US Play Coalition’s National Play Conference Wrap-up

This past weekend seven of us travelled down to Clemson, South Carolina for the US Play Coalition Conference. Starting Sunday afternoon and stretching until Tuesday night were a series of talks held by some of the most innovative and exciting experts in the Playground and Parks and Recreation Field. We were thrilled to meet the leaders of Magical Bridge and Harper’s Playground to share some tips on inclusive play, as well as chat about inclusivity with top manufacturing professionals and designers. Nothing made this more evident than joining the Inclusive Play sub-committee, which should help promote inclusive play throughout the year.

We presented our work on our Quantitative Playground Survey. Detailing exactly how it was developed, what it focused on, and our two different applications on a national and regional level. Thankfully, it was well received, with several follow up questions asked by Ingrid Kanics, a leader in the inclusive play field. We were excited to share our survey with the group, and hope that it will be used to help spread the message about inclusive play.

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We hope to feature some of our favorite talks in the upcoming weeks, so stay tuned.

On the Road Again: The US Play Coalition’s National Play Conference

Big news! Our group has been accepted to the US Play Coalition’s National Play Conference. This year’s theme is “Where Design Meets Play” and it will be held in Clemson, South Carolina. Seven of our members will be traveling to present our survey and research from April 2nd through 5th. We will attend workshops, listen to presentations, and network with other experts in their field. Examples of presentations include: “Play for all: inclusive play space design”, “Bringing play into the architecture curriculum”, and “Playing on two wheels”. This will be a great opportunity to share our message while learning more about the greater play community, and may help to direct our future endeavors. Stay tuned for post-conference updates!

It will be great to learn more about what is new and innovative in the realm of play and expand our reach at a national conference. We are so excited to present the work we’ve put in over the last four years. It will be interesting to see how other organizations can use and apply the survey throughout the world.

Survey Day!

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About a week and a half ago on Super Bowl Sunday, eleven of us headed out on a playground extravaganza! It was the first of many monthly team surveying events that will help increase the breadth of our playground survey data. Our goal is to survey every playground in Boston, so this day brought us to 19 playgrounds since September. Eventually, we will have a more complete understanding of inclusivity in playgrounds across the whole city.

As a group, we were able to successfully assess nine playgrounds in the South End. We began our day together at Ramsay Park to evaluate the playground adjacent to the Jim Rice baseball diamond. Although no kids we there when we visited, we can see how popular this place probably is in the summer – as a large, well maintained park right off of the busy Melnea Cass Boulevard. Despite the weather, we braved the brisk January morning and afterwards we thawed out over brunch at Haley House (which we highly recommend). Following our feast, we piled into cars and split into smaller groups to maximize our playground reach. Each subgroup surveyed two playgrounds before heading in to catch the big game. Keep your eyes peeled for potential upcoming playground spotlights from the January Survey day, including:

– Ramsay Park
– O’Day Playground
– Monsignor Reynolds Playground
– Ringgold Park
– Peters Park
– Titus Sparrow Park
– Hayes Park
– Chandler/Tremont Plaza
– Frieda Garcia

Brewer Burroughs Playground

Today we are presenting one of the “hidden jewels” of Jamaica Plain: Brewer Burroughs Playground, otherwise known as the “Tot Lot”. Check it out if you’re ever in the area!

The "Tot Lot" has a variety of equipment that will certainly entertain the little ones
The “Tot Lot” has a variety of equipment that will certainly entertain the little ones
  • Location: Brewer St, between Burroughs St and Eliot St, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130 Jamaica Plain
  • Age Groups: mainly toddlers and young children
  • Inclusivity/Inclusive Elements:
    • Disc swing
    • Drums
    • Rubber flooring
  •  Favorite element in playgrounds:
    • Solar system play panel
    • Sandbox
    • Playhouse
  •  Features:
    • This playground has several varieties of toys for toddlers and children to play with
    • It is in close proximity to stores and restaurants where you can stop by for a snack
    • Accessible parking behind the playground
  • Great if you’re looking for:
    • A quiet playground with an easy to navigate layout
    • Well-maintained structural equipment
    • A playground with a clear barrier that separates toddler play from hazardous areas
    • Seating with a backrest that is shaded and has open space on either side for a wheelchair
  • Keep looking if:
    • You’re looking for motion-based equipment (such as a group disc swing, merry go round) that is wheelchair accessible
    • You’re looking for physically-challenging equipment for older children

We’re Back – Fall 2016

Overall scores of the cities our team visited

Hey guys, we’re back! For all those inclusive play enthusiasts who have been following our activities or have collaborated with us in one way or another, thanks for your support! We’re very excited for all the wonderful things that we have planned this year. As always, you can find updates on the progress of our different projects on this blog and the website, but also keep your eye on our Facebook page for more content not only our current and future project, but also what everyone else in the inclusive play sphere is doing! This year we hope to increase our collaboration with all the amazing organizations that are doing similar things. Believe us, you won’t want to miss it.

But first things first- it’s time for an update on our summer adventures. Remember that post back in March about a research fellowship that some of our members had applied for? If you don’t it’s okay, because we’ll have tons of content about it on all of our media, and by the time we’re done sharing, you’ll be an inclusive play expert (if you aren’t one already).

Overall scores of the cities our team visited

This summer, four of our members embarked on a journey across the United States, visiting top playgrounds that illustrated the inclusive play landscape in the country. They gathered data with our most prized possession: a 60-question survey that spurred countless heated discussions and took two years to perfect. They trekked this survey from the blazing sun of Phoenix to the rolling hills of Seattle, through the incredible monuments of Washington, D.C. and the backyards of Jackson, Mississippi. In total, the group evaluated fourteen cities across all regions of the United States, surveying 75 playgrounds in total, which were then ranked by overall quality, and by inclusivity. Take a look at the graphs in this post to see how well your city did!

By the end of the summer, Monisha, Durward, Hannah and Mariya found that the cities with the best playgrounds didn’t necessarily have the most funding from their Parks and Recreation Departments. The team hypothesized that playground inclusivity would depend on the visibility and level of services available for people with disabilities, and the overall quality of playgrounds in each city. In the end, a city’s dedication to and spending toward services for disabled persons had little correlation with the inclusivity of its playgrounds. Of course, higher quality playgrounds were also often the most inclusive. But more surprisingly, playgrounds created by the work of community organizations far surpassed most standard parks and recreation playgrounds.

Inclusivity Scores of cities that our team visited
Inclusivity Scores of cities that our team visited

We will be sharing more of their quantitative results in the future, exposing graphs and measurements that explain both the determinants of successfully implemented inclusive play and the rankings of each city and state by survey category. But today, we wanted to dedicate this space to share with you what we consider to be an extremely important finding. To read more about the results, head over to the full report.

So whether you’re a group of students interested in playground design and inclusivity, or a group of parents looking to make a difference for their children (shoutout to Roslindale Wants to Play), remember that the efforts of a strong community organization can make the difference between a standard city playground and an incredible one. This year we’re looking to build more bridges with the community around us. If you’re looking to learn more about what we do, or get to know the coolest playgrounds in the US, feel free to get in touch with us. Join our journey this year with a group that is stronger than ever. We can’t wait to show you what’s coming soon.

Inclusive Play: Why it matters

Hello inclusive play enthusiasts! This past week, while doing research we stumbled upon an article that talks about inclusive play and given its relevance, we wanted to share it on here.

When people ask what The Playground Project does, we say that we research and advocate for inclusive play spaces in the greater Boston area – but not everyone understands exactly what inclusive play is. People most often picture wheelchair accessible spaces when they hear this, but inclusive play is much more than accessibility: inclusive play stresses the importance of and benefits for people of all abilities to play together. And the emphasis (as you might’ve noticed) is in the word “together” because is is crucial when talking about inclusive play. When a playground facilitates and encourages the interaction and integration of kids of all abilities, an opportunity is created. An opportunity for the creation of a positive and welcoming environment and the development of cognitive, sensory and social skills, all important in a child’s development.

While accessible playgrounds help to ensure that people of different physical abilities have access to the playground, it often does not do enough to cater to the needs of children with mental disabilities. Apart from wheelchair ramps and accessible swings, for example, an inclusive playground would have equipment for children with these mental disabilities to interact and integrate into the environment. And here is where equipment with sensory play and water play come into… well… play.

If you enjoyed our take on inclusive play and why it matters, take a look at the article below for more! If you want to know more about sensory play and water play, make sure to check back soon for a sneak peek of a project that our research team has been working on.

Hemsworth, Jerri. “Inclusive Play and Accessible Play: What’s The Difference?” Inspiring Play Magazine. N.p., 27 Nov. 2012. Web. 28 Mar. 2016. <http://inspiringplay.com/inclusive-play-and-accessible-play-whats-the-difference/>.

Travel based research project

Something that The Playground Project INDIGO team has been dreaming about for a long time looks like it might finally happen. Through the Northeastern University Scholar’s Program, we have applied for funding in order to further our research and education on inclusive play. Pending approval, the Scholars Independent Research Fund (SIRF) will provide some of our team members with the resources necessary to travel this summer to observe and compare playgrounds in major cities around the United States. Durward and Monisha completed this application and are planning to devote nine weeks of full-time research in order to further our understanding of how and why certain cities allocate funds to Parks and Recreation the way that they do, and whether or not this allocation is sufficient to serve the needs of its community. Alex, Hannah and Mariya are also planning to join the duo for the East Coast portion of the journey. Keep posted for more information of the development and (hopefully the) approval of this project!
In other news, we are just starting to develop a new survey that will hopefully be more applicable in helping to ensure inclusivity during the design phase of a playground. This tool will ideally output a score in order to rate a design’s inclusivity, and we will be able to show designers changes in score based on additions of elements or changes of layout.

Making connections with the designer community

Two weeks ago, three of our members met with Clara Batchelor and Megan Tomkins of CBA Landscape Architects, LLC and Cathy Baker-Eclipse of Boston Parks and Recreation to discuss the renovation design of the Roberts Playground. Although the design was pretty much finalized, we were still able to offer some feedback on the design with a focus on our favorite topic: inclusivity. As in our meeting with Copley Wolff Design, we spoke of the elements that we loved, as well as adding or doing some minor edits to the design.

Elements such as dish swings and the inclusion of musical instruments and an amphitheater were amongst our favorite topics to discuss, and we were excited to see that this was part of the design already, given that cognitive play and inclusive play structures have been strong elements in the inclusive playgrounds that we have visited. We provided some suggestions to add more cognitive play and imaginative play with elements such as a playhouse and voice boxes. In addition, we discussed the importance of having a space for kids with autism to be on their own, and were glad to see the inclusion of a small area intended for kids to “look over the playground” and have some time of their own. Our suggestion to add more shade for children with sensitive skin was regarded with positivity, and there was a particular excitement around the idea of adding shadow play to the design in order to have an innovative imaginative play element. Overall, we had a successful meeting, and we were happy to build more connections with more members of the designer community in the Boston area. We look forward to other opportunities to advocate for inclusivity in playground design.

Mothers Rest Playground

From time to time we will be featuring some of our favorite playgrounds in the Boston area for you to visit. For our first feature, we will be focusing on the Mothers Rest Playground, located in the Back Bay Fens area.

Mothers Rest is very busy on beautiful days
Mothers Rest is very busy on beautiful days

Tucked away in the Back Bay Fens, Mothers Rest sits in a very pretty spot in Boston
Tucked away in the Back Bay Fens, Mothers Rest sits in a very pretty spot in Boston
  • Location: Back Bay Fens, 853 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02215
    • This playground is accessible by foot to the surrounding community, as well as public transportation
  • Age Groups: mostly toddlers and young children (around ages 2-8)
  • Inclusivity/inclusive elements: 
    • disc swing
    • audible play/musical features like xylophone and drums
    • imaginative play like a storefront countertop
  • Favorite element in playground: disc swing
    • It’s fun for all ages and inclusive to virtually all abilities!
  • Features:
    • great layout with varied equipment and safe surfaces
    • safe for children: there are barriers and guardrails free of defects, the structural equipment is well maintained, and there is a protecting fence separating play from hazardous areas
  • Great if you’re looking for: 
    • high visibility of playground areas
    • varied playground equipment apt for small children
  • Keep looking if: 
    • you’re looking for more challenging play equipment
    • you want a playground with a water fountain and bathroom close by

Friends, baked goods, and inclusive design

This blog post marks the start of the spring semester in the third year of the Playground Project: INDIGO’s existence. After a long period of experimentation and taking on different projects in the name of inclusive design, we seem to be zeroing in on exactly how we can best help the community and improve the world around us. We begin this semester with seven of our members in Boston, some in classes and some on co-op. Luckily, Grace is here this semester to bring her delicious desserts to every meeting!

In hopes of accomplishing as much as possible, we decided to switch things up a little and break the group into smaller teams- each with a centralized focus. While continuing to meet weekly as a whole group, we have created groups specializing in playground design research, website improvement, and the documentation of our various endeavours. We will assess the effectiveness of this choice over the course of the semester.
A large part of our research and advocacy involves attending community meetings around the Boston area, during which we aim to serve as a resource to designers and enthusiastic parents who are eager to participate in the process of playground designs or renovations. Roslindale, a residential neighbourhood located in Boston, MA, has been one of the communities with which we have established a close relationship with by attending community meetings and hearing the needs and wants of the community. These meetings have allowed us to not only hear what parents and children want in their playgrounds, but to think of the best way in which inclusivity and accessibility can be integrated into the design. They have also allowed us to make connections with playground designers and Boston city officials- connections that seem to be paying off.

Copley Wolff Design Group, designers in charge of the renovations of the Healy Playground in Roslindale

Today, four of our members met with the designers of the Healy Playground and Cathy Baker-Eclipse of Boston Parks and Recreation to offer our feedback after the initial design was proposed at the community meeting two weeks ago. With a focus on inclusivity, we spoke about the elements of the design that we liked very much, relatively small and/or simple fixes that we think would make the playground more inclusive, and some more extreme and/or cost intensive possibilities. It was extremely exciting to see how seriously our thoughts and input were taken by the designers. They took notes, asked questions, and were truly receptive to what we had to say. It’s nice to see how seriously people take you when you really know what you’re talking about- and when it comes to creating inclusive play spaces, we believe that we are very well versed and are committed to continuously learning as much as we can. After a fantastic meeting, the cherry on top came when Ms. Baker-Eclipse asked if we would be interested in meeting with another design team to discuss inclusivity. Is this the birth of The Playground Project: INDIGO Consulting Firm? If it is we’re definitely going to have to work on the name.