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Feature Article - July 2017

Something for Everyone

Inclusive, Multigenerational Playgrounds Have Broad Reach

By Deborah L. Vence


Multigenerational Trends

Many of Callison's customers are committed to creating multigenerational recreation areas, which is an area of focus that's been driving his company's design process recently. For instance, a swing that his company makes enables parents and children to play face-to-face and eye-to-eye, and experience the scientific principle of attunement during play. "They promote adult play. They encourage parent-child bonding. And they reinforce playful behaviors throughout our life cycle," he said.

In addition, an outdoor fitness product Callison's company manufactures is a multigenerational product that addresses the popularity of challenge and obstacle courses, and encourages people of all ages to be more playful together. "It appeals to a wide range of users, from all walks of life, play styles and socioeconomic backgrounds. It's a cross between a ninja obstacle course and a pro sports combine," he said. "With the addition of the mobile phone app and the professional timing systems, it's a social and competitive experience for the entire community."

His company also has worked with communities to add outdoor fitness products adjacent to playgrounds, giving parents and adult caregivers a chance to exercise while children are playing. "This helps adults stay more active, and it sets a great example for children to continue exercising when they grow older," he said. "Inclusive and multigenerational play—products and recreation areas that encourage people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities to play together—that's the future of play."

Multigenerational playgrounds should consider the needs of everyone in a community. "For example, add shade structures and seating areas to a playground to create comfortable areas for parents and grandparents to rest while observing children at play," Callison suggested. "Consider adding walking paths, jogging trails or outdoor fitness equipment near the playground to attract older teens and adults to the recreation area so that families can participate in outdoor recreation together."

The playground itself should be designed to encourage adults to engage in playful behavior with children. One way to accomplish that is by adding custom graphics to poured rubber surfacing for games such as hopscotch or foursquare. In addition, consider adding game tables, basketball goals, picnic areas and other amenities to the surrounding area.

"The idea is to find ways to get everyone involved in play," Callison said. "Studies have shown that when parents and children interact with one another in play, there are mutual physical, social and emotional benefits that are potentiated by the shared experience, more so than when parents or children play alone."

While components of multigenerational playgrounds might include fitness stations and other types of games, it still "… comes back to good design to include age and developmentally appropriate play for people of all ages," McConkey said.

"Often we will see individual play zones or play nodes separated by natural features such as low mounds, swales or plantings," he said. "Play nodes may be dedicated to a particular activity such as sand/water play, music play, big muscle play (climbing/sliding) or swinging/spinning. And, they may be scaled to be smaller and more intimate for those [in] quiet, small group play for just a few, or larger in scale to accommodate more people."

Activities that accommodate older adult caregivers include exercise equipment and mobility/rehab types of activities, as well as the hidden discovery and scavenger hunt games. "These invite both the adult and child to play together," he said.

Jackson noted that multigenerational playgrounds have events that adults used to play with when they were a child. "Items include monkey bars (overhead challenges), tire swings, swings, merry go rounds, etc.," he said.

Still other features of a multigenerational playground include fitness stations, which Perreault said seem "to be the most common way to make a playground multigenerational."

"Recently, I've seen ping pong tables, a putting green, bocce ball, foosball, dog parks and a bean bag toss, too," he added.

Best Practices in Multigenerational Play

Multigenerational best practices go along with designing a play area that is inclusive and accessible.

"The best practice would be to create an area for children ages 6 to 23 months, an area for children ages 2 to 5, and an area for children ages 5 to 12," Callison said.

However, creating an inclusive playground also means making sure it is accessible for adults who use a mobility device so they can engage in play with their children.

"Consider adding play activities to walking paths and greenways," said Callison, whose company offers a product that positions pockets of play along a trail. "Each play pocket has play activities that are nature-themed such as butterflies, ants or trees, along with educational signage that describes the animals, their habitat and fun activities. As families walk along the trail or greenway, they discover these play pockets and engage in fun, active play together," he explained.

Design areas and include activities that appeal to a wide range of play styles, ages and abilities, and that encourage people of all ages to play together. One example is outdoor musical instruments. Music is inherently inclusive and appeals to people of all ages. "If you combine multiple instruments you can encourage parents and grandparents to play along with children," Callison said.

For older children (13 to 18), Callison's company encourages customers to consider products that engage older children and teenagers in a fun, active and competitive way. For adults, adding outdoor fitness equipment and other site amenities is very important, too.

"You want to make sure adults have something to do at the park that helps them stay active, and you want to [motivate] adults to go to the park with their children. After all, in most cases, the only way a child has access to a playground is if an adult takes them there," he said.

"The perfect scenario is a space that provides fun opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to play and recreate, and to play together," he added. "Planning a space around the needs of every age group, and considering how people of different ages will interact with one another is the key to creating a great multigenerational space."