What to Remember When Designing a Playground for Preschoolers

(Playworld play equipment and No Fault Safety Surface provided and installed at E-Kids Learning Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee)

A toddler explores the world through sensory experiences. A school-aged child learns through teamwork and independent exploration.

What about the children in between?

Early childhood (roughly, ages 2-5) is a time of rapid learning. This is the time when preschoolers are developing skills like independence, social interactions, creativity, and more.

That is why a playground designed with preschoolers in mind is important. Let’s look at what you should remember when designing a playground for preschoolers. 

Getting Social

Preschool children are starting to learn about the world around them. They interact with each other and begin to understand that the world is full of individuals with their own wants and needs. They are expanding their vocabulary and communicating with one another.

For this reason, early childhood playground equipment should prepare children for the social development needed to get them ready for school years. Outdoor games are a primary force for socialization. Giving children space to do things like throwing a ball back and forth helps with the socialization process.

These skills build confidence and encourage children to engage more with their peers. This in turn leads to greater independence.

With these social activities, there are always a few roadblocks along the way. Preschoolers can become easily frustrated if they get tired or if the game is not going their way. This is where close supervision comes into play. The grown-ups supervising playtime will need to step in and referee when feelings are hurt or when social time becomes unruly.

To put it another way: Promote independent play AND supervised play. Do not just turn the children loose since their physical skills, social skills, and emotional competence are still developing. Your playground layout should be designed so caregivers and adults can step in to help when needed.


(Little Tikes Commercial play equipment and No Fault Safety Surface provided and installed at Acadian & DF Huddle Elementary Schools in Alexandria, Louisiana)

Choosing Equipment

Children ages 2-5 years old have a wide range of capabilities, so playgrounds designed for preschoolers needs to take these differences into account.

Children this age are still working on balance and motor skills. These children may not have great balance yet, but they will push the limits by trying to imitate what they see older children doing (including running and climbing). Keep an eye on the children because they can quickly find themselves in situations outside of their physical abilities!

Find play equipment to provide social and cognitive features for the 2-5 age range. These include low balance beams, activity panels, and small structures (like playhouses and crawl tunnels), which are perfect for make believe and role play.

Want the little ones to do some climbing? The maximum platform height for preschoolers should be 36 to 48 inches and should include protective enclosures to prevent falls. These platforms should have multiple access points (such as ramps and ladders). Ramps should come with railings. Children this age love slides, but it is recommended they be no taller than four feet. In addition to age specific climbing equipment, you will need a playground safety surface that offers adequate fall protection.

Preschool children sometimes struggle with climbers because they have not yet fully developed their upper body coordination needed for that level of difficulty. Moving equipment, like merry-go-rounds, should be avoided for safety reasons.

Play features should be comfortable for smaller hands, feet, and bodies. No rise greater than 6 inches will ensure easy access for short legs.


(Playworld Preferred play equipment and No Fault Safety Surface provided and installed at Goose & Gander Preschool in Kingston, Tennessee)

Growing Imaginations

Preschoolers are just about the most creative people in the world. They practically live in the land of make believe! Pretend play is important for their young minds’ development. Playgrounds should be a backdrop for their active imaginations.

Themed playgrounds are a great way to help children imagine another world for their play. For example, a police or fire department theme encourages role playing. It also helps them imagine helping others, racing to an emergency, and collaborating with the rest of a team to get the job done.

Children in the preschool years have short attention spans; for this reason, playgrounds need to excite and engage them to keep their focus. Think bright colors, multiple activities, and fun textures designed to appeal to all senses.


(Miracle Recreation play equipment and No Fault Safety Surface provided and installed at Rockland County Visitation Center in Pomona, New York)


Remember, playtime can lay the groundwork for an active life. Lifelong habits are formed during these critical toddler years, so this is serious business!

Whether you’re designing a playscape for your childcare or daycare center, church, community, preschool, or head start, don’t forget: Safety starts with No Fault Safety Surface, No Fault Safety Tiles, No Fault Bonded Rubber Mulch and No Fault Loose Fill Rubber Mulch.  These surfacing products are designed to serve as attractive, shock-absorbing protection against the inevitable tumbles every toddler is bound to have.

Things You Shouldn’t See on a Modern Playground – And Why

Most of us have fond memories of the playgrounds where we played as children.

It is easy to be nostalgic for the playgrounds we grew up visiting. However, some of us may not have as fond of memories about our time on the playground. Many children experienced broken bones, sprains, strains, dislocations and even concussions on the playgrounds of the past.  That is not to say that injuries are not possible on modern playgrounds, but many improvements have been made over the years to help reduce these risks.

The playground you knew and loved may not have been as great as you remember for several reasons. Some of the playground features and equipment that were common in traditional playgrounds are nowhere to be found on a modern playground.

Today we will look at some of the specific features that you may remember from your childhood playgrounds, which are no longer recommended for today’s playgrounds.

Dangerous Equipment

If you’re old enough to remember sky-high monkey bars, hot metal slides, and lightning-fast metal merry-go-rounds, you remember when playgrounds came with more risk than necessary.  Recently, Playground Professionals published a list of playground features that have become extinct due to their associated unnecessary risk.

Sending our children outdoors to play always comes with an element of risk, but when designing today’s playgrounds it is recommended to use features and structures that help minimize the risk of major injury.

Today, old favorites like chain swings and metal slides have been modified to be safer for children to use. Climbing features and monkey bars are still around, but they aren’t as high and the ground below often has safety surfacing to minimize the risk of injury. 

Noyes Elementary School Playground in Sudbury, Massachusetts is an example of a project that includes modern, colorful Little Tikes Commercial play equipment, as well as our No Fault Safety Surface to make it safer and attractive.

Materials That Aren’t Child-Friendly 

Common playground construction materials once included galvanized steel pipes, chains, and metal ladders. See our article Historical Look at Playgrounds & Playground Safety to take a trip down memory lane and see how playground design has changed.

The risks were numerous:  Burned skin from touching a hot metal slide in August; deep cuts where metal equipment was bent and separated; splinters when wooden beams got old and started to show their age; scraped knees or bruised heads from hitting the asphalt below the equipment.

The materials and construction of playgrounds changed with advances in technology and science. Today, molded plastic and composite materials make play equipment safer and able to retain structural integrity when exposed to the elements. 

We partnered with Miracle Recreation to provide our No Fault Safety Surface for the playground at South Tama County Elementary School in Tama, Iowa.  Miracle’s play equipment is made of materials that are safe and made to last.


Poorly-Maintained Equipment 

Poorly-maintained playgrounds present additional opportunities for injuries from trash, rusty play equipment, or damaged surfaces. Thankfully, regular inspections and maintenance plans are helping school and park administrators provide the best possible play experience.

What should your maintenance plan include? The play area should be regularly inspected for hazards. Playground equipment and surfacing should also be assessed for general wear and tear. Learn to identify potentially dangerous equipment issues like sharp edges or improperly secured moving parts that could hurt or entangle children.

Long-term exposure to the elements can cause damage to the equipment, and all equipment deteriorates over time. Additionally, trash, broken glass, and other debris are hazardous to children, so keep an eye out!

Other problems to check for include vandalism or other signs of inappropriate use of the playground area.

No Fault partnered with Playworld on the John F. Kennedy Elementary School playground project in Kingsport, Tennessee.  Playworld is another great source for modern, state-of-the-art play equipment. We partnered to provide our No Fault Safety Surface in a tan and black color blend to complete the job.


Clueless (Or Absent) Supervisors 

Yep, that’s right. One of the biggest changes we’ve seen is that children once “left on their own” on the playground are now being properly supervised.

Today, teachers, parents, and caregivers understand that they play an important role in making the playground safer for children. This includes providing strong supervision, ensuring that equipment is free of potential hazards, and steering children to age-appropriate play areas.

An emphasis on child development and safety is behind the changes you’ll see in the modern playground design. Supervisors can facilitate inclusive play that promotes team-building, sharing, and collaboration. They can make sure children of all abilities and skill levels are getting the development they need.

That said, today’s close supervision can come with risks of its own. You want children to explore and gain confidence without being monitored too closely.

Close supervision can even create dangerous situations. As we wrote about, shinbone (tibia) fractures and young children going down a slide on the lap of an adult is a danger we don’t often think about. Adults should monitor from a safe distance and be aware of the hazards that playing with the children on equipment may cause, such as the leg injury from the velocity of the adult going down the slide while the child’s leg was stuck. Outside of safety, it is also important to remember to allow the children to free play and explore the world for themselves which aids in social and psychological development.

Lack of Safety Surfacing

Another big change you’ll see on the modern playground is the addition of rubber safety surfacing like our No Fault Safety Surface.

Despite the improvements discussed above, in the United States, more than 220,000 children under age 14 are treated in hospital emergency rooms for playground injuries every year. These are often generated from slips and falls.

The type of playground surface material is the most important factor in reducing injuries due to falls. There are several types of surfacing available on today’s market. We highly recommend doing your research for which surfacing not only best suits your design needs but also your safety needs.

Do your part to encourage safe play by using safe surfaces such as No Fault Safety Surface, No Fault Safety Tiles, No Fault Bonded Rubber Mulch and No Fault Loose Fill Rubber Mulch.

Rubber-surfaced playgrounds absorb impacts and helps prevent injuries, making play areas safer for children of all abilities. For more information on our best-in-class safety surfacing products, please check out our website.  Or, contact No Fault today to learn what’s in store for the playgrounds of tomorrow. Perhaps we can help you with your next project!

No Fault Project Spotlight – First Apostolic Church Playground, Knoxville, Tennessee

First Apostolic Church in Knoxville, Tennessee needed help with their Preschool Playground.  Their existing play equipment and surfacing was worn and outdated. It needed to be removed and replaced.  The Church wanted a natural look for their new playground and a more suitable play structure with age appropriate pieces.  They also wanted safe, accessible play surfacing so children of all abilities at their school could join in the fun.

They contacted Jim Howlett of Howlett Equipment (PlayPower  – Little Tikes Commercial).  Howlett Equipment provided new Little Tikes Commercial Tot Trees for the youngest users and complemented those with two “tree play houses” to match.


No Fault partnered with Howlett Recreation to provide and install our No Fault Safety Surface (NFSS) in a color blend of 50% tan / 50% black which gives the play area a natural, earthy look.  Just what our customer was looking for!

Our NFSS can be used for both indoor and outdoor playground areas.  It is comprised of the highest quality EPDM or TPV rubber granules blended with a polyurethane binder and is poured-in-place and professionally installed on site.  NFSS comes in a variety of bright, cheerful colors, and will increase the safety, beauty and life of your playground for years to come!

Contact No Fault today for more information about what playground surfacing product is right for your needs and budget.  Our skilled Regional Account Managers are ready to assist you.