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No More Splinters Please – Rethinking Playground Surfaces

My son’s BFF Emerson has a beautiful backyard playground.  His parents jokingly call the expansive play area “The Back 9,” as it is surprisingly huge for a Los Angeles home backyard, and the structure is quite amazingly large.  My son loves playing there, except there is one major hazard.  The wood chip ground covering.  Every time my son comes home from playing on the Back 9, he has at least a few splinters.

The homeowners kid that they are going to have to have a pair of tweezers on a string that they hang from a nearby tree so the kids can get all the splinters out.  While the wood does look pretty, suffering daily splinters in the children’s hands, knees and other exposed skin seems a pretty big sacrifice.

A safer alternative to wood chips is rubber mulch.  The TransPacific Park near our home has this type of covering, which has inspired my son to call it the “spongy park.”  The mulch is made of ground-up old rubber tires, which is not only soft and safe to play on, it is environmentally friendly because the tires are being recycled and used for something beneficial instead of being thrown into a dump or landfill where they take ions to disintegrate.

The shredded rubber mulch, made by the company Rubberecycle, can be colored to make it more attractive, or it can be a dark neutral color.  It’s also long lasting, so it doesn’t need frequent replacing.

The White House uses this type of covering for its playground surface, so you know that it has gone through a stringent approval process and that it is aesthetic enough to adorn the most famous residence in America.

The White House Playground

It’s not surprising that most parents will at some time find themselves in the emergency room due to a playground injury, so any feature that helps make a playground more safe is a welcome feature.  For parents as well, the soft shock-absorbing rubber surface makes standing around and playing with their children on the play yard more comfortable, especially for parents like me who have a bad back. 

Also, this type of surface does not get dangerously hot like some others.  I have never forgotten the news story I read about the child who took off his shoes on a hot day to run across one of these solid synthetic surfaces and got second-degree burns on the bottoms of his feet.  His skin actually fell off!  It was a horror story for any parent. 

The granulized rubber surface does not get overly hot, and it stays soft year round, even during freezing temperatures in winter.   Another great feature is it limits the mud and sand that kids track in when playing on other types of ground surfaces.  I think I could fill a sandbox from what my son brings home in his shoes from his daycare playground.

While you see recycled rubber mulch on many commercial playgrounds, it’s affordable for home playgrounds too, and because it lasts so long, it is a very economical option.

Now I wonder how I can subtly suggest to our friends that they scrap the wood chips.