What does it mean to play? Swinging, sliding, climbing, chasing, digging in a sandbox… these are all things I did as a child and now get to do with my young nieces. Playgrounds are plentiful at schools, churches, and public parks, providing opportunities to create, imagine, and get moving. But this opportunity does not exist in the same way for all people.
Almost 20% of Americans have disabilities that affect how they see, hear, learn, move, think and feel (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012). Play is a right of childhood, but disabilities and lack of opportunity affect how and how often children play, if they play at all (Jenvey, 2013; Reimers, Schoeppe, Demetriou, & Knapp, 2018). Research indicates a multitude of positive social/emotional, cognitive, and physical benefits gained from play, including respect for others, empathy, creativity, and agency (Clarke, 2018; Deaver & Wright, 2018; Yilmaz & Soyer, 2018). Children and adults with disabilities deserve the same opportunities for development and social engagement as those without disabilities, but it can be challenging to find inclusive playgrounds that are engaging for all visitors. Data supports this need is a great one.
1 in 59 children have autism (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019);
Nearly 10% of north Texas’ 6.8 million residents live with physical and cognitive difficulties; and
114,433 disabled North Texans live below the poverty line and benefit from free city services (North Central Texas Council of Governments in PlayGrand Adventures: A Dallas-Fort Worth destination, n.d.)
It is imperative that inclusive opportunities are created to ensure all can access and enjoy playgrounds and recreational facilities. There are 23 playgrounds in the Dallas Fort Worth metroplex with at least one inclusive feature, but none reach the scale of PlayGrand Adventures (NPR Accessible Playgrounds, 2014). The park contains multiple play zones that range from tranquil to challenging with both structured and open play, appealing to all ages and ability levels.
There is an emphasis on safety, innovation, cognitive development, communication, sensory development, social/emotional development, and physical development (PlayGrand Adventures, 2020). These are defined in detail on their website as follows:
SOCIAL / EMOTIONAL PlayGrand Adventures incorporates areas within the playground for people of all ages to socially interact. For play to be 100% inclusive, children, teens, and adults need to be included. To create lifelong memories, everyone must play together; learn to cooperate, take turns, and to engage in dramatic and imaginative play. To allow for children to engage, the must feel as they belong and to choose how and when to play. PlayGrand will provide places that feel emotionally secure.
SENSORY PlayGrand Adventures includes elements that increase the sense of discovery by incorporating smell, textures and differing sounds and colors. Some elements include plant materials, sand play areas, learning panels and texture walls throughout the playground. The sensory rich adventure will teach social skills, increase fine and gross motor skills, concentration and creativity.
PHYSICAL At PlayGrand Adventures all children, teens and adults will have the opportunity to be physically active through play. It is important to create and provide play environments that everyone wants to come and enjoy. PlayGrand Adventures will provide challenges for children of all abilities, offer healthy risks and a variety of developmentally appropriate activities for all who play.
COGNITIVE At PlayGrand Adventures, people of all ages learn through play and interaction with each other in the environment that they are in. Keeping children engaged in meaningful play for longer periods of time will support intuitive play behaviors that stimulate development. PlayGrand Adventures offers opportunities for everyone to problem solve, think abstractly, and develop cause and effect skills that help provide unique hands-on experience.
COMMUNICATION The PlayGrand Adventures playground supports the development of receptive and expressive language, allowing everyone to be themselves, express who they are and demonstrate what they know. PlayGrand Adventures will encourage language development which occurs through natural play behaviors and routines and is enhanced through developmentally appropriate play elements, non-structured events, and outdoor programming.
SAFETY PlayGrand Adventures offers a fun experience for children of all ages on learning how to play it safe everywhere, at any time, in a controlled miniature setting. The playground will offer the ability to learn the specifics of bicycle and pedestrian transportation safety through education in a real-life playful environment.
INNOVATION Playground users can expand their creativity in a variety of ways, including music, performance, nature and science. In partnership with the Grand Prairie Independent School District (GPISD), staff are working on a STEM program to encourage innovation.
The many features and spaces provide ample opportunity for visitors to come and play, but also afford opportunities for experiential learning and alternative spaces for occupational therapists or similar professionals to observe clients in an alternative space.
PlayGrand Adventures will have an impact on so many. Just a third of the playground is developed at this point, but it is a critical component of a larger recreation area that could make Grand Prairie a family destination (Quillen, 2020). As the vision and creation of this inclusive playground develops, ongoing community engagement is critical to create brand awareness, build interest, and raise funds for remaining phases. You can help by visiting, spreading the word, and donating to PlayGrand Adventures on their website.
Clarke, K. M. (n.d.). Benching playground loneliness: Exploring the meanings of the playground Buddy Bench. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education,11 (1), 9-21. doi:10.26822/iejee.2018143930
NPR Accessible Playgrounds [Excel]. (2014). NPR.
PlayGrand Adventures: A Dallas-Fort Worth Destination (Publication). (n.d.). Grand Prairie, TX: PlayGrand Adventures Foundation.
Reimers, A., Schoeppe, S., Demetriou, Y., & Knapp, G. (2018). Physical activity and outdoor play of children in public playgrounds—Do gender and social environment matter? International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health,15(7). doi:10.3390/ijerph15071356
Yılmaz, A., & Soyer, F. (2018). Effect of physical education and play applications on school social behaviors of mild-level intellectually disabled children. Education Sciences,89 (8). doi:10.3390/educsci8020089