Let's include all students in outdoor play
Are you looking to elevate your students' mood? Increase oxygen uptake? Boost immune health? Improve academic performance? Outdoor play holds the key to all of this. Recent research supports these conclusions. All students need these benefits, so it's important to consider how different aspects of playground design can bring more inclusivity to outdoor play.
Variety. Your students will approach play with diverse interests, sensory needs and attention spans. An activity that occupies a student's focus one day may not hold their attention on another day. Some might need the stimulation of moving from one activity to another. Others might be partial to certain colors, shapes or textures. Consider the range of visual, auditory and tactile sensations that draw your students into play and select equipment that fits those tendencies.
Suggested Playground Equipment: Consider including digging areas, music items, talking tubes, sign language panels and art surfaces to complement gross motor items like swings, slides and climbers.
Respite. Some students become overwhelmed with the stimulation that comes with full classrooms at play in the same space. The rate at which this happens can vary by student and by activity. When playgrounds include designated spaces to pull away from active play areas, students who need a sensory break can restore themselves in relative peace.
Suggested Playground Equipment: Consider sectioning off a space for picnic tables and benches for individual rest or small group discussions.
Awareness. Students might not be aware of classmates who feel isolated or need a friend to play with. These classmates might be too quiet or shy to ask to be included in games and activities. Playground layouts could include specified areas where students can look or where teachers can direct attention to others who want a playground friend.
Suggested Playground Equipment: Buddy benches are immediately recognized places for students to quietly sit when they want to be included.
Access. Some students are sensitive to sun exposure, so they need to find shade if they are going to continue playing with their friends. Students using wheelchairs, walkers or crutches might find it difficult to weave through crowds of students. This is especially true if equipment is spaced too close to other equipment for popular activities. These difficulties might lead students to limit their activities only to those that are shaded and easily accessed.
Suggested Playground Equipment: Playground sets and picnic tables with canopies, roofs, overpasses or other shade can provide access to students who are sensitive to sun exposure. Consider consulting with a professional who can optimize access for students who need physical accommodations.
Equity. Inclusive playgrounds allow students with different needs to participate alongside their classmates. To assure this inclusion, traditional playground equipment should incorporate some modified pieces alongside the typical pieces. Modified equipment can help with stability when in use, allow wheelchairs to roll into the units or help with transitions in-and-out of mobility devices.
Suggested Playground Equipment: ADA compliant swing seats offer safety harnesses to help with stability. Swing sets with wheelchair platforms provide ramps for easier access. Playsets with low bars can help some students pull themselves to a stand or enjoy climbing equipment with their friends.
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