Archive for the ‘Playgrounds’ Category

Accessibility: What makes Morgan’s Wonderland Special?

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

Morgan’s Wonderland is being heralded as a place for children of all abilities. It is, but in which ways?

This place was designed with even, level pathways and ramps first. Steps are included, but only occasionally, and then mostly for skill development rather than access from the ground up to another level. For example, a person who can’t walk without assistance may be able to hold onto the railing on a playground and use the steps for strength training. The major route, however, is a ramp with railings to allow for baby strollers, wheelchairs, assisted movement such as walkers, etc. The whole area is pretty flat to begin with; they’ve added some elevation to the paths to give them some variety. It doesn’t appear that the paths provide any challenges, however.

Swings are designed for a range of abilities. There is a large swinging area (maybe they should make a sign, “For Swingers Only!”) that has specialized swings to support individual’s backs, wheelchairs, as well as the small rubber swings for toddlers. By late morning, children of all abilities were out there, swinging in the shade made by brightly-colored shade structures that covered all the play equipment areas.

The carousel, conveniently located next to the Entrance Building, is set at the same level as the sidewalks. People enter the carousel either by stepping over the narrow gap between the sidewalk and the carousel or by rolling over a textured, galvanized steel- plate “bridge”. Once on board the carousel, riders can select their seat – there are traditional types of seats on animals or in gondola-like rides which also include special seating and locking devices for wheelchairs.

The Off Road Adventure Ride includes a series of cars that move on a track. The driver can, by turning the wheel (as did the youngster who drove our vehicle), wiggle around the course. Specialized cars have a back seat area that is large enough to support a cut out for a wheelchair, with locking devices. In order to provide access to the car, there is a wheelchair ramp that goes up to a platform which can be swung over to the back seat of the car. The swinging platform and the floor of the back seat are at the same level, providing smooth access. A group that got on before I did consisted of middle-aged brothers with their elderly father (who moved with the aid of a walker). They were all smiles when their car returned to the docking station!

The playgrounds provide ramp access for all. As mentioned in the beginning, there are “challenge” areas, such as steps or island-like pods that you can jump from one to the other. There are also a range of sensory see-saws or rockers: some are made for two people (traditional type), while others can be rocked by hand. Yet another is a huge rocking platform with two couch-like seats on opposite ends. Groups or individuals can sit on the couches and rock – either gently or more rigorously – and the momentum creates the effect of a glider chair.

There are sand and water table areas for sensory exploration and just plain old fun. (9877) The sand area consists of four sand pits with a central sand table, accessible from the sidewalk. One can wheel the wheelchair so your legs are under the sand table. This is not the case, however, with the water tables, where you can only gain side motion access because the motors that power the water tables take up all the room under the water tables. If the overhanging area for the water were made longer so that the wheelchairs could also be placed under it, like the sand table, the people in the wheelchairs would be able to put both of their hands in the water and move objects about more naturally. (Thanks to Ingrid Kanics for pointing this out). I will also note that if there were access to water in the sand area, children could wet the sand, making it more moldable. It’s one thing to be able to move sand about and feel it in your hands. It’s quite another to construct something with the sand – construction play involves both imagination and process.

Then there is the train. The platform along the train’s edge at the “station” provides access onto the train. And, then you can gain access all over Morgan’s Wonderland. It’s a great ride, brings back memories of childhood (ok, I was on a ride like this not too long ago…). Well, at the very least, it is cool and brings a smile to your face!
At the end of the day, the fact that just about everything is within easy reach for everybody is a relief for most of the people visiting Morgan’s Wonderland. Now, if we can get all of our public places to be like this, what a wonderful place the world would be!

Accent on Security

Friday, August 5th, 2011

One of the features that stood out for me at Morgan’s Wonderland was their security program. As I purchased my ticket in the air conditioned ticket “center” (more on this another day – it’s worthy of mentioning!), the ticket taker presented me with a wristband to wear during my visit.

All visitors, I was told when I asked about this, receive such a wristband. It has a chip in it that helps to locate certain features on the site – especially if you can’t read, have trouble figuring out maps, and still want to find places such as restrooms, food and drink, etc. There are kiosks (such as in the photograph) provided throughout Morgan’s Wonderland where you can scan your wristband and find these facilities. This wayfinding tool is pretty neat. I confess that I didn’t notice the kiosks in the park, except the one next to the entrance, so didn’t think about using it instead of the map that I collected upon entering (but I’m old fashioned). However, if you don’t read English, or have difficulty with maps, this tool can be really helpful.

More importantly, this system helps to locate individuals who may get separated from the rest of their party. When a group of people want to come and visit Morgan’s Wonderland, they are requested to register in advance. The staff at the playland produces a number of wristbands with the same chip properties for that group. In the event that someone gets lost, a group member can go to the kiosk and scan their personal wristband. This will activate ALL the group members’ wristbands so that they appear on the map, showing their individual locations simultaneously. Presumably, all members of the group who are not lost would be located in proximity to one another. The person who has become separated from the group should also show up on the kiosk map, enabling the group to find that individual.

As I have been writing this, it reminded me of the many times my young son would run away when we ventured into public space. He was between two and five years old when he would run away. His speech wasn’t well developed, and he wouldn’t speak to strangers. He didn’t do this all the time – which meant we never quite expected this to occur. He’d walk with me in a store, holding my hand; next minute, he was scampering off, hiding behind the legs of a store clerk. Early on, he figured out how to get out of the stroller harness and proceeded to run through the sprinklers at the local botanic garden. Or, once, he was sitting next to me on the coping wall of a small pond at a garden center. I was talking to one of the assistants about the pond plants at the time when my son suddenly stood up and jumped into the pond. Fortunately, the garden assistant was instantly able to grab him and pull him out of the pond! My husband reminded me of the time they were standing by a friends’ pond when our son just jumped in without any warning. Another time, we were sitting at a picnic table at a local farm where they made and sold ice cream. Matthew was eating his ice cream cone one minute. The next minute, he was bolting through the busy parking lot 50 yards away! (We now think he should be on the track team). We noticed, at the time, that he didn’t respond when we called for him to stop. It was as if he couldn’t hear or process the sounds. Fortunately, he (and we) survived his early childhood bouts with running away!

Our son is not the only one who does this! The aspect of running away has been written about in the literature regarding Autism Spectrum Disorder. Just this week, a young child (diagnosed with ASD) drowned in a puddle after a rainstorm in the Philadelphia region after the parents reported him missing from the house. Our local Autism Listserve keeps us abreast of articles regarding findings, events, and everything-autism. Here’s good information on wandering:
http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/brain-and-behavior/articles/2011/03/24/dangerous-wandering-a-lesser-known-side-of-autism

The National Autism Association has a safety toolkit on autism and wandering: http://www.nationalautismassociation.org/safetytoolkit.php

Morgan’s Wonderland has taken steps to not only make a place fun and accessible to be in, but also helps to reassure caregivers that their children/charges will be safe from getting lost because of wandering. I was not present when large groups came into the park, so I don’t know if the caregivers/chaperones were made aware of how to use the kiosk system to activate the wristband information. This may be an important consideration for play environments regarding children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other developmental delays; quite possibly, it may be important for toddlers’ environments as well.

May Day!

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

My apparent monologue on April is Autism and Landscape Architecture Month has ended. I would greatly appreciate your comments!

As part of my research, I’d love to continue researching how autistic children engage in their day to day environments, and would attempt to evaluate places designed specifically for them to continue this discussion.

Do you know of public gardens, parks, playgrounds, or even schools and institutional uses that have been designed for children with autism? Comment here or send me an email at cakrawczyk@verizon.net! Thanks!

April is Autism and Landscape Architecture Month, Part XVI: Places for Mastery

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

Yesterday, I wrote that the autistic children who collaborated with me on my study particularly enjoyed places for mastering skills, hobbies or special interests that accompanied art, athletic and intense hobbyist activities. How can we incorporate these into the built environment?

Arts and crafts activities take place in studios and areas of playgrounds and schoolyards that are dedicated for arts. Outdoor areas frequently have picnic tables and easels, although adventure playgrounds usually provide small tables and saw horses available for building things and the activities associated with them: sawing, hammering, sanding and painting. Many of the child collaborators had mentioned that they preferred shady areas, so placing the tables in shade or making them portable enough so that children can move them easily helps them to work with less anxiety and fosters a sense of self-reliance and independence as well.

Athletic activities typically take place in recreational areas, fields, and playgrounds. But children will play in left-over vacant spaces that are large enough to accommodate the activity. Austin, for example, practices hitting a softball in the vacant lot next to his house. Max practices kicking a ball between two trees in his backyard. Josh and his friends play touch football on the sidelines of the varsity football game.

Flat places, such as paved driveways, empty parking lots and paved areas of playgrounds provide smooth surfaces for riding bikes, scooters and skateboards for newbies before they build skills and can ride on the road or places that are more challenging.

Playground features are being developed that accommodate a wider range of abilities. Kaboom and Landscape Structures are coming out with equipment for children with hypo- and hyper-sensitivity issues.

Other activities, such as intense hobbies, may be so varied that it is hard to provide for all of them in one place. I like to recommend checking out existing children’s environments for ideas. Places for children, such as the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia, frequently attempt to give children lots of choices for activities. While they may not have dinosaurs, for example, they do have a room with a huge water table, as well as places to build with blocks, draw, do crafts, and experiment with optics. San Francisco’s Exploratorium is a wonderful way to explore different forms of technology – some can be adapted to the playground or home environment and played with on a daily basis.

Perhaps the strongest design message is to provide a wide range of affordances. Let the child figure out ways to use the settings and props. If you plan in too narrow an interpretation, fewer children will use it.

Autism and Landscape Architecture Month, Part XII: The Role of Special Interests

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Sometimes when we design social environments, we are actually designing stages that provide settings for action and activities. Last week, I had mentioned that when a place has many affordances – when it affords many opportunities – it not only provides more places to play but also provides children with ways to think about how the environment becomes a catalyst for activities that might not be spelled out. By this, I mean the activities in the place may not be obvious. We look at a see-saw and think that it provides only one activity that requires two people to play. But a tower on a pre-fabricated playground can provide both a lookout as well as the stern of a ship, a place to give directions, launch water balloons, sing songs, etc., depending upon the person, time of day and circumstances surrounding the occurrence.

As a note to those of you reading this who do not have autistic children, many of these children rarely have time of their own to play spontaneously. Much of their time is spent in therapies or planned activities that are meant to encourage or teach social skills. Frequently, parents, teachers and therapists plan social events or play dates for their children to get them to “practice” such skills. In many ways, it’s a wonder these children actually play at all because many of them exist in such “artificial” worlds. One thing I have observed that serves as a link between their realities and the bigger world may be their special interests.

Special interests – things or activities that are of major interest –frequently play an important role in the lives of autistic children. While most of my child collaborators were willing to play on just about any playground or interesting place, they also preferred places that accommodated games and activities of their own choosing (rather than someone else’s) that involved their special interests. These places do not always need to be programmed for certain activities. Sometimes they can be open space near programmed activities so that children who are not as interested in the primary activity can initiate their own games.

For example, Josh, who I featured in Part 6 of this blog, enjoys being current with football player statistics. He spends a good amount of time at home on his computer checking on favorite teams and players. At school, he discusses this with a group of friends who are also “in the know” on the subject. His parents indicated that in the fall, the school has a varsity football team that plays on Friday nights. During the home games, Josh and his statistic-loving friends get together to not only discuss football statistics but also play their own game of touch football on the sidelines. The simple provision of extra space along the sidelines that would not interfere with monitoring the football game or seating created an opportunity for these boys to do something more than talking about their special interest. The football game – a social event — coupled with the availability of the vacant space of the sideline, helped to provide an opportunity for this special activity for Josh and his friends.

Autism and Landscape Architecture Month, Part IX: Play for All

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

While I have been describing sensory issues and links to the physical environment, there are people out there who have actually been doing things about these issues. Ingrid M. Kanics, OTR/L, an Occupational Therapist and play advocate, has been speaking at conferences about inclusive play. I first learned about her at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) in Washington, DC, last September when she presented “A Higher Level of Inclusion: Trends in Playground Design.” There she showed examples of play equipment that was not only directed towards the main population of children but, finally, towards those children whose sensitivities ranged from hypo (too sensitive) to hyper (not sensitive enough). Kanics pointed out that this latter group, while small in size compared to the entire population of children, had sensitivities that prevented them from playing on typical playgrounds, never mind playing with other children. By providing equipment that supported children of all abilities, Kanics maintained, we support play for children of all abilities.

Interestingly, members of the audience began to ask whether such play equipment could support therapies for older children and adults, especially older people with developmental delays who need different forms of physical exercise from their peers. While playground manufacturers have not been marketing in this area, representatives from Landscape Structures, the company that has been sponsoring research in play structures for disabled people, indicated that they are looking at this issue as well.

Links:

Ingrid M. Kanic’s powerpoint handout (accessed April 13, 2011 from the Internet):

http://www.asla.org/uploadedFiles/CMS/Meetings_and_Events/2010_Annual_Meeting_Handouts/Fri-B9%20A%20Higher%20Level%20of%20Inclusion%20-%20Trends%20in%20Playground%20Design.pdf

Other Kanic articles:

http://www.devdelay.org/newsletter/articles/html/265-making-sense-of-summer-camp.html

Landscape Structures’ Advisory Committee:

http://www.playlsi.com/Explore-Products/Universally-Accessible-Playgrounds/Inclusive-Play-Advisory-Board/Pages/Inclusive-Play-Advisory-Board.aspx

Blogs that discuss Kanic’s work and sensory issues:

http://www.thebeakerkids.com/inclusion-strategies/

http://www.rollingrains.com/travelogues/2010/10/why-i-have-confidence-in-landscape-structures-inc-and-their-consultant-ingrid-kanics.html

Next: Affordances in the Physical Environment

Autism and Landscape Architecture Month, Part VIII: Crowding

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

Jared, 4 years of age, wasn’t your typical child, his mother told me. “He was never found playing with blocks, or sitting down, painting or the other quiet stuff he could never get through because he didn’t have his fill of the physical stuff.”

For kids like Jared, growing up in Brooklyn, the place to play was a neighborhood park 20 minutes walking distance from his mother’s NYC apartment. This was also his very favorite place, according to his mother. “Here’s what has always been the rub: It’s his favorite place where he could get his energy out. But it’s also where the noise, and definitely the proximity of kids – a New York City playground on a May afternoon, for a kid with sensory issues – it’s a nightmare!”

Jared loved playing in the sandbox, especially the sensory nature of its texture and feel. He’d roll around in the sand as well as play with it. But, according to his mother, he could not handle the sensory overload of too many kids bumping into him or the noise of their shrieks and giggles. Fortunately for Jared, he was enrolled in a pre-school that provided various forms of therapies: sensory integration, art, music and horticulture. There, he was able to get his fill of physical activity in a quiet setting. His mother was also befriended by other mothers who were looking for less crowded and noisy settings such as the trails in Prospect Park. There, Jared took opportunities to lead the small group of children off the path to explore some of the wooded places, under the careful supervision of the parents.

Jared’s mother indicated that the neighborhood playground was being redesigned. She wished there was a way to change places like the sandbox so that it wouldn’t be so crowded. Teardrop Park, in Battery Park City, broke the tradition of having small, controllable areas for sandboxes. Sand tends to attract animals, especially cats that use the sand as a litter box. At Teardrop Park, however, the sand is placed in a long, linear area that tends to do away with the congestion of small, noisy bodies. This configuration might be just the thing to stop the clash of the tiny titans on public playgrounds!

Next: Finding just the right form of sensory play