Assessing a playground to determine if it is inclusive takes a bit of visionary thinking. When I’m on the playground I imagine all the various groups that need to benefit from the play space. I take my imaginary assessment team with me. My team consists of many children of all different ages and abilities. There are those who love to climb and can physically take on any challenge. There are children who use mobility devices. There are children who love to spin, swing and jump. There are kids who are easily overwhelmed. There are children that love imaginary play. There are 12-year-old girls who love finding somewhere to hang out and chat. There are young kids that are closely watching their older peers to figure out how to do the next thing.
When I’m at the playground with my imaginary team, I envision a packed play space with multiple people and various play activities. I make sure there is something for everyone. I double-check that everyone can get around easily and that no one is segregated in his or her play. I check to see that the girls have found a quiet spot to hang out and that the child who gets overwhelmed has places to watch the play before choosing to engage.
As I imagine all these children playing, I go through my checklist:
• Is there physical play to engage in?
• Is there sensory play to engage in?
• Is there social play to participate in?
• Can everyone easily maneuver through the playground? What is the surfacing made of? Can children who use mobility devices move from activity to activity without getting stuck?
• Is there enough challenge for a 5-year-old and a 12-year- old?
• How is the equipment grouped? If all of climbers are in one place—then there is no segregation and there is the opportunity for the children to learn from one another.
• Can I easily see all children from any spot on the playground?
• Am I comfortable? Is there shade? Is there seating?
• Can the children reach everything?
• Is there a path around the playground for children who get overwhelmed to get oriented?
• Is there height on the playground? Is it interesting height with compelling activity? Is there enough to do on the structure for my children who do not climb or slide?
• Is there one really great piece of equipment that all the kids are clamoring to play on? If so, can all the members of my imaginary assessment team play on it?
For me to determine that a playground is inclusive, I need to have answered “yes” to all of the above questions. As soon as I answer no to a question, it means that a member of my team is not able to play or may not be safe. An inclusive playground needs to ensure that any child that comes to play can be successful, have fun, and be able to play with their peers.
It is also extremely helpful if there is a playground website that I can visit before my trip, so I know how to prepare. I like to know in advance what type of equipment will be there, so I can prep children who don’t like surprises. I like to determine if there are restrooms, water fountains, and shade.
If you and your team (imaginary or not) would like to assess playgrounds in your neighborhood for inclusivity, you can download Playworld Systems assessment checklist.
Does your local playground score well on the checklist?