The playground design process is complex and many issues must be considered in order to build a quality multipurpose playground. The planning and design process is discussed in this paper, as well as who is included in the planning process. Recommendations are made for the consideration of accessibility for students with disabilities, how to incorporate equipment that is developmentally appropriate, and what factors must be considered when aiming to present learning opportunities for all children through the playground area. The article concludes with a brief review of the existing research on playground safety and offers recommendations for creating and maintaining a safe playground structure and environment.
Keywords Accessibility; Age Appropriate Playgrounds; Americans with Disabilities Act; Boundless Playgrounds; High Play Value; Physical Skills; Playground Design; Playground Safety; Public Schools; School Facility Design; United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (USCPSC)
To the average community members, school playgrounds may not appear to have been designed based on the consideration of several important and critical factors. However, issues such as age of children, developmental stage of children, learning goals of the playground structure, accessibility, play value, the surrounding area, safety, and many others must all be considered when planning and designing school playgrounds. The playground design process is complex and these issues must be considered in order to build a quality multipurpose playground.
The Planning Committee
School playgrounds are often multipurpose play areas not only for the school but also for the community at large (Gibbs, 2000). This shared use indicates that school playgrounds may be funded from a number of sources including school district funds, individual school funds, contributions from the community, and/or donations from parents (Gibbs, 2000). When funds for a playground are from a variety of sources it is important to include the benefactors and the users of the facility in the design process. Inclusion of children (the users) in the design process allows them to experience a sense of ownership of the playground and its development, but more importantly their involvement can provide unique perspectives and insight (Gibbs, 2000). With proper planning, the playground design process can be incorporated into the school curriculum as it may help children to enhance and apply their knowledge and skills in the academic areas of math, art, language, and local history (Gibbs, 2000). Determining who will be involved in the design process is only a small facet of the overall planning and design process.
Incorporating Developmental Learning Opportunities into Playgrounds
School playgrounds are an important component of a school and community's outdoor resources. These play environments serve as areas for fun-focused recess and relaxation or as a component of physical education programming. The facility should offer all children with opportunities to develop physically, emotionally, socially and intellectually (Hudson, Thompson, & Mack, 2000). Playgrounds that have high play value offer children multiple opportunities to develop their physical, emotional, social, and intellectual skills (Bowers & Gabbard, 2000). The playground area should serve as a venue for children to develop physical skills such as running, jumping, balance, climbing, and eye-hand coordination (Hudson, Thompson, & Mack, 2000). The emotional domain can be developed through playground activities that allow children the freedom of creative expression (Hudson, Thompson, & Mack, 2000). The social development of children may occur through playground play as children are faced with situations where they have to learn to share, cooperate, and seek mutual goals (Hudson, Thompson, & Mack, 2000). Lastly, intellectual development is highlighted by the development of problem-solving skills and divergent thinking abilities (Hudson, Thompson, & Mack, 2000).
While playground designers often consider how a particular structure or design will enhance these different learning experiences for able children, many play environments have not been planned in a manner that also provides students with disabilities opportunities for growth and development in the physical, emotional, social and intellectual domains. Playground planners and designers should consider the question "what is the purpose of the play experience?" (Hudson, Thompson, & Mack, 2000, p. 36). With this in mind, playground designers should be focused on developing an environment that provides meaningful and purposeful play opportunities for children of all abilities as opposed to only focusing on creating a play space that is minimally accessible and safe. Playground design should focus on the promotion of children's gross motor skills, eye-hand coordination, and movement as these are elements of play that all children can learn from engaging in.
The development of physical skills is somewhat inherent in the playground environment; however physical skill development can be enhanced through careful consideration of included playground elements. In order to incorporate emotional development into play structures, the playground design should provide all children with a sense of excitement, satisfaction, or pleasure by creating playgrounds that are stimulating, complex, and novel (Hudson, Thompson, & Mack, 2000). Playgrounds must provide challenges for children at all levels of abilities (Hudson, Thompson, & Mack, 2000). These challenges should be attainable in order to fuel the child's desire to strive for the next level or challenge so that children experience success and accomplishment (Hudson, Thompson, & Mack, 2000). To foster the development of social goals, playground elements should be designed so that at any given time or location in the play area all children have the opportunity to interact. This focus on constant interaction can foster inclusion and cooperation in the children (Hudson, Thompson, & Mack, 2000).
Designing for Accessibility
The design and development of playgrounds is not limited to the incorporation of learning opportunities for children to develop physically, socially, emotionally, intellectually. Accessibility of the playground is also an important part of the design and development process.
Children with disabilities are usually delayed or underdeveloped in their physical size, muscular strength and motor movement, therefore these factors along with the guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) must be considered when designing playgrounds. The ADA guidelines require playgrounds to have 50% of the elevated areas accessible to children with disabilities and 25% of elevated elements must be wheelchair accessible (Roberts, 2005). These guidelines present minimal accessibility to children in wheelchairs as these children are required to abandon their wheelchairs in order to fully participate in the playground elements (Roberts, 2005). Ideally, playgrounds should be created so that children with disabilities can play alongside their non-disabled peers.
These types of playgrounds are called boundless playgrounds and this type of playground seeks to surpass the ADA's minimum guidelines (Roberts, 2005). For example, the designers of boundless playgrounds aim to have 70% of the playground equipment accessible to children in wheelchairs without having to abandon his/her equipment (e.g., elevated sand boxes for wheelchair bound children)...
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