Adding a playground to your backyard is a fun and developmentally beneficial fixture for your children. Besides the playhouse, there’s one more step that could benefit everyone in the house:
Love a little DIY backyard project? You can add some extra flare to any outdoor playset by adding a border around it.
Here are step-by-step instructions on how to install the playground border, along with some tips and tricks about different border materials and why they’re so important.
What Is a Playground Border?
A playground border is a dedicated barrier a few inches high between your playground setup and the rest of the outdoor space. It can be made of a few different types of materials and can be set up in a shape that not only works with the playground but also your backyard.
What Is the Function of a Playground Border?
A playground border works to keep the playground area separate from the grass, sidewalk, or rest areas that surround it. This function is especially important in public playground spaces and large playgrounds in private backyards where parents like to entertain or in yards with pools.
Types of Playground Border Material
If you opt to add a playground border around your backyard playset, three types of materials typically work best.
Let’s discuss these three options next:
Two main forms of wood material work well for playground borders. One is wood timbers, and the other is wooden logs. These guys are sturdy and can be found at most home supply stores.
The wood timbers are wide and flat. They will need to be stacked up to form the correct border height for your playground (usually three to six inches high), but once they’re set in place, they’re good to hold it all in place.
Wood can tend to be a more expensive option and will need to be regularly checked for bug infestations. Additionally, care must be taken to avoid the potential threat of splinters. On the plus side, wood is a natural, beautiful element that can help mimic a rustic home style.
If you’re looking for a more rustic or comfortable feel for your playground border, try rubber, specifically old tires. A big upside to used tires will be the ability to get them locally from auto shops, potentially at a very low cost to you.
Tires have the added benefit of you reusing them and preventing landfill, which is a great sustainable point for you. They’re also pretty easy to install.
There are two main options in terms of placement: The easiest method is to lie the tires flat on their sides. For a slightly more complicated method, you can cut the tires in half and bury them, which translates into a more subtle look.
Pro tip: To source cost-effective tires, consider reaching out to local auto malls. Rubber tires are a classic feature of playground features, appearing in everything from tire swings to flower planters.
This is the most popular option for a playground border. There are plastic inserts that are designed and made specifically for this purpose, and they are easy to find and pretty cost-effective.
You can follow the basic installation steps (see below), and then just put the plastic playground border right into the designated space. Fast and easy, even for novice DIY-ers.
Plastic borders are very common, and you have probably noticed your local parks and rec spaces use these types of borders around their play spaces. It is a very straightforward way to keep mulch and playground material in place, and plastic won’t degrade with the changing weather.
How To Install a Playground Border
Now that you’ve decided you need one and you’ve selected your chosen material, it’s time to learn how to install a playground border.
These steps are easy to follow; the installation shouldn’t be too strenuous, and your kids will return to playing in no time.
Let’s get to it:
1. Establish Zone
The first thing you’ll want to do is establish the border. Create the shape that will work for your backyard and playground shape/size so that you know that you won’t have to do it twice. Measuring twice and ensuring that it works is easier than finishing and having to start over.
This zone is actually two: the safety zone and the saved space. The safety zone is the area one could reasonably expect children to fall — this area needs to be free of hazards like stray pipes, rocks, or any potentially dangerous items. The “saved space” is the area outside of the safety zone; this is where the border will rest.
When planning your space use, consider these CFOC standards:
All fixed equipment should be six feet away from any structures not intended for play (walkways, other buildings).
- Swings: Minimum of two times the height of the pivot point measured from the exact point underneath the pivot. This space allowance shouldn’t overlap with any other equipment (different swing variations can have specific height requirements)
- Slides: Should have at least 36 inches for landing, but more is ideal. The total distance needed will amount to twice the arc (both back and forward).
- Monkey bars: The bars are generally six to seven feet off the ground. If shorter heights are desired, parents may want to see if the bars can be raised as the children grow taller.
You can use items like string and small nails to draw a border, then step back. If it works, you’re ready. If it doesn’t work, then all you need to do is adjust some nails.
2. Gather Materials
Next, it’s time to gather all the materials so that you won’t be taken off your task at a critical moment later.
In this case, we’ll be discussing how to build a timber border:
- Pressure-treated landscape timbers (six inches in diameter)
- Work gloves
- Safety glasses
- Optional (sledgehammer and rebar)
2. Level the Yard (if Needed)
Now you need to prep the zone. You may need to level out the yard in some cases. Some models, like the Blue Squirrel Clubhouse, don’t require ground leveling.
3. Dig Trench
Then, sketch out the border of your playground — chalk or spray paint are good options. Use that line to guide your trench. Dig a trench of roughly half the height of one piece of timber. This will make sure the timber won’t be moved easily come playtime.
Use the level to make sure the trench is even. If it’s not as even as you’d like, you can fill in spots with sand, gravel, or similar.
4. Lay Down the Wood
Gently drop the wood into the trench, and check to see if it is even. Add in the joints, followed by the second level.
If you are opting to use rebar to really lock the wood in, now is the time to pull out the drill, rebar, and sledgehammer and drill them into the ground.
5. Drill It Together
You likely want to use ten-inch spikes to connect the two wood planks. Spikes should be placed at the corners and in four foot increments. Some people might want to add corner braces for extra security.
6. Spread Out Mulch
Now that the border is in place and your play space is set and secured, it’s time to spread the mulch or material that will fill in around the playground. There are a few options that are pretty popular for this type of work, rubber mulch (cut-up tire material), wood chips, sand, and rubber pads being the most popular options. Mulch covers the base of the playground, which keeps it in place and working safely, and adds a safe landing for the little ones. Children like to push their limits, and this soft material under their feet when they run and play will help keep them injury-free.
7. Add Extra Details
This is the fun part: adding in the small details to make it your own. If your child is a budding artist, add a painting studio to the play space to inspire new artwork. Maybe they like to cook, so add a mini grill and a picnic bench to serve their friends and family new recipes.
Whatever you choose here, this is what makes your playground unique and fun for your family. These details are what will inspire new and inventive games and expand their imagination to the deepest depths it can go. So don’t be afraid to give them items to explore.
Reasons To Install a Playground Border
If you’ve ever taken the kids to a public park, you’ve come into contact with a playground border. Maybe you didn’t really notice it, but it was there.
That’s a big design point with a playground border: It’s not meant to be intrusive or obstructive, just functional.
Below is a list of some of the reasons you should consider one for your home:
Improve the View
The aesthetic of the playground and play area is enhanced when you add a border to your play space. It creates a beautiful delineation between the playground area and the rest of your backyard.
While it might not seem significant, you’ll see the difference immediately, and it will give a little more authenticity and a more professional touch to your backyard. Your neighbors will be wondering who you hired for your landscape design, not realizing you were the architect.
Keep Surface Material in Place
The mulch, wood chips, or sand around the play area are designed for kids. It creates a softer landing area for children coming down the slide or jumping off of platforms.
The materials that surround playgrounds are set up specifically to surround the play space and nothing more. A proper and secured border around the playground area will keep all of that material where it’s supposed to be. This can help keep stray wood chips from populating the yard or being tracked into the house.
Create a Safer Play Area
Kids know how far they can push boundaries when it comes to the cushion under their feet. In a playground area with a dedicated border, there’s generally extra padding to lessen the impact for jumping kids.
So this type of design around the playground ensures two ideas: One, you’ll have a way of keeping soft materials around the playground and out of the surrounding landscape. Two, the kids have a safer space to land when testing their limits and playing with friends.
Teach Kids Rules
Kids need structure as youngsters so they can learn boundaries, right from wrong, and structure. These are foundational stepping stones that they will take with them into adulthood, and a playground border can help them on their way.
This separates the area from where it’s okay to play and where the playing stops. Kiddos will be able to learn the lines where their playground and play space extends and where the sidewalks need to be kept free from debris and fun games.
You also have the advantage of being able to teach one child about the rules of the border and having them show their friends; it’s a form of social development called parallel play. It works by allowing children to emulate what they see in friends, to learn and grow. However, they’ll be so busy playing that they won’t even realize how much they’re learning and developing along the way.
This is it; you’re ready to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Your children should be chomping at the bit to get to their playhouse by now, and that means a few extra minutes of uninterrupted relaxing for you after a hard day’s work in the backyard.
- Family Rules | Creating Structure | Essentials | Parenting Information | CDC
- Tires: The plastic polluter you never thought about | National Geographic
- The Best Way to Level a Yard Without a Bobcat | SF Gate
- Gardening Designs for Landscaping With Recycled Tires | SF Gate
- Play Areas Checklist Swings & Slides | National Children's Center
- Chapter 6: Play Areas/Playgrounds and Transportation | CFOC
- How Do I Build a Playground Area With Landscape Timbers? | Hunker