Countless studies over the years have highlighted the importance of play in children’s development, both mental and physical. That’s why it’s so important that the playground design projects we take on around Oxford and the wider UK ask questions around accessibility. School playground equipment should be accommodating for those of all shapes, sizes and abilities – so that there’s something for everyone.
This includes accommodating the disabled. After all, data shows that around 10% of the world population has a disability. For the many who might not be able to make use of physically strenuous school playground equipment like climbing frames, engaging creative play installations and similar features can be included. The natural playgrounds that we specialise in creating are very inclusionary in this respect.
During the initial phases of the playground design project, we work with Oxford schools and associations to find out about who will be using the playground and what they’d like to see incorporated. Meeting disabled children and their parents is always exciting, as we get an opportunity to take their ideas and turn them into something that will see every-day use. Often times, it will be apparent that past playgrounds they’ve used haven’t included useable school playground equipment, and the possibilities of what to do during playtime were quite limited. It’s great to know that through our playground design we can change this.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There’s no point creating natural playgrounds filled with both active school playground equipment like climbing frames, and stuff that can be used by those of all abilities, if it’s inaccessible by many. So one of the first things we’ll discuss with Oxford stakeholders is how the children will get onto the playground itself. Smooth paths with slopes rather than stairs are essential in giving the wheelchair bound access to a playground.
Meanwhile, the playground itself should avoid using loose fill surfacing as this makes it very tough going for a wheelchair user. Loose fill can also be a problem for children with learning difficulties who might eat it. So while natural playgrounds often opt for this solution due to it being cheap and eco-friendly, consider using synthetically surfaced access points for wheelchair users.
Oxford schools know that just as different children excel in different subjects, so do children in different forms of play. Obviously, not all school playground equipment will be usable by every child. Creating diverse and inclusive natural playgrounds isn’t about this; it’s about striking a balance. For those with boundless energy: climbing frames. For the imaginative: creative play installations. For the hyper-social: spaces to sit, talk, draw and write with friends.
Sensory school playground equipment is one category which disabled children adore. It includes moving parts and often sounds, smells and tactile elements which people of all abilities can enjoy. It really helps the imagination run wild and provides a nice change from the classroom setting. Swings are also worth considering. These days, manufacturers make swings with bucket seats/sections which are ideal for the movement impaired.
An essential part of playground design is landscaping, and creating quiet and shady spaces for when children want to relax and cool down. This takes on special significance when catering to the needs of the disabled.
We urge any school, public entity, charity or association looking to build inclusive natural playgrounds in the Oxford area to contact DNA Play. We’re renowned nationally and even overseas for our fantastic designs, which include exciting school playground equipment made from sustainable materials.