Guest Blog: Designing a truly inclusive playground

In June, we awarded the Iola Kiwanis club in Iola, Kan., $25,000 in playground equipment as part of the Make a Difference Through Play contest. Since winning, they’ve been busy with plans, and we’re happy to share another update from Michael Ford, member of Iola Kiwanis and community resource officer for the Iola Police Department.

When our playground consultant from ATHCO, LLC visited with us to discuss the inclusive playground design, five representatives from the M.O.M.S. group were at the meeting along with the school’s physical therapist and a couple of Kiwanis members. We all paged through the Landscape Structures catalog—the moms focused on products that might specifically help their kids—and the rest of us picked out items that we thought we be fun for all kids.

The Marble Panel™, Xylofun Panel® and Bongo Panel all provide sensory-rich experiences for kids.

L to R: Marble Panel™, Xylofun Panel® and Bongo Panel

Some of the moms focused on including sensory panels because they figured that even though their children might not have a lot of muscle strength to climb or hang from overhead events, they can still participate and have fun. And I don’t know what kid isn’t going to enjoy beating on Bongo Drums or playing on a Xylophone, which is what some of the panels included. Another popular item was the Marble Panel™, which one mom whose child with vision problems picked out. The light shines through the marbles to engage kids’ sight, plus it offers a unique tactile experience.

As a parent of kids without special needs, I never thought about sensory items as part of the playground, but now I see that it’s very important. And it’s important for the development of all kids. That, to me, is how we’re providing a truly inclusive play space.

The Roller Table provides a unique sensory experience with its deep muscle pressure.

Roller Table™

While the moms focused on sensory-rich activities, the physical therapist thought more about what kids—with and without special needs—need for building strength. She chose climbers that would engage kids’ full bodies. And she thought the Roller Table™ would be great for kids that don’t have any lower body strength, as they can lie down and pull themselves through.

The design process has been very educational for us. The Cozy Dome®, which I just looked at as a fort or climber, can also be beneficial for children with autism to use as a “time-out” space if they get overstimulated. It was quite the learning experience to look at these playground products from a different point of view.

The Cozy Dome® offers kids a place to escape the hustle and bustle of a busy playground, take time by themselves or socialize together.

Cozy Dome®

After that first meeting, our playground consultant came back with a design that we all liked. The design is final; however, if we exceed our fundraising goal we’d love to add more inclusive playground pieces to the design.

Stay tuned for another update from Michael next month. He’ll talk more about the importance of inclusive play to the community of Iola.

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