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Ways to Make A Playground Inclusive for Everyone

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All children deserve access to a space where they can learn new skills and further develop pre-existing ones. Few designers, however, consider children of all abilities while they are designing a playground. This leads to some children being alienated from others and their chance to learn essential skills while playing. Since no one wants to see a child left out, this article aims to educate designers and parents alike on not only the importance of inclusive spaces but also the simple considerations that need to be made to make one possible.


The first aspect of designing an inclusive space is understanding that there is a difference in the words inclusive and accessible. Even though the two terms are often used synonymously,  accessible refers to the ability to easily approach, reach, enter, speak with or use. In terms of an accessible playground, this would be one that includes ramps for children to enter and certain objects (not all) within reach of the individuals. In essence, it is including more children, but it is not yet inclusive.


An inclusive space covers everything or everyone. This means having accessible features for every child to interact with regardless of their abilities. An inclusive playground needs to demonstrate an understanding of the developmental needs of the child and provide opportunities for them to engage in their variety of developmental skills. This can be achieved by following the following steps:


  1. Incorporate Physical Play

Being kept active is an important aspect for children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that children should participate in 60 or more minutes of physical activity each day. Some of the best objects that promote activeness on the playground include swings or monkey bars.


2) Add Sensory Play Elements

Children with Autism or Sensory Processing Disorders often prefer sensory stimulation since it allows them to explore and discover how their world works in an interactive way. While a child is engaged with sensory play, they are working towards enhancing their cognitive and motor skills, stimulating their creativity, and developing social skills. Items such as swings, sensory-rich play panels, sand play elements, musical activities, or spinners are great for fulfilling the child's sensory needs.

3) Incorporate Communication Skills

While interactive games are commonly played with peers on the playground, some children may have a harder time participating with a group. This is why incorporating music into the playground is beneficial. It not only allows children to contribute to the sounds of the immediate surroundings, but also encourages further skill development through the use of hand-eye coordination.


4) Choose Cognitive Play Equipment

Whether they are deciding what game to play next or debating a ride down the slide, a child is constantly forced to make choices while they are on the playground. The social choices presented on a playground are one way to help children develop their cognitive skills. Another way is by incorporating structures that feature other skill building tasks. For example, you could incorporate a maze, which would help with engaging the child's problem solving and strategic thinking skills.


5) Add Social Areas

In order for an inclusive playground to exist, children need to not only be able to physically interact with the environment but also be socially included in activities. This is why it's important to have areas where children can feel emotionally secure and encouraged to interact with others. 


After ensuring that there are activities on the playground that engage the child in the different forms of play, it’s important to then consider the following two design choices when creating a playground:


1) Eliminate Segregated Design

Following the notion for social areas includes the elimination of segregated design. A child deserves to be able to interact with the other kids on the playground and engage with the play equipment. They shouldn’t be limited to certain types of equipment based on their abilities or be guided to an area that specifically focuses on their skills. Instead, the playspace should be able to engage all children and have ample opportunities for mixed interactions.


2) Consider Access Points for Everyone

Having an entrance into the park that is easily accessible isn’t worthwhile if the equipment beyond it is not. You need to consider how tunnels, slides, and climbing structures are not viable for all children. So when you’re designing, it’s important to include ramps and lifts for elevated play structures.


Ultimately, when it comes to play equipment, children will have different interests. While one child may enjoy more physical activities like swinging, another child might prefer sensory activities like playing with the sand. It’s important that regardless of the child’s preference or abilities, there are activities for them to engage with their physical, cognitive, social/emotional, sensory, and communicative development skills. Children deserve the right to be included while at the playground. So while playing with other kids is beyond your control, as a designer you have the responsibility to at least leave the opportunity open.


Learn about Burke's Inclusive Playground Equipment or if you're looking to add to your community, contact your local Burke Representative today!


By: Emily Matlovich, writer for CADdetails’ blog Design Ideas for the Built World

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