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Let's Jumpstart To #PlayBeyondTheLabel

· advocacy,playground,accessibility,special needs,inclusion

My child is usually the one sitting on the sidelines at the playground, unable to join the other children playing. As I watch the other parents and caregivers arrive at the park, their immediate response is... “Go play!”

I turn my head, and take one look at the playground and I can’t help myself..

The words “Go play!” have so many barriers built around it when it comes to playgrounds and children with disabilities. In July 2018, I wrote about my advocacy with the City of Markham at my community park in my posts, You Are Not Welcome Here and You Are STILL Not Welcome Here. Ever since my several conversation with the City, I’ve been interested in learning about the possibilities of inclusive playgrounds that are accessible to all children of all abilities. To summarize my frustrations, I’d like to share one of my favourite quotes from Holland Bloorview’s #DearEverybody campaign...

This past weekend my family and I finally visited the epic 15,000-square-foot Jumpstart Inclusive Playground Project in the heart of North York. And #DearEverybody... if we want all children to be included at the playground, we need to start building physical spaces right! For today’s post, I will be giving you my #MomBehindTheLabel review of this playground and showcasing some of Bella and Petie’s favourite features.

As we entered the park we were welcomed with a large sign highlighting the rules of play:

  1. Open to all ages and abilities.

  2. Be respectful and kind to others.

  3. Be careful when playing around.

  4. Be imaginative.

  5. Playing safe and having fun strongly encouraged.

Now, many playgrounds will claim that these rules apply however it is a common misconception that playgrounds are inclusive as long as they are AODA compliant (...it is more than just an accessible swing). Being AODA compliant isn’t enough to make playgrounds usable for all children, and there definitely needs to be awareness about this issue. An accessible and inclusive playground means it is as easy as possible for everyone to play, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. City planners and Parks Operation staff need to take some understanding of disabilities and how children will use the equipment.

Swinging, spinning, and see-sawing are staples of my own childhood at the playground. All these vestibular movements help children channel their energy into playtime, and also offers a wonderful sensory integration for children with special needs. Bella has always enjoyed the thrill of swinging as it has also provided a lot of physical development for her. I was not only impressed with the variety of swings, but also the placement of the swing structures as they ultimately increased access, safety, comfort and social participation for everyone.

Take a look at how these next two structures promote both the physical development of grasping, balancing, landing, jumping, pushing, turning, and the rhythm of turn-taking.

When I watch Petie climbing, I can see the enjoyment in his face because it is simply fun! Children climb for a challenge, the sense of danger, and to access the top of success. Take a look at some of these playground structures and how it opens a world of exploration, new perspectives, and even fosters a game of chase and engagement in make-believe play.

These next structures took "monkey bars" to another level, as the equipment promoted differentiated ways to enhance upper body strength while targeting skills such as grip strength, coordination, hand-eye coordination, visual perception, and more. The different apparatuses of varying heights on this playground provided children of varying abilities with physical challenges and also ensured that self-confidence and self-esteem were boosted too! There were even wheelchair accessible monkey bars, which happened to be Petie's favourite because he was closer to the ground :)

Sensory play and sensory playground equipment isn’t just about making the fun of the playground accessible to all ages and abilities. It is about fostering the development of real life skills through interactive play. Children with autism and sensory processing disorders may have challenges with communication, socialization, play and imagination. Bella was attracted to a variety of structures that encouraged exploration and discovery. Here are some sensory boards that provided the just-right experience for her...

Throughout the playground there were many visuals that promoted inclusion and diversity. Every structure, route, and path ensured that everyone deserved to be accepted.

Music is universal. It doesn't differentiate between language, age, or experience. Music has always allowed Bella to explore, discover, experience, and learn. Next to the sensory garden were musical instruments that welcomed Bella and Petie to discover new sounds and rhythms. 

With careful planning, a simple accommodation to a structure gives children the opportunity to master self-control to enjoy success at the playground. It is obvious that this playground provided a safe space designed to nurture play between a child and their peers, but also play with caregivers or even alone. Take a look at these simple designs that allow children of all ages and all abilities to play alongside each other.

A ramp says, "Come join me!"

A slide says, "You can choose to slide or sit beside me!"

A great view needs to be shared, "Come see what I see!"

Playgrounds offer an opportunity for unstructured activities to foster both the physical and mental wellbeing of a child. "Jumpstart's mission is to ensure that these playgrounds become the standard for inclusivity by creating imaginative and accessible spaces where children of all abilities can share in the magic of play." No matter your age, ability, or race... my family was able to be part of this community space to PLAY!

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