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Inclusive Play

  • Driving Empathy – Inclusion on the Playground

    In my experience, most parents of children with disabilities are fully accepting of their family. They do not want their children to change, but they do yearn for understanding or empathy from other families. The playground can be designed to make that more likely. If we increase contact between typically-developing children and those with disabilities, they are more likely to understand one another.

    Six years ago, Playworld assembled a team of experts from a variety of disability-related fields. This group developed a 70-page Inclusive Play Design Guide (IPDG) intended to be the basis of an international standard for inclusion on the playground. The Guide contends that child development should be the standard around which we design playgrounds, not aesthetics or risk reduction.

    Play is a vital part of children’s development and a key factor in how they come to understand the world around them. Unfortunately, many children are unable to reap the benefits of play or engage in the activity due to the nature of most parks and playgrounds. This is primarily because people constructing play spaces fail to understand that disability is not restricted to physical disability. It also includes brain development disorders such as autism, disabilities related to aging, accident injuries etc. They also tend to confuse “accessibility” with “inclusion” when in fact, they are two separate things altogether.

    To create a successful inclusive playground that creates rich play experiences for children of all abilities. Playworld’s IPDG has 60 different inclusive goals or intents, of which eight are outlined below:

    1. Sensory, Physical & Social
      • Each of these types of play should be incorporated into activities within the playground. Children who have difficulty with sensory input or need help socializing will need this diversity to select what they need
    1. Multiple Challenge Levels
      • By incorporating various levels of challenge, a wider variety of children are welcomed into the play space
    1. Grouping of Activities
      • It is important for activities of different levels to be located near each other, encouraging children to have contact with each other and lessening the appearance of difference
    1. Activities at All Levels
      • Activities for people in chairs should be incorporated at all heights and ground based play must be considered
    1. Pods, Rooms or Zones
      • For larger playgrounds, creating spaces dedicated to certain activities allows children to choose the type of activity they know they can tolerate
    1. The Coolest Thing
      • The main feature of the playground should be something that is usable by everyone
    1. Unitary Surfacing
      • Using unitary surfacing allows for easier accessibility for children with physical disabilities or wheelchairs
    1. Routes and Maneuverability
      • Paths and travels routes through the playground should be wide enough for people and wheelchairs to pass, transfer onto and off equipment, and get close to activities

    These are some of the ways children of all abilities can be made to feel welcome on the playground while still providing enough challenge for the typically-developing child. We can build a community with an invitation to everyone to engage with each other and create empathy in the public space.

    Why is driving empathy important to you?

  • Inside Design: Branch Out

    I’ve worked in the playground equipment industry for decades and one of the best aspects of my job is getting to see firsthand the pure joy that play brings to children. My team and I work hard ensuring we’re continually innovating and designing equipment that keeps children excited about free play.

    For a while we’ve been intrigued by the renewed interest in nature play and frankly, a bit disenchanted by the current state of post and platform playgrounds. Having discussed these two factors extensively, our brainstorms and design sessions eventually led us to Branch Out. Launched in January 2016, Branch Out is a large play component inspired by the play that happens in trees.

    In retrospect, I think designing Branch Out was an extremely fascinating process. While the tree seemed like a good starting point, we were always very sure about not wanting to replicate it. After all, why create something that already exists? Plus, we can’t compete with the beauty of our planet’s natural landscape. Our goal, instead, with Branch Out was to draw more people to the playground and in doing so, we focused on bringing to life an inclusive play component and creating meaningful play experiences for children of all ages in an open, efficient layout.

    Designed for children ages 5-12, it has the scale to become the central hub of any playground. However, it is transparent, non-directional and open. And with play happening on multiple levels and directions, people to can imagine their own story as they play.

    Additionally, the complexity of elements and absence of an obvious play path foster physical and cognitive engagement, effective hand-eye coordination, decision making, greater individual challenge, risk management, a deeper understanding of the surrounding and the opportunity for social interaction among children.

    Our team designed Branch Out as a play component that encourages kids to embrace new challenges and play activities. It is my hope that this piece will encourage kids and adults alike to step outdoors and head to a playground.

    What other aspects of nature play would you like to rediscover on the playground?

  • Play sculpture arrives in Singapore

    by Robyn Gordner

    There’s an eye-catching new structure in Singapore and it isn’t a new skyscraper.

    Playworld installed PlayForm 7 in the city last month. The first PlayForm 7 installation in the world is at Marina Bay, near the Merlion, a favorite spot among tourists and residents alike.

    I was very excited to fly from Pennsylvania to Singapore to photograph this milestone in Playworld history. After looking at Google Maps and street-level views for weeks in preparation for the photo shoot, it was surreal to be standing there on that very spot and witness the installation.

    PlayForm 7 establishes a shift in playground design and provides a strong visual impact. In a world where outdoor play is endangered and there is a pressing need to rethink play design, the structure offers a refreshing new take on play. It uses public art as a means to unite communities and creates an intriguing and interesting backdrop where everyone can gather, play, discover and enjoy being together on their terms, in their own way.

    The structure’s open design with over 20 play elements allows nearly 60 children to play on it at once. In fact, when I was in Singapore, I witnessed people of all ages and abilities playing on PlayForm 7. Seeing a PlayForm 7 in its permanent home and experiencing everyone’s’ reactions along the way was a moving experience that filled me with pride for my teammates back at home. It was thrilling to see adults and kids connecting with each other in meaningful ways and their excitement when they first laid eyes on PlayForm 7. They couldn’t wait to approach it, touch it, and experience it.

    The installation concluded with a successful event with local landscape architects and officials from the park and recreation industry. It was fascinating to see them getting involved with the play structure and relive their childhood days. Young children and adolescents took an instant liking to the structure. They had never seen anything like PlayForm 7 and have been turning up in large numbers to play on it since its installation.

    Thanks to Playworld’s local distributor in Singapore, CT-Art, for finding the perfect location for PlayForm 7 and making this installation happen.

  • Autism: why playgrounds matter

    How can a playground make a difference for a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

    inclusive playground 1024x585 Autism: Why Playgrounds Matter

  • Research Shows Strong Support Networks Decrease Chance of Bullying Among Children with Autism

    In 2012 a study on bullying by the Interactive Autism Network at Kennedy Kreiger Institute showed alarming results. The study, the largest look ever at autism and bullying, found that children on the spectrum are significantly more likely than other kids to be bullied. In fact, they are three times as likely to be bullied as their typically developing sibling.

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