The Basics of Inclusive Play

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When most people think of inclusive playgrounds, they think accessible playground for children and adults with a physical disability using a mobility device. But simply getting a child with limited mobility onto the playground doesn’t necessarily enhance their play experience. Nor does it take into consideration children with sensory deficits and other developmental issues.

Types_of_Inclusive_Playgrounds_350.jpgOur approach is not to encourage one type of inclusive playground over another but rather, to build one play environment that enables all children, regardless of their ability, the opportunity to be active and play together. We don’t believe in play spaces where children with a physical disability are off to one side and those visually impaired are on another. Instead, we create one cohesive play environment that welcomes and supports everyone.

Landscape Structures creates inclusive playgrounds featuring activities that are age and developmentally appropriate, sensory stimulating and universally designed. Our design philosophy is influenced by the tenets of Universal Design, a theory of design that strives to make environments more usable, safer and healthier for all.

A truly inclusive play environment includes a balance of play experiences that are engaging to children with physical and cognitive disabilities and offer varying levels of sensory engagement.

The seven senses at play on an inclusive playground and some examples of playground equipment that support its engagement:

 Tactile  How the world feels Sand and Water Table; Roller Table; Sensory Play Center®
 Visual  How the world looks Crab Trap®,Periscope Panel, wire tunnels and slides with view tubes
 Auditory  How the world sounds Rhapsody® Outdoor Music equipment
 Vestibular  How you balance within the world We-Go-Round®, OmniSpin® Spinner; TopsyTurny® Spinner
 Proprioception  Awareness of how your body is positioned within the world We-Go-Swing®, Accessible Bucket Seat swings
 Motor Planning  How you move through the world We-saw™, Sway Fun® Glider; Super Netplex®, We-Go-Round®
 Social/Imaginative How you engage with the world We-Go-Swing®, Tunnels; Nook, Friendship Swing

Types_of_Inclusive_Playgrounds_2_350.jpgSuccessful integration of sensory information from the world allows children to develop healthy social and imaginative skills. This ultimately leads to a healthy engagement with the world around them as they grow and become contributing members of society.

According to sensory processing theory, children seek what they need. One child may be attracted to the same component day after day as they seek new ways to experience it: go faster or slower, hold on longer, climb higher. Others may go from one component to another, always looking for something new. Once a child has physically mastered a particular component, only then will they feel comfortable enough for pretend play, an important part of the cognitive skill set.

Landscape Structures can help ensure your playground includes a wide range of activities to accommodate a variety of developmental and sensory processing needs.

Inclusive Playground Elements

Super_Netplex_350.jpgProviding a variety of options for this sensory engagement gives children the autonomy to choose how they want to engage each activity and the power to determine for themselves how much effort that want to expend that day. This independence in play improves confidence, self-esteem and physical competence.

Including playground elements that range from cognitive engaging literacy components like Story Trials to more physically focused equipment like Super Netplex® gives everyone the option to choose their own way to play.

  • Through Story Trails, like the Able Fables, children see story characters living perfectly able lives. Able Fables show that while disability exists, everyone has the opportunity to engage in the world in a meaningful way. It frames disability in a way that teaches kids that it’s not something negative, just different.
  • Our newest innovation, We-Go-Swing® is a revolutionary step forward in inclusive play sensory experiences. Designed to be integrated into the playground setting, this swing lets kids of all abilities play together and experience the thrill of swinging.
  • Super Netplex is an inclusive element that increases challenge and simulates that feeling of being up high. This allows kids who want to get out of their mobility devices and experience that sense of challenge and height to do so safely.

Our extensive experience with inclusive design can support you throughout the inclusive playground design process and help you choose which inclusive play elements that support the health and development of every child—their physical health, as well as the social and cognitive well-being.


Playground products shown in video may not be appropriate for every age group. Playsystems shown in video are for demonstration purposes only. Product configurations may vary.

Small Decisions = Big Impact

Inclusive_Playground_SlidesKeep in mind that what could seemingly appear to be a small decision, can make a big impact. Simply choosing to use metal slides or rollerslides instead of plastic ones will allow children with cochlear implants (CI) to participate and use the slides. The static produced on a plastic slide can build and create an Electrostatic Discharge (ESD) that can discharge external medical devices such as Cochlear implants, Baclofen or insulin pumps. In the event that the external transmitter of a CI is impacted, there is no harm to the child or the internal implant, but the CI won’t work until an audiologist can recalibrate the device. This means the rest of the play experience will be without their needed support devices, depriving the child of some important play benefits.

Also, be sure to mark the edge of steps, the slide, and other surfaces (platforms, etc.) with yellow, so that children with low vision will be aware of the change in surfaces. This small but important element to a playground design will help keep children with visual impairments safe.

Inclusive Playgrounds in Action

John_A_Sullivan_Playground_350.jpgJust as every child is unique, every playground should be, too. We’ve worked with many organizations and communities across the country to create a playground experience that meets the needs of everyone who comes to use the play space.

We worked with the Masonic Children's Hospital at the University of Minnesota to give patients, and their siblings, an escape from life in the hospital. Along with an animal-themed design, special focus was put toward making the playground equipment adaptive to children with IVs and those using mobility devices. Our focus and commitment resulted in a first-of-its kid IV-friendly slide.

Through countless playground projects we’ve demonstrates that inclusive play can be achieved in many different creative ways, from big to small spaces (and anywhere in between), for budgets of all sizes. In each case, the result is A Higher Level of Inclusive Play™.

We believe all kids are created equal.

That's why we create play environments using inclusive playground equipment that welcome kids and families of all abilities to learn, play and grow together.