Accessible by 2030

Accessible by 2030

Safe, inclusive and accessible.

These are three words that mean the world to parents. We want, and expect, schools to be safe, inclusive and accessible, for our children, and all children. The Edmonton Catholic School Division believes that expectation should extend outside the school – to the playground.

There are 43 division-owned playgrounds that are part of the ECSD family. Each one of those playgrounds will be safe, inclusive and accessible by 2030.

Edmonton Playgrounds Accessible by 2030 1
The inclusive new playground at Father Leo Green Catholic Elementary School opened in August 2022. This playground features rubber-base as well as turf ground-cover.

Call it a mandate or call it a goal – no matter what you call it, it’s impressive. Edmonton Catholic Schools is prioritizing playgrounds – an area that divisions rarely have a hand in. Playgrounds are usually left entirely up to parent council groups – but now ECSD is forging a new path.

A safe, inclusive and accessible playground begins with the play area, and in particular, the ground cover. Edmonton Catholic Schools is prioritizing ground cover that offers better access to those who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices. Rubber surfacing is a top choice in this area, and turf is also being added as a ground alternative. Some playgrounds still include sand play areas (like the sand pit and diggers that are part of the 2022 playground at Our Lady of Victories School.) but sand will no longer be used as a main surface at Edmonton Catholic Schools’ playgrounds.

Edmonton Playgrounds Accessible by 2030 2
Sand will no longer be used as ground cover. Instead, it will only be added to playgrounds as a sensory experience, as was done at Our Lady of Victories Catholic Elementary School.

More than just ramps

Playground features are advancing to be more accessible too. Ramped structures, swings with supports and buckles, and play features set at different heights with open ground space around them are among the options being included in new playgrounds. There’s also more to consider than just the play area itself. Edmonton Catholic Schools has designed “Say and Play” boards, which are posted at every school playground. They’re powerful tools that can bridge gaps in communication and allow users to point to common pictures to indicate “food”, “bathroom”, “stop” and more. The “Say and Play” boards have also garnered attention from other school divisions right across Canada.

Edmonton Playgrounds Accessible by 2030 3
“Say and Play” communication boards are installed at every division-owned Edmonton Catholic Schools playground. This is part of the goal to make every playground Accessible by 2030.

Decorated tarmacs

Edmonton Catholic Schools is also prioritizing access to playgrounds with tarmacs that are not only freshly paved, but also stenciled with fun images, games and activity-prompts – because an accessible playground isn’t truly accessible if it can’t be reached. We’ve played at several Edmonton Catholic Schools that have stenciled tarmacs and they are always a hit. Often my girls will check out and play on all the designs before they even hit the play equipment!

Edmonton Playgrounds Accessible by 2030 4
Paved and stenciled tarmacs are being added to allow safe access from Edmonton Catholic Schools to their playgrounds. Pictured above is the tarmac at St Richard Catholic Elementary School.

ECSD playground rebuilds have been happening at an unprecedented pace of five or six per year for the past couple of years. After Summer 2022, there will be just 5 schools remaining on the rebuild list – and at the pace that’s been established, ECSD will reach the goal several years ahead of schedule.

An average playground build costs about $250,000 – and the responsibility for raising those funds falls to parent groups, which can be a daunting task. Edmonton Catholic Schools is one of the school districts that offers extensive support to parents undertaking the effort. Planning Manager Doris Paquette, the ECSD guru of all things playground-related, will meet with parent groups as they start the fundraising journey. The board also contracts Kim Street, of KJ Street Consulting, who has the grant application process down to a science. She will apply for each and every grant that could benefit a project. The two have even teamed up to create a guide to the entire process.

Edmonton Playgrounds Accessible by 2030 5
The playground at St Angela Catholic Elementary School is considered by ECSD to be their most inclusive playground to date.

The seven elements of play

The guide even covers the selection of equipment as well as tips for choosing pieces that work together. Since 2018, all ECSD playgrounds have been designed to include equipment related to each element of play. The seven elements of play are climbing, balancing, brachiating (upper body), spinning, swinging, sliding and sensory development. Children from each school are also included in the decision-making process.

A true team effort – where everyone has a hand in the creation so that everyone gets to play! 

Editor’s note: I wrote this article as a paid partnership with Edmonton Catholic Schools and I’d like to thank Edmonton Catholic Schools for trusting me to tell this story.

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