Experts agree collaborative play is vital in the development of mental and physical health and social skills in children and adults. Important social skills are learned in collaborative play which carry over into adulthood. In recent years, communities have been actively involved in redesigning or creating recreation areas which will serve all groups of people; children of different ages, genders, and those with special needs. Parks can be an important public resource in improving the quality of life and physical well-being of a community. When a playground area is inclusive, these parks can provide the opportunity to create awareness, break down barriers, and build friendships.
Often children need to learn strategies to learn how to play together. Play is a great way to help children understand a child with a disability is able to do many of the same activities, even if they have to do it differently.
Discussing these ten character traits with children can help provide a foundation for inclusive play:
1) Be Respectful - Respect similarities and differences.
2) Be Kind - Be warm, welcoming, celebrate accomplishments.
3) Be Patient - Ask before assisting; wait while they go at their pace.
4) Be Responsible - Signal an adult if you see a potential danger.
5) Be Trustworthy - Be dependable and honest.
6) Be Fair - Be creative to find new ways to include others.
7) Be Persevering - Keep trying when communicating and playing.
8) Be a Leader - Be a good sport, be friendly, and give them space.
9) Be Courageous - Invite all kids to play even if it is intimidating.
10) Be a Good Citizen - Show that kids of all abilities are valued.
Important decisions need to be made before building the play area.
According to PlayCore Inc., inclusive play environments should meet the seven Principles of Inclusive Playground Design:
1) Be Fair- The equipment can be used by people of all abilities.
2) Be Included-Supports the participation of people with diverse abilities.
3) Be Smart- The play environment is easy to understand.
4) Be Independent -Allows children to explore and play at their own level
5) Be Safe- Provides graduated levels of challenge while being safe.
6) Be Active-Supports various degrees of physical and social play, but minimizes unnecessary fatigue
7) Be Comfortable - Environment is usable for individuals with sensory needs, diverse body size, posture, mobility and motor control.
There is a difference between an accessible playground and an inclusive playground. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, (ADA) an inclusive playground has no physical barriers, but not all components have to be wheelchair accessible. The playground's surface must allow ease of motion for wheelchairs. Adaptive swings, playground features accessible at ground level, and ramps which allow access at upper levels of the play structure are usually provided. Wheelchair accessible gliders and treehouses with ramps leading to and through the structure are now available. Some new equipment is designed to have an eight-foot ramp added to any structure.
More than any other types of instruction, outdoor play has been proven to stimulate speech, cognition, gross and fine motor skills, and develop social interaction skills. The right equipment and surface can make all the difference in providing a safe, fun, and inclusive play area.
Playground surface is another important element in designing inclusive playgrounds to allow children of all capabilities to enjoy a play area. Choosing the right surfacing will depend on your budget, the amount of use the playground gets, the ability to maintain the surface, needs for durability, drainage and accessibility.
There are many choices when it come to surfacing, each with their own benefits: According to PlayCore, Inc., choices include:
Engineered Wood Fiber
Poured in Place Rubber
Bonded Rubber Surfaces