Skip to main content

Building Playgrounds for Children of All Abilities: Legal Requirements and Professional Recommendations

Abstract

Schools and communities typically design and build playgrounds with little knowledge that the selected playground equipment meets the needs of children, caregivers, and teachers. In this article, the various categories of playgrounds are discussed and analyzed. The focus of this discussion includes an overview of the legal requirements and guidelines for school and community playgrounds, a description of prior research highlighting the inadequacies in currently available playgrounds, and an explanation of the trends in playground design over the years. We relate these topics to the need for universally designed playgrounds and a deeper commitment to designing playgrounds and play equipment that is empirically tested and meets the needs of all children, their teachers, and their families. By discussing practical examples and research findings to illustrate the gap between playground manufacturers and their play equipment and playground consumers, this paper serves as a meaningful resource for teachers and other stakeholders so they have the knowledge to advocate for their students with disabilities in playground endeavors. Taking recent research findings into account, we provide a vision for playground policy change.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

References

  • Accessibility Guidelines for Play Areas. (2004). Retrieved from http://www.access-board.gov/guidelines-and-standards/buildings-and-sites/about-the-ada-standards/background/ada-accessibility-guidelines-for-play-areas. Provides the U.S. accessibility guidelines for playgrounds.

  • American Academy of Pediatrics. (2013). The crucial role of recess in school. Pediatrics, 131(1), 183–188.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • American Society for Testing of Materials [ASTM]. (2017). Standard Consumer Safety Specification for Playground Equipment for Public Use [ASTM F1487–17]. West Conshohocken, PA: ASTM.

    Google Scholar 

  • American Society of Landscape Architects. (2018). Exploring Social and Sensory Barriers that Impede Play in Public Spaces. Retrieved from https://thefield.asla.org/2018/11/06/exploring-social-sensory-barriers-that-impede-play-in-public-spaces/#more-9211. Describes how landscape architects are addressing sensory disabilities on playgrounds.

  • Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Pub. L. No. 101–336, 104 Stat. 328 (1990).

  • Assistive Technology Partners. (2017). Playground accessibility—ADA compliance. Retrieved from www.ucdenver.edu/academics/colleges/medicalschool/programs/atp/documents/Playground%20Accessibility.pdf. Describes playground accessibility and how to achieve it in playground designs.

  • Bento, G., & Dias, G. (2017). The importance of outdoor play for young children’s healthy development. Porto Biomedical Journal, 2(5), 157–160.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Boundless Playgrounds. (2010). Retrieved from: http://www.boundlessplaygrounds.org/about/faq.php. Describes the Boundless Playground non-profit and their work.

  • Center for Universal Design. (1997). The Principles of Universal Design, Version 2.0.. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina State University.

    Google Scholar 

  • Council for Exceptional Children (CEC)/Division for Early Childhood (DEC). (2014). DEC recommended practices in early intervention/early childhood special education 2014. Retrieved from http://www.dec-sped.org/recommendedpractices. Provides the recommended practices for early childhood special education environments.

  • Daniels, D. M., & Johnson, E. L. (2009). The impact of community-built playgrounds on the community. The Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection, and Critical Care, 67(1), S16–S19. https://doi.org/10.1097/TA.ob13e3181ac400.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Division of Early Childhood & National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2009). Early childhood inclusion: A joint position of the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina FPG Child Development Institute.

    Google Scholar 

  • Egilson, S. T., & Traustadottir, R. (2009). Participation of students with physical disabilities in the school environment. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 63, 264–272.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fan, M. (2013). Do neighborhood parks and playgrounds reduce childhood obesity? American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 96(1), 26–42. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajae/aat047.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Harrison, F., & Jones, A. P. (2012). A framework for understanding school based physical environmental influences on childhood obesity. Health & Place, 18(3), 639–648. https://doi.org/10.1016/ihealthplace2011.12009.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kretzmann, M., Shih, W., & Kasari, C. (2015). Improving peer engagement of children with autism on the school playground: A randomized control trial. Behavior Therapy, 46, 20–28. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.beth.2014.03.006.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Little, H. (2015). Mothers’ beliefs about risk and risk-taking behaviors in children’s outdoor play. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 15(1), 24–39. https://doi.org/10.1080/14729679.2013.842178.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Luchs, A., & Fikus, M. (2013). A comparative study of active play on differently designed playgrounds. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 13(3), 206–222. https://doi.org/10.1080/14729679.2013.778784.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Machalicek, W., Shogren, K., Lang, R., Rispoli, M., Oreilly, M. F., Franco, J. H., et al. (2009). Increasing play and decreasing the challenging behavior of children with autism during recess with activity schedules and task correspondence training. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 3, 547–555.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McConkey, J. (2018). Inclusive Play Space Design: Transforming Communities, Fostering Social Equity. A presentation at annual meeting of the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), Indianapolis, IN.

  • Morrongiello, B. A., Kane, A., McArthur, B. A., & Bell, M. (2012). Physical risk-taking in elementary school children: Measurement and emotion regulation issues. Personality and Individual Differences, 52(4), 492–496. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2011.11.003.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Parten, M. B. (1932). Social participation among preschool children. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 27(3), 243–269.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Picture Perfect Playgrounds. (2018). History of Boundless Playgrounds. Retrieved from https://www.pgpedia.com/b/boundless-playgrounds. Discusses the history of inclusive playgrounds in the United States.

  • Rimmer, J. H. (2005). The conspicuous absence of people with disabilities in public fitness and recreational activities: Lack of interest or lack of access. American Journal of Health Promotion, 19(5), 327–329. https://doi.org/10.4278/0890-1171-19.5:327.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Slater, S., Pugach, O., Lin, W., & Bontu, A. (2016). If you build it will they come? Does involving community groups in playground renovations affect park utilization and physical activity? Environment and Behavior, 48(1), 246–265. https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2010.0305.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stanton-Chapman, T. L., & Schmidt, E. L. (2016a). Special education professionals’ perceptions towards accessible playgrounds. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 41(2), 90–100. https://doi.org/10.1177/1540796916638499.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stanton-Chapman, T. L., & Schmidt, E. L. (2016b). Creating inclusive playground environments following the Principles of Universal Design: Collaborative strategies to promote family participation in the design and development process. Division of Early Childhood (DEC) in the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) Monograph for Best Practices in Early Childhood Environments: Promoting meaningful access, participation, and inclusion, 87–100.

  • Stanton-Chapman, T. L., & Schmidt, E. L. (2017a). Caregiver perceptions of inclusive playgrounds targeting toddlers and preschoolers with disabilities: Has Recent international and national policy improved overall satisfaction?”. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 17(4), 237–246. https://doi.org/10.1111/1471-3802.12381.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stanton-Chapman, T. L., & Schmidt, E. L. (2017b). Creating an inclusive playground for children of all abilities: West Fork Playground in Cincinnati, Ohio. Children, Youth, and Environments, 27(3), 124–137. https://doi.org/10.7721/chilyoutenvi.27.3.0124.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stanton-Chapman, T. L., & Schmidt, E. L. (2018a). In search of equivalent social participation: What do caregivers of children with disabilities desire regarding inclusive recreational facilities and playgrounds? Journal of International Special Needs Education, Online First.

  • Stanton-Chapman, T. L., & Schmidt, E. L. (2018b). Applying the principles of universal design to the playground: A blueprint for research, action, and policy. Methodological poster presented at the Conference for Research Innovations in Early Intervention (CRIEI), San Diego, CA.

  • Stanton-Chapman, T. L., & Schmidt, E. L. (2018c). Designing and building playgrounds for children of all abilities. A presentation at annual meeting of the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), Indianapolis, IN.

  • U.S. Access Board (2010). ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Play Areas. Retrieved from www.access-board.gov/guidelines-and-standards/buildings-and-sites/about-the-ada-standards/background/ada-accessibility-guidelines-for-play-areas. Provides information on the U.S. accessibility guidelines for playgrounds.

  • U.S. Access Board. (2015). Architectural barriers act accessibility guidelines; outdoor developed areas. Retrieved from http://www.access-board.gov/guidelines-and-standards/recreation-facilities/outdoor-developed-areas/final-guidelines-for-outdoor-developed-areas. Discusses outdoor accessibility guidelines.

  • U.S. Architectural & Transportation Barriers Compliance Board. (2004). Americans with disabilities act and architectural barriers act accessibility guidelines. Retrieved from https://www.access-board.gov/attachments/article/412/ada-aba.pdf. Provides information on the ADA law and accessibility guidelines.

  • U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). (2015). Public playground safety handbook. Bethesda, MD: CPSC. Retrieved from: http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/325.pdf. Discusses U.S. playground safety guidelines.

  • U.S. Department of Education. (2018). Children and Youth with Disabilities. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cgg.asp. Provides U.S. educational statistics on the number of students (ages 3-21) receiving special education services.

  • Yantzi, N., Young, N., & McKeever, P. (2010). The suitability of school playgrounds for physically disabled children. Children’s Geographies, 8, 65–78. https://doi.org/10.1080/14733281003650984. (Annotated List of Online Resources).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Tina L. Stanton-Chapman.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Stanton-Chapman, T.L., Schmidt, E.L. Building Playgrounds for Children of All Abilities: Legal Requirements and Professional Recommendations. Early Childhood Educ J 47, 509–517 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-019-00947-3

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-019-00947-3

Keywords

  • Playground
  • Inclusion
  • Policy
  • Law
  • Playground equipment
  • Universal design
  • Disability
  • Caregiver
  • Teacher