Do's and Don'ts of Inclusive & Multigenerational Play

When planning for an inclusive and multigenerational playground, experts suggest some do's and don'ts to keep in mind:

Do plan a playground for the people you haven't met yet, said Kent Callison, director of marketing for a commercial playground equipment manufacturer in Fort Payne, Ala.

"Some people delay building an inclusive playground because they don't believe it is needed in their community. They still think of inclusion in terms of accessibility, or ramped access. If they don't know of a child who needs ramps on a playground, they assume an inclusive playground isn't needed," Callison said. "However, inclusion goes well beyond accessibility, and there are 6.6 million children across the country who could benefit from a well-planned, inclusive play space that allows them to engage in fun, active and equitable play with their peers."

Do include activities that engage the senses, specifically auditory, tactile, visual, vestibular and proprioceptive. These sensory interactions on the playground can positively impact the development of the whole child.

Do host special events and provide programming opportunities to help the community understand the benefits of their inclusive playground.

Do provide more than one way to play. It's important, from a developmental perspective, to include a variety of activities at graduated levels of challenge. This encourages positive risk-taking and helps children progress along the developmental continuum.

Do provide ramp access that is wide enough to accommodate multiple users, mobility devices and caregivers.

Do market and promote your inclusive play area. Let your community know about the playground via your local news outlets and on your social media channels. And, encourage people to share posts with friends and family so that everyone can benefit from a recreation area that is designed for all ages and abilities.

But, Callison said, Don't just plan a playground for the people you know.

John McConkey, director of market insights for a Delano, Minn.-based commercial playground manufacturer, said that for the do's, you should:

  • Reach out to members of the community to get the voice of the end user at the table.
  • Partner with an experienced design partner who can offer referrals for similar projects.
  • Start out with a vision for the overall experience you want users to come away with after visiting the space before setting a budget. How will people feel when they are in the space? Don't let the budget constrain your vision.
  • Visit other play spaces to gather ideas and evaluate different concepts. Look for the quality of the design as well as the quality of the materials. How is it holding up over time?

But, don't:

  • Be constrained by a budget before articulating your vision.
  • Make design decisions without visiting other play areas that you can draw from to help create your vision.

Charles Jackson, a brand manager and certified playground safety inspector who works for a Carrollton, Ga.-based commercial playground equipment manufacturer, said that for the do's, using "correct surfacing is a must for inclusive playgrounds. "When designing a play space for inclusivity there must be an accessible path to the play structure and other accessible events. Surfacing such as pea gravel, sand or non-certified wood mulch (ASTM F1272) can make an entire play space inaccessible," he said.

"Using play panels that are at correct height for a wheelchair bound child, or adult in some cases, to play with from the front instead of from the side," he added.

Finally, Dan Perreault, a play advocate, licensed landscape architect and certified inclusive play specialist for a Lewisburg, Pa.-based commercial playground equipment manufacturer, suggested for inclusive, do: "Carefully consider the decisions that are made and the consequences of those decisions. Use multiple surface types. Offer multiple challenge levels co-located in play pods."

And for multigenerational, do: "Get creative and focus on play. A playground should be fun."