In the United States, thousands of children under the age of 15 use wheelchairs. Just like their able-bodied peers, children in wheelchairs benefit from playground activities and having fun with their friends. All kids need to play to develop crucial lifelong skills, get the exercise they need and build relationships, regardless of their ability level. An accessible and inclusive playground allows children with limited mobility to have equal amounts of fun, side-by-side with their peers, which is vital for their overall well-being.
There are plenty of physical activities for children with disabilities, and many of them can be enjoyed on the playground. In this guide, we’ll explore some exciting and beneficial games for children with disabilities and discuss why it is critical to embrace inclusivity.
Why Accessibility Is Important
An accessible and inclusive playground offers a variety of equipment and challenge levels, so children of all abilities can play, develop and grow. Accessible playgrounds also feature wheelchair-friendly access routes, so kids can reach the play area with ease. Accessibility is a critical component in playgrounds for the following reasons:
- All new playgrounds must be ADA compliant: According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), newly designed or constructed play areas must be accessible. The ADA is meant to eliminate discrimination and protect the rights of all children. Creating an ADA-compliant playground benefits the kids in your community and ensures you’re in line with the law.
- Play is a vital part of development: Play is an essential component of childhood development for all kids. At the playground, kids can use equipment that helps them develop and improve hand-eye coordination, motor skills, balance and physical strength. It also promotes the development of social skills as kids freely interact with each other, learn to take turns and practice teamwork skills. Whether a child uses a wheelchair or not, a playground promotes health and well-being. Therefore, it’s important that designers recognize the value playgrounds have for children with disabilities.
- Inclusive play encourages tolerance: Inclusive playgrounds encourage able-bodied children and kids with disabilities to play together. As kids play, they learn to appreciate and accept each other, despite their differences and similarities. As a result, all kids will be seen as equal members of society who can contribute their skills and talents, regardless of their ability levels. Inclusion replaces exclusion, not just at the playground, but in all contexts.
- Playing is a childhood right: All kids crave climbing, swinging, sliding, interacting with others and playing make-believe. No child should be excluded from fulfilling these basic childhood needs. Accessible playgrounds ensure every kid gets to be a kid in a stimulating and comfortable environment.
- All kids need exercise: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with disabilities are at higher risk of developing depression and are more likely to be less physically active. Many conditions resulting from a lack of exercise are preventable. Playing at the playground is one way children with wheelchairs can improve their mental and physical health and reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and mental health issues.
10 Playground Ideas for Children With Wheelchairs
Kids who use wheelchairs can enjoy many of the same outdoor games that able-bodied children play with a few modifications. For example, a lot of activities can be enjoyed sitting down rather than standing up, or with the assistance of a peer. No matter what, it helps if caregivers plan each activity, so they can make the necessary adjustments and ensure the activities are both challenging and fun. Here are 10 fun play ideas for kids in wheelchairs to inspire your next playground outing:
Basketball can be a wonderful game for children with disabilities because it can be played sitting down, and it provides a great workout. It also gives kids a chance to build teamwork skills and overcome challenges together. Teachers and parents can adjust the rules to make it easier for children to participate. Here are some tips:
- Allow the children to dribble the ball using two hands.
- Keep a slower pace until the children learn to play together.
- Allow the child in the wheelchair to hold the ball in their lap as they move.
- Use smaller and lighter balls.
- Lower the basketball hoop, if possible.
One way to play an inclusive basketball game is to incorporate the word game “horse,” which can be a lot of fun for older kids. To play, ask the kids to line up and take turns tossing the ball into the basket. Every time a child scores, give them one letter of the word “horse.” The first one to get all the letters wins the game. If you wish, you can choose shorter words, like “cat” or “dog,” to simplify the game.
2. Simon Says
Simon Says is a classic game that’s perfect for playing at the playground in the fresh air. When kids play Simon Says, they practice their listening skills and learn how to follow directions, which can help them perform better in school. According to one study, kids who play games like Simon Says show higher academic outcomes. Kids of all abilities can enjoy this challenging and rewarding game together.
To play Simon Says, you’ll need a small group. One person will be the leader, or “Simon.” To accommodate a child in a wheelchair, make sure Simon only asks players to move their hands and arms. They might also command children to move forward or backward, which a child using a wheelchair can do.
The leader will give commands that the players must follow, but only if each instruction starts with, “Simon says.” For example, they might say, “Simon says, touch your nose.” All the players must touch their nose. If the leader starts a command without saying, “Simon says,” the players must not follow the action. Anyone who does something without the leader saying, “Simon says,” will be eliminated from the game. The last one standing is the winner and will become the next Simon.
3. Treasure Hunt
Kids love to hunt for treasure, and a playground is the ideal setting for a game of finding clues that lead to the ultimate prize. When kids participate in a treasure hunt, they get to interact and build their social skills and problem-solving abilities. A treasure hunt also encourages kids to get away from TV screens and to get active. The key to creating a successful treasure hunt is to keep it short at first. Once kids get the hang of it, you can add more activities to make it longer and more challenging.
To have a treasure hunt, hide objects throughout the playground that kids of any ability can reach. You might provide a clue that leads to another clue, which eventually directs the players to the treasure. You can also hide puzzle pieces that the players must put together to find the prize. The puzzle may be a coded phrase they have to figure out, a riddle or an easy jigsaw puzzle that shows them where to go. Don’t forget to lead them to an actual treasure, which might be a shoebox filled with plastic gold coins or trinkets to take home.
Before you begin, establish a theme to stimulate the imagination and generate excitement. For example, you might tell your group of players that they are pirates in search of a long-buried treasure, or princesses and knights who must find the key to the castle. Watch their faces light up when they discover they’re about to embark on a special quest.
Keep in mind that there aren’t really any rules to having a treasure hunt, so you are free to make whatever adjustments you need to suit all the players. Having a treasure hunt with a child in a wheelchair means you will want to make sure they can search for the hidden items without encountering hazards. Also, keep the hunt restricted to a play area with accessible surfacing, such as poured-in-place rubber.
4. Obstacle Course
All kids can enjoy the thrill and action of completing an obstacle course at the playground, and it’s a great way to promote exercise and the development of coordination skills. You can create an obstacle course by incorporating playground equipment or setting up challenges in a large open space with accessible surfacing.
For example, you can use cones, chalk lines, masking tape or other objects to create a path each child must maneuver through. You can ask them to pick up soft toys along the way, then toss them into a bucket at the end of the path before moving on to the next obstacle.
You can use a timer to see which team wins, or turn it into a relay race, so each person on a team only completes one obstacle. If you wish to avoid competition between children, you can time each kid’s performance, and then challenge them to beat their own score.
5. Musical Ball
Musical ball requires a beach ball and someone to keep track of points. Musical ball can be played on the playground, where there is plenty of room to stretch out. It can be a fun game if the playground features musical panels, too. This game helps children build hand-eye coordination and motor skills.
To play musical ball, ask the children to gather around in a circle. Then, hand the beach ball to one of the players. Tell the kids to pass the ball around once the music starts to play and to stop when the music ends. Then, start to play music, either using an activity panel or another source for about 30 seconds. Whoever is holding the ball once the music stops is awarded one point. Keep playing until a player reaches a total of five points and wins the game.
6. Through the Hoops
Kids who use wheelchairs need to build their upper body strength, and one way they can do that is to practice throwing balls with a game like Through the Hoops. Through the Hoops is a game idea provided by the Singapore Disability Sports Council (SDSC). This game can be a fun calorie-burning muscle-building way for children in wheelchairs to compete with their peers.
To play Through the Hoops, you’ll need a hula hoop, a collection of small, soft balls and rope. You can either use the rope to hang the hula hoop from a branch or ask a volunteer to hold the hoop. Just make sure there is plenty of clear space behind the hoop for each ball to land.
Next, ask each player to stand a certain distance away from the hoop and throw as many balls as they can through it within a time limit. Encourage kids to test out different arm movements by tossing the balls with an over-arm throw or under-arm throw. Once they improve their skills, increase the challenge by moving them further away from the target or asking them to use a badminton racket to hit the balls through the hoop.
7. Can We Do It?
Another great idea from the SDSC is the game, Can We Do It? This game builds communication skills and helps kids practice throwing, catching and passing. Kids can enjoy this game at the playground, so they can get a vitamin D boost at the same time.
To play, you will need to gather soft objects, like small stuffed animals, and a few players. All but one of the children will stand in a straight line. The remaining child will hand the toys to the first child in the line. The first player will throw the object to the second, and the second player will toss the toy to the third and so on. The game ends when all of the objects are passed to the child at the end of the line successfully.
When the kids are ready for increased difficulty, you might replace the toys with small, soft balls. If you wish to add competition to the game and have more players ready to join, you can form teams and see who can pass the balls the quickest.
8. Dribble Through Minefield
To play Dribble Through Minefield, you’ll need a flat, smooth surface and plenty of space to move around. You’ll also need masking tape or chalk, and various sized balls. This game allows players to practice their dribbling skills and have a lot of fun at the same time.
To get started, use the tape or chalk to create a tic-tac-toe-shaped box on the ground. Make sure there’s more than enough space for players to move around the grid, and create bigger squares if needed. Then, designate one or two squares as “landmines” by marking them with a giant X. Each player must dribble the ball as they move through the squares without it touching a landmine. Let players experiment with dribbling techniques if it makes the game easier.
9. Story Teller
Kids can also explore their imaginations and build their storytelling skills at the playground. Playgrounds can be the ideal setting for acting out a favorite story, fairy tale or personal creation with friends. This is a great way for children to bond, appreciate each other’s contributions and enjoy a sense of accomplishment together.
Each child can have a special part while telling a story, and they might use puppets or other props to make the experience more exciting. For example, you can encourage children to incorporate musical panels at the playground to emphasize certain parts of the tale. Children who aren’t comfortable performing in front of others may wish to be in charge of directing the performance or writing an original story.
10. Bean Bag Toss
Bean bags are a handy accessory worth bringing to the playground. You can encourage children to toss bean bags to each other from different pieces of playground equipment. For example, a child in a wheelchair might throw a bean bag up to a friend at the top of the slide, and wait to catch the object at the bottom. Kids can also use bean bags to toss them through a target like a hula hoop or piece of cardboard with a hole cut in the center.
Wheelchair-Friendly Playground Equipment From Playworld
To create a truly inclusive playground, you need to include a range of activities and challenge levels to meet the needs of all children. Today’s play spaces emphasize innovation and inclusive design, so no one has to be excluded. For example, items such as play panels and telescopes at various heights allow children in wheelchairs to easily access the activities. Likewise, rubber surfacing makes it easier to move around with a wheelchair. Ramps and accessible gliders, swings and merry-go-rounds let all kids participate in the fun together.
At Playworld, you’ll find a range of inclusive solutions to build a welcoming, thrilling and accessible playground for children who use wheelchairs. Consider equipment such as:
- Unity® Dome: The Unity Dome is a unique climber that invites all kids to hang out together. Kids can’t wait to climb to the top of the dome from the outside or hang from the inside rungs. Kids in wheelchairs look forward to zooming around the outside of the dome using the rungs to pull themselves along. If they wish, they can stop to express their creative side at an optional Sensory Connector, which might be a drum, washboard or tambourine.
- Triumph™ Climber: The Triumph Climber is the first all-steel inclusive climber in the industry with a range of challenge levels all kids can enjoy. Kids use the Triumph Climber to play and overcome challenges side-by-side. The shape of this playground structure leaves plenty of room for caregivers to stand nearby and assist their child.
- AeroGlider™: The AeroGlider lets kids put their teamwork skills to use as they joyfully sway together. With enough room for two wheelchair users to sit next to each other and comfortable hand grips to hold onto, it’s easy for all kids at the playground to go for a ride.
- Accessible Whirl: The Accessible Whirl is a playground classic taken to the next level. Kids in wheelchairs can get on for a thrilling ride next to their peers and spin round and round as they laugh together.
- NEOS® 360: Players of all abilities enjoy stimulating, competitive fun with NEOS 360. This circular digital structure gets kids moving and features eight different games.
Contact Playworld for More Information
Childhood is a special time in life, meant for growing, playing and learning. Every child deserves a chance to enjoy the fun of being a kid and having access to the tools that will help them flourish. At Playworld, we are proud to provide innovative and inclusive playground equipment that encourages children to move their bodies, embrace their differences and share their dreams.
If you would like to learn more about our thrilling and accessible playgrounds, please contact Playworld today!