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Take a Road Trip to visit Amazing Inclusive Playgrounds

Mon, 07/29/2013 - 1:33pm
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Take a Road Trip to visit Amazing Inclusive Playgrounds

The summer is a great time for a road trip. So I’ve devised five fun itineraries in different parts of the country that will take you to see amazing inclusive playgrounds. These are not short trips — they will take you days. But I think they demonstrate some of the best and most innovative playgrounds in the country. I have only been to a few of these playgrounds, but if I had the time, these are the trips I would take. If you decide to take on any of them or even a part of them, make sure that you take a lot of pictures and then share them and your impressions on the Let Kids Play Facebook Page.

You will find pictures of each of the playgrounds when you follow the links. I would suggest that you check with each place before visiting to find out the operating hours, whether there is admission, and other general visitor information. At the bottom of the column is a list of all of the playgrounds and their location and website.


We will start on the East Coast. This is the shortest amount of driving time of any of the tours — only 7 hours, approximately 363 miles. You are starting on Long Island in New York in East Meadow at the Let All the Children Play Playground. Located in Eisenhower Park, the playground has unique equipment for the United States. The highlight is a merry-go-round that a person using a wheelchair can roll right on to. Instead of a large module structure, this playground has many individual stand-alone pieces with a lot of room to maneuver through them. The surfacing is done to provide visual information of where you are in the playground.

Your next stop is in New Jersey. There are many playgrounds to choose from in New Jersey. I recommend that you visit NJPlayground.com and determine which ones you want to visit. I have chosen Tony’s Place located at Seven Presidents Park in Long Branch, NJ. The playground won the New Jersey’s Park and Recreation Association’s Excellence in Design Award, 2011-12. Tony’s Place has a seaside theme with dolphin sculptures that children can climb on. It is located near the beach so you can have a variety of play experiences. The playground has many different types of swings including a bird nest swing, which is an inclusive swing you can lay on and swing with a friend. There is a glider that a wheelchair can access. There are age-appropriate areas for children 2-5 years of age and 5-12 years.

From New Jersey, head down to Philadelphia and one of the oldest accessible playgrounds around — Smith’s Kids Play Place. It has been in operation for over 110 years. The playground is enormous — the size of 6 football fields. Smith Memorial Playground & Playhouse offers a free, safe place to play for children 10 years of age and younger. The playground includes the Ann Newman Giant Wooden Slide and more than 50 pieces of unique, age-appropriate and accessible pieces of play equipment. There is poured-in-place surfacing, accessible pathways, ground based equipment, and swings with backs. There are transfer stations that allow for access onto the Ann Newman Giant Wooden Slide as well as the “pirate ship” in the Tot-Lot. The “Tree Walk” that leads to the Slide is accessible. There is also a 6,000 square foot indoor Playhouse, designed for children 5 and younger. In the playhouse children can drive the train, cook in the kitchen, ride tricycles in Smithville, and much, much more.

Your last stop on the East Coast Tour is Virginia. Again, Virginia has many unique playgrounds. For a full list of Virginia playgrounds, visit accessibleplayground.net’s directory. The playground I would choose for you to visit is CLEMYJONTRI PARK, or Clemy as the locals call it. It is located in McLean, VA. I have visited this playground and I can attest that it is marvelous. There is a full size beautiful wheelchair accessible carousel. There are four “rooms” at the playground. The Rainbow Room has a rainbow archway, surface with colors of the rainbow, and a variety of swings, including a  Liberty Swing. The Schoolhouse & Maze has learning panels forming a maze that may be reconfigured. The Movin and Groovin Transportation Area is designed with transportation themed equipment such as a race track, motorcycles, planes, and trains. The Fitness & Fun room includes the largest piece of play equipment along with various jungle gym components.


Our tour through the south will take you around 23 hours traveling 1500 miles. If you leave off the last stop in Louisiana, the trip is much more doable at only 11 hours of travel time.

The first stop is in Hickory, NC and the Zahra Baker All Children's Playground. North Carolina is another state loaded with great playgrounds. If you want to visit other inclusive/accessible playgrounds in the state, visit accessibleplayground.net’s directory. Zahra Baker was a little girl with disabilities who was murdered by her father. The small community was devastated. To heal, the community built this playground with many of the first responders doing the actual building. The playground is so rich in activities. There is a huge hill slide, a wheelchair swing that you don’t need to get out of the chair to use, cozy spaces, a glider, many more swings, a ramped structure, a huge sand area, great climbers, and more.

Next head south for about an hour to Spartanburg, SC where you will find McCarthy/Tezler School, a public school that serves children ages 3-21 with significant disabilities. They have a fully accessible natural playground. The pictures of the playground are beautiful and show a truly unique play and therapy place. The design is accessible for students in wheelchairs and includes raised bed gardens, herb gardens, a fish pond, and sand and water play areas. They have a wheelchair accessible swing. A few of the many varied features includes two accessible slides, a sound garden, hammocks, amphitheater, tree house, sensory gardens, labyrinth, sun dial, picnic shelter, basketball court, and art area.

From South Carolina, drive down to Atlanta, GA and to the Center for Visual Impairment. This is a small playground, only 100 by 30 feet, but it provides children with visual impairments a large amount of learning opportunities. There are slides, a climbing wall, a custom music panel touch-activated and powered by a small solar panel, two see-saws, a “teaching” playhouse, a large rock structure, all types of wind chimes in various quadrants of the play area, and a Sensory Garden. Each item in the playground was placed with great intentionality. For example, the wind chimes help children determine where in the playground they are. Further learning happens in the playhouse, which has a real doorknob, latch, and functioning window.

Now drive down to Lakeland, FL to the Common Ground Playground, an award-winning playground for its use of turf for surfacing. A primary feature of the playground is Gopher Mountain. This eight foot high hill is above grade surface and has tunnels and climbing ports that are covered with playground grass. Children slide, roll, and run up and down its natural slopes. Other zones in this 25,000 sq. ft. playground include Adventure Canyon, Sculpture Gulch, Rockslide Gap, Sway Valley, and Butterfly Meadow.

Your last stop on this tour is a long drive, but worth it. You are going to go to City of Lake Charles in Louisiana to Shiver Me Timbers Millennium Park. This playground is a real testimony to the community’s commitment to their children. The playground was originally built by 6,000 people in 2000. But due to an arsonist, it burned down in 2011. The community rebuilt it in 2011, again with thousands of volunteers, building a playground twice the size of the original. There is now a 40 foot long Pirate Ship, a 2 story ship with climbing cargo nets, portals, decking, and ramps. Accessible features of the new playground include ramps into the major structures like the Eagles Nest, which is a huge tree house, an accessible swing, covered seating, activities for vestibular motion, four seat see-saws, and pour-in-place surfacing.


Take a Road Trip to visit Amazing Inclusive PlaygroundsThe Midwest tour that takes you through Kentucky, Missouri, Indiana, and Ohio will take about 13 driving hours over 800 miles. In Owensboro, KY you will find Sensory Park & Garden at Wendell Foster’s Campus. This space is designed for both children and adults with disabilities and is open to the public. The playground includes true-tone musical instruments, a miniature fish pond, a wheelchair maze, a large interactive table filled with blocks, and a playground structure as well as other unique features. Visitors are greeted with an amazing sculpture that towers above the entrance. It was created by a local artist from refurbished wheelchair wheels. The sculpture blends aesthetic beauty with interactive design. You can spin the wheels to hear all the fun sounds they make.

You are now heading to the St. Louis area where you will find different Unlimited Play playgrounds. They currently have four playgrounds open and six in development. The one I want to see is Brendan’s Playground in O’Fallon, MO. The playground has a bug theme with bugs to climb on and larger than life mushrooms. The playground has tons of swings including Biggo Flyer Saucer Swings, Freenotes musical instruments, a custom piano that you can jump on to play like in the movie “Big,” climbing nets, a rollerslide, and more playground equipment. There is also a great fully accessible splash pad for those hot summer days.

From Missouri, drive up to Fort Wayne, IN to Taylor’s Dream. Taylor’s Dream is another playground with a great background story. A 10 year girl decided that her community needed a place where all children could play, and she led a fundraising campaign to build this great playground. The playground is centered around a splash pad. There is a toddler structure as well as a ramped structured for school-age children. The structure includes a glider that a wheelchair can wheel on. There is a swing area, a music area, and a dinosaur to climb on. There is also a NEOS game, which draws children of all ages and abilities to play together.

You are ending the tour in Ohio where there are also many great inclusive playgrounds. But the granddaddy of inclusive playgrounds is Preston’s Hope in a suburb of Cleveland. The park was built with many custom-designed elements that include sounds, such as a train whistle and flowing water, that can help a sight-impaired child navigate. The Imagination Village has make-believe houses that are connected by a Raised Walkway. There is Play Theatre and Sand Area as well as play areas with swings, tunnels, and slides.


You start this tour in the Los Angeles area. You will drive about 1100 miles during this tour. Los Angeles is the home of Shane’s Inspiration. Shane’s Inspiration is a nonprofit organization that has built 40 universally accessible playgrounds. They design truly unique playgrounds and it is worth visits to more than one. There are approximately 30 of these playgrounds in and around Los Angeles. If I had to pick one, I would start with the original Shane’s Inspiration at Griffith Park. The playground includes many great features. The Airplane lets you access the “jet way” and take off on this jetliner. Pilots and co-pilots can manage the controls in the cockpit while checking their compass for direction. Accessible Slides, which have a landing pad adjacent to the bottom, give children with mobility challenges the opportunity to depart the slide comfortably. The Lucky Star Chaser gives children of all abilities a chance to adventure into space. Ronald’s Ship of Dreams, where you enter through the accessible “gangway” and explore the wheelhouse, is complete with a talk tube radio system.

Take a Road Trip to visit Amazing Inclusive PlaygroundsOnce you have finished in Los Angeles, head up the coast to San Francisco. Here you will find the Helen Diller Playground. Of all of the playgrounds mentioned on these tours, this is the one that I most want to visit. It is spectacular! There is a preschool area that has an easy set of stairs, a rubber incline on one side of the slide, a looped climbing pole, a rock climbing wall, a wheelchair accessible boat built into the hillside, a variety of spinners, stepping pods, spring toys, spring see saws, and a sound garden. Next there is a Sand Area for all. In the school-age area there is the Play Mound, a 10 foot high hill, which was designed to provide tons of climbing and sliding experiences at many challenging levels. There are also pieces that are a combination of play equipment and public art.

Your final stop is in Auburn, Washington at the Discovery Playground and Sensory Garden. This playground features elevated sand tables, water, and auditory elements; cozy spots to gather in; and areas to swing, spin, balance, roll, and play. Tactile surfaces and a sensory garden include an integrated system of spaces devoted to the five senses. I really like the different slides which include a hill slide. I also think they did an excellent job incorporating designs in the surfacing to further the play value.


Let All the Children Play Playground Eisenhower Park, East Meadow, NY
Tony’s Place Seven Presidents Park, Long Branch, NJ
Smith’s Kids Play Place East Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, PA
Zahra Baker All Children’s Playground  Hickory, NC
McCarthy/Tezler School Spartanburg, SC
BEGIN Center for Visual Impairment Atlanta, GA
Common Ground Lakeland, FL
Sensory Park & Garden Wendell Foster’s Campus, Owensboro, KY
Brendan’s Playground Westhoff Memorial Park, O’Fallon, MO
Taylor’s Dream Kreager Park, Fort Wayne, IN
Preston’s Hope The Mandel JCC, Beachwood, OH
Shane’s Inspiration Griffith Park, Los Angeles, CA
Helen Diller Playground Mission Dolores Park, San Francisco, CA
Discovery Playground & Sensory Garden Les Gove Park, Auburn, WA   


Journey to Inclusion

Mara Kaplan is the driving force behind Let Kids Play, a consulting firm working to ensure that all children have excellent play opportunities. She is an educator, a parent of...

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