What is inclusive play and why design for it?

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Play should be accessible to everyone!
Play should be accessible to everyone!

Inclusive Play: Play spaces that provide access, promote inclusivity between children of all abilities, and develop all children across all developmental domains.

Play not only brings people together but provides a platform for early growth. It's a time when children develop skills and learn lessons that extend well past the playground. But play spaces haven't always been designed for everyone.

Did you know that, according to the Australian Network on Disability, one in five Australians have some form of disability?

Our play spaces should reflect this reality. To truly benefit entire communities, our play areas must not just be accessible but fully usable for people and children of all ages and abilities.

What are the benefits of inclusive play?

The playground is a safe place for children to learn about the world. It's a controlled environment where real-life scenarios can take place on a much smaller scale. Here are just a few of the wide-reaching benefits:

Improves social skills

It's a sad reality that many children with disabilities spend a lot of time in isolation. A lack of accessible public spaces often means a lot of computer time or general indoor leisure. This results in a lack of feedback or interaction with other children, which is crucial to development.

Inclusive play helps address this issue, ensuring children with disabilities and differences can come together and interact which helps mental, physical and emotional health.

Promotes active play

Inclusive playgrounds do a great job of encouraging active play across the board. Whether it's through carefully crafted obstacles or sensory play equipment, children interact with a range of materials and learn to make decisions and solve problems. As kids play, they can:

  • Develop social abilities.
  • Enhance their communication skills.
  • Receive physical benefits of gross motor skill activity and exercise.

Teaches acceptance

For able-bodied children, inclusive play spaces provide an important lesson in acceptance. By seeing differences – as well as similarities – in their play partners, kids are quick to learn the importance of acceptance. This takes the form of working together to conquer a challenge or finding ways to play that include everyone.

By seeing differences – as well as similarities – in their play partners, kids are quick to learn the importance of acceptance.

How do you design your playground for it?

Clearly, inclusive play is critical for children and adults of all ages but how do you design for it? With so many different ability levels to consider, it can seem like a daunting task. Luckily, we have a good idea of where to start – here are some jumping-off points to consider:

1. Consider access points

Considering accessible routes is an important starting point for building an inclusive play space. There should be a clear route through the playground to facilitate easy movement. Ideally, there will be more than one of these route options as the more accessible paths there are the more encouraged children will be to move around the space and interact with all the different features.

2. Include sensory play

Sensory play is arguably the most accessible type of play. When you seek to engage all the different senses, you ensure no one sense is the focus. All children love sound, touch, smell and visual stimulation. Consider these sensory opportunities throughout your play space.

Water and sand stations are a common feature on inclusive playgrounds, allowing everyone to experience the different textures of the two elements when mixed together. Brainstorming options like this is critical to creating a truly accessible space.

3. Challenge and include all children

You can't have an inclusive playground without challenges for children who require them. Instead of placing all components for a certain ability-group in the same space, spread them out. Grouping limits interactions, which is the opposite of what this space is intended for.

Additionally, placing play components of different levels of difficulty near each other gives children of differing ages and abilities the opportunity to play in the same space. These interactions result in growth, empathy and learning for every child.

4. Create accessible elevation

Elevation is important. You'll want to include a range of accessible high points throughout your play space – whether these are landscaped mounds, decks or special climbing units. It may not always be possible for everyone to reach these elevated areas and when that is the case, make sure they can get close to the action.

5. Account for play variety

Every type of play equipment brings its own type of developmental benefit. Climbing builds confidence and develops a child's upper, lower and core strength. Spinners help children develop their inner ears and awareness of their bodies in space.

So whether you're looking at spinners or musical playground equipment, play variety is important to ensure children never run out of activities and reap the most benefits possible.

How can PlayRope help?

It's our job to make sure that you have the playground equipment you need to truly design public play spaces that are not only accessible, but welcoming and inclusive of the many children and adult caregivers that will use it.

An Australian-owned company, PlayRope imports high-quality outdoor playground equipment from the world's leading suppliers into Australia and New Zealand. We're serious about play
and passionate about your project.

Our experienced team of designers are committed to helping you realise your vision and make your project a success. Let's help everyone play their own way – reach out to our team today for more information.