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Playground Planning: Include These “7 Zones” To Create a Balanced Playground Environment

Before choosing the actual layout for your playground, it’s helpful to have an overall plan or design for the placement of furnishings.  You will want to organize the space in a way that will promote physical and social play while minimizing conflicts.  The following is called the zoned approach and was outlined in Esbenson in his book “The Early Childhood Playground: An Outdoor Classroom”. Similar to the way a classroom is arranged  into specific areas or centers, small groupings of functionally separate outdoor play areas called zones can enrich children’s interaction with the equipment, nature, adults, and one another.  Instead of having one large, central structure that attempts to provide a variety of experiences and activities for children, each zone includes several smaller, related activities and pieces of equipment. This allows more active play areas to be separated from areas that involve less noisy creative of manipulative activities and can help minimize the tendency for louder, bigger boys to dominate a play structure.
Esbenson outlines seven distinct zones:

1. Transition zone: The area between your building and the playground or between different play zones.  This area allows children time  and space to decide where they want to go as they enter the playground.  This can include open space, or seating areas. Items to consider: picnic tables and benches, Shade Structures, Picnic Shelters, Bleachers. Continue reading

Playground Equipment and Autism- The Sensory Rich Playground for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Young children learn by using all of their senses, so your playground should offer as many experiences as possible. For kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder, this need for balance can be extreme. The more sensory experiences, the more is learned and gained during development.  The playground should include the following sensory areas:

Visual:top

girl_playingColor and Varying Elevations: Adults tend to look at the functional aspect of playgrounds that includes the natural coloration and a traditional theme.  Ofttimes, the natural looking playground is aesthetic for the adult rather than the child.  It’s rare that the typical child-oriented environment consists of typical natural coloration, i.e. beige, green, brown.  More likely, a playground with a variety of shapes, colors, and forms will offer the most stimulation and improve spatial perception.

Vestibular:top
The vestibular system consists of small, liquid-filled tubes in the inner ear and is important in maintaining a child’s sense of balance.  The movement of liquid through these canals produces stimulation of the nervous system. Sensory experiences change every time the head moves in a different direction or at a different speed; this explains children’s great enjoyment of whirling, spinning, swing, or being tossed in the air.   During the first years, children’s vestibular systems are very receptive to even small amount s of stimulation, and slight variations in speed and direction have a substantial effect on balance.  The vestibular system works with the senses of touch and vision as well as sensations from the joints and muscles to help children orient themselves in space.  When children go down a slide, for example, they both feel and see themselves moving downward through space.  by about the age of 8, the sensory-motor development of children is well established.

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