Rethinking the Inclusive Playground
Inclusive Playgrounds are more than just a trend. Playgrounds that are welcoming to all visitors are the way of the future – but what inclusion looks like can be vastly different.
Inclusive playgrounds of the past meant ramps… and that’s about it. But the reality is that a playground that is welcoming to all doesn’t stop at being a playground that can be accessed by those who use wheelchairs or mobility devices. Playgrounds today are considering the needs of people who are blind or visually impaired, neurodiverse people and those who are hearing impaired or non-verbal.
Being inclusive to all also means offering challenges to kids who wish to push themselves physically. A truly inclusive playground can’t be a boring playground!
Play Envy, a playground design and installation company with locations in Alberta and BC, offers Playworld equipment to both those provinces, as well as Yukon Territory. Playworld has created a list of 8 keys to include when designing inclusive playgrounds that are innovative, exciting and fun!
1. The “Coolest” Thing
Play Envy strives to ensure that each of its playgrounds not only has a showstopping piece of equipment – but that the showstopper can also be an inclusive feature. A few examples of The Coolest Thing that we’ve found at Play Envy playgrounds are: The massive Mighty Descent Slide, the Quito Climber and the Teeter Tunnel.
The first time I saw a Teeter Tunnel, I truly wondered what on earth it was for. We came across it at the beautiful Olds Rotary Athletic Park. My girls perched on each end of this large piece of equipment that slowly tilted back and forth. It wasn’t exciting and it didn’t get a lot of attention from my two. My “A ha!” moment came when we saw the Teeter Tunnel in action at the AMAZING Julia’s Junction playground in West Kelowna. Kids were piling onto it, tilting it and trying to stop it from tilting. Julia was able to transfer from her wheelchair into the tunnel and enjoy it right along with all the other kids. It was a good reminder that perspective is everything!
2. Social Play
Opportunities for social play go beyond offering equipment for multiple children to use at once. A Play Envy playground takes into account the different stages of play in playground-aged children and offers equipment that can be used in solitary, parallel, associative and cooperative play. Playworld’s Double-Decker Cone Spinner is a great example of social play equipment. Children can enjoy the equipment in a variety of ways – seated, climbing on, hanging from – and the most fun is had when kids work together to make it spin!
3. Sensory Play
Sensory play engages the senses. (Well, except for taste… though I’m sure we’ve all had kids who’ve tried to taste the playground…) Examples of sensory playground equipment at Play Envy playgrounds we’ve visited are:
Tacticle: Texture differences offer tactile stimulation. At Thrive School this includes the ridges on the Mighty Descent slide, rope features like the Quito Climber and rope-based saucer swings, and rubber grips on the Unity Steppers.
Proprioceptive: Proprioception is a sense of self-movement and body position. Children gain this awareness through play – particularly through play that challenges them in new ways. Julia’s Junction playground has a beautiful obstacle course that will test and challenge children.
Visual: Thrive School playground offers panel elements with different images, as well as mirrored features. Julia’s Junction has the amazing NEOS 360 light and sound game, plus the Prism Pass colour panels under the Mighty Descent slide and even a Braille Board!
Vestibular: The vestibular system is engaged by playground equipment that spins and rocks. Merry-go-rounds and other traditional spinners will do this. A unique example is the Unity RockR – we found one at Julia’s Junction!
4. Levels of Challenge
How can a piece of playground equipment be safe for little ones, accessible, AND also be exciting for kids who want to push their limits? Equipment doesn’t have to be complex to offer a new challenge.
Thrive Elementary School in Edmonton has three tiered net steppers called infiNETs. The base net is set at transfer height, with a hold built into the platform. For a child who uses a wheelchair, the challenge can be transferring from the chair to the equipment – and back. Other children might crawl up the nets, using hands and feet, then progress to walking and even running up this feature. For children unable to transfer from their mobility devices, there is room to roll under the nets and engage the upper body by pulling up on the ropes. T
he Cone Spinner is another feature designed with levels of challenge in mind. Its netting has a large hole and its base is at transfer height, allowing those who use wheelchairs or mobility devices to move onto and off of the equipment. Other children may start spinning inside the netting, then progress to spinning on the outside, and eventually at the top of the spinner!
Grouping similar types of equipment allows children to find their favourites. It can also be done for practical and safety reasons – for example, separating swings from other equipment or keeping noisy equipment away from a calming space. Some inclusive playgrounds, like Julia’s Junction, are also posting playground site maps which can serve to help neurodiverse children understand the new environment before they enter it.
6. Ample Space and Routes
I don’t think there will ever be a playground that offers more ample space or routes than Julia’s Junction in West Kelowna! There is plenty of space in, around, and even through equipment to allow wheelchairs and mobility devices to safely pass. Best of all, the flow of the playground isn’t disrupted by ramped structures – instead, the one ramped element, the AeroGlider, is set at one end of the playground, so the ramps become a natural ending.
Rubber base and turf are the two most inclusive types of surfacing and are used in most Play Envy playgrounds. We love the use of both rubber and turf (a rarity in Edmonton!) at the outstanding St. Edmund School playground.
Though rare, a fully-fenced playground offers true inclusion by being a safe space for children who might be tempted to run away. Julia’s Junction is an excellent example of a fully-fenced playground. Confined spaces that can offer a sense of quiet and security can also be built into the features of the playground. The Prism Pass area beneath the Mighty Descent Slide at Julia’s Junction is a great example of a tucked-away space that still allows parents and caregivers to keep an eye on kids.
We’ve had the good fortune to visit several of Play Envy’s amazing playgrounds in Alberta and BC, and I’m consistently impressed by their revolutionary equipment and innovative designs. They lead by example in showing that an inclusive playground does not have to mean ramps and blocky, boring structures. Inclusive equipment can be both welcoming AND challenging to all players!
Play Envy – Thinking outside the box!
- Where: Play Envy serves Alberta, BC & Yukon Territory for the Playworld company and specializes in inclusive playgrounds.
- More info: at PlayEnvy.ca
- Playworld products: can be viewed HERE
This post was written in partnership with Play Envy, serving Alberta, B.C. and Yukon by creating inclusive spaces for fun and active living. I thank the team at Play Envy for trusting me to help tell this story.
Some of our favourite Play Envy playgrounds include: St. Edmund School in Edmonton; Cornerstone Meadows Heath Park in Calgary; Julia’s Junction in West Kelowna, BC and Thrive School Playground in Edmonton. Learn more about how Play Envy is rethinking playground design HERE.