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5 Sensory Playgrounds for Kids of All Abilities

Inclusive play spaces in the Seattle-area welcome kids with special needs

Published on: October 23, 2017

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Find a free, public sensory playground near you

For kids on the autism spectrum or with other special needs, a trip to the neighborhood playground can be overwhelming, socially confusing and even unsafe. That’s why changes afoot in playground design are so welcome. Modern playground design is pivoting towards meeting the needs of all children, and this has spawned new places, usually referred to as “inclusive” or “sensory playgrounds.”

What makes a play space a “sensory playground?” In short, it’s an inclusive place for kids to play. The space may be fully-accessible for kids who use wheelchairs, and fenced off to contain kids who could wander or bolt. These playgrounds typically offer sensory options for kids who seek them, such as wind chimes, sand to dig in, nubby surfaces, mazes to explore, mirrors, kaleidoscopes and bouncy swings. They also often feature safe places to escape to for children who seek refuge from typical playground hub bub; these could be an alcove, play cave or wiggle tube. Structures to scramble up and climb on help build muscle strength and balance, while soft surfaces below cushion potential falls.

Children of all abilities can enjoy a sensory playground — that’s the key of inclusion. When bringing your typically-developing children to a sensory playground, you can support positive interactions by emphasizing the abilities of children with special needs, rather than their disabilities. Kids on the autism spectrum may experience sensory dysregulation from feeling overwhelmed, and this can be challenging for siblings and friends to process; you can guide children to refrain from staring or making insensitive comments in these trying moments.

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