One of the purposes of a playground is to challenge children to try new things and push themselves physically and emotionally. Playgrounds also provide a place where children socialize and learn to play with others. All too often, when we build playgrounds focused on the second goal and ensure that children with disabilities can play alongside their peers, we do not provide a playground that successfully challenges all.
Often times inclusive playgrounds are built low to the ground and do not have challenging climbers, balancing activities and spinners as those activities can be seen as non-inclusive since not all children can play on them. The authors of the Inclusive Play Design Guide (IPDG) have a different viewpoint. To achieve a truly inclusive playground, it must be interesting to children of all abilities and ages, including those who are older. If you want all children to play—there needs to be challenges for everyone.
Therefore, the IPDG suggests that an inclusive playground have multiple levels of challenge. For each type of play, there should be multiple pieces of equipment that challenge children of all ages and abilities. Take balance as an example: a truly challenging playground may have the following types of balance beams:
- One created using the surfacing so that there is no height at all
- One that is a half a foot off the ground, is wide and offers hand supports on both sides
- One that is a little narrower, isn’t straight and only has one hand support
- One that is narrow, has no supports and twists and moves under the weight of a child
In general, an easier piece of equipment will offer a lot of support, whether that is handholds, the ability to lean your entire body on it, or actually supports the entire body. Less challenging equipment is also straightforward; kids will know instinctively how to traverse it. To increase the level of challenge start to remove the supports and increase the amount of motor planning a child needs to use. The easiest climber maybe a set of stairs with handholds with wide steps that are evenly spaced with a low grade, while the most difficult climber might be a rock wall, which has no supports, is vertical and children have to think out where they would put their foot next.
When a playground offers a range of challenging equipment it welcomes all families who have more than one child, whether they have special needs or not, as each individual is challenged at their developmental level. And once one challenge is conquered, another awaits.