Imagine…

We read so many great essays when deciding the winners of the Together We Play™ contest, and want to share with you excerpts from the winning submissions. Here is part of what drew us in to learn more about the Sensory Garden Playground Initiative at the Wheaton Park District in Wheaton, Ill.

Imagine the sounds of happy children running, climbing, swinging and digging, while parents chat nearby. Imagine the relaxing atmosphere of unstructured play which encourages problem-solving and socialization among peers. Imagine entire families enjoying recreation together.

Now imagine the nightmare a park can be for families of children with sensory processing problems–too much noise, too much contact, no place to withdraw safely. Imagine the panic of parents when a child on sensory overload runs away, or the embarrassment when their child becomes overwhelmed and bites or hits another child. Imagine a family’s frustration at not being able to enjoy a park atmosphere because the facility isn’t safe and welcoming for a child with special emotional needs.

We imagined all this and more.

Then we saw a safely fenced play area with room for children to spread out, surrounded by a fitness trail for adults. We saw surfacing where wheeled devices move easily and equipment is designed to engage sight, hearing, smell, movement and touch. We saw places where a child can withdraw easily and safely, so that each one can learn to regulate his or her own sensory input. We saw a welcoming place where whole families can relax and engage and enjoy their time together.

We saw the need for a multi-community effort to build a world-class facility, and we are ready and willing to lead in making it a reality.

And the winners are…

We’re excited to announce that Wheaton Park District in Wheaton, Ill., is the grand prize winner of the Together We Play™ essay contest for their Sensory Garden Playground Initiative!

We’re also proud to announce the five runner-up winners of Together We Play:

  1. City of Gig Harbor, Wash.
  2. The FUNdation, South Elgin, Ill.
  3. Princess Alexa Foundation, Keller, Texas
  4. Kate’s Kause, Elmira, Ontario, Canada
  5. City of Lewiston, Maine

Keep working toward your goal. Your community–especially the children–will appreciate the work you’re doing to create a place where people of all abilities can play together. Stay inspired; check back to watch the progress of the contest projects here.

Final announcement coming soon

We are finalizing a few last details before announcing the winners of the Together We Play™ contest. Thank you all for your interest in the contest, and even more for your commitment to inclusive play. We expect to make the final announcement of the GRAND PRIZE and RUNNER UP winners within the next 24 to 48 hours. Keep checking back!

Playing together

Many children with special needs have difficulty adjusting to unstructured time, such as time on the playground. But after reading the Together We Play™ essays and speaking with parents and caregivers of these children, we know that the playground is an important place for children to be welcomed.

I recently came across a blog, Thin Places—Faith, Family and Disability, that discussed this topic. The author has a daughter, Penny, with Down syndrome. Penny started kindergarten this year and really enjoys it, but she sometimes has trouble sitting still and using her words. Penny’s teacher, however, is working closely with the author to ensure that Penny has friends.

“On Monday, though, Penny’s teacher took it to a new level. ‘The hardest time for Penny is on the playground,’ she said. ‘I think it’s because it’s such an unstructured time.’ So she’s decided to create a game time for Penny and a smaller group of friends. Usually the teacher would use that time to prepare for the second half of the day. But instead, she’s outside, making sure there’s a place for our daughter.

I spoke with a friend last night who has a daughter with Down syndrome who is also in elementary school. My friend was in tears because some kids had yelled at her daughter on the playground: ‘You don’t belong here!’ We talked for a long time about the difficulties of being a child with special needs, and the difficulty of being a parent of a child with special needs. She talked about the purpose of inclusive education, and she said, ‘I know that for my daughter to fit in means putting a square peg in a round hole. But I thought that inclusion was intended to make that round hole bigger.’ My daughter will not become a circle, but I’m grateful that the circle is becoming large enough for our daughter to fit in.”

Inclusive education is exactly what Shane’s Inspiration’s programming is all about. Their playground programming helps break down the barriers of bias toward children with disabilities through education. Check out what Shane’s Inspiration might be able to offer to your community.

The final countdown

Next week, we will unveil the winners of the Together We Play™essay contest. The GRAND PRIZE winner, which will win $100,000 in inclusive playground equipment from Landscape Structures and $50,000 in playground design, project development and educational program services from Shane’s Inspiration. Additionally, we will award five RUNNER UP winners with $10,000 in inclusive play equipment from Landscape Structures and $50,000 in playground design, project development and educational program services from Shane’s Inspiration.

We’re excited to be so close to the final announcement! It has been great to read all of the essay submissions, and hard to whittle all of them down to only six. But as we reach out to each of the communities, we’re sure that they’re all very deserving.

There will be one RUNNER UP winner from each of the five regions outlined in the map below. The GRAND PRIZE winner will also come out of one of these regions. So… which region do you think will be awarded the $100,000 in inclusive playground equipment and playground programming?!

Guest Blog: Creating community

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Now that Stephani Victor, Paralympic gold medalist and Together We Play™ essay contest judge, has finished reading the essays, she’s even more in awe of those who submitted them.

It has truly been an honor and rewarding experience to contribute to this most generous award opportunity that I know will be embraced whole heartedly by the winners. I learned a lot through this process. I cried, I felt people’s loss and community need. I felt their frustration with failing budgets and poorly maintained or inaccessible playgrounds in existence. But most importantly, I felt their passion, their commitment and authentic motivation to bring people together for the purpose of play. I have thought a lot about “playing” and what that means in my life, how it has shaped my life and how we have a responsibility as a society to ensure everyone has an opportunity to “play.” It’s important that we provide a place for everyone to go that is safe, where they can explore, grow and develop their imaginations and, ultimately, their sense of self.

I am also deeply affected by the idea of inclusion and what that really means. And how damaging exclusion can be, even if it comes from well-meaning parents who want to exclude able-bodied children from playing with their child with special needs because they are trying to protect them. Ultimately, any exclusion has negative consequences for everyone. I am so committed to the exploration of inclusion–in life–for adults, too. I am really grateful to you for sharing your insights and educating me. I have mountains of respect for you and your teammates, who are so committed to making a difference in lives of so many. Lastly, I appreciated the reminder that each of us gets to create our community and if we would like things to change, we need to start with ourselves.

Guest Blog: Connecting with communities

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Hear from Stephani Victor, Paralympic gold medalist and Together We Play™ essay contest judge, as she makes her way through the piles of amazing essay submissions.

I am deeply moved by all of the essays I have read and feel equally inspired by the expansive vision of so many applicants and their ability to identify and address their community’s needs. I feel a great sense of pride for our country and, as an athlete for Team USA, have had the privilege to travel all over the U.S. Judging this inclusive playground contest has felt like journey back to so many places I have visited. Now I have a chance to connect with those communities in a meaningful way as I read about their dreams to bring inclusive play for all to their community. I am really grateful to share in this magnificent project to make dreams a reality.