Engaging Disabled Children with Inclusive Playground Activities

Young children with disabilities have the right to participate in extracurricular activities on the playground. When they can’t participate, they miss out on important health and social benefits.

Including children of all abilities means creating an environment where they have equal access. That is why schools often use an Individualized Education Program (IEP), a written plan detailing how a child’s needs will be met in the classroom and on the playground. Developed by school staff and parents, the plan helps educators, administrators, and families set learning goals for a child and designate the services that the school district will provide.

When planning a playground, designers should consider various types of disabilities such as medical, sensory, cognitive, social, and mobility related disabilities. These considerations should play into all decisions related to the playground’s design so that it can be an inclusive play area for children of all ages and abilities. The play equipment, the placement of equipment, and the surfacing are just a few design features that make a playground more inclusive.

Familiar and inviting environments can encourage social play among children of all abilities. Accessibility and safety should be the top priorities. According to the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Play Areas (2000), “Designers should consider the optimal layout of ground-level play components to foster interaction and socialization among all children.”

A playground’s design can encourage (or hinder) socialization. Children with autism spectrum disorders, for example, rarely interact with other children in “free play” situations, and they typically have difficulty with imaginative play. A “circuit-style” layout (where playground equipment is arranged in a circle with a central open area) encourages them to navigate the playground and stay active. This encourages more imaginative play and physical challenge by creating a structural boundary surrounded by an open area for free play.

A 2013 report called A Systematic Review of the Best Practices for Playground Inclusion (Mejeur, Megan; Schmitt, Graceann; and Wolcott, Hannah) describes the physical and social barriers disabled children face on the playground. Physical barriers might include uneven surfaces, narrow entryways, and equipment that can’t be used without help from an adult. These physical barriers make social engagement between children with disabilities and those without rather difficult (hence the social barriers). Children with disabilities might have different scheduled play times, which further isolates them and excludes them from social play with the rest of the children.

All of these barriers—both social and physical—should be eliminated for play to be truly inclusive.

Playground Activities for Disabled Children

From modified equipment to inclusive activities, your playground can also incorporate games and play structures that make inclusive play easier. These might include: 

  • Modified swings: Several companies create adaptive swings for children with special needs. Swinging helps the brain make sense of speed and direction, which is beneficial for kids with visual perception issues. 
  • Bright colors: To help kids with impaired vision, bright colors can help identify equipment from a distance. Bright-colored cones or tape can mark boundaries. Visual cues can also be important for kids with autism. 
  • Modified sandboxes: An elevated sandbox gives kids who can’t play on the ground a chance to dig. This gives wheelchair-bound children the same creative and tactile play experience able-bodied children enjoy.
  • Outdoor hide-and-seek: This classic is a great way to get kids playing together. Plus, it integrates counting, visual perception, and turn-taking into the game.

Surfacing and Inclusivity

Not all surfacings are made alike. Playgrounds that include loose fill surfaces such as pea gravel and mulch do not facilitate inclusive play. Wheelchairs cannot easily pass through these substances. For optimal inclusivity, it is recommended to use a seamless, flat surface such as No Fault’s Poured-in-Place Safety Surfacing or Bonded Rubber Mulch. No Fault Sporturf also makes a great option for an inclusive play area.

Incorporating these surfaces not only provides a safer environment for children better protecting them from falls and accidents that may occur, but also makes it easier for children with mobile disabilities to access the play areas.

For more inclusive activities, see the Let’s Play Together! Guide published by National Council of Social Service and Singapore Disability Sports Council.

No Fault can help with wheelchair accessible, all-inclusive playground surfacing, and playground design.  Give us a call at 866-NFSPORT.  We are happy to assist you!

Is There Room for Music on the Playground?

 “Music enhances the education of our children by helping them to make connections and broadening the depth with which they think and feel. If we are to hope for a society of culturally literate people, music must be a vital part of our children’s education.”  —Yo-Yo Ma 

“Music has a power of forming the character, and should therefore be introduced into the education of the young.”  — Aristotle

Music has been with us since the earliest civilizations. There is reason to believe that every culture throughout history embraced some kind of music, just as we can safely bet children have been playing since the earliest days.

Music is called the “universal language” for a reason. It can be a uniting force for people, and children are no exception.

No Fault Sport Group’s blogs are usually about playground design and trends in safety surfacing. We are also interested in new studies on childhood development and find it fascinating how modern playground architects and equipment suppliers are incorporating music performance and education on the playground.

More than outdoor singalongs or instrumental lessons happening in the park instead of indoors, we are referencing built-in musical features that become part of a playground’s design, meant to be played with as much as everything else in a playscape for toddlers and grade-school children.

Of course, you probably don’t want a grand piano standing between the swing set and the merry-go-round on your outdoor playscape. We are talking about bright, colorful and engaging play equipment that incorporates sound and movement. Here are a few examples of some playground equipment manufacturers who provide outdoor musical equipment:

  • Little Tikes supplies a musical line called “Concerto” that incorporates drums and xylophones.
  • Miracle Recreation also has a “Concerto” musical line of equipment.
  • Playworld has a product called “Rhythm Spinner”.  Children can spin the dial to hear cool music, reverse directions to change the song, and hit the drum pads to play along with the music.

Playground-friendly musical features (like the ones listed above) are made to withstand the heavy impact that tiny “Beethovens” seem capable of heaping upon them. They are also built to last through years of exposure to sun and rain (not to mention strawberry jam-smeared fingers).

Music Complements Physical Activity

Playgrounds, for the most part, are all about giving children an opportunity to work off the boundless resources of energy they seem to have. They are also a place for children to grow mentally; having musical features in play areas enhances sensory play and aids in this growth. For example, when children play music together, they are learning to work together as a team and develop their sense of empathy. They are learning ways to express themselves.

Sure the “music” being made may not sound perfectly harmonious to the moms and dads listening nearby, but young children start to understand basic emotions and how to express them constructively by using expression through music. That does not mean they will not continue to cry, throw temper tantrums, or have meltdowns from time-to-time – they are children after all. However, there is no denying that children who have been introduced to music performance demonstrate enhanced communication and reasoning skills as they age.

According to a recent article in Playground Professionals,music and play are very effective ways for children to learn about and explore feelings, and then practice how to express and manage them.”  We agree, and this article is one of many we have read that says music education helps children develop social skills, emotional skills, and more. 

Music and Special Needs

Everyone likes playing music! As inclusivity is increasingly becoming a major goal for today’s playground designers, music is a great way to incorporate playground aspects for children of all ages and abilities. Music has been used as therapy for children who do not communicate well with others.  As for children with developmental disabilities, such as autism and Asperger’s syndrome, this kind of music therapy can be an engaging way to help develop their social skills.

You’ve heard about “left brain” and “right brain” thinking, right? Playing musical instruments engages the entire brain, stimulating both the analytical and the artistic halves. One characteristic of autistic children is that the left and right hemispheres are often “out of sync.” Playing a musical instrument can make new neural connections for these children. Sometimes, the effects can be profound. Plus, it makes them happy in a way other activities simply can’t!

Integrating music on the playground can help children with physical disabilities, too. For example, you may be surprised to learn that deaf children can enjoy musical features on the playground! Many deaf people play instruments. As percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie (who herself is deaf) says:

“When I’m asked if I hear the percussion instruments I am playing or other instruments playing alongside me, my response is that I feel the music through my body–my hands, arms, cheekbones, scalp, everywhere.”

No Fault Sport Group partners with equipment suppliers and playground designers across the country. We specialize in safety surfacing materials such as our poured-in-place rubber surfacing and synthetic play turf, but we may be able to steer you in the right direction if you’re looking for unique playground features like musical instruments and percussive features. Contact us today, and we’ll talk about your vision and your goals!

Why Theme Your Playground?

Everyone wants a playground that is truly one-of-a-kind; one that stands out from all the others. You want children to enjoy a unique and memorable experience they can’t find anywhere else.

But let’s face it: It’s getting harder to create a “unique and memorable experience” in today’s world of short attention spans and competition from computer-generated special effects on small and large screens.

Children crave physical and mental stimulation. That’s why the creative designs you find in “themed” playgrounds can capture their imagination and encourage them and their families to keep coming back for years to come.

 

In a recent article featured in Playground Professionals, Lisa Annis wrote: “Themed playgrounds bring excitement as they offer added challenges and take kids to that ‘next level’. They’re engaging and keep kids coming back throughout their learning years.

Themed playgrounds inspire creativity, which in turn builds confidence. For example, a playground with a military theme lets kids play soldier and go on “missions” with their friends. If you live in a community with a military connection, this helps them feel connected to the “grown-up” world around them.

Themed playgrounds can even inspire cognitive development in ways other playgrounds don’t. A police or fire department theme encourages role playing; it also helps kids imagine helping others, racing to an emergency, and collaborating with the rest of a team to get the job done.

 

No Fault partnered with All Inclusive Rec to create a “farm theme” for Adventureland Resort in Altoona, Iowa. We provided our No Fault PlaySafe 50 Synthetic Turf System to build out the playground areas.

How did Adventureland’s administration decide on the “farm” theme?

We had an existing barn structure near where the area was being built, so it was a natural fit,” says Adventureland marketing director and part owner, Molly Vincent. “Plus, we are located in Iowa—farm country!

Molly says the farm theme, which includes a giant tractor and sky-high sunflower installations, has been a huge hit with the kids. It gives them something fun to do while waiting for the roller coasters and other rides elsewhere in the park.

 

Theme parks always have lines, so it’s great to have an area to run around and do things,” Molly adds. “This is great for kids aged 2-12, so there really is something for everyone. Families have loved it.

 

If you own a business, school, or church, you can use custom playgrounds to match your brand or your message. Aside from our synthetic turf, No Fault Safety Surface is perfect for themed playgrounds since it can include built-in designs and school colors.

Woodfield Park in Lathrop, California used No Fault Safety Surfacing to create an underwater sea adventure with bright colors combined with large shark decals to suggest movement and fluidity throughout the park.

 

With custom playground designs, the opportunities are endless! Some themed playgrounds are visually stunning, drawing kids in with colors and shapes they usually only see on TV, in computer games, and in movies. Stockholm’s “Fruit and Scent Park” (Fruktlekparken), for example, is a place where kids can slide down banana peels, spin around on strawberries, and swing on cherries. There’s also the Dinosaur Island play area in West Sussex’s Southwater Country Park, sparking imaginations and inspiring kids to learn more about their favorite Jurassic-era creatures.

Of course, these are “go big” designs from world-class parks and playgrounds. Don’t feel the need to “go big or go home” with your playground design. Even a single feature is enough to inspire children. You never have to take an “all or nothing” approach!

 

You can add imaginative, educational art to existing panels or playground equipment.  Even a mural depicting well-known scenes from fictional stories or scientific facts about the natural world can inspire parents and children to engage in learning and imaginative play.

When building out your themed play space, you’ll work with engineers and fabricators to create custom sculptures and other features to give your playground just the right touch. Indeed, a good design team can create a custom concept for a theme playground to fit any footprint and budget. Your imagination is the only limiting factor.

Finally, whatever designs your imagination (and budget) allow, make sure you build an inclusive playground where the equipment can be used by children of all ages and abilities! Make sure your equipment uses quality materials and that it meets or exceeds all industry safety standards. Poured-in-place rubber and synthetic turf are popular safety surfacing options in modern playgrounds. Safety standards regarding playground surfacing can be found in ASTM F1292. For manufactured playground equipment, the International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA) offers third-party certification.

What theme are you considering? Contact us today, and we’ll help make your vision a reality! No Fault is a leader in the sports and recreational industry, developing remarkable playground safety surfacing with a strong commitment to playground safety and durability. No Fault understands what weather, sun, and thousands of happy kids can do to a playground. Our custom products bring color and protection to themed playgrounds and parks nationwide.

Parent & Teacher Guide to Keeping Kids Safe During Playtime

Many of life’s lessons are learned on the playground. As a parent, teacher, or caretaker, you don’t want to “hover” too much. Kids need room to explore and figure things out on their own!

Just as you need to guide your child through learning elsewhere in life, you need to guide him or her through learning on the playground. This means choosing the appropriate play environment, supervising them while they play, and teaching kids to use equipment the correct way. Easier said than done, right?

Let’s go over some of the key points to remember.

 

Finding Safe Playgrounds

Parents don’t usually “shop around” for playgrounds, right? Instead, they usually go to whatever playground is already at their school, church, or in their neighborhood. In these cases, you need to make sure the playground is as safe (and fun) as it can be. In some circumstances, you may have your choice from among several playgrounds in your area.

So, how do you pick the safest one?

For starters, a safe playground needs to have age-appropriate play equipment and safety surfacing. A playground feature that is safe for one child may be dangerous for another. Equipment is generally intended for three distinct age groups:

  • Infants and toddlers (6-23 months)
  • Preschoolers (ages 2-5)
  • School-age children (ages 5-12)

Playgrounds often have signs showing the age group for whom the equipment was designed. If they do not, you will need to make an educated guess. Children ages 4 and younger need to be kept away from swings and slides. Kids ages 5-14 are most often hurt on swings, monkey bars, and other climbing equipment.

Make sure the bars and railings are spaced properly so that your child cannot get their head or limbs stuck between them. Make sure equipment is maintained, firmly anchored to the ground, and free from splinters or sharp edges.

Make sure there aren’t hard surfaces in areas where there is a risk of falls. A safe playground incorporates safety surfacing around these “danger zones.”  No Fault Sport Group offers poured-in-place rubber surface, rubber safety tiles, loose-fill or bonded rubber mulch, and synthetic turf to make your playground area safer.

  

  

  

 

Supervising Play

So you have a playground that meets your safety standards—fantastic! Now the kids can have fun. However, your job as a parent or teacher is not over. In fact, parents and teachers have an important role to play during recess or after-school free play.

Lack of or improper supervision is associated with approximately 45 percent of playground-related injuries (according to the American Trauma Society). Schools and daycares can even face lawsuits if a child is injured, and the judge is convinced there may have been a lack of appropriate supervision.

Make a plan! Turn off your cell phone and keep your eyes peeled. Remember, teachers and parents can work together by taking turns watching kids in certain areas of the playground.

Supervision can be a balancing act. You must be ready to step in when needed, but you also have to know when not to intervene. Be sure to give older kids distance and don’t get involved unless you see too much horseplay or other harmful behavior. Don’t intervene too often or kids this age will find a way to play out of your sight line. Remember: play is all about testing one’s limits and exploring with an acceptable level of risk. Let the older kids build confidence by doing things on their own (within reason).

Supervision is also important to keep bullying and fighting away from the playground. Do not intervene too soon. It’s better to let kids work out their problems amongst themselves; however, if you see children are hurting one another (physically or mentally), you’ll need to take action.

 

Teaching Kids About Safe Play

  

The third aspect for parents and teachers to keep in mind is this: Kids need to know how to be safe and act responsibly while at the playground, and it’s your job to teach them.

You need to make sure kids are using play equipment correctly. Don’t let them stand on the swing set, for example. Teach children that pushing, shoving, or crowding at the top of the slide isn’t just rude—it can be dangerous.

Are the kids dressed appropriately for play? Make sure they aren’t wearing necklaces or clothing with drawstrings that might get caught on moving equipment. And if there’s a hot metal slide on the playground, make sure your child is wearing long pants to avoid burns. Teach kids to keep bikes, backpacks, and other items away from the play area so they won’t risk tripping and falling.

Resist the temptation to get on the equipment with younger kids. As we’ve written before, that can be more dangerous than you might think! Finally, teach kids to be aware of the weather and their environment. It may be a hot day, so make sure those kids get plenty of water and (if needed) sunscreen. Does it look like it might rain? Then it’s a great opportunity to teach them to come prepared by grabbing a raincoat or umbrella before heading over to the playground.

Poured-in-Place or Loose-Fill? Which is Right for You?

Are you building or upgrading a playground in your community? Or are you responsible for maintaining a play area at your school, civic center, or some other place where kids gather to work off that endless supply of energy they seem to have?

Either way, you have probably already spent a significant amount of time researching the types of playground equipment available and gathering quotes from various suppliers. While you are at it, do not overlook the importance of the playground surfacing that will go around your new equipment! Your ability to decrease the risk and liability of serious injuries related to falls depends on the kind of safety surface material you choose.

There are several playground surface options for you to consider. They include “unitary” playground surfaces (which include seamless, uniform surfaces such as poured-in-place rubber surfacing, rubber tiles, and bonded rubber mulch) and “loose-fill” playground surfacing (like engineered wood fiber or rubber mulch).

How you choose your playground surfacing depends on the purpose of your playground, how many kids you expect to use it, the type of equipment you purchase, and your budget.

 

Unitary Playground Surfacing

  

Unitary playground surfaces are smooth and uniform. They include poured-in-place rubber (“PIP”) surfacing, bonded rubber mulch, and rubber tiles. Unitary surfacing options can be more expensive than loose-fill when evaluating initial up-front costs. However, the long-term maintenance costs and costs over time are lower.

A few key things to remember about PIP and other unitary options:

  • Poured-in-place systems like No Fault’s are made with recycled post-industrial EPDM (Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer) rubber and polyurethane. Because the rubber and urethane components are mixed and applied on site, it’s easy to add school colors, logos, or geometric shapes into the surface.
  • Many playground designers like the consistency of having large areas (or even the entire playground) uniformly covered with a unitary surface.
  • Poured-in-place and other unitary surfaces are easy to clean and require little to no maintenance after installation.
  • Unitary rubber surfacing is a good choice for accessible playgrounds, since wheelchairs roll easily on the smooth surface.

 

Loose-Fill Playground Surfacing

  

Loose-fill materials are cost-effective, traditional playground surfacing favorites because of their shock-absorbing properties (when installed and maintained at appropriate depths). They include products like engineered wood fiber and chips, recycled shredded rubber, sand, and pea gravel.

A few key things to remember about loose-fill options:

  • Most shredded rubber comes from used tires and is a great choice if you want to use recycled products in your playground environment.
  • Loose-fill surfacing materials get kicked away from under the swings and from the bottom of the slide, which means someone has to rake it back in place or (eventually) buy new material to replace it.
  • Loose-fill options like sand and pea gravel can become less effective for fall protection due to environmental factors such as rain and cold.
  • These options can be used by animals (especially cats) as a litter box. They can also conceal other unwanted things (bottle tops, cigarette butts, etc.).

 

Comparing the Safety of Unitary and Loose-Fill Options

A 2000 study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention demonstrated the differences between loose-fill options. The study measured the “attenuation performance” of loose-fill playground surface materials (“attenuation performance” meaning how well something can stop the impact or force of another).

The study showed that pea gravel had the worst performance, making it a poor choice for playground surfacing. There was not much of a difference in the safety benefits of sand, wood fibers, and wood chips. The problem with these options is that they shift as children run and play, compromising the depth required at critical impact areas like swings, slides, and climbers.

Among all loose-fill playground options, rubber mulch was the best performer.  You can see information about No Fault’s loose-fill rubber mulch here.

Poured-in-place surfaces and other unitary products can be installed over asphalt, concrete, or other compacted sub-base aggregate. The thickness can be modified to comply with critical fall heights, defined as the “maximum height from which a life-threatening head injury would not be expected to occur.”

Loose-fill rubber and poured-in-place rubber are more durable than wood chips or fibers  because they won’t degrade over time. All options mentioned can give you the safety and protection you need, but the loose-fill options will require constant maintenance and testing to ensure effectiveness.

We hope this has cleared up any confusion you may have had about safety surfacing. However, if you still find that you have more questions than answers, fill out our “request a quote” form here and give us as much information as you can about your project; we’ll give you a call and talk with you about PIP rubber surfacing, rubber tiles, and other options you have for your playground project.

Who Can Help Paint Your Playground?

Here at No Fault Sport Group, we get asked a lot who can paint safety surfaces and equipment when it’s time for a playground renovation.

Most community playgrounds (whether at a park, school or church) are on tight budgets, so buying supplies and hiring someone to do the playground work isn’t always a realistic option. But there is good news. If your playground serves your community, chances are there is a service organization willing to help you paint and perform other needed maintenance and renovations.

In fact, here are a few service organizations that might be willing to help you paint your playgrounds.

The Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc.

The Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc. (AJLI) is an organization of women promoting voluntarism and improving communities through educational and charitable activities. Since its founding in 1901 by social activist Mary Harriman, The Junior League has evolved into one of the oldest, largest and most effective women’s volunteer organizations in the world, with 150,000 members in 291 Leagues in four countries.

The Junior League of Baton Rouge is a great example. Their Painted Playground project focuses on playground revitalization and includes painting and purchasing new equipment to promote physical exercise and outdoor play.  Click here to find the Junior League nearest you.

Moose International

You may have heard the saying, “A burden heavy to one is borne lightly by many.” This philosophy is at the core of the Moose organization. Moose is an international organization dedicated to bringing communities closer together and celebrating life.

Every year, the Moose organization contributes up to $100 million worth of monetary donations, volunteer hours worked, and miles driven. With a combined membership of over 1,000,000 members in the Loyal Order of Moose and Women of the Moose, their presence is felt in over 1,500 communities.

National AMBUCS, Inc.

Founded in 1922, National AMBUCS, Inc. is a charitable service organization dedicated to creating mobility and independence for people with disabilities. The organization awards scholarships to therapists and donates AmTryke therapeutic tricycles, which have hand and foot operations for those with disabilities.

In Amarillo, Texas, the AMBUCS Southwest Chapter donated $394,900 toward building an accessible playground with swings and a zip line specially made for children in wheelchairs. It was Amarillo’s first playground with equipment accessible to children with disabilities. Click here to Find an AMBUCS chapter near you.

The National Exchange Club

Founded in 1911, The National Exchange Club is a service organization serving communities through more than 650 local-level clubs. These chapters use their time and talents to benefit their communities through projects in Americanism, Community Service, Youth Programs, and the organization’s National Project, the prevention of child abuse. Members strive to inspire communities to become better places to live. Click here to see if there is a club near you.

Optimist International

Optimist Clubs around the world are dedicated to “Bringing Out the Best in Kids.” Adult volunteers join Optimist Clubs to conduct positive service projects in their communities aimed at providing a helping hand to youth. With their upbeat attitude, Optimist Club members help empower young people to be the best that they can be.

For example, in Stephenville, Texas, playground equipment at parks and schools bears the name and logo of the local Optimist Club. Since being chartered in 1966, the chapter has raised more than $1,000,000 for youth projects. All donations stay in the community and are used to fund projects that range from uniforms for t-ball teams to afterschool programs to scout houses and playground equipment.  Click here to find an Optimist Club near you.

Here are a few more service organizations that you might find in your area:

  • Civitan International, founded in 1917 and based in Birmingham, Alabama, serves individual and community needs with an emphasis on developmental disabilities. Civitan has member clubs in 37 countries, all working through direct financial support and hands-on projects to assist people affected by developmental disabilities.
  • Since 1915, Kiwanis clubs, located in 75 nations, keep service at the heart of every project. Members plan 150,000 projects and raise nearly $107 million every year for communities, families and projects.
  • Founded in 1917, Lions Club International are men and women who volunteer their time to humanitarian causes making their community better. As the world’s largest service organization (with 1.35 million members worldwide), Lions are best known for their vision programs, including the world’s largest blindness prevention program. Lions also volunteer for many dif­ferent kinds of community projects such as caring for the environment, feeding the hungry and aiding seniors and the disabled.

A Final Note About Paint

 

If you’re lucky enough to enlist a local service organization to help paint your playground, you’ll need to make sure they have the right materials. Questions we hear a lot include: Can the poured-in-place rubber (PIP) be painted? What about tiles and mulch? Is there a certain kind of paint to buy?

No Fault Safety Surface (poured-in-place rubber) and No Fault Safety Tile can be painted; the mulch can’t. However, our No Fault Rubber Mulch comes in a variety of colors (black, dark brown, green or terra cotta), and our colors are resistant to fading even after many years of use.

Remember, a good semi-gloss acrylic coating made for industrial and marine applications should do the trick. Or you could use an industrial latex paint (the same kind used to stripe tracks.) Our playground material is EPDM rubber, which is the same rubber that’s used on running tracks — it just has larger granules.

Finally, if you’re not sure about how to care for or paint your playground equipment (including No Fault products) just contact us at 1-800-NFSPORT (637-7678, and we’ll be happy to help!