Supplement Feature - April 2011
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Common Grounds

Inclusive Play on the Upswing

By Wynn St. Clair

Recreation officials then enlisted the entire community to construct the Rotary Miracle Playground as more than 400 people volunteered to help with the building. Volunteers included 50 soldiers from the area Army base and local firemen and police officers.

"The whole thing was just a great experience for everyone," Meeker said. "It just really makes you feel great about the community you live in."

In addition to traditional slides and climbers, the plan purposefully included many different sensory experiences to appeal to a wide range of users. Auditory, visual, olfactory, tactile, swinging, spinning and balancing opportunities were included, to name a few.

The playground boasts musical instruments and miniature backhoes for playing in the sand, as well. For those sensitive to the elements, some play areas have ample shade to comfort the children. The city also opted to make the ramps extra-wide so two wheelchairs could pass on them. There are also large decks with crow's nests to provide exceptional elevated play spaces.

For children with autism, the city installed roller slides that provide therapeutic pressure to muscles as they go down. The playground's initial plans also called for colorful artwork and surfacing throughout the park until officials learned patterns can often distract and frustrate autistic children and prevent them from playing.

Improve Your Safety Score

Each year, more than 200,000 people receive emergency room treatment for injuries stemming from playground equipment. The most recent study of 2,691 playground equipment-related incidents reported from 2001 to 2008 indicated that falls are the most common hazard pattern (44 percent of injuries), followed by equipment-related hazards, such as breakage, tip-over, design and assembly. Other hazard patterns involved entrapment and colliding with other children or stationary equipment. Playground-related deaths reported involved entanglement of ropes, leashes or clothing; falls; and impact from equipment tip-over or structural failure. To address this issue, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission offers nine tips to improve your playground's health:

  1. Make sure surfaces around playground equipment have at least 12 inches of wood chips, mulch, sand or pea gravel, or are mats made of safety-tested rubber or rubber-like materials.
  2. Check that protective surfacing extends at least 6 feet in all directions from play equipment. For swings, be sure surfacing extends, in back and front, twice the height of the suspending bar.
  3. Make sure play structures more than 30 inches high are spaced at least 9 feet apart.
  4. Check for dangerous hardware, like open "S" hooks or protruding bolt ends.
  5. Make sure spaces that could trap children, such as openings in guardrails or between ladder rungs, measure less than 3.5 inches or more than 9 inches.
  6. Check for sharp points or edges in equipment.
  7. Look out for tripping hazards, like exposed concrete footings, tree stumps and rocks.
  8. Make sure elevated surfaces, like platforms and ramps, have guardrails to prevent falls.
  9. Prohibit children from wearing bike helmets on playground equipment. CPSC has reports of two strangulation deaths that occurred when the child's bike helmets became stuck in openings on playground equipment, resulting in hanging.