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Inclusive playgrounds – designing play spaces for all abilities


What is an inclusive playground?

An inclusive playground is designed to develop the physical, cognitive, sensory and social skills in children of all abilities. It provides space and play activities for children and carers with or without disability to safely play together.

Inclusive playgrounds have numerous benefits for communities. In Australia, they are destination gathering spots for visitors from all over. They help kids learn to be sensitive and empathetic. Best of all, they help reduce the social stigma around disability by removing physical and social barriers to facilitate inclusive play.

Read how the best school and community playgrounds are created to provide play opportunities for children of all ages below.

What you need to design an inclusive playground

An inclusive playground uses many kinds of equipment to help develop a child’s skills. It should create play opportunities that appeal to kids with different preferences e.g. climbing, jumping, swinging, spinning or making music. It must be a safe play area for all ages and abilities to relax and have fun, socially and individually.

This wheelchair-accessible carousel allows children with disability and their carers to enjoy a ride together.

Accessibility

Accessibility in an all-inclusive playground is about access, movement and safety. 

Wide spacing between activities makes a playground wheelchair accessible. It makes movement around inclusive play spaces easy for children with disabilities. It also suits carers with infants in pushchairs or their own mobility aids. In certain circumstances, ramps can also be helpful for facilitating wheelchair or pushchair access.

Elevated inclusive playground equipment should incorporate stairs, ladders and transfer decks where carers can help children to get onto equipment. This allows children of all ages to access different heights. This includes ensuring the first step or rung can be easily reached by younger children.

Surfacing materials and guard rails must meet the revised playground equipment standards for Australia. Correct soft fall surfaces and rail heights ensure the safety of kids while using the play equipment.

Multi-sensory elements

Outdoor play equipment should stimulate children’s sensory systems. For example:

  • Visual 

This is how the brain processes what our eyes see. It does so by recognising, interpreting and differentiating visual stimuli through comparisons of all our experiences. Examples of visual equipment are coloured play panels

  • Auditory 

The brain interprets, differentiates and recognises sound stimuli through auditory processing. The best equipment for this is talking tubes or musical instruments

  • Tactile 

The perception of touch (tactile play) comes from the activation of neural receptors in the skin. Examples of tactile outdoor play equipment include sandboxes, climbing rocks or playground panels.

Sand and water play also helps to grow children’s interest in STEM skills.

  • Vestibular 

The vestibular system is all about how our bodies interpret balance, gravity and movement. It’s also about building their upper body strength and dexterity. It is core to developing healthy sensory processing and spatial awareness. Examples of kids’ outdoor play equipment include swing sets, monkey bars, spinners and basketball hoops. 

  • Proprioceptive

The proprioceptive system comprises sensory information caused by muscles contracting or stretching. The ideal outdoor play equipment for this includes climbing walls, nets and ladders. 

Play for all 

All-inclusive play environments offer a wide range of challenges for kids of different ages and abilities. Each piece of equipment should encourage a shared play experience. Collectively, they should make it easy for kids to play together, regardless of age or ability.

This creates a space for children of different abilities to engage in the same sort of activity. To keep a playground interesting, it needs to be challenging. Kids of different ages need varying levels of stimulation.

Cooperative play 

Inclusive play areas have a wide range of benefits for children, one major benefit being social development. It’s not always easy to make friends, but for kids, a playground is a good place to start. 

Such activities include:

Solitary or parallel games 

Some kids love to discover their worlds by playing alone. While others prefer playing near others, but still engage in solitary activities. For example, listening to or watching each other on a playground swing. 

Inclusive swings allow for parallel games.

Onlooker or associate games 

Some kids take time before joining in on games others are playing. When play equipment is grouped, kids can watch and then engage when they are ready. 

Other kids like playing alone while mimicking others but not necessarily engaging with them. This is seen in water play, sandboxes or pretend play. 

Everyone Can Play in New South Wales

The Everyone Can Play is a NSW grant program and best practice resource for councils, community leaders, landscape architects and residents. It is a reference guide for creating world-class playspaces, designed to include everyone in the community. Though the grant program is for NSW organisations, the resources at the website are useful for all states and territories.

How to design an inclusive playground

The Seven Principles of Universal Design applies to inclusive playgrounds and equipment as it does to all other usable objects. To create inclusive playgrounds, we must pay careful attention to safety, accessibility and universal usability.

Selecting equipment

Thorough planning goes into an inclusive playground. We organise the play space for kids with different abilities. They should be able to take part in the same activity side by side, or with carers. We carefully  consider the following:

  • Location of equipment in the playground
  • Resting points around the area for children and carers
  • Elevated play and many levels of challenge
  • Equipment that is stimulating and accessible for all children and carers

 

inclusive swing designsand and water play equipmentplayground xylophone
A swing that can be enjoyed by more kids.A sand and water table for sensory tactile play.Auditory stimulation through musical play

Play value

An inclusive playground allows kids of all abilities to play with a range of sensory, physical and social experiences. A mix of these three categories is what is needed to create a perfect playground. Each type is crucial to a child’s development and experience. 

Support features

Supportive infrastructure makes a playground inclusive, safe and easy to use. This includes having a variety of rest seats for carers, parents and children of all abilities. Allowing service or assistant animals onto the playground is also important. 

Want help designing your playground?

At Moduplay we value the inclusion of the whole community on our playgrounds. We seek to enhance the quality of life for families, children and communities across Australia through our products

Contact our knowledgeable  and friendly team for advice and suggestions on play equipment that suits a variety of users. Why not let us help you plan your inclusive playground? 

Take it from one of our clients:

As a result of the success of the first playground, we commissioned Moduplay to design another playground for one of our village communities. This playground was designed, after consultation between Moduplay and the local community. Again all the needs of the community were met and satisfaction with the playground is widespread.

– G.C.L. – General Manager

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