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What is an inclusive playground?

May 11, 2020

Playgrounds are a vital part of all children’s development. Not only do children love spending time outdoors, but they benefit hugely from this too, learning and developing within an interactive environment through a wide range of sensory experiences.

But what is an inclusive playground? Inclusive playgrounds ensure that all children have the same access to play opportunities, regardless of their specific abilities, needs and backgrounds.

Firstly though, why are playgrounds so important for children?

The key benefits of outdoor play

Playing is an essential part of the development process for all children, regardless of individual ability, as it contributes to their physical, social and emotional wellbeing. Kids also develop key cognitive skills through play, such as visual processing, logic and reasoning.

Physical fitness

Kids are always running and jumping, and this urge to constantly move is not just for fun – it is essentially the body’s way of testing itself. When children run around, they are increasing motor skills, flexibility and balance, and learning to control their reflexes and movement.

As with adults, physical activity also helps build muscle and bone density, improve heart and lung function, and generally helps to promote a healthy lifestyle.

With the increased presence of technology in children’s lives, it is now increasingly important that children have regular access to a range of outdoor playground equipment to stay fit and healthy.

Social development

A playground is also an important place for social development, and kids love the playground because it offers them a chance to socialise outside of the familiar environments of home and school.

Kids learn essential social rules on the playground and develop cooperation skills through combinations of verbal communication and body language. Group play encourages self-control and negotiation skills, as well as patience and politeness.

Swirl Roundabout

Emotional wellbeing

While physical and social benefits are easier to see, play is also highly beneficial to children’s emotional development. The act of play allows children to build confidence and self-esteem, and to experiment with different emotions.

Physically challenging playground equipment, like playground climbing units, encourage children to take on a challenge, offering a sense of accomplishment and increased self-esteem. Imaginative play also allows children to explore their range of emotions through make-believe, as they learn to express themselves and deal with different imaginative scenarios.

There are many benefits associated with playtime for kids, which is why it important that all children have a chance to enjoy playgrounds.

Inclusive playgrounds

So what is an inclusive playground, and how does it aid children’s playtime? Fundamentally, inclusive play is about providing opportunities for all children to ensure that no one is left out of enjoying these vital learning experiences.

For children with disabilities and from different cultural and financial backgrounds, many playgrounds are off-limits, and inclusive play is really about considering the needs of all children.

This doesn’t mean that every single element and apparatus is accessible to everybody, instead, it is about ensuring that each child is able to enjoy a range of play experiences. By providing different types of inclusive playground equipment, all children can enjoy the variety of activities that is essential to their development.

Harestanes Inclusive Boardwalk

Integrating children with different abilities and needs

Creating inclusive playgrounds is also an effective way of bridging the divide between children of various abilities, and giving kids from all backgrounds a chance to mix with people different from themselves.

Socialising is important for all kids, and making sure that children play in mixed groups from an early age helps them to learn about diversity, and to develop empathy towards others.

Children who are exposed to a diverse community early learn how to be inclusive, and are much more likely to feel comfortable around others who may not look or act in the same way they do.

How to design inclusive play areas

Creating playgrounds that are truly inclusive doesn’t need to be complicated, but it does require careful planning. As such, there are a few key things to think about when you are designing an inclusive playground.

Firstly, it is vital to consider the diverse range of individuals who will be using your inclusive play area. Projects of this nature should target the entire community, making sure to include groups who are at risk of exclusion because of disability, age, ethnicity, and social or economic circumstances.

Maintaining this inclusive approach is important across all aspects of the design process to create a facility with quality, fully-integrated play experiences for all.

Different groups to consider

The overall aim of an inclusive playground is to ensure that all children have access to an equal quality of play experience. When you are designing an inclusive play area, there are a lot of different needs to consider.

While the following list isn’t exhaustive, it is a good starting point for thinking about the various groups you’ll need to cater for:

Mobility impairments

Children with mobility impairments include those who use wheelchairs all or some of the time, and kids with reduced mobility who may use walking aids, or have lower strength and stamina levels.

To accommodate these children, you need to ensure that the play area is wheelchair accessible, that disabled children can take part in activities alongside non-disabled children, and that there is enough space for wheelchairs to move freely.

Sensory impairments

Sensory impairments include children with reduced or no vision, and those with hearing impairments, as well as other loss of senses.

Children with sensory impairments should be encouraged to enjoy play through exploring different colours, patterns, textures and sounds. Consider using a variety of materials alongside different activities and equipment to engage these children.

Learning and developmental difficulties and behavioural issues

This group includes children with learning or developmental difficulties, such as dyslexia or Asperger syndrome, and behavioural issues, including ADHD and ODD.

To provide an inclusive environment for these children, it is important to consider whether adults can join in with those who require supervision, that children cannot easily wander off,  and that signs and information include pictures to make them universally understandable.

Inclusive play is all about encouraging the various developmental and learning benefits of playtime in an environment suitable for all.

Written by: Andy Prentice
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