Remember the sheer joy of swinging on a swing as a child? Of pumping your legs as hard as you could to build up more and more momentum? Of stretching your toes to the clouds, leaning your head back, closing your eyes, and feeling like you were flying?
The simple act of swinging is one that is baked into so many of our childhood memories — and yet, for individuals with complex physical challenges, swinging can be literally out of reach.
Until within the last decade or so. That’s when communities across the country began to recognize how important it was to create play areas that all children can enjoy together, regardless of their abilities. Today, these “adaptive playgrounds” exist in many communities.
So what makes a playground “adaptive,” and what should we as parents be aware of when evaluating the best playground environment for our children — especially those with complex challenges?
Here are some features to consider when choosing a playground for your child:
The best playgrounds allow for easy access to play areas. This means there are no barriers that would restrict wheelchairs or make it difficult for children (or adults!) with different physical needs from entering the playground or accessing the equipment.
When looking at a play area, make sure there are ramps or zero entry points. The ground should be even, and there should be pathways that allow individuals to get to all equipment without having to step up, step around or climb over objects.
When you bring your child to a playground, you want him or her to feel included — so it’s important that the play area includes equipment for all levels of ability.
For example, the adaptive A Dream Come True Playground in Harrisburg, Virginia includes a Liberty Swing, which allows children in wheelchairs to swing, as well as Made-for-Me swings that offer extra body support.
Adaptive playgrounds include areas designed for children of specific ages and abilities, as well as common areas where all children can play together, regardless of ability level.
Brooklyn’s Playground in Pocatello, Idaho, for example, includes castle play structures that are accessible to all children by ramp, and the entire playground is surrounded by smooth surfaces.
#4: Sensory Experiences
Individuals with complex challenges often need a space to break from play and calm their senses. For that reason, many adaptive playgrounds include sensory areas.
These four aspects of adaptive playgrounds not only make play available to all — they also make play more FUN for all. Children learn that play is for everyone, regardless of ability, and that physical differences shouldn’t stop someone from meeting new friends and enjoying the outdoors.
Find (or Build!) An Adaptive Playground Near You
Want to find, or work to build, a playground where all children can experience play together? Here are some resources to help:
- 30 Most Impressive Accessible and Inclusive Playgrounds
- 10Best: Playgrounds with way more than slides and swings
- Accessible Playground Directory
- For Kids With Special Needs, More Places To Play
- 6 Companies Selling Adaptive Playgrounds for Schools, Neighborhoods and Parks
And finally, we want to mention the adaptive playground beloved by our The Quaker School family: Everybody’s Playground in Horsham, PA. If you’re local, we highly recommend you plan a visit with your children!
Don’t see your favorite playground on these lists? Add it to the comments below, or join the conversation on Facebook.