Supplement Feature - September 2010
Find a printable version here

Creative Cushioning

Adding More Safety to Play

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Rubber Mats or Tiles

Types: Rubber tiles usually are 2- or 2.5-foot squares that can be adhered to concrete or another hard surface. They're available in a variety of colors and in various thicknesses—the thicker the tiles, the greater the fall protection. Rubber mats offer similar thickness options, but they're one piece, and, in some cases, may be held in place with hardware anchors, rather than an adhesive.

Benefits: Because they provide a more smooth and solid surface, tiles and mats present fewer tripping hazards than loose-fill materials. Earl Caditz, business manager for Newport Children's School Inc. in Bellevue, Wash., noted that mats work well on their playgrounds for tricycle paths and in any sort of grassy area where fall protection is needed (such as around the merry-go-round), but wood chips would "get mixed in with the grass and make a mess."

Multiple colors of tiles can be combined to create a checkerboard or other eye-catching pattern.

"Tiles and rolls seem to be friendlier to designs that incorporate graphics or text-heavy content," said Brian Leonard of Dillon Works! Inc., a company in Mukilteo, Wash., that's known for its creative play spaces at malls and museums. "And [they're good to] cover large areas without any impeding equipment."

Special Considerations: Tiles meet industry standards for preventing head injuries, Thompson noted, but they don't have a lot of give, so they might result in an increased number of limb fractures. So, tiles and mats may not be your best choice for use with tall climbing equipment. They'll work better for areas where sure footing and cushioning for shorter falls is needed, such as the bottom of a slide or an area intended for small children. Talk to various manufacturers. Different products will have different results, and you might find something that can meet your needs.

Tiles and mats usually are more expensive initially than loose-fill materials, but they require very little maintenance—basically just keeping them swept or sprayed clean.