Inclusive play allows for all children, of all abilities, to play, learn, and grow together in the same recreational environment. An inclusive playground removes the barriers of exclusion by providing a sensory rich play experience for all children. Inclusive playgrounds are a place of fun and enjoyment where everyone is included. These playgrounds are designed to be multi-sensory, safe environments.
What factors go into creating an inclusive playground?
PHYSICAL ACCOMMODATIONS—Inclusive playgrounds are designed to accommodate physical disabilities. Allowing this greater accessibility will allow more people to be able to enjoy the playground. Some components include wide routes for wheelchairs, flush transitions from different pieces of equipment, ADA approved swings, and unitary, shock-absorbing surfacing.
MULTI-SENSORY PLAY—Inclusive playgrounds promote engaging environments by providing play experiences for all of the senses.
While we do have options for all types of sensory learning, we understand that sometimes children can become overwhelmed with their environment. In times of sensory overload, we also have areas that are designated to ease these confounding feelings. Orientation paths allow the children to decide on their own how much sensory input they wish to engage. Quiet spaces are a comfortable place for children to rest without the bustle of other playmates. The site amenities such as benches and tables allow children to step away from the playground to regain their focus. Having shading and shelters are a way to help children who may experience fatigue or other complications from excessive sunlight—children who are sensitive to sunlight, have Epilepsy, Cerebral Palsy, and Autism can greatly benefit from a shaded play area.
INTEGRATED PLAY—An inclusive playground integrates all play components. The special equipment is not designated to a special area, but instead is integrated throughout the whole playground so all children can interact with each other. This design encourages a community of playmates to develop and socialize with each other, regardless of abilities. We encourage all children to play by grouping similar play areas together, providing a wide range of fun challenges, offering equipment across multiple age groups, and providing real play choices for all children.
REAL PLAY: Real play choices offer equipment all throughout the playground for people who use mobility devices. Having this equipment can increase engagement in all play areas.
· SOCIAL PLAY—Socializing in an environment of your peers is essential for developmental growth for children of all ages and abilities. Social play, however, isn’t always playing with others; sometimes, social play can be as simple as playing alone in a social environment or watching others play:
· COOPERATIVE PLAY: Children who are able to engage in cooperative play have developed skills that allow them to interact with one another. They are able communicate with their peers in whatever way is comfortable for them.
· PARALLEL PLAY: When two kids are playing next to each other, but not directly interacting with each other, they are experiencing parallel play. This type of play tends to happen on climbers, swings, and slides.
· ASSOCIATIVE PLAY: It is not uncommon for children to mimic the actions of others. When a child is playing independently, but is doing the same thing as another, this is called associative play. This type of play tends to lead to some form of interaction between the children.
· ONLOOKER PLAY: When a child watches others play without engaging in the activity with them, they are onlookers. The child may still communicate with the others without joining in the activity. This allows children to learn before they engage so they know when they are ready.
· SOLITARY PLAY: During solitary play, children play, explore, and discover alone regardless if there are other children in the same area. This type of play can happen all throughout the playground and is great for self-discovery and growth.
Promoting inclusion in playgrounds can bring communities together in a way that focuses on educating all on the importance of inclusion for every day activities. Having an inclusive playground can show to all who enjoy it that people of all abilities enjoy playing, exploring, learning, and interacting.