Take a page from public playground management when planning your play area. Keep it simple, low-maintenance, accessible and safe. A path of rubber tiles around swing sets and climbing bars, or extended across the whole area, is a nice cushion for their bones and your nerves. Rubber tiles are designed to drain quickly when properly installed and a tile border surrounding the play area is an invitation to race, scoot or tumble around it and get even more exercise.
Mark the rubber tile border with stakes and string. Determine the placement using standard safety measures outlined by the National Program for Playground Safety. If the area has a slide, safety cushioning should extend as far out as the height of the slide. The tile border can count as part of the cushioning. A swing needs a soft surface double the height of the top bar in both front and back. The border can be the outer edge of the safety zone.
Clear the area to be covered by the tile, removing all stones and anything that sticks up or could make a bump in the tiles.
Compact the cleared soil where you will lay tiles. Use a compactor to compress it efficiently. Spread a layer of gravel over the prepared space for the rubber tiles. Lay a flat board on the gravel and put a carpenter's level on the board to check that the gravel is even.
Break the ground along the inside border of the tile path with a straight shovel and set a plastic weed barrier in the cut. Tap it down with a hammer so it sticks up above ground no more than half the height of the rubber tiles.
Lay the substrate for the rubber tile over the level gravel, up against the weed barrier. Apply the adhesive that comes with the tile according to manufacturer's instructions. Glue only as much substrate as you are able to tile in 30 minutes to avoid glue that dries faster than you can work. Set the tile on the glue-covered substrate, using a mallet to tap each tile against the one next to it for a snug fit.
If your border has to curve around a boulder, tree or other immovable object, use a jigsaw to cut the tile and a sharp scissor or utility knife to cut the substrate. When the rubber tile border is glued down, sink a plastic weed barrier along the outer edge, making sure the top of the barrier reaches only halfway up the side of the rubber tile. The barriers will help keep the lawn and weeds from encroaching on the path and help to hold the tiles in place. Sinking them lower than the tiles allows for compression of the tiles without contact with the rigid plastic.
If the play area is grassy and gets worn down to dirt from use, consider tiling the entire space for a safe, low-maintenance play surface.
Before purchasing rubber tiles for a play area, check to see that they meet American Society for Testing and Materials standards and U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission guidelines.