Accessible playground

Peaceful Playgrounds games and markings are painted at ground level making it easy for wheelchairs and walkers to maneuver around the playground.

A Perfect Playground – Fun for Everyone When Its An Accessible Playground

Palaestra Magazine

Cover Story – Spring 2002 – Part 1

In sunny Southern California, where most days allow for outdoor play, there is a playground program designed to ensure safety, encourage good behavior, and be an accessible playground too.  A playground for every student. Just because a student has a disability does not keep him/her off the playing field where games are designed for educational value, as well as motor-skill development. An accessible playground like a Peaceful Playground relies on games painted on the asphalt thus eliminating obstacles for wheelchairs and walkers.

It would be wonderful to look out over a playground where there are a few children in every area laughing and playing peacefully in purposeful play, while supervisors observe this phenomenon without raising their voices, their whistles, or their blood pressures. A closer look reveals concentric circles, rectangles, and various colored shapes, carefully spaced and painted on the blacktop. In addition to traditional games such as hopscotch and four square, imagine an alphabet grid, a number grid, and a skipping track.

Melinda Bossenmeyer, Ed.D., playground designer and safety consultant, created the Peaceful Playgrounds program in the l980s. It originated when, as a physical education specialist, she was asked by her principal to develop a solution to disciplinary problems on the playground after every recess. Since then, she has become an internationally known speaker in the area of playground safety and accessibility.

Results of a
Six Year Study

In 1992 at E. Hale Curran Elementary School (K-5) in Murrieta, California, educators began their own study. The school, housing 600 students, was 3 years old with a rapidly growing population. As the number of students grew, so did the injuries. In 1992 only 9 (28%) of a total of 32 accidents resulted in visits to a physician. By 1994, total injuries had risen to 51, with 22 (43%) serious enough to warrant a physician’s attention.

In 1995 the Peaceful Playground program was instituted at this school. Every playground supervisor was trained in the new games and conflict resolution strategies. Every child was taught game rules and three methods of conflict resolution. A continuous motor skills program, taught concurrently by classroom teachers, enhanced the children’s abilities to participate successfully in game activities.

The district maintenance crew painted game markings on the blacktop and fields according to the blueprints and tem plates. The blueprints show measurements, layout, spacing, and game placement. They also provide an overall picture of the final design outcome.

By the end of the 1995 school year the population had risen to over 1,200 students, but total injuries had dropped by 50%. In 1996-97, the school population dropped, as many of the students moved to a new facility. By 1997-98, the school population had risen to almost equal the 1994-95 school year, and yet there were only 9 injuries total, 17% of the 1994-1995 total of 51 (National School Safety Center, 1998).

In addition to injury reduction, another benefit realized was motor skill development. While it is not the physical education or adapted physical education program, most play ground activities complimented the physical education program and lead to better motor skill development. This playground program provided more effective ways to increase learning in both traditional and non-traditional activities while providing a safer play environment.

E. Hale Curran School has been honored as a California Distinguished School and a Golden Bell Award winner. Merits of its playground program have played an important part in the overall excellence

Five Main Guidelines

Grassy and Blacktop Areas are Painted with Colorful Game Markings

According to a blueprint, games are distributed evenly over the entire playground with plenty of room for students to maneuver wheelchairs. Where most programs focus on play structure areas and equipment, focus of this playground design is on blacktop and grassy areas. Colorfully painted markings on flat surfaces add IO games and activities to a playground, without adding any structures, providing an appealing, almost amusement park look to the surroundings.

With so many choices, children have fewer conflicts and are dispersed in small groups throughout the play area. They are encouraged to choose a game where fewer than two are waiting their turns, Children wait in line less and play more, so there is less impatience and more group camaraderie. When children know they will get their turns quickly, there is less reason to argue over rules, Being put out means a brief rest before being in again.

Instead of a raised balance beam, a balance beam is actually a painted line on the blacktop surface, Targets are painted on the ground for hand-eye coordination activities, Number and alphabet grids are painted also, allowing those who have paraplegia to participate successfully by tossing beanbags.

Markings also include skipping, hopping, and galloping tracks with footwork painted on the ground to add visual clues for students having difficulty learning locomotor skills. Since there is no lift or elevation in these areas, access is easy, and all surfaces comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines (U.S. Department of Justice, 1990).

All Students are taught a Consistent Set of Rules

For the first three months of school, rules are posted on large charts outside and taught as part of the physical education program. Playground supervisors teach the rules during recesses and motor-skills classes. Rules never change. They guarantee equal opportunities to every student.

Another focus is on fairness and cooperation. Students with disabilities find ways, with help from their friends, to participate. They can turn a jump rope, play four square, follow the tracks, and participate in many of the other activities.

Some games are competitive, while others are cooperative. Freeze Out for example, is a game where players work together to stay in.

A rule, or watchword, guarantees an inclusive environment. “You can’t say, ‘You can’t play’.” With the philosophy of “Invite others to join in,” a cooperative environment is created. Students are seldom drawn away for disciplinary actions.

Playground supervisors or other students help modify games for those students with disabilities. They assist them by doing such things as retrieving thrown bean bags or placing them in waiting hands.

Students are taught a Procedure for Handling Conflicts

Walk, Talk, or Rock. Appropriate social interactions are taught so students have techniques for handling their playground problems and disagreements. Some of these techniques are –

Walk – If a conflict arises, the student’s first option is to walk away and choose another game to play. Avoiding arguments is a valuable social skill.

Talk – Another option is to talk through the conflict, using resolution strategies. If an argument persists or escalates, students must leave the game (and the play area) and move into another level of conflict resolution. There, they have to discuss the conflict, decide what part they each played in starting it, and apologize.