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Inclusive playground

How Playgrounds Benefit Kids with Different Needs

Posted by Churchich Content Team Content on October 6, 2023

Playgrounds are not just a place for physical activity but are important community hubs of learning, creativity, and social interaction for children of all ages.

And when it comes to “child’s play” it helps to remember that each child is unique, with their own set of characteristics and needs. The one thing they have in common is that the neighborhood playground can offer a diverse range of benefits for all of them.

“Playgrounds encourage an environment where kids of different ages and personalities can play together. There are opportunities for new experiences and learning, whether it is through independent play or in a teamwork situation,” says Miracle Recreation.

If your child suffers from anxiety or shyness, or has been diagnosed with ADHD or Autism, or has other needs, they can still find their own place for fun and development at the local playground.

“Play is some of children’s most important work,” Mr. Rogers famously said.

Making Sure Your Playground is Accessible and Inclusive

When we traditionally think about children with different needs, we might think of mobility issues and other physical qualities, but different needs come in all shapes and sizes, both seen and unseen.

It’s important to understand the difference between an accessible playground and an inclusive playground. Hopefully, your playground is both!

Miracle Recreation says that an accessible playground meets ADA regulations and ensures that kids with or without disabilities have access to and can use playground equipment.

Some of the ADA compliance standards for playgrounds include:

  • An accessible playground must have available, unobstructed routes to the playground and connecting play equipment.

  • The playground must include at least one of each type of ground-level play component on an accessible route.

  • At least 50 percent of the playground’s elevated play components must be on an accessible route.

  • Ramps must have handrails on both sides.

  • Playgrounds must use specific safety surfacing that has met ADA criteria.
  • Additionally, this surfacing should receive regular inspections and maintenance to ensure compliance.

An inclusive playground, according to May Recreation, is a playground that exceeds ADA regulations, allows children of all abilities and developmental stages to play together, and creates a nurturing environment for all.

“An inclusive playground considers the needs of all kids and incorporates play equipment that addresses those needs and promotes growth and joy. For example, children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or sensory processing disorder sometimes need to regroup in a quiet, cozy space,” explains May Recreation. “To build an inclusive playground, you might incorporate a comfortable, quiet area for kids with ASD to escape the commotion without feeling isolated.”

Recognizing Different Needs in Children

Children are incredibly diverse, and their individual needs can vary significantly.

“If you are a parent, you are very aware that all children are unique and have different needs,” says the May Institute which works with children with Autism and brain injuries. “What works for one child does not always work for another. There are even more variables to take into consideration when one of your children has special needs.”

Some common types of different needs that children may exhibit on the playground include:

  • ADHD: Kids with ADHD may struggle with impulse control and attention.

  • Anxiety: Many kids experience anxiety, which can manifest in different ways.

  • Autism: Children with autism often have unique social and communication needs.

  • Cognitive Delays: Children with cognitive delays may benefit from simple, repetitive activities to aid understanding.

  • Emotional and Behavioral: Some children may require emotional support and calming elements.

  • Gifted and Talented: High-achieving children may need intellectually stimulating challenges to stay engaged.

  • Language and Communication Disorders: Children with speech or language disorders may benefit from communication-enhancing features.

  • Mobility Challenges: Physical disabilities can limit a child's movement.

  • Sensory Issues: Some children may have heightened or reduced sensitivity to sensory stimuli.

  • Shyness: Some children may be introverted, hesitant, or anxious in social situations.

Understanding these different needs is the first step in creating an inclusive and beneficial playground environment.

“Every child is unique and may need different support for play,” says the PennState Extension Better Kid Care site. “Knowing each child's developmental ability and unique characteristics will help in choosing appropriate materials and creating appropriate environments and experiences.”

Benefits of Playgrounds for Kids with Different Needs

Playgrounds offer a wide range of benefits for children, regardless of their individual needs.

These benefits include:

  • Learning Through Play: Playgrounds foster learning through hands-on experiences, allowing kids to explore and discover.

  • Sensory Components: Sensory-rich playgrounds engage all children's senses, promoting sensory development.

  • Cognitive Play Equipment: Puzzles, mazes, and educational games on playgrounds challenge children's cognitive abilities.

  • Developing Motor Skills: Physical play on swings, slides, and climbing structures helps kids develop gross and fine motor skills.

  • Encouraging Outdoor Play and Other Activities: Outdoor play encourages children to be active and appreciate nature.

  • Encouraging Meaningful Play: Playgrounds promote imaginative and meaningful play, aiding emotional development.

  • Enhancing Cognitive Development: Cognitive development is stimulated by problem-solving activities, fostering intellectual growth.

  • Physical Strength, Coordination, and Balance: Physical activities help kids build strength, coordination, and balance.

  • Mental Health and Brain Development: Outdoor play reduces stress and supports mental health while promoting brain development.

  • Social Skills, Communication, and Creativity: Interactions on the playground facilitate social skills, communication, and imaginative play.

Playground Elements that Cater to Different Needs

To cater to children with various needs, playgrounds can incorporate specific elements or features.

“The entire playground should offer many opportunities for kids to develop cognitive, physical, social, and sensory skills,” recommends May Recreation.

Here are some examples of the different needs of children:

  • Shy Kids: Quiet zones with cozy nooks, where children can retreat when overwhelmed, or artistic installations that encourage solo creativity.

  • Anxiety: Calming sensory gardens with gentle sounds, textures, and scents, or interactive boards with calming imagery.

  • Mobility-Challenged Kids: Wheelchair-accessible swings, ramps, and pathways, ensuring inclusivity for all.

  • ADHD: Engaging in activities that require focus and attention, like obstacle courses or memory games.

  • Autism: Sensory panels, quiet spaces, and communication-friendly elements like pictorial signage.

  • Sensory Issues: Multi-sensory play equipment with various textures, sounds, and colors to engage and stimulate sensory development.

By incorporating these elements, playgrounds can become inclusive spaces where all children can play, learn, and grow together, irrespective of their individual needs.

Contact Churchich Recreation today for help in creating a playground that benefits children of all needs.