Friday, March 18, 2011

Playground Hills and Embankment Slides

I wanted to post about playground hills today. Almost every person I talk to wants a hill in their learning landscape, with an embankment slide of course. It is kind of a trademark of natural play. Most folks picture a grass hill that is perpetually green and mowed (by someone else ;).

But, most of these spaces will get a low level of maintenance and the hill is likely to turn into dirt and mud at the top and on the sides of the slide from all of the excited foot traffic. I want to encourage this 'traffic' but discourage mud. Below are things I have tried or proposed recently with a varying degree of success. Let me know if you have installed or seen something that works well. I would be interested in photos too.


photo from

-  Using bark mulch next to the slide and on the top of the mound to simplify mowing and edging as well as reduce grass trampling and mud. I worry that the chips will migrate after a while leaving... you guessed it dirt.

- I like the slide from Friedberg's Central Park example. I wrote about here. The concrete sides save surrounding hill and vegetation. Plus they are fun to climb!

- What about mats that support lawn or fake lawn? Here is an example from Erect Architecture that I like.

- I have used a soil binder. The one I specified is actually used in outfield dirt on baseball fields. They send an aggregate and binder and you mix with native soil. This one happens to be red too, very fun!

- I have used rubber surfacing, and a mix of rubber surfacing and chips. But sometimes I like the natural feeling of grass. 

Clackamas Community College Early Head Start Facility by GreenWorks
Bethany Meadows 'Pirate Ship Park' by GreenWorks

This example from Cooper Mountain Nature Park
shown resilient surfacing next to the sides of the slide

- What about a high percentage of river rock in the soil? This is good for stabilizing and less mud in the long run but tends to kill the grass quickly.

- I have just used grass and let it turn into dirt and get compacted. As long at the owner and maintenance person were ok with this. Here is a nice example of brown grass that still looks fun!

Have you had good success with hills and slides? Do you mind the dirt or mud? I think it may all depend on the site and the user but I have not seen a good one size fits all solution...yet. If you have read this far go ahead and leave a comment! Sometimes I feel like my posts drop from my fingers off the end of the earth.


  1. Hi Michelle

    I think we have a mutual appreciation society! Your blog is brilliant. I love ones that talk about real issues.

    Thanks for telling me to come and visit.

  2. I love your blog! Juliet from "I'm a teacher get me outside here" passed on your link and it is right up my alley :) I'm a preschool teacher with a passion for outdoor play and natural playscapes so I'm off to read more of your posts.

  3. How about installing large rocks or boulders (roundish ones without jagged edges) along side of slide for children to climb up? Not sure if this is too much of a safety concern for some... but would give it an aesthetically pleasing and natural feel.

  4. Thank you all for your comments.

    Both of these women have wonderful blogs! They are creative and thoughtful and help children develop a sense of wonder every day.

    Katy- Thanks for your post too. Your ideas are similar to the most recent approach I am trying. I will post a picture when it is complete. Take care of yourself and let me know when that baby arrives!

    Keep the comments coming!

  5. Hi there,

    Marcus from,

    I agree with Katy I think some nicely shaped boulders place in the main traffic areas would suit this area nicely, for the top you could have an area with big flat stones loosely tesselated just to keep little feet from wearing the soil down. In thailand, and other places with a wet season this is a huge problem, we used cartires slotted into the hill as steps. here is a link to our model of this

    great blog


  6. Marcus-

    I love the idea of flat stones at the top of the slide too. I finally got approval from a 'safety/CAD expert' that the stones next to the slide are deemed safe by him. I will go back and see about the flat stones on top of the hill. Sometimes it seems like I have to struggle for every little piece. But, the outcome should be fantastic.

    Thanks for the link. I think your database is really interesting and has tons of cool ideas. The tires would work well here. They are softer then rocks too if someone were to fall!

    Thanks for your comments.

  7. Where did you get your slide from? I'm doing some research, and contacting companies to see who we want to buy our embankment slide from. We are in the process of writing a grant, so we can build our natural playspace. Any information would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

  8. I'm looking to purchase an embankment slide as well? Do you have a list of companies that sell them?

  9. We will soon be moving into a home with the perfect hill for our 10 foot wave slide. I plan on having the hubby make a wooden support for the slide or just putting it right in the ground. My idea to help reduce "mud" is by making "stairs" out of discarded rubber tires. It will be fun for my toddler to climb up and a little safer for his knees than boulders. We shall see, I am very excited!

  10. Playground equipment has evolved to make things more fun for kids. Wilkins Solutions provides playground equipment in Orlando for schools, hotels, apartments and more. playgorund equipment Orlando.


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