Supplement Feature - April 2009
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Play Date

Trends in Playground Equipment

By Hayli Morrison


INCLUSIVE PLAYGROUNDS

Playgrounds also help ease depression in adults, particularly wounded military veterans who return home and find it difficult to play with their children to the same extent as before. With features like wide ramps, slide transfers and poured-in-place or tiled rubber surfacing in key areas, inclusive playgrounds bring new hope to military bases like Fort Campbell near Clarksville, Tenn. As is common practice, grant money was used for the playground—in Fort Campbell's case, a sizeable grant from the Cracker Barrel Foundation. Phil Garito said the groundbreaking idea to put such a playground on a base garnered attention from national media as well as other military bases.

"We said not only will an inclusive playground allow children with special needs the ability to go out and play with their friends, but it will also allow soldiers who are coming back from Iraq or Afghanistan, who have lost a limb or have some other impairment, to engage with their children in a playground setting," said Phil Garito, asset manager for Fort Campbell Family Housing. "I think other military posts are trying to emulate what was done here at Fort Campbell."

Grandparents are another demographic aided by inclusive playgrounds, according to Fred Leone, CEO of Boundless Playgrounds Inc., a national nonprofit organization dedicated to helping communities create extraordinary inclusive playgrounds.

"Nowadays, there are more grandparents providing childcare and helping to raise their grandchildren," he said. "Our inclusive playgrounds help seniors with limited mobility to more easily navigate the playscape so they can attend to and play with their grandchildren."

Aside from special swings, the differences between standard and inclusive playgrounds are subtle to the untrained eye. But for people with disabilities, it can mean the difference between participant and spectator, or looking down from the top versus looking up from the ground.

"We have found that children with disabilities who require use of a mobility device have never gotten that perspective of getting higher and seeing the horizon," Leone said. "It's really very exciting when they experience that for the first time. It's also very integral to our philosophy of inclusion. Certainly the highest points of play are often the most attractive to children, so we certainly wouldn't want to exclude them from that."

While the primary difference is in the playground's surfacing and layout, it can be as subtle as cozy spaces where kids can gather to converse and play. This feature appeals to all children, but especially children diagnosed with autism, providing much-needed social interaction in the process. About 7 million children, or roughly one in 10, benefit directly from inclusive playgrounds. That's why Boundless Playgrounds has teamed with Hasbro/PLAYSKOOL and CVS Caremark to provide grants that help communities cover extra costs involved in making a playground inclusive. In its 11-year history, the organization has constructed more than 140 inclusive playgrounds, according to Leone.

"It is just remarkable to see the impact on the child and the parents. They are so happy that their child is able to engage with their peers in what is a traditional childhood activity. It can be a very emotional thing," he said, recalling in particular one day at a Long Island playground.

"I met a woman there who had a child who used a wheelchair, and they drove two hours to get to that playground," he said. "Her daughter would ask her to come every weekend, but obviously they couldn't do that. But that's how much it meant to her. You can't overstate the need."

Indeed, there is a function for playgrounds in virtually every area of society—therapy, environmental awareness, education, physical fitness and socialization, to name a few. As society grows and changes, play environments will evolve, too, sometimes even leading the charge toward new discoveries.