Guide to Creating an Inclusive School Playground

Five percent of children in the UK are disabled and many of these find themselves excluded from outdoor play activities because school playgrounds are not designed with inclusion in mind. In this post, we’ll discuss what practical steps schools need to take to create a truly inclusive playground for all pupils.

Why you need an inclusive playground

Outdoor play brings benefits of all kinds: it improves physical and mental health, promotes personal development and encourages better social interaction. However, some children are denied these opportunities because the design of the playground or the equipment on offer creates a barrier for them. Pupils who use a wheelchair, for example, may face accessibility issues whereas autistic pupils might find busy spaces overbearing. A truly inclusive playground would ensure that all pupils could participate in outdoor play.

Guidelines for creating an inclusive school playground:

1. Accessibility

The first thing one should consider when looking at playground accessibility is whether children can get into and move around the space with ease. For this, pathways need to be wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs, be smooth and have gentle inclines to raised areas.

Not only should pathways enable children to get in and move around with ease, they should also help children in wheelchairs and those who have difficulty walking get directly to any of the equipment. Ideally, when creating the playground, you should locate popular equipment near the playground entrance or close to any pathway.

If your site contains any high points, such as mounds, raised stages or climbing equipment, wheelchair access should be provided. For those pupils who are unable to access this type of equipment, you need to provide the opportunities for them to get close so that they can continue being with friends. If they are taking part in a roleplay, for example, they can still be part of the activity even if not using the equipment itself.

Another important consideration is playground surfacing. Some surfacing materials make it much easier for wheelchair users to move around on whilst others provide safer surfaces to fall on. Make sure you use the most appropriate surface for each area of your playground.

Finally, if you use any signs in your outdoor playground, make sure that these are placed at a height where wheelchair users can read them (around one metre above the ground) and have them written in simple to understand text or use easy to understand symbols. If you have pupils who are blind, Braille should be used too.

2. Sensory Play

Sensory play should be an essential element of an inclusive playground. All children, regardless of ability, are fascinated by touch, sound, smell and visual stimulation and creating an area where everyone can enjoy these things together goes a long way towards inclusivity.

For sight and visual stimulation, install body warping mirror boards or equipment with a variety of shapes and textures. Installing planters enables you to grow flowers which are both brightly coloured and which offer a variety of scents.

Sound stimulation can easily be achieved through the use of child-friendly, outdoor musical equipment, such as chimes, drums, washboards, xylophones and talking tubes, whilst one of the best ways to offer tactile stimulation is through sand and water play. Here at ESP Play, for example, we have a range of water and sand play equipment which also includes a variety of mud kitchens.

3. Imaginative, Individual and Social Play

school story telling area special offer

An inclusive playground needs to have an open space where children can participate in imaginative play together. Some of this space should, ideally, be free from any equipment and be suitably surfaced so that children can use the area to move around easily. However, to encourage children to participate and socially interact, it helps to have imaginative outdoor play equipment installed nearby.

At the same time, there also needs to be a space where children who find the hustle and bustle of a busy playground overwhelming can go for some much-needed quiet time. Nature areas shielded off with trellises and located further away from the loudest areas are the best solutions. There is a range of great nature resources available to help create a calm area in your playground. However, if this is not possible, then consider installing smaller features across the playground such as play tunnels and seating huts where children can find respite.

4. Physical Play

Physical play is a great way to encourage social inclusion, enabling children who find it difficult to socially interact to join in activities and develop relationships with others. For this reason, an inclusive playground should provide equipment for group games and sports activities that can be accessed by all. If you install playground sports equipment, consider adapting it so that every child can use it. For example, if you have a basketball court, install a second set of nets at a height where wheelchair users can participate in shooting for goal.

When it comes to inclusive physical play, every child should be given the opportunity for challenge and risk and a range of suitable equipment, for example, large climbing structures, should be provided to meet the needs of all students. Children of all year groups, sizes and abilities should be catered for.

5. Seating & Tables

Seating in an inclusive playground should be placed at 20-metre intervals along pathways so that those who have difficulty walking can take regular rest stops if needed. It should also be placed near to the play equipment. For physical support, some playground seating should have back and arm rests and there should be space available next to the seating where wheelchair users can place their wheelchairs next to their friends.

Any tables that are provided should be high enough for a wheelchair user to put their legs underneath.  

Conclusion

As you can see from reading this article, there is a lot to consider when designing a playground that is truly exclusive. If you are looking for help in creating an exclusive playground for your school, call us on 01282 43 44 45 and we’ll be happy to help.

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