Making progress

Region 5 Winner: City of Lewiston, Maine

On Nov. 15, we had a press conference and extensive meetings with Shane’s Inspiration and Landscape Structures. Since then, we’ve had a stakeholder’s matrix meeting and have shared all our thoughts and ideas around a theme of “The River” to Shane’s Inspiration’s Landscape Architect Virginia Hatley. Because the City of Lewiston is focusing on developing its riverfront, this inclusive playground theme seems like it will fit perfectly into Marcotte Park. We are now waiting for Virginia’s rendering of the design.

Stay tuned for more updates from the City of Lewiston, as well as the grand prize and other regional winners.

A unique perspective

The City of Lewiston, Maine, is the region five winner of the Together We Play™ essay contest. The vision for this community’s inclusive playground comes from a unique perspective–providing a place where children can not only play with their friends, but also with their parents or guardians. Read below to learn more about their vision for inclusion on the playground.

“As parents of a 4-year-old, they want quality play time with her. Ben has been a quadriplegic since December 2007 and finding ways to play together has been difficult.

They desire a playground where children and adults with disabilities feel welcome–a centralized play area versus being separated from others. Inclusiveness, they say, would affirm that others are willing to share time/space with them. Ben believes the playground would be a fresh, unbiased experience where play, socialization and education would be common ground for a new adventure!”

Children are our inspiration

The City of Gig Harbor, Wash., is the region one winner of the Together We Play™ essay contest. Their essay explains their inspiration behind submitting an essay–providing a place where all of their children can play together. Read the excerpt below to truly understand what inspired these moms.

“Our children are our inspiration. We are a group of mothers who have bonded together over the past 10 years–working hard to make our community a better place for our special needs children and for those to come in the future. In this case, we are members of the ‘Committee for an Inclusive Playground in the City of Gig Harbor.’ Each of us has a unique story–traumatic and often sad–and our children have many different diagnoses including muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, autism, developmental delays, chromosome abnormalities and epilepsy. Yet, each family also has a typically developing child, and that has inspired us to create an inclusive playground.”

Children of all abilities should play together on the playground.

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.

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?!

Play for Life

The 2011 Play for Life Symposium, held Sept. 22-23, in Minneapolis, attracted park and recreation professionals, landscape architects, individuals working for nonprofit organizations and many more.

Prior to the two-day Symposium, we hosted a small group of attendees at Landscape Structures’ headquarters. They learned about the history of Landscape Structures before taking a tour through our manufacturing facility, and then were able to go on playground visits around Delano. That evening, we hosted a social and gave them an opportunity to network and meet Symposium speakers.

The Symposium kicked off on Thursday, Sept. 22. Day one of the event focused on the many dimensions of inclusive play including traveling with a disability, music, inclusive playground design and playground programming. In addition to valuable classroom time, the attendees were given ample time to network and share ideas with their peers.

Day two of the Symposium concentrated on inclusive play and the natural outdoors. Attendees heard from Bethe Almeras, Head Start Body Start; Carol A. Krawczyk, ASLA; and Hedda Sharapan, The Fred Rogers Company. Each of the day’s speakers discussed play in the outdoors, engagement in any environment and how it affects our lives as grownups. With more interaction among attendees, this was a great way to close the third annual Symposium.

Judging has begun

Once again, we want to thank everyone who submitted an essay. We are blown away by the essays, the letters of support, photos and videos that were received! It is clear that you all share our commitment of inclusive playgrounds and providing play for all abilities.

The last day we accepted essays, Aug. 1, was beyond busy! They were coming in every two minutes, and we received them up until the last minute. We received hundreds of essays–43 states and 4 provinces were represented!

The judging process has already begun. We are currently doing an internal review of all the essays, and then will pass them along to our judges, Cynthia Gentry, Stephani Victor and Scott Rains.