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Recreation professionals share how they are creating inclusive spaces with their playgrounds and why your facility should too. 

Although playgrounds have been around since the 1800s, they have changed immensely. And while playgrounds have come a long way, they are still evolving to be more inclusive for everyone and every body.

Because of this, community ownership of playspace design and community participation in playspace activation is a trend in playgrounds.

In November 2020, the Grand Prairie Family YMCA — a branch of the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas — fraternal life insurer Foresters Financial and KABOOM! — the nonprofit organization focused on ending playspace inequity — worked together to increase access to playspaces for local kids with the creation of a new, kid-designed playground in Grand Prairie, Texas.

Foresters Financial and KABOOM! have built more than 160 playspaces across North America. With each space, kids in the local community give input on what they want to see in the playground they will be playing on.

“In meeting with our youth, moms and community kids, we learned they still love the traditional playground slides, bridges and swings,” said Suzana Delgado-Gray, the district executive director and vice president of operations for the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas. “These are timeless pieces kids of all ages wanted to make sure our new playground had. We have also seen an interest in playgrounds that are adaptable to youth experiencing learning differences. Therefore, KABOOM! added a set of large drums where kids can play music.”

Also prioritizing inclusion into their playgrounds is the City of Grand Prairie Parks, Art & Recreation in Grand Prairie, Texas. 

In January 2020, PlayGrand Adventures opened to provide a safe and fun playground experience for all ages and abilities in the community. The playground encompasses 10 acres of the park, separated into distinct play areas or “Zones.” Each Zone contains unique play equipment, specifically designed for inclusive play. This is not just a children’s playground, but one designed for all ages and abilities that incorporates various challenges to encourage teamwork, cooperation and achievement. Additionally, the playground is contained with a perimeter border for safety.

“The City of Grand Prairie designed PlayGrand Adventures to not only provide inclusive opportunities to kids who are physically challenged, but also for those of any age who have cognitive, sensory, motor-skill or social/emotional challenges, and for the nearly 1 million people in North Texas with reported disabilities,” said Kelly Eddleman, the marketing supervisor for the Grand Prairie Parks, Arts & Recreation Department.

Eddleman said there are many reasons why outdoor recreation is important to physical health and wellness, but PlayGrand Adventures takes this to the next level with its all-inclusive design. Playground goers of all ages and all abilities have the opportunity to safely play together, providing both physical and social experiences that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.

“Many accessible playgrounds you’ll find tend to be designed primarily for wheelchair access,” explained Eddleman. “While this is extremely important, it is also necessary to recognize there are a myriad of disabilities not all physical that need to be addressed when designing a truly accessible park.”

When building an inclusive playground, it is vital to consider not only how to serve those of all abilities but also all backgrounds. 

“Playspaces are essential to resilience, health and childhood. The communities that have been hit the hardest by COVID-19 — communities facing challenges already, and communities of color — are also those that often lack access to parks and playspaces due to historic disinvestment,” said Delgado-Gray. “That’s why these groups are working together to help end playspace inequity, creating a new place for kids to play that reflects the neighborhood’s unique needs and aspirations, and gives every kid the opportunity to play and enjoy being a kid.”

A great way to ensure you are best serving everyone in your community is to get them involved in the process of building/renovating your playground. With the Grand Prairie Family YMCA’s new playground, kids from the community participated in a virtual Design Day where they creatively thought of ideas for their dream playground. “The new playground was then designed with inspiration from their drawings, giving them the opportunity to see their dream come to life in the form of an incredible playground that can spark hope and enable kids to reach their full potential,” said Delgado-Gray.

Although playgrounds may be low on your priority list, they do provide your community a safe place to play and engage with one another. Because of this, it may be worth taking a second look at your playspaces and ensure each is truly for everyone.

“Our community, like so many others, is a family community where people come together to support each other,” said Delgado-Gray. “The pandemic has tightened that bond and increased the need for all families and kids to have a safe place to play outdoors. Playspaces enrich the lives of kids and the community. Playgrounds allow families to spend quality time together right in their own neighborhoods.” 

5 Top Trends for Modern Playgrounds

As playgrounds continue to evolve, Playground Center shared five big trends in the industry:

  1. High-tech, high-energy outdoor play. The latest outdoor play equipment integrates technology and physical activity to create an exhilarating playground experience with lights, sounds, sequences, games and activities.
  2. The ‘destination playground.’ Often themed and usually embracing all ages and abilities, destination playgrounds draw the local community and tourists alike.
  3. Play for all. Communities are creating spaces for all ages and abilities to come together for healthy, active recreation. 
  4. Making sense. Activities that stimulate a child’s senses — or sensory play — is crucial to cognitive development and creativity.
  5. Adventure. Introduce age-appropriate adventure — like flying foxes, wobbly bridges, giant slides and sky-high climbing nests — with strict safety standards built in.
Taylor Brown

Taylor Brown is the assistant editor of Community Rec Magazine. She can be reached at taylor@peakemedia.com.

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