Research Summary

"Fun, novel, safe, and inclusive": Children's design recommendations for playgrounds for all abilities

Children’s recommendations for making playgrounds accessible and attractive to children with different abilities include the provision of a natural area

Children, Youth and Environments

This report describes the work of 7- to 8-year-old students in developing recommendations to make city playgrounds accessible and attractive to children with special needs. The participating students were children from immigrant families and were enrolled in two English Immersion classes (i.e., English as a Second Language) in a Boulder, Colorado public school. This work was part of the Growing Up Boulder (GUB) initiative established in 2009 to give children and teens a voice in city planning and design.

The work of the children involved in this project focused on Universal Access Design (UAD) -- a system of design strategies for making indoor and outdoor spaces accessible for people of all abilities. The project was implemented over a four-month period and consisted of four stages: Getting engaged, Observing, Taking action, and Celebration. During the “Getting engaged” stage, students were introduced to the concept of UAD and invited to consider the following four questions relating to playground design: What do you want a playground to have? What do you need from a playground? What should a playground have so that everyone can play? Do you believe UAD is an important concept to incorporate in playground design? Work during the “Observation” stage included developing a checklist for design elements to promote “safe,” “fun,” “novel,” and “inclusive” playgrounds. Work during this phase also included visiting three different playgrounds, evaluating their features in relation to the checklist items, and taking photos of features showing advantages and disadvantages of the playgrounds visited. The children also wrote letters inviting people from the city’s Center for People with Disabilities to visit their classroom. During the “Taking action” stage, a representative from the Department of Parks and Recreation spent time with the children reviewing their checklist and developing recommendations for inclusive playgrounds. Their recommendations included the development of four primary areas: Quiet spaces, Nature, Accommodating structures, and Accommodating textures. During the “Celebration” stage, students shared their ideas with the school and larger community, including the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.

Feedback from teachers and students indicated that positive outcomes of this project included (a) the opportunity for students to connect with people in the community as a source of expertise, (b) the development of understanding and empathy for people with special needs, and (c) improved confidence and motivation on the part of the students to become engaged in community affairs. Outcomes of this project also indicate that students appreciate the importance of natural areas where all children can engage in nature play and feel nature’s relaxing and calming properties. Examples of natural features they felt should be included in the design of inclusive playgrounds include trees, open green spaces, flowers, tree trunks, tree house, and rocks.

Hill, C., & Chawla, C.. (2019). "Fun, novel, safe, and inclusive": Children's design recommendations for playgrounds for all abilities. Children, Youth and Environments, 29(1), 105-115.