, but it is typically more expensive than wood chips.

You need to monitor the surface frequently to ensure proper depth. While all three materials require maintenance, rubber mulch requires less -- not breaking down as frequently as wood mulch and staying in place better than pea gravel.

Trust Turfscape for the Best Surface Material for Your Playground

Your school playground is a hotspot for children during weekday recess and weekend play dates. As such, you want it to be safe, secure, functional, and enjoyable for the children who use your facility, as well as reliable so parents can feel confident taking their kids to your playground.

With the three options above -- pea gravel, shredded wood chips, and rubber mulch -- there are many great choices and no clear winner. In fact, we advise you choose the playground surface material that works best for you based on your property specifications, primary uses, and budget.

If all of the choices above still seem daunting to you, let Turfscape help. We can show you the textures and options available so you can feel them and see them at various nearby facilities to truly visualize how they look on an actual commercial school site. We can also discuss the pros and cons of each surface material and match those attributes to your key needs and functions on your landscape. Listening to you and your needs and connecting those with the right choice is an essential part of the process.

This way, you can worry more about your top priority: addressing the needs of the students who attend the schools you manage and the questions that come in from their parents. And you don’t have to spend excess time researching your landscape and playground installation and maintenance needs. We’ve got you covered.

Want to learn more about your Northeast Ohio playground surface options: pea gravel, wood chips, and rubber mulch? Get started today with a free quote. We’ll review your options together so you can feel confident and make a great choice for your school or educational facility.

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Image Source: Playground, Playground with Mulch, Playground with Rubber, Playground Yellow Slide