Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Safety Surfacing

A bit of risk – risk being what we’re all supposed to be doing with children, right back from Lord Young’s Common Sense, Common Safety report in 2010 and the Play England documents that came out to support the Playbuilder scheme Managing Risk in Play Provision   'Children need and want to take risks when they play. Play provision aims to respond to these needs and wishes by offering children stimulating, challenging environments for exploring and developing their abilities''  to the current guidance on play from the HSE Promoting a Balanced Approach to Play  ''When planning and providing play opportunities, the goal is not to eliminate risk, but to weigh up the risks and benefits'
So why are schools and nurseries still putting in safety surfacing and trim trails and trying to eliminate all risk and FUN? Hopefully you've read the marvellous piece by  Michael Follett on trim trails and why he thinks they are installed, if not, go and read it.
 That ‘safety surfacing’ in my mind is the worst thing that anyone can put down, I hate it with a vengeance, although I do equally hate that green ‘carpet’ that they put down too. I like an outside space to be pretty much green and brown;
Snowdrop Cottage Nursery
I think that we have enough plastic tat inside without letting it ruin an outside space too. So let’s look at some of the options
 Green Carpet
I spent a few years working in a pre-school specifically for SEN children some of whom were autistic, deaf/blind, complex medical needs, walking, non-walking, on wheels – a whole range of children. Someone (before I’d got there) had decided it would be a great idea to put down that green carpet which was done at great expense. It’s kind of astro turfy and has a layer of sand underneath and is supposed to stop any mud getting on children and be a good surface for crawlers. At one point we had to call the army out – they are local and had offered to help – to literally scrape the moss off the surfacing. It took 5 of them about 3 days to clear quite a small garden.
DO NOT WASTE YOUR MONEY. It gets covered in moss, it holds water, and it becomes very, very slippery. It is rubbish for crawling on, as it holds water like a sponge, unless you are in full waterproofs in which case you may as well be on mud or grass anyway! The only place I have seen it used well is on small high use mounds in a baby garden which also had mud and grass.
West Knoyle Children's Centre
‘Safety’ surfacing
Why anyone thinks that children want bright primary colours blasted in their face all day everyday is beyond me. I went to a nursery recently which is all cream with squishy snuggling up sofas, twigs hung from the ceiling to hang art work from and they were just getting some mirrors and plants delivered. It felt like a home – and this was a big nursery which was part of a chain. I was well impressed. Have a google of Reggio if you want to find out more about the environment children are in – and remember some of those children are in a nursery all day, every day for several YEARS. Think about that for a minute.
But back to surfacing – it’s bouncy, it’s bright and it’s slippery as hell in the ice and wet. Aside from the horrendous colours why would anyone want to walk, run and jump on a surface that gave you wobbly feedback? It’s not hard and flat. If you’re autistic – you know the ones that walk up on their tip toes, is this because the ground feels too weird or because they like the sensation of tip toe walking? Who knows – or have cerebral palsy how odd must that bouncy surface feel. If you need bounce on the ground put in a trampoline. If you need surfacing, put in paving slabs for bike riding and chalking on, mud for digging, grass for lying on and the BIGGEST sandpit you can afford. Put in texture and shape and up and down levels. If you’ve got space, put in a hill! 
Springboard Garden
That horrible ‘safety’ surfacing was invented to go under fixed kit like slides to prevent serious head injuries. It was never meant to replace playgrounds. It will not prevent children breaking their arm or leg and some people say it makes a worse break. If you fall on paving slabs you get a clean sharp break but if you hit the ground and bounce… well it’s horrible to even think about.
So that’s my ranting on surfacing. If you’re a school and have some funds to spend or want to change your outdoor space do look at the OPAL project as a whole school transformation. It has a huge impact on local community, school play ethos, gives the children a real sense of being involved and has a very positive impact on learning too. Happier, healthier people learn better, no surprises there.

Acorns Pre-school, Christian Malford


  1. Bravo! I will be sharing this with our PTA as well as Michael's piece. I have some safety surface & it is the one part of the playground that has to be treated on icy mornings.

  2. Hi Niki - as positive alternatives, I rather like Suzanne's blog post on the subject

    1. What lovely photos. ,May have to do a follow on blog! I realised afterwards that I'd written a few options but photos always work better than words!

  3. I went to see a school today which had put in the black grid surface that grass grows through. Within a couple of months it sinks into the mud and all the grass gets kicked off. In summer the mud bakes back over the top, in winter the mud oozes up through it. In addition it look grim,

    1. It sounds grim! We had some of that in a public play area under some swings and the kids ripped it up. The fasteners that held it together were stronger than the grid, so it just tore, also looked dreadful!