The Sights And Sounds Of Play

Play is a social catalyst as old as civilization–an activity that when harnessed properly incorporates all of society and builds a stronger culture.

In the past, park playgrounds have focused almost exclusively on children. Playground elements were typically single-activity structures designed for sliding, swinging and climbing. The problem is that this type of play appeals to a small number of users and a certain age group. Large segments of the population, which are either physically challenged or of an age that is not represented, do not go to traditional parks because there are few activities that are appropriate for them.

What many have now come to realize is that play encompasses all generations and abilities.

Several years ago, the park designers at Design Concepts began to address this issue and create a new type of playground–all-inclusive playgrounds for people of all ages, levels and abilities. As parks and recreation professionals, you know that playgrounds have not been traditionally thought of in this way. They are typically divided into three groups: tiny tots, 1- to 6-year-olds and 6-year-olds and up. It’s all very focused on children, with children playing and adults standing around watching them.

To incorporate everyone, three elements must be present:

1.    An easily accessible place to play

2.    A dignified form of play for every age

3.    An activity center that encourages types of play for all generations and abilities.

Gearing Up

Discovery Playground at Mirabeau Point Park in Spokane Valley, Wash., is one example of how these three elements can successfully come together. Spokane Valley is an independent urban outgrowth located just east of Spokane, and is the seventh largest city in the state. The city wanted a multi-sensory, accessible place with kinetically engaging elements where people of all ages and abilities–including those with acute or chronic injury, physical limitations or developmental disabilities–could play, learn, explore, and discover.

Admirably, the city went to great lengths to hear what its citizens wanted. Officials were careful to include input from the general public as well as from health professionals, city council and the arts council. At the end of the data gathering, it was decided that the playground theme would be “Exploring Eastern Washington.”

The theme included geology elements, fossils, flora and fauna and rolling hills typical of the region. Moreover, as a “discovery” playground, the features were designed to cater to every sense. Bright colors are everywhere. There are features designed for physical development, such as slides, swings and climbing rocks, as well as nontraditional playground activities for other sensory development, such as a fragrant herb garden and musical elements.

Using sight, sound, scent and touch, all of the playground elements are designed to provide activities that support physical, educational and social development. The learning is engaging and interesting.

The playground’s major features include:

•    The Black Bear Den Sand Play with Mammoth Fossil Find–Includes a bear den, mammoth and fossils, water spigot and raised sand table. Kids can visit a sculpture of a life-sized bear dozing in his den.

•    Fossil Maze–Incorporates an herb garden, fossils that everyone can dig for, benches and a raised planting bed.

•    The Sun Gateway and Basalt Boulder Play–Is a gathering plaza with climbing boulders and a bridge over a dry creek bed.

•    Secret Garden–Has a wavy walk, bridge, larger-than-life objects, vine tunnel and sensory plantings. Kids can sit in an over-sized pumpkin and chair.

•    Big Horn Sheep Challenge Steps, Double Slide and Sensory Garden–Features shallow and steep stone steps with wrap-around garden and sculpture, plus seating and talk tubes.

•    Palouse Prairie–Has rolling sod hills with prairie grasses native to Eastern Washington.

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Related posts:

  1. The Sights and Sounds of Play
  2. Sensory Play
  3. A Tale Of Two Playgrounds
  4. H.O.P.E. For The Best
  5. A Playground For All
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