The Benefits of Accessible Parks

I brought my youngest girls to North Mankato’s newest playground, Fallenstein Park, Saturday, and it reminded me that making play accessible for everyone benefits everyone.

It seems like an obvious statement. But for many years, playgrounds and play areas haven’t been accessible to children with certain disabilities, and in fact, most are also geared toward a specific age range. One of my biggest problems with playgrounds has been a lack of equipment or resources for the youngest children for play. Much of it is unsafe for the littlest of children, and the tendency toward gravel or concrete surfaces on playgrounds also creates potentially hazardous situations.

Let me be clear: I believe that all children require adult supervision on playgrounds, even those considered “safe,” because all active play contains some inherent risk. Children need some risky play in order to learn how to be safe and to learn about their bodies’ personal limits, but an adult should be supervising.

Some playgrounds are safer than others. And the recent movements to make some playgrounds accessible for children of all levels of ability have yielded real benefits for all children.

We have been to three of these parks, in three different cities, and my children loved them. The first was the Universal Playground in Lindenwood Park, Fargo, N.D. The second was in Herman Heights Park, New Ulm, Minn. The third was Fallenstein Park.

All three have inventive and interesting playground equipment that includes some old standards, such as swings and slides, but with improved safety features. The Minnesota parks include zip-lines, and Fallenstein includes a ropes course and climbing equipment that works well for most children.

Each also features a surface that is kind of rubberized. There’s some give to it, and it’s clear that the momentum from a fall would be slowed by it. Its presence also ensures that children in wheel chairs could roam around the playground without much obstacle to their play.

Dozens of children freely played in Fallenstein during our morning there, and I was not the only one who thought the entire space worked well for all the children who could come to play. I overheard other parents talking about how “cool” the place was, and I saw children of all ages engaging with the equipment.

As with all playgrounds, parents do need to closely supervise children on some of the equipment, and steer their children to age-appropriate equipment when necessary. (My three-year-old was too excited about the ropes course, which was higher than I’d like to see her climb, frankly.)

But in building something that made play accessible for children of all abilities, all children benefit. And frankly, most area playgrounds could use the safety upgrade.

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