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.

Making Your Backyard Playground Fun and Safe

If you have children, you may want an area in your backyard for them and their friends to climb and play, to be active and happy, all without leaving home.

It’s never been easier to install a backyard playground. All it takes is some basic construction know-how, the right materials and the time it takes to bring it all together.

What is the hardest part? You know, the part that usually gets skipped or shortchanged. It’s typically the planning phase.

Whether it’s a “do-it-yourself” project or a professional installation, here are some factors to take into account before and during construction.

Set Your Budget

Before the installation begins, familiarize yourself with average costs, brands, and options as you price out and plan the project.

The price of playground equipment ranges between $100 and $5,000, according to Home Advisor. The equipment you choose, the type of safety surface you get, and the cost to level your yard are all factors that could bump the price up.

Another factor to consider is whether to contract out the labor and installation. There are local handymen and playground specialists available to help with installation and construction. If your play area is small, you may decide the “do-it-yourself” route suits your project—just make sure you get the help you need when you are assembling the equipment or operating any heavy equipment.

Choose Your Play Features

While designing your background playground, safety should be your priority. This means choosing age-appropriate equipment. For example, you might think twice about swing sets or merry-go-rounds if your children are toddlers.

Do you have children of different ages? You should see to it that preschoolers do not wander into areas meant for older children, where they are more likely to be injured.

Children’s minds are developing quickly, so every age group will be stimulated by different activities, challenges, and designs. Keep your project focused on the age of your children and don’t cut corners on safety, and you’ll be off to a fantastic start.

What kind of play features do you envision? You can find options as simple as a single swing or as complex as a tower with multiple slides. Play sets, sandboxes, and water tables round out your options.

We suggest that you keep the design simple. Simple playground features such as swings and slides never go out of fashion. But you can also use natural features such as a large tree and climbing rocks.

Most home-use play sets should give you 8 or 10 years of use. With proper maintenance and mild weather, that can go up to 15 years.

Again, the equipment you install in your play area should coincide with the age of your children. Equipment that is too large and challenging should be avoided, as this may lead to injuries.

You may want to add to your play area as your children grow so that it holds their interest over time. Thanks to the modular design of today’s playground equipment, this is quite easy to do.

Choose the Site

The success of your playground depends in large part upon the site you choose to install it.

All too often, moms and dads invest in creative backyard playground ideas before they’ve closely surveyed the plane they’ve selected as a construction site. For example, a leveled area is typically what you want. If you have a hilly or uneven yard, you might have to budget for the price to clear and level the land.

Check for site dimensions. Pending the fall height, most play equipment requires a minimum of at least 3 feet of clear space on each side. You will also want to consider clearance for swings.

In addition to the dimensions of the site, you will want to consider water levels, predictable weather patterns, whether debris can fall into the play area, and irregularities in the terrain.

Be sure to measure everything carefully; you don’t want to start digging until you’re sure what you’re doing!

Finally, before you move forward with site prep or buying any playground equipment, make sure you check and comply with all local laws. Some municipalities require homeowners to apply for a permit.

Choose Your Surfacing Material Wisely

Remember when we said the planning phase is where mistakes usually happen when moms and dads install backyard playgrounds? These mistakes include failing to install adequate safety surfacing.

Choosing the appropriate residential playground surfacing is essential to making modern playgrounds both safe and attractive. That’s where No Fault can help!

Playground safety surfacing is a must to keep your children safe. This is where many people go for cheaper options (wood chips, gravel, or sand). Overtime, these surfaces can disburse across the ground or begin to decompose – in the case of wood chips- causing the homeowner to have to continuously replenish the materials to meet the minimum safety standards. If you consider the long-term work required to maintain these “less expensive” options, not to mention the increased risk of injury that comes with using them, this quickly becomes a case of “penny wise and pound foolish.”

Instead, consider using surfaces such as No Fault Safety Surface, No Fault Safety Tiles, or No Fault Rubber Mulch, which will absorb impacts when the inevitable falls happen. Our soft rubber tiles, for example, are kid-friendly, relatively easy to install, slip-resistant and ideal for rainy areas where drainage is a concern.

You’ll probably want a boundary for the play area. Again, there are materials you should and shouldn’t use.

For example, wood timbers or rocks piled around the edges are common choices, but they are trip hazards, and they create hard surfaces. No Fault Timbers are a superior alternative, giving you attractive borders with rounded top for added safety.

Get Help Assembling the Equipment

Now, it’s time to put it all together. The more people involved, the faster the work will go. Decks, platforms, stairways … all of it will need to be assembled using the proper tools, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Attaching the elements to the main play structure brings everything all together and the finished shape of the play structure begins to emerge.

As you’re putting equipment together, use a builder’s level to make sure holes are at the proper depth. This will ensure a smooth process when you’re assembling your playground equipment. Level the decks and check the joints before pouring concrete to anchor your equipment.

Think About the Surrounding Landscaping

The surrounding landscape of your backyard playground should be carefully organized. You probably don’t want your beautiful flower garden in this area. Children at play tend to not pay much attention to roses, daffodils and azaleas while they’re swinging, climbing, and tumbling around.

When planning your garden around the play area, make sure you plant durable and low-maintenance plants and shrubs in and around your backyard playground.

Consider a Shade or Shelter

Bad weather can often play spoilsport for your children. To address this issue, you can add a shade structure or canopy to help protect your children from sunburns, or a shelter to help keep them dry. If your play area is available “rain or shine,” your children will be more likely to play outside instead of getting “cabin fever” indoors!

Don’t Forget the Fence

You probably already have a fence around your property. But if your children are spending lots of time outside, you’ll want to keep unwanted visitors out. Privacy is important, especially in suburban and urban areas. If you live in rural areas, fencing also helps protect your outdoor structures from being damaged by wandering animals. Placing a fence around the property also helps protect you as a parent from the liability of other neighborhood children playing on the equipment without your knowledge.

Keep an Eye On the Children

Children need close supervision, as they tend to play with anything and everything. You should watch them carefully to ensure their safety.

Before you get started with your backyard playground, consider all the above factors to help keep your children safe. Your backyard playground will take time and careful planning, but in the end your children will have a wonderful, play area just outside your back door.

Contact No Fault to speak with one of our Regional Account Managers.  They can assist you in choosing just the right playground surfacing for your backyard play area to meet your budget and help keep your children safe and happy!

Choosing Age Appropriate Playground Equipment

Children come in all sizes and levels of physical abilities.

Toddlers, pre-school, and school-age children could not be more different. They have vastly different physical needs, intellectual abilities, and social skills. That is why most playground equipment does not come in “one size fits all” options.

The structures and features found on the playground should attract children, engage them, and aid in their growth as young people. The playground should foster physical development and emotional development while creating challenging tasks suited to their level of play. Play opportunities should also be accessible for children of varying abilities.

The National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS) at the University of Northern Iowa works for all children to have access to safe environments for play.

The organization has worked with child development experts to designate which playground equipment is appropriate for certain ages based on developmental, physical, intellectual, and coordination-related benchmarks.

Their guidelines on Appropriate Playground Equipment by Age Group are described below. According to the experts, here are the playground designs and elements suitable for children in each age group: 

Ages 6 Months to 24 Months

Creativity, social skills, and problem-solving are among the benefits of play. These benefits can be developed within the youngest children on the playground, so creating age-appropriate play areas for infants is crucial.

This age is defined by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) as the “toddler” years, and this is an age where falls and tumbles are inevitable. When selecting equipment for this age group, get elements that are low to the ground and that have soft or foam-covered exteriors.

You’ll also need significant space for children to crawl, stand, walk, and fall (repeatedly). The best playground elements for ages 6 to 24 months include tunnel mazes, activity panels, learning walls, and toddler slides.

Toddlers still don’t have a lot of reach (thank goodness). Their legs are still growing, and stability and balance are a challenge, so the things they’ll grab, push, and pull themselves up with should be relatively close together and within easy reach.

Avoid playground surfaces that are loose and that shift under unsteady feet. These include mulch, pea gravel, or sand. Besides, toddlers will eat it, throw it, and put it into their noses, ears, or eyes.

A better alternative? No Fault Safety Surface (NFSS) is a unitary rubber surface, so there is no loose-fill surfacing that a toddler can pick up and put in their mouth.  And because it’s a cushiony, slip-resistant surface, it’s a great choice for toddlers since there will be several falls and tumbles that take place at this age!

Little Tikes Commercial (LTC) offers some great playground equipment for toddlers and young children.  See our project spotlight featuring Little Tikes Commercial play equipment including “Tot Trees” for the youngest users complemented with two “tree play houses” to match. We installed our No Fault Safety Surface in 50% tan & 50% black to give the play area an earthy, natural look.

Ages 2 to 5 Years

This age group can be a tough one for playground designers. Children ages 2-5 years old have very different capabilities. Elements in these playgrounds need to account for children who have shorter legs and are a little “top heavy.” Even though they don’t have great balance yet, most children older than two years want to start mimicking the older children. So, keep an eye on them!

Specific elements that should be included in the 2-5 year age category include low climbing structures, crawl tunnels, low balance beams, activity panels, and small structures, like playhouses, for make believe and role play.

Other play elements to consider include low platforms with multiple access points such as ramps and ladders; ramps with pieces attached for grasping; low tables for sand, water, and manipulation of materials; tricycle paths with various textures; flexible spring rockers-think colorful horses and cars; covered sandboxes, and shorter slides that are usually no taller than 4 feet.

Miracle Recreation has some fantastic choices for playground equipment for this age group.  See Miracle play equipment in the photo below, and our No Fault Safety Surface in a color blend of 50% tan & 50% black.


You will also want a playground safety surface that offers adequate fall protection based on the height of the play structure, since children this age will still fall occasionally.


Ages: 5 to 12 Years

Children ages 5 to 12 are learning new skills at a rapid pace. They are perfecting their fine motor skills, gross motor skills, strength and balance. These children are steadier on their feet and ready for bigger challenges. Their social skills are becoming more advanced, and playground games can become more competitive.

Children in this group need higher platforms and slides (generally up to 72”), swings, corkscrew/loop pole elements, climbers including faux rock walls, larger and loopier slides, sliding poles, rope climbers, monkey-bars, and other equipment that develops upper-body strength.

Unfortunately, this stage is also when children tend to embrace their inner daredevils. So, while selecting play equipment that will challenge them physically and intellectually, keep safety in mind and watch out for “Evel Knievel” stunts!

Playworld is another great provider of playground structures for children of all age groups. Check out the colorful play equipment provided by Playworld, along with our No Fault Safety Surface in colors of tan and terracotta red.


No Fault’s range of playground safety surface products provide fall protection for up to 12 feet, as well as offering a low-maintenance surface to keep up with this very active age group.

Need Help Planning an Age-Appropriate Playground?

We understand that building playgrounds suitable for the different age groups can be challenging. No Fault specializes in playground safety surfaces, but we work with many playground equipment companies across the country. No Fault has several connections to playground manufacturers and can put you in touch with a Rep in your area.

Contact No Fault today for our recommendations for play equipment, as well as rubber safety surfacing products for your playground project.

No Fault Project Spotlight – Holy Trinity School Inclusive Playground, St. Matthews, Kentucky

No Fault worked on this amazing playground project with Jennifer Ferriell Birge of Bluegrass Recreation Sales & Installation (Little Tikes Commercial).  Jennifer stated, “The planning for this playground at Holy Trinity School in St. Matthews, Kentucky started with a child in a wheelchair sitting outside the school’s playground watching while her friends played.  She wasn’t able to access the entire area, and there weren’t any activities for her to engage in. People began to take note and from there conversations began expressing the need for change.”


The School aimed to create a playground that provided the opportunity for children of all abilities to be able to play together. Several planning meetings later, an amazing playground design emerged, and Bluegrass Recreation was awarded the project. Bluegrass provided a variety of slides, an incredible amount of climbing activities, a wheelchair swing, a spinning platform for standing and wheelchairs, a rocking ship for wheelchairs and standing, musical instruments, and imaginative play opportunities throughout the roughly 9,500 square foot playground.


To ensure the playground was easily accessible and slip-resistant for children using mobility devices, we installed 9,500 square feet of No Fault Safety Surface in a 50% tan/50% black color combination.  No Fault’s ADA accessible surface is poured-in-place by our certified installers as a 2-layer system at varying depths in alignment with the required critical fall heights. The impact absorbing layer is made of clean, recycled rubber. The top decorative EPDM/TPV layer comes in a variety of colors and provides the option for fun, theme-shaped designs.


Both Bluegrass Recreation and No Fault were proud to be part of such a worthy project!  Contact No Fault today to speak with one of our Regional Account Managers.  Our team can provide you with more information about our easily accessible rubber surfacing products for your new playground allowing children of all abilities to play together!