Site Design

This chapter of the Head Start Center Design Guide provides concepts and criteria for site design and the design of playgrounds. This guide may be used by program directors, health managers, and agency staff engaged in facilities planning. It identifies the types of outdoor spaces required, discusses the relationships of these areas to other outdoor and indoor spaces, and provides detailed criteria for materials, features, furnishings, and equipment required.

The following is an excerpt from the Head Start Center Design Guide.

6.1 Concepts for Site Design

The conceptual site design for Head Start centers must be integrated into the design of the overall site to include the movement of vehicles and pedestrians, parking, entry and service points, and constructed or landscape features, such as porches, decks, fences, and shrubs. The site should meet general site design principles and should include specific details on orientation, grading of landscape forms, aesthetics, construction, plant selection, lighting, signage, and amenities.

Before site or playground selection, the soil should be tested for dangerous contaminants such as lead and PCBs. After development, the site should be monitored periodically under the direction of the environmental safety staff to ensure that it does not become contaminated, especially by lead. This is particularly important in urban areas or where there are large numbers of automobiles or nearby industrial facilities. Any old structure located near a playground should be checked for lead or other hazards.

Five conceptual areas of site design relating to Head Start centers include:

  • Entry and Circulation
  • Parking
  • Service
  • Safety and security
  • Outdoor play space

6.1.1 Context

The designer should consider the building in the context of the existing site and should design to enhance that site. Examples of context and exterior design include culturally sensitive art and play activities, colors and textures that reflect regional and community orientation, and games that promote and reflect nationality.

6.2 Entry and Circulation

The standards for entrances, parking, service, and security are addressed below.

6.2.1 Entry Approach

The center design should include a feature, such as a porch, as a welcome to those arriving and as a transition from the outside. The transition porch could be combined with a coveredwalkway (recommended for all climates) and connect with short-term parking. The walkway would protect arriving children and parents from inclement weather.

Space should be provided at exit doors to ensure that doors can completely open without obstruction. Drop-off areas should be arranged so that a child and adult may exit a vehicle from the pedestrian side and proceed directly to the center without crossing in front of traffic, or in front of or behind vehicles.

Ideally, the center entrance should be separate from both the main entrances to the building and from the service area entrances.

6.2.2 Parking

Short-term parking should be provided for adults bringing children to the center.

Most often, parents or caregivers bring their children into the center to “sign in” and later “sign out.” Parking spaces are needed to allow time for adults and caregivers who drop off children to have brief conversations with teachers.

Short-term parking for the center should be separated from other tenant parking and located as close to the center as possible. The arrangement should minimize the risk to pedestrians and allow vehicles to move safely. Parking should be located away from busy intersections or vehicle circulation routes. The parking arrangement should never force children or persons in wheelchairs to move behind parked cars. Walkways in front of vehicles must be protected by tire guards, bollards, or other means to prevent any portion of a vehicle from advancing into the walkway.

At least one parking space, typically for the center director’s use but also for emergency use, should be provided as near to the center entrance as possible. One service parking space in front of the center is desirable for local mail or package deliveries.

Ideally, an unobstructed line of sight should be provided between the interior of the center director’s office through the center entrance and into the short-term parking area.

Employee parking spaces should be as close to the center as possible for ease of access and for safety. This is particularly important in winter months when staff members may leave the center after dark. Staff parking should be provided for 80 percent of employees at peak capacity. As in any other work place, staff may choose to travel to work using a variety of means. Features to assist those choosing to commute via bicycle, public transportation or carpool should be provided to serve at least 5 percent of the adults occupying the building. These features may include secure bicycle parking, safe walkways to bus or metro stops, and designated preferred parking spaces for carpools.

Parking should include spaces for staff vans as well as for vans for the handicapped. Van accessible parking spaces must be wide. Parking for staff and visitors who are disabled should be located close to the center.

6.2.3 Service

Centers that occupy part of an existing building may make use of that building’s dock space and service access or provide its own service access (although a completely separate dock may not be necessary). In a stand-alone center, service access will be important, but a dock may not be necessary.

The service access for sanitation removal and for food and supply delivery should be separate from short-term and staff parking. Likewise, a sanitation dumpster should have private access away from parking and play spaces.

The ventilation system design should ensure that emissions from vehicles at the service entry cannot permeate the indoor air of the Head Start center.

6.2.4 Security

The security of the center is a prime area of concern in establishing a site. Centers should be separated from public areas by buffer zones and barriers such as fences or screens particularly in high-security-risk areas. Buffer zones can be created with open turf areas or with rows of trees, perimeter hedges, berms, or any combination of these elements.

Buffer zones are useful because they offer the center staff the opportunity to observe individuals as they approach the center. In addition, they help shield children from unwanted wind, noise, and other disruptions. The center location and local conditions may necessitate the use of fences and screens to block the view of the exterior. These should be designed to enhance the relationship of the center to its neighboring buildings and their residents.

6.3 Concepts for Play Space Design

The activity spaces in play yards are largely determined by the outdoor play space’s architectural landscape features. Individual play spaces should provide for a range of developmentally appropriate activities for social, emotional, intellectual, and physical development. All play spaces should be designed according to the guidelines in the most recent edition of the Handbook for Public Playground Safety by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Best practice indicates that outdoor play spaces should serve as extensions of classroom spaces, especially where a temperate climate allows children and staff to move easily in and out of the exterior space. To the greatest extent possible, outdoor play spaces should be integrated into the overall design of the center. Separate play spaces are necessary for Head Start and Early Head Start.

Some states require a separate play space for infants and toddlers. Even without such complete separation, individual play areas can be developed to serve each of the following age classifications

  • Infants
  • Toddlers
  • Head Start children (ages 3-5)

Within each age-appropriate play space, spaces should be developed to support and promote each of the following activities:

  • Sand/water play
  • Dramatic play
  • Large muscle play (climbing and playing on toys with wheels)

In addition, equipment storage should be directly accessible from play spaces. It is important to consider installing walk-off mats at every entry point from the play yard to the building, especially for the Early Head Start children.

Additional information on play spaces and play equipment may be obtained from any of the following sources:

  • US Product Safety Commission, Child Care Center Design Guide
  • The latest ASTM F1487-01-F15.29 Standard Consumer Safety Performance Specifications for Playground Equipment for Public Use
  • The latest ASTM F1292-99 Standard Specification for Impact Attenuation of Surface Systems under and around playground equipment
  • The latest ASTM F1951-99 Standard Specification for the determination of accessibility of surface systems under and around playground equipment
  • The latest ASTM F2049-00 Guide for Fences/Barriers for Public, Commercial and Multi-Family Residential Use Outdoor Play Areas
  • American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM)
    100 Bar Harbour Drive
    West Conshohocken, PA 19428-2959
    (610) 832-9585, Fax: (610) 832-9555
  • 36 CFR Part 1191 The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Architectural and Barrier Compliance - latest of all applicable Sections
  • Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board
    1331 F Street, NW., suite 1000
    Washington, DC 20004-1111
    (202) 272-5434 extension 139 (voice); (202) 272-5449 (TTY)
  • Uniform Federal Accessibility Guidelines (UFAS) for General Services Administration
  • American Academy of Public Health Association Academy of Pediatrics-Caring for our Children/Out of Home Head Start Programs 2002
  • American Academy of Pediatrics. Injury Control for Children and Youth. Elk Grove, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics, 1987 (under revision).
  • Head Start Information and Publication Center, Toll Free: 866-763-6481

6.4 General Design Concepts

Areas within the play space should be zoned by activity type, age group, and landscape character. Play areas for infants and toddlers must be physically separated from play areas for older children but should retain some visual connection.

Fencing without sharp edges is to be used to separate the play areas. It should end 3.3 feet above the ground and should be similar in appearance to the perimeter fence or wall. The tops of fencing and spacing of pickets must present no hazard to children or adults. Spacing between pickets should be no more than 3.5 inches.

Tops of fence pickets should be flat and end at the top horizontal rail to protect against punctures. Horizontal elements that can be used as ladders should not be included in the design of the fence. Walls adjacent to playgrounds should not be accessible for climbing.

6.4.1 Location

Activity areas within the play yard should be placed near elements that serve as a point of reference by both children and teachers as they move throughout the different play spaces. Entrance points, transition and staging areas, storage facilities, seating areas, overhead structures, trees, gathering areas, and larger play structures may all function as points of reference or landmarks within play spaces.

6.4.2 Separation

Circulation paths, barriers, screens, structures, play equipment, plantings, landscape forms, grade changes, and open buffer areas may define specific play spaces. Separation of play spaces should be subtle, allowing some visual, audible, or physical connections.

A 3-ft. evergreen shrub or picket fence with rounded corners are appropriate for separating infant/toddler play yards from preschool areas.

6.4.3 Transitional Areas

Linkage of interior and exterior spaces with transitional areas, such as decks or open vestibules is appropriate and allows for blending these environments. They also may function as a point of departure or staging area for play yard excursions.

6.4.4 Porches and Decks

Porches are desirable outdoor play areas where weather is problematic. Porches and decks can be used for shade to avoid heat, sun, and rain. In areas with moderate year-round temperatures, porches and decks can be used throughout the year.

Porches provide the nurturing environment and serve as a transition to natural elements. They are substantially less expensive than interior, conditioned, or finished space. If west-facing glass is required, a connected covered porch at least 7 feet wide will significantly reduce the air conditioning load in the classroom and the center.

6.4.5 Shade

Approximately half of the play space should be shaded, and the other half of the play space should be exposed to direct sunlight. Levels of exposed direct sunlight may be measured at noon on the Summer Solstice (June 21st). The following solar declension Web site is a useful resource:

6.4.6 Circulation

Circulation within play spaces should allow movement throughout the various areas. Dedicated pathways and routes suitable for wheeled toys should be provided. A circulation pathway 60 inches wide at a minimum provides the primary element that ties the play yard together. These pathways should be wide enough to accommodate movement of wheeled vehicles in both directions (unless movement is restricted to one direction).

The play yard should have a minimum of two access points, one from the classroom and one from the play yard to outside the site. The access point from the play yard to outside the site should allow for retrieval of play equipment.

The design should accommodate the movement of maintenance equipment into the play yard and allow an emergency exit. All access points should be controlled and readily visible for security purposes. The design of the playground should accommodate the movement of disabled children and adults through the play yard.

6.4.7 Site Furniture

It is advisable to provide child seating in a shaded area of the play space with views of other areas. Children should be able to talk with each other or their teachers in a relaxed fashion or enjoy a story group. Tables and chairs, a bench, or a picnic table will allow children and visiting parents to eat their lunches or snacks or to occupy themselves with drawing and other activities.

Easels for open-air painting are desirable and can improve the appearance of centers. There should be adequate approach and fall zones for equipment and furniture, as prescribed by the current edition of Handbook for Public Playground Safety, issued by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Wood treated with pentachlorophenol or creosote should not be used on the site.

6.4.8 Storage

Storage areas and containers should be uniquely marked and easily recognized to indicate their use. Storage bins provide an opportunity for children to learn organization and cooperation skills and acquire a sense of responsibility by learning to return toys and tools to the correct storage areas.

There should be visibility and ventilation into storage areas. Exterior storage should have locks that operate on the exterior but can be released from inside.

6.5 Types of Outdoor Play Spaces

6.5.1 Sand and Water

Facilities offering sand and water play allow children to pretend and to project their ideas using those elements. Sand and water play should be accessible to children to encourage their imaginations, play, and social skills. Sand and water tables should have play surfaces at children’s height allowing them to dip out a portion of sand or water onto a stable surface. It is valuable to allow play space and storage for props such as spoons, shovels, pails, plastic toys, containers, and buckets, as these add to the quality of play experiences.

It is wise to provide a hose connection for water play and for filling wading pools that is accessible. It also is desirable to emphasize the source of the water in the design, since it is such an important part of the play yard.

In particularly warm areas, there will be a need for a child-scaled drinking fountain on the playground. This should be discussed during the design phase.

6.5.2 Dramatic Play

Children often use many different areas of the play yard as stage settings for dramatic play. Good design will offer many opportunities for children to engage in role-playing and make-believe activities.

Playhouse structures should have seating, adequate play areas, and storage for a wide variety of props, such as boards, scrap lumber, dress-up clothes, cooking utensils, tarpaulins, banners, signs, and other items that support high quality dramatic play. The dramatic play area should be adjacent to and incorporate paths and parking areas for wheeled toys. Level changes greatly enhance the quality of dramatic play.

6.5.3 Large Motor Play

Large motor play areas support the physical development of children. These areas offer opportunities for climbing and riding wheeled toys, as well as running, jumping, sliding, and balancing. Fixed equipment, such as superstructure play pieces and slides, encourage children to explore the limits of their physical abilities by offering varying levels of difficulty and challenge. Berms that create small hills provide challenges, and are cost effective additions. They also provide visual interest and can help add a connection to nature.

The degree of difficulty, challenge, or risk must be obvious to children involved in any given activity. Hidden or unforeseen risks are dangerous and can result in injuries.

Small berms and hills, large rocks, stumps, trees and bushes not only provide settings and obstacles for children to climb over, jump on, dodge around, or hide behind but also present challenges. Playing with wheeled toys, such as tricycles and wagons, helps develop coordination and physical strength. The large space required for these activities and the boisterous character of this play dictate that this area be established away from more quiet areas. Local licensing authorities should be consulted as early as possible in order to avoid design misinterpretations.

Play areas should be made accessible to children with disabilities. The proposed rules are quite complex, and the designer should consult with playground equipment manufacturers and refer to the Web site:

To provide a safe environment that allows gross motor activity, move the children rather than equipment. The following elements have been found to be unsafe in group care settings:

  • Metal slides can cause burns when they become hot.
  • Enclosed tunnel slides make observation difficult and can allow one climbing child above the enclosed tunnel to fall on top of another at the tunnel exit.
  • Traditional seesaws can result in injuries when one child unexpectedly jumps off.
  • Spring mounted, rocking toys with very heavy animal seats can strike a child. (There are acceptable, lighter weight rocking toy alternatives.)
  • Swings, other than tire swings.

6.6 Play Yards for Different Age Groups

The Consumer Product Safety Commission's Handbook for Public Playground Safety includes a complete listing of appropriate standards and hazards. Designers should refer to this reference.

6.6.1 Infant Outdoor Play Areas

Play areas for infants require special design considerations. Best practice indicates that separate spaces for infants should be near toddler play areas, providing visual and audible connections but limited physical contact. Ideally, infant play areas should be exposed to the natural environment, though shielded from wind or sun.

Infant play area surfaces should consist of soft, resilient materials that protect crawling children and provide a comfortable surface on which they can sit. Soft surfaces may have different textures and colors that indicate changes in activities and challenges.

Developmentally appropriate challenges should be contained within boundaries or behind slight barriers. These challenges could take the form of crawling spaces with slight inclines, low, easy-to-cross barriers or berms, pull-up bars, and low platforms and slides. There should be a surface hard enough to allow the use of wheeled and push toys.

6.6.2 Toddler Outdoor Play Areas

Toddlers should have play areas for walking, jumping, climbing, running, drawing, painting, block play, group play, sorting, and exploring. The play environment should allow for a wide range of movement and stimulate the senses through a variety of novel challenges. Simple climbing equipment is more appropriate for toddlers than scaled-down versions of older children’s play structures. Toddlers enjoy semi-enclosed spaces, such as small playhouses or climb-through tunnels. They also enjoy small slides. Toddlers seek out experiences offering motion or movement.

Play structures in toddler areas should be surrounded by a resilient surface. A variety of surfaces and materials (including sand and dirt, pavement, and open grassy areas) should be provided so the toddlers can play with an assortment of objects. There should be a hard surface area and paths for wheeled toys.

When combined with toys, sand is a major resource for toddler play. All sand areas require fitted water-permeable covers to deter rodents and other pests.

6.6.3 Head Start Outdoor Play Areas

Play areas for Head Start children should support dramatic, constructive, and creative play, active and quiet play, sand and water play, and exploration of nature. Head Start children interact, socialize, discuss, negotiate, and engage in socio-dramatic play. Running, jumping, climbing, and swinging are often part of make-believe play.

The center should include a large, open-ended play structure offering many activities lending to dramatic play. The center site should have elements such as playhouses, stages, and props to encourage dramatic play and should be positioned within the play area to allow dramatic play to spill out and flow into other spaces. Facilities for play with sand and water should be included and placed adjacent to one another allowing these activities to overlap.

Pathways for wheeled toys provide circulation and allow activities to flow through the play areas. Safety helmets should be required on hard surfaces. Circulation surfaces in play yards should be suitable for wheelchair use.

Materials for creative play, such as musical devices, painting materials, chalkboards, construction materials, and blocks, should be included. A covered porch is an ideal location for painting and drawing.

Generally, the best large muscle activities in group care settings occur when children are moving, not the equipment. Though tire swings are appropriate, standard swings are too problematic.

6.7 Specific Site Technical Criteria

6.7.1 Fences and Enclosures

These best practices should guide the play yard design:

  • Play yards must be enclosed with a fence or shrubs to define play space, allow ease of supervision, and provide security and protection from unauthorized individuals. Since fence design and shrubs are visible elements in the center, they should be attractive elements. Chain link fencing is discouraged; however, if used, it should be dark and vinyl-coated (not green). Exposed galvanized wire is not appropriate because it has an institutional look. The fence can have no sharp exposed connections accessible to children. Note: A/E to reference ASTM fence standards (F2049-00).
  • Bollards, raised planters or other devices should be used to keep automobiles from veering into the play yard area.
  • The height, tranparency or opaqueness of the fence will depend on the location and environmental conditions.
  • Spaces between fence pickets should be between 3.4 and 9 inches wide to prevent children’s heads from becoming trapped. There should be no openings between 0.3 inch and 1 inch wide. Refer to the most recent edition of the Handbook for Public Playground Safety of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
  • A 6-foot-high fence should enclose the play yard. Also acceptable is a shorter fence with plantings or landscape features that are positioned so that an adult can not reach over the fence.
  • When the play yard is adjacent to hazardous areas such as busy roadways or a high-security-risk neighborhood, an 8-foot-high fence is recommended. Views from the play yard should be screened by either plants or other suitable alternatives.
  • The fence bottom should be no higher than 3 inches above the ground. Exposed fence bottoms should have a smooth finish.
  • Wood fences should have a smooth finish, be splinter-free and guaranteed to be non-toxic.
  • Gates should be self-closing and latching. Children’s fingers should be protected from pinching or being crushed on gate hinges. Ideally, each play yard should have a vehicle gate as a service entrance.
  • Fences may be used for protection from the elements and to control sunlight and wind exposure.
  • Fences must have smooth caps and no finials or sharp picket tops.
  • Fence design should discourage climbing and the fence must be able to withstand code-specific force applied horizontally.
  • Fence construction should not use horizontal rails except for the cap and base to prevent climbing.
  • Fastening devices should not project outward since that could injure children.
  • Remove or trim trees with low hanging limbs if they allow for climbing from either side of the fenced area. In no case should limbs project below 6.5 feet from the ground.

6.7.2 Plant Materials

All plant materials must be non-toxic. See Appendix G for a listing of common toxic and non-toxic plant material. The local agricultural Extension Service can provide detailed information on toxic or poisonous plants in the local area. Common plant hazards include berries, thorns, and plants with toxic leaves, stems, roots, or flowers.

It is advisable to design planting and irrigation systems to eliminate using potable water. Instead, maximize the use of native vegetation, which has lower maintenance requirements than introduced species. Avoid the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Use locally acquired composted materials for fertilizing and practice integrated pest management to control pests using the least toxic methods feasible. Use alternate, less toxic termite prevention systems rather than chemical soil treatment for wood-framed buildings. Where soil treatment is determined to be necessary, use less toxic chemicals than chlorpyrifos (“Dursban”), which is currently being phased out by the EPA.

Consider the following advice about plant materials:

  • Plants should be used to introduce nature to the play yard environment.
  • The center atmosphere is enlivened by the color, texture, sound, and motion of plant materials.
  • Observation of plant growth is beneficial to children.
  • Plant materials that change with the seasons are desirable. Visual barriers, screens, and shade and wind protection can be created using plant materials with or instead of man-made structures.
  • Plant materials should be used to define interesting play areas.

6.7.3 Dimensions and Clearances

Best practice indicates that centers should be designed with the following guidelines in mind:

  • Main entrance pathways should be 6 to 8 feet wide. All pathways must provide adequate clearance as prescribed by the UFAS and ADA standards. Pathway slopes should be no greater than 1:20 and should include handrails.
  • Platforms, stairs, handrails on stairs, guardrails, and protective barriers on platforms should comply with requirements in the latest edition of the Handbook for Public Playground Safety of the CPSC. The height of platforms and the age group using the platform will determine when a guardrail or protective barrier is required. Guardrails may be used on platforms at lower heights, while protective barriers should be provided on higher platforms.
  • Handrails should be provided to accommodate the intended age group including adults on all stairs. For children, heights will range between 20 and 36 inches above the leading edge of the tread. In certain instances, it may be necessary to have dual railings mounted at different heights.
  • Guardrails should be provided for infants and toddlers on all platforms higher than 12 inches above adjacent surfaces. Guardrails must be provided for Head Start-age children on all platforms greater than 20 inches above adjacent surfaces. The top of the guardrail must be 30 inches above the platform. The guardrail should not have openings between 3.4 and 9 inches to avoid the possibility of head entrapment. There should be no openings in the fence between 0.3 and 1 inch wide to prevent finger entrapments.
  • Protective barriers should be provided for all children on all platforms more than 30 inches above adjacent surfaces. The protective barrier should be 30 inches above the platform with no openings larger than 3 inches and no horizontal footholds.
  • Maximum platform height for infants is 18 inches above the adjacent floor level.
  • Maximum platform height for toddlers is 36 inches above the adjacent floor level.
  • Maximum platform height for Head Start children is 4.5 feet above the adjacent floor level.
  • Pathways under trees and constructed elements must have at least 6.7 feet of headroom.
  • There must be a fall zone with a resilient surface under all climbing and moving fixed play equipment, as specified in the current CPSC and local licensing criteria. Typically, a minimum 6-foot radius is required. The criteria for resilient surfaces are discussed below.
  • There should be a 6-foot radius clear approach zone to all play equipment not including the fall zone. No tricycle path should run through a fall zone.

6.7.4 Shading

At least half of the play yard should be exposed to sunlight during the morning and afternoon hours when it is in use.

The degree of shade depends on local climatic conditions. Shade areas, including porches, gazebos, and other structures, should provide a minimum shaded area of 6 feet in all directions. Shade may be provided by trees, exterior screened rooms, park shelters and structures, awnings, and umbrellas.

6.7.5 Play Yard Surfaces

A variety of ground surface texture is required on a playground. Surfaces for play yards are based on their physical properties and are categorized into three general types: resilient, hard, and grass/turf.

6.7.6 Resilient Surfaces

Resilient surfaces reduce the impact from falls and should be used in specific equipment areas referred to as fall zones. Refer to ASTM F-355, Shock Absorbing Properties of Playing Surface Systems and Materials and the most recent publication of the CPSC’s Handbook for Public Playground Safety, for specific requirements concerning these resilient surfaces. Examples of approved resilient surface materials include pre-engineered wood chips (not simply wood mulch), pre-formed rubber matting, and poured-in-place rubberized surfaces. Water should drain through these surfaces.

If using a rubber play yard surface, the EPA’s Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines (CPG) indicate that rubber play yard surfacing materials should be made from at least 90-100 percent recycled tire rubber including rubber pavers or loose granulated rubber surfacing.

The fall-absorbing capacity of each surface depends upon the installed thickness and the method of installation. Designers should follow the CPSC recommendations for the type of surface used.

These surfaces vary dramatically in cost. The least expensive are the loosefill variety which typically require a much higher level of maintenance to ensure that the required depth is maintained. This problem should be discussed during the design process. The designer may recommend the more expensive rubberized solutions for ease of maintenance, but should receive written assurance that exposure to sunlight does not lessen the impact-absorptive properties. Adequate drainage should be provided beneath any resilient material including wood chips.

A combination of materials, such as grass, resilient surface, and pre-engineered wood chips, incorporates the advantages of each material and renders a more natural, less institutional appearance than any one surface alone.

The designer also should take note of the following information when planning:

  • Organic materials, such as wood chips, bark chips, and pre-engineered wheel chair accessible processed wood fibers, have good impact-absorbing potential but require proper maintenance to ensure they retain consistent depth.
  • Although tire chips have good resiliency and are relatively inexpensive, they can leave black marks on shoes and clothing and require ongoing maintenance to ensure that proper depths are maintained. Steel belt residue should be removed.
  • It is important to ensure that manufactured resilient mats retain slip resistance when wet and are tightly installed to prevent tripping hazards.
  • Artificial turf alone does not have enough resiliency for fall zones and can be abrasive.

6.7.7 Hard Surfaces

Hard surfaces should be provided in areas used for wheeled riding, in game court areas, and on some all-weather pathways, such as those for wheelchair access. Examples of hard surface materials include concrete, asphalt, stone, or masonry pavers. The durability of each material will vary based on factors such as installation and the thickness of the surface material.

Although the severity of weather affects all paving surfaces, cast-in-place concrete over a well-compacted sub-grade is the most durable, maintenance- free paving material for hard surface areas. It should be finished to be non-slip. Asphalt paving is an acceptable alternative in vehicular areas, but it degrades more quickly than concrete. Masonry pavers can make a durable surface and have numerous options for patterns.

Consider the following when planning hard surfaces and pathways:

  • The use of pavers may introduce joints and textures in the paving surface. They can become uneven over time, if they are not laid over a concrete base. Unevenness may present a tripping hazard. Cost varies depending on the method of installation. Asphalt usually is the least expensive, and stone or masonry pavers are the most expensive. It is possible to use a variety of surface configurations and materials to increase the impression of “naturalness” in the play yard. Specifications and supervision to ensure excellent compaction will affect the serviceability of the surface material.
  • Materials for pathways should allow use during inclement weather. Acceptable materials include concrete, asphalt, stone or masonry pavers, rubberized surfaces, rubber matting, or wood chips. The edges of pathways should not create trip hazards and should be tapered for transitions. All surfaces should allow wheelchair access.
  • The main entrance pathway should be paved. Gravel and loose stone are not recommended for walkway surfaces for children. Smooth surfaces provided for wheeled toys on pathways should not have joints wider than 1/2 inch because wide joints can cause toys to tip.

6.7.8 Grass/Turf Surfaces

Grass/turf is desirable for open play areas but is not appropriate in fall zones. This surface is seasonal and is not suitable during periods of rainfall or snow. Exposure to grass/turf allows children to experience natural materials and provides a pleasant texture to play on, but the surface requires constant maintenance and may need an irrigation system. This type of surface requires maintenance regularly.

See also:
Chapter 6: Site Design

"Site Design." Head Start Center Design Guide. DHHS/ACF/ACYF/HSB. 2005. English.

Last Reviewed: September 2010

Last Updated: August 26, 2015