Eight years ago, the idea to build a playground that would be meet the needs of the growing BLT Elementary School and its surrounding community began. The BLT-PTC Playground Committee understood that a well-designed play space is a perfect environment for children to practice different skills and experiences including social development and comfort with various heights and speeds. But not all children are the same, and their needs can vary. The goal was an all-inclusive play space that would include wheelchair accessibility and elements designed for children on the autism spectrum and other developmental concerns.
Autism is complex. Some children with autism seek sensory experiences and others avoid them. Some are non-verbal, while others have no problem speaking. Children with autism may have a difficult time socializing and may rarely interact successfully with other children without a great deal of work. Small playground design decisions can mean the difference between including or excluding those children.
“Our goal was not only to build a much-needed new playspace but to have one that included elements where all children could play,” said Jenn Priske, co-chair of the BLT-PTC Playground Committee.
With the grassroots fundraising efforts of the committee through community events, the annual Spring Fling, and support from HRM staff, the project started to come to life after many years. Finally, through the tenacity of Jenn Priske and Tara Rourke, co-chairs for the BLT-PTC Playground Committee, and working with the Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage and MLA Iain Rankin, they were successful in securing the funding needed to move forward. With this support, the committee was recently able to reach a design agreement and sign a contract with Play Power for the new playground design. Since there are no students currently at school, the committee is hopeful the development will begin as soon as possible.
The theme of the new playspace will incorporate a natural theme, keeping with the community vision for this space, and will include the following features:
o Accessible surfacing (pour in place) covering the main area with no raised curbs.
o Play panels (braille, noisemakers, imagination play) forming a little clubhouse area rather than being stand-alone items set apart from the rest.
o Accessible swing (plus three traditional belt swings) complete with a harness for any students needing upper body support.
o Quiet Grove, designed specifically to be an autism-friendly “small space” for a child and parent/teacher, has built-in manipulates for calming and thoughtfulness.
o Spring Riders and Slides are built for two, which allows for “buddy play” or an EPA/parent to assist inconspicuously.
o Bucket ball game placed on the accessible surfacing for inclusive gameplay.
o Crawl Through Log means everyone is on their elbows, not just students who leave their wheelchair temporarily.