The disruption of the coronavirus pandemic has been tough on everyone including kids. As children safely resume outdoor play, each child will experience the playground differently. For kids with sensory processing challenges—5 to 16% of school-aged children—regulating their bodies and emotions through play is especially critical.
For Sensory Awareness Month, which is in October, we’re sharing the importance of creating inclusive playground environments.
According to Virginia Spielmann, executive director at the STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder, for many kids with sensory processing difficulties, a traditional playground doesn’t offer the same opportunities to master physical challenges, gain social confidence or hone fine motor skills.
To highly sensitive children, the intense experiences of a playground like the spin of a merry-go-round or the tussle of kids on the monkey bars can feel like an assault on their senses. In other cases, children may seek out external stimulation.
“Kids may react strongly and with enthusiasm to this external simuli, or they may retreat,” explained Spielmann. “And often, they can’t match the motor skills of other children, which makes them feel even more different and isolated—especially on a traditional playground.”
The right play equipment can make all the difference. And today’s thoughtfully designed playgrounds have evolved into places that foster all-sensory experiences for every child.
At Landscape Structures, our product and playground designers are educated and interested in how kids with special needs experience the world, which informs their approach and designs—and makes an enormous difference in the final product.
That insight translates to subtle equipment details in materials, shapes, movement or orientation. For example, a playstructure with built-in tactile elements invites children to explore a variety of textures and shapes and helps them to integrate multiple tactile experiences.
There are many other ways that playground design can invite children of all abilities to play, explore and learn with confidence. Learn more about designing inclusive playgrounds to meet the needs of your community at playlsi.com. And learn more about sensory processing and how to help spread awareness for it at spdstar.org.
During the global pandemic, children and families have been eagerly waiting to get outside and back to the playground. And as many communities reopen their parks and playgrounds, we’re here to support you in your efforts to Play Healthy™. That’s why we’ve pulled together resources from our partners, which provide guidance to ensure the reopening of play spaces is done safely and swiftly. Additionally, city leaders will find product offerings to support their efforts of keeping the community healthy.
There’s a lot of information out there about reopening playgrounds, so we’ve curated some of the key resources released by our partners including KABOOM!, NRPA and NAESP. Here you’ll find actionable guidelines for returning to play equitably, a webinar on safely reopening play spaces, as well as tips, best practices and professional resources for park and school professionals. And if you’re at home for distance learning or other reasons, we’ve pulled together innovative ideas for kids and families to stay active and playing.
In addition to the above resources for reopening playgrounds, we have product offerings to support your community’s health:
Return to play safely with the new Play Healthy Hand Sanitizer Station! With this ADA-compliant Sanitizer Station, all park and playground visitors will have access to hand sanitizer before and after play. In addition to holding up to one gallon of sanitizer to require less frequent reorders from your sanitizer supplier, the graphics on the container can be customized with your logo, tagline or your own pictorial instructions.
Earlier this year, we introduced a collection of dynamic playground designs that meet budgets of every size. Curated by our playground designers, this collection delivers innovative and iconic choices at an affordable price point. The lead designs in this collection are the new BeachComber structure as well as the Tree Tops structure.
BeachComber Grab your best beach buddy and ride the wild surf on this wavy playstructure. Kids ages 5 to 12 will love creating seaworthy adventures as they sail across the new Tidal Wave Climber, wind their way down curvy slides and hop-hop-hop over the Pod Climber®.
A cool color palette accentuates this flowy design that honors the graceful motion of ocean waves. Young imaginations are encouraged to go with the flow as they surge forth to encounter marine life, discover buried treasure and explore the oceans of activity built into the BeachComber. Introduce this seaside attraction to any playground for hours of nautical fun—no sand required!
Tree Tops This wondrously abstract playstructure gives kids the sense of playing in the treetops, exploring a forest canopy branch by branch. But beyond the normal ups and downs of traditional tree-climbing, here kids ages 5 to 12 can also navigate their way across wiggly bridges, crawl through the O-Zone® 3-ring climber, roar down two different slides, plus so much more.
Such a great range of interconnected activities at multiple levels will spark hours of imaginative and energetic play, all protected by plenty of built-in shade. Whether it’s a tree fort, a forest city or an agility race in the sky, it will always be a beacon for your playground.
In addition to the BeachComber and Tree Tops structures, there are more than 40 budget-friendly designs available for all age ranges. Browse our Great Designs brochure to see them all.
Earlier this year, the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) awarded more than $100,000 to 17 outstanding students for its 2020 scholarship season. The scholarships and fellowships support the next generation of designers by rewarding superior student performance, encouraging diversity, supporting original research and assisting students with unmet financial need.
One of those awards is the Steven G. King Play Environments Scholarship, which was created by Cofounder and Chairman of Landscape Structures, Steve King, FASLA, and the inventor of the continuous play concept.
The purpose of the scholarship is to recognize a student who has high potential in the design of play environments. This student must show an interest in the value of integrating playgrounds into parks, schools and other play environments and understand the significant social and educational value of play. Key qualities in the student receiving the Scholarship are creativity, openness to innovation, and a demonstrated interest in park and playground planning.
This year’s recipient of the Steven G. King Play Environments Scholarship is Allyson Fairweather. This past May, Allyson received a Master’s of Landscape Architecture from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and is working part-time at Wright Ostermier Landscape Architects. We were happy to sit down with Allyson earlier this summer to hear more about her interest in landscape architecture, and the project she submitted as part of her scholarship application.
Last spring, Allyson took a research class and was interested in studying if there was a relationship between an adult affinity for nature and how much time that adult spent playing in nature as a child.
“I was excited to discover that there is evidence to suggest that children that play outdoors in nature exhibit more environmentally responsible behaviors, greater nature inquiry, great awareness of ecological process and greater environmental stewardship,” Allyson explained.
In her research, the term “nature playscape” popped up a lot. She learned that a nature playscape is an outdoor play space that is specifically designed to connect children to the natural environment and included elements such as water, plants, soil and incorporated wild life.
“As a child, I played outside all the time,” Allyson shared. “I was always on my hands and knees in the dirt playing with bugs, collecting flowers and leaves, and running around in my parents’ garden. I have more memories of that than I do hanging out on a swing set. And now as an adult, I love the outdoors. So that’s what sparked my interest in this subject.”
Through her connection to adjunct professor and Principal at Wright Ostermier Landscape Architects, Emily Wright, Allyson was made aware of a playground redesign project at The Bement School, a small, co-ed day and boarding school for kindergarten through grade 9 in historic Deerfield, Mass. The school, nestled below the Pocumtuck Range and flanked by the Deerfield River, has a beautiful, rural environment. Their existing playground was outdated and disconnected—scattered throughout campus. And upon further conversations, Allyson learned that the playground equipment wasn’t challenging enough for the range of students using it.
Allyson met with the playground committee—two school administrators and a teacher—a few different times. Initially, she visited the site to understand the space. Then she held two workshops—one for the playground committee and a second one for a small group of students in grades 3, 4, 5 and 7.
“The ultimate goal of these workshops was to understand how the play space was used, what the school community liked or didn’t like, and their vision of how it could be improved,” explained Allyson. “We prompted the adults with questions for discussion, but for the students we planned a more interactive exercise using a printed map of campus and inspirational photos. The students used stickers to vote for favorite pictures of nature play spaces.”
Allyson explained that the kids’ favorite photo was a playstructure embedded into a hillside because it appeared challenging and the students could imagine many creative ways to play there.
“A large part of this project was engaging with The Bement School community,” Allyson said. “They loved being a part of this project and kept asking when we were going to come back.”
After compiling all of the feedback into a report, Allyson started laying out the design of the nature playscape.
“One of the first things I did with this design was start with a continuous accessible path that circulated through the entire play space to create a boundary that unifies the play area. I tried to accommodate a range of ages and abilities in the play equipment. We imagined the playground would be created out of locally sourced black locusts because it’s really strong, sturdy wood that doesn’t splinter.”
Of course, they were tasked with blending the nature-inspired elements with more traditional playground features like foursquare and basketball courts, and swings. They included those elements but oriented them at angles that give different views of the soccer fields, the play area and the surrounding landscape.
“The committee wanted to include a tire swing as it helped demonstrate one of The Bement School’s core values, collaboration,” Allyson explained. “Older kids help younger kids up onto the tire swing so it presents an opportunity for different age groups to interact and build friendships. We really appreciated their observation and positioned the tire swing in the space between two different play zones so both age groups can meet in the middle.”
In addition, it was important to include quiet areas for older kids. Picnic tables and boulders were positioned throughout the play space to offer hangout spaces. Integrated plantings, boulders and rain gardens were woven throughout the play space to extend learning to the playground.
“We presented the nature playscape to The Bement School in January 2020, and they loved it,” said Allyson. “They hope to invest in the project in the future.”
We hope to see this project come to fruition, and to see what types of playscapes Allyson completes in her future career. Congratulations, Allyson, on your scholarship!
Building, updating and maintaining playgrounds takes money. The good news is there is grant money available, you just need to know where to look. Our grant resources help navigate the playground grant process. Request our grant resources, which include nationwide and international grant opportunities, here.
In addition to playground grant resources, we have many purchasing and funding options that can help bring your playground dreams to fruition.
Fundraising. Playground fundraisers not only raise money, they bring people together to improve the lives of children.
Purchasing Contracts. Purchasing contracts allow for quicker playground equipment purchases while satisfying all bid requirements.
From small shade to big shade, decorative shade to themed shade, we offer flexible and stylish commercial shade sails for everywhere people like to gather. SkyWays® by Landscape Structures offers the largest reprieve from the sun’s rays to provide cool and reliable shade for any play, rest and activity area!
Pickleball Courts, Arizona
The Vista 1 at Hunters Creek, Florida
Kansas City Zoo, Missouri
Freedom Park, California
Infinitus Pie, Colorado
Recreational areas such as tennis courts, fitness parks, playgrounds and dog parks; outdoor activity spaces such as zoos, amusement parks, waterparks and splash pads; public/community spaces like pavilions; and corporate locations, hotels and airports all benefit from the addition of commercial shade structures. Our sun shade structures are available in a variety of standard shapes and sizes, and these industrial shade canopies can be customized to fit the unique requirements of your environment.
Henry Doorly Zoo, Nebraska
Sonic Square, Arizona
Ascend at Cave Creek, Arizona
SkyWays shade structures are unmatched in materials, design, engineering and manufacturing, and successfully block up to 97 percent of harmful UV rays from the sun and keep areas beneath up to 30-degrees cooler. Even more, SkyWays by Landscape Structures is certified to ISO 9001-2015, ISO 14001-2015 and AISC for steel building structures so customers can be assured that they are working with a manufacturing facility dedicated to providing the highest quality and most durable heavy duty shade structures.
Learn more about commercial sun shade sails and structures from SkyWays by Landscape Structures.
The school playground was designed for students ages 5 to 12, and features playground slides, climbers, and activity panels in addition to overhead events and bridges. The playground is ADA compliant and designed to welcome children of all abilities. In addition to building the playground, principal volunteers participated in landscaping, painting and other beautification projects at the school.
What an awesome day of giving for @naesp and Adams Elementary. We had a great time building the new @PlayLSI playground. It was a bummer telling the kids they had to wait 72 hours to play on it. We could see how excited they were. Thanks @DrSGeis for the recommendation. So fun! pic.twitter.com/HiZI9OqADx
As you can see from the tweets, principals had a blast during the build. This community service day marks the 11th anniversary of our partnership with NAESP to build a playground at a deserving elementary school.
Planning a playground requires consideration for children of allabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires all playgrounds to be brought into compliance. Since the ADA requirements have come out, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) have provided written guidelines for accessibility compliance. ASTM F1487-05 Standard is a document that provides specific playground/play equipment accessibility guidance.
The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board has also authored a guideline that is the standard of practice for determining compliance with the ADA.
Legally, the ADA requires that “each service, program, or activity conducted by a public entity when viewed in its entirety, be readily accessible to, and usable by, individuals with disabilities.” This law covers “both indoor and outdoor areas where human constructed improvements, structures, equipment or property have been added to the natural environment.”
Accessibility law only requires that comparable experiences must be provided for all. If there are several slides and two or more swings, it is considered accessible if children with disabilities can use one of the slides and one of the swings. To learn more about the difference between accessibility and inclusivity,click here.
Aside from the regulations put forth that determine how to design an accessible playground for children of varying mobilities, there are many actions a planner should take to ensure their structure is truly inclusive. Inclusivity on a playground can be witnessed when children of all abilities can play together and participate equally- not separately and on their own. A well-designed playground incorporates the aspects of inclusive play to blend seamlessly.
A well-rounded playground is not complete without the addition of sensory play elements. Sensory play adds valuable play experiences to a playground through beneficial opportunities for learning and socializing. Proper sensory play can help children develop problem solving skills, express emotion, promote empathy, and instills lasting confidence. Not all sensory play is created equally- playground planners should ensure that their sensory play equipment is inclusive to children of all abilities, both physical and mental.
Many children living with sensory processing disorders or autism may find socializing, communication, and imaginative play challenging without the proper support. Through sensory play, these children can feel included to explore and discover new experiences without fear or exclusion.
Landscape Structures Inc. offers a variety of sensory play equipment for every project:
Introducing: The Crab Trap™! The Crab Trap™ invites children to take part in endless climbing options. Climbing experiences vary based on whether players are inside or outside the structure while a variety of components add an additional layer of interest and experiences. Between the outside climbing capabilities and inside options, play is endless in the Crab Trap™.
The open ended play set-up excites a kid’s creativity and encourages the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Maneuvering from challenge to challenge retains interest with even players older in age. The Crab Trap aids in the development in a variety of areas: sensory, motor skills, cognitive skills, and social/emotional skills.
Available in Hot Galvanized Steel for coastal environments as well as having steel enforced cables, the Crab Trap™ is resistant to vandalism, sun, and other environmental damage for a longer life and more pleasing visual aesthetics for years to come!