Playgrounds Today: Moving Beyond Compliance to Inclusion

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If your school district is a microcosm of your students’ entire life path, what part does the playground play? After all, a lifetime of acceptance often starts in your students’ early years. Students go to school together; along with letters and numbers, they learn about each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and in that great way kids have, they don’t think much about it at the time.

But what lesson are they inadvertently absorbing if the structure of their school playground precludes some students participating at recess and other play time?

Addressing this concern, among others, is what has led to the growth of inclusive play installations. The goal of inclusion is that every kid plays – not just those who are able-bodied and not just those with special needs. A truly inclusive playground is a sensory-enriched environment where all your schoolkids can play together, learning to understand their differences and enjoy each other’s company.

Of course, you as a school administrator have additional concerns: Your district’s playgrounds need to be code-compliant, budget-attentive and, above all, safe for all visitors. That’s a lot of goals that don’t appear to easily coincide – at least at first glance. Let’s unpack them.


Playground at Dilley ISD

The Goal of Inclusion

At Park Place Recreation Designs, we care about your students’ play experience and about creating interesting environments that all kids can benefit from physically, mentally and socially. Our goal is to help you meet your goals so that together we create great structures that satisfy every member of your community.

With that in mind, it’s important to stress that while ADA compliance is important, inclusion is about offering even more than is required by code. Inclusion is designing a play space so that every student who enters it finds something that engages them and encourages them to try new things (safely). We design these environments to include easily accessible equipment that provides a graduated range of challenges and multi-sensory experiences. We also design playgrounds that encourage different modes of play; solitary, parallel and associative.

Along the same lines, there’s another consideration when designing inclusive play: you want to provide full sensory stimulation for all the students who want that experience, but it’s also important to provide quiet zones for those who don’t. This type of organized sensory environment benefits all children but is especially helpful for those on the autism spectrum or with sensory integration concerns.

At Park Place Recreation Designs, we have years of experience thinking these things through. Consider, for instance, your playground’s pathways. It’s not something most people think about, but simply planning the area with another foot or two of width in the pathways makes a huge difference in who can enjoy the space.


An Example of Inclusion and Safety

Dilley ISD wanted an inclusive playground design at their elementary campus; we worked with them to create a space that goes beyond minimum ADA requirements to offer opportunities for all visitors. Accessible ramps lead to three-foot decks (a unique feature in a school design). We installed rubber mulch (an accessible surface) in many areas to reduce the overall costs but used poured-in-place surfacing (which is even more accessible) to strategically create pathways to high-use areas, including all transfer points. This created an optimal balance of design and value. The play area also includes accessible slides, ground-level activities, a climbing wall, and slides from an eight-foot deck that are exciting for older students. Our wave hex roofs provide shade and a pop of color for visual interest.


Playground at Dilley ISD

What About the Budget?

We understand that often there are more needs in your district than there are funds, so we put our years of expertise and awareness of safety and accessibility options to work, helping you put all of the pieces together to build the best “play value” – the most fun and activity for your students in the safest environment that can be created within your budget.

To that end, we want you to be aware of the following two benefits of working with Park Place Recreation Designs:

  1. As an external consultant to your district, we recommend you request a free, district-wide playground needs assessment. A member of our team will visit each playground in your district and professionally inspect it for issues of safety, code compliance, general wear, etc. Then we provide you with a long-term planning document that assigns levels of priorities to each piece of equipment: those that should be replaced immediately (usually for concerns with safety or compliance), those that should be considered for update or replacement within the next few budget cycles, and those that can likely wait up to 15 years for consideration. This assessment will help you plan your playground budgets for years to come, while a schedule of renovation and replacement will also help keep unexpected maintenance costs low.
  2. We can even help you maximize your expenditure when you get to the procurement step. We are an approved vendor in the BuyBoard® national purchasing cooperative (our BuyBoard contract number is #592-19), which offers bulk discounts and online shopping options to participating schools. This means our procurement process has been established to provide transparency, compliance and a documented audit trail for your records.

As one of Texas’ leaders in developing inclusive play environments, we hope you’ll contact us to discuss any options your school district is considering for repairs, renovations and new builds. We also would love to provide a needs assessment that will help your district stay safe and code-compliant in coming years.