Supplement Feature - April 2011
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Common Grounds

Inclusive Play on the Upswing

By Wynn St. Clair

The park also has traditional features such as slides and swings because officials wanted to make sure it wasn't considered a special needs playground only. Rather, they wanted a place where the entire community could play, regardless of need. To bolster the community feel, officials selected a train theme for the overall play area in homage to Pasadena's railroad history.

The project was initiated several years ago by the Pasadena Rotary Club, which donated $100,000 toward a universal playground. City officials also secured a Community Development Block Grant totaling $88,000 and used city funds to cover the remaining $170,000.

"The City of Pasadena really tries to cater to its residents with special needs," Miller said. "You name it, we try and do it. And since we're all-inclusive, we don't turn anyone away. We don't tell people who don't have special needs that they can't use the facility. We just decided we are going to dedicate this specific facility to the people of our community with special needs."

And the community has responded overwhelmingly. Even before the park opened, the new play area already was a popular site with area children and their parents. As a recreation therapist, Miller appreciates the endless opportunities that the playground offers everyone.

"Hopefully this will be a model and people will want to do what Pasadena does to include all abilities," he said.

By introducing inclusive or universal playground equipment that works different muscles and encourages creative play, recreation managers are boosting the physical, social and emotional opportunities that make playgrounds such a vital part of a child's overall health.

Different playground equipment, for example, lends itself to varying levels of activity, making it easy for kids of all age groups and ability levels to physically benefit from outdoor play on a playground. Research has shown that the physical benefits of play include learning reflexes and movement control; developing fine and gross motor skills; increasing flexibility and balancing skills; as well as learning to walk, run, jump, throw, climb, slide and swing. These activities all lead to improved physical health and fitness. Studies show that children who are more physically active are healthier when it comes to blood pressure, cholesterol and insulin levels—important health issues for all children regardless of their abilities.