If you are about my age, then surely you remember playgrounds that were mostly wooden and metal constructed upon a plethora of wooden chips that were supposed to cushion our little ankles after we jumped from our plastic swings. Those were the days! If you didn’t come home with some light burns on the back of her legs, you just weren’t playing hard enough! But times have changed, friends, and so have our playgrounds. And honestly, as a parent, I am glad. As a mom of three kiddos with special needs, I have a feeling that my kiddos might have had a challenge navigating some of the older equipment of my day. Not because they would have been incapable of playing on the structures. But much of the time, those structures were designed in such a way that did not lend itself easily to such things as sensory input/output and social interaction. With the rise of autism cases throughout the country (1 in 45 children between 3-17), it is imperative that all playgrounds follow in the footsteps of our classrooms and be inclusive for all children of all abilities. Today, my family and I were lucky to stumble upon one very special playground, named for a very special little boy.
Jake’s Place is located in Cherry Hill, NJ, and is the dream child of Build Jake’s Place, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to creating and building inclusive playgrounds for everyone. This organization, and the playground, is dedicated to the memory of Jacob Cummings-Nasto, a young child who was diagnosed with a heart condition. His family wanted to ensure that other children with disabilities would have a playground the was built to include them. A boundless playground, Jake’s Place includes such structures as ramps, a ground-level merry-go-round, learning signs which includes braille in addition to letters, and huge glider that is big enough to accompany about two to three wheelchairs. The playground also includes a variety of materials underfoot, including concrete, grass, and rubber material. The grass was very minimal, as the flooring was more conducive to allowing easy mobility for wheelchairs and walkers alike. All openings to the continuous play structure were ADA accessible.
This playground was maybe the only one I’ve seen of its kind. And the kids enjoyed every bit of it. Both Noah and Layla tend to respond well to positive sensory input and I appreciated the amount of sensory feedback included in this playground, including the spinners, which are great for children with ADHD. The swings and the glider were perhaps their favorite, as well as the monkey bars and the rock climbing wall. All equipment was built for children between 2 and 12, although older children would have no issues with using it either. Usually, I get a little nervous when the older kids are free to collide with the younger ones. Big kids tend not to pay attention to the little ones when they are deep in play. However, because of the spacing of the equipment and the size of the playground in general, big kids and little kids were able to play side by side without any issues.
All children, regardless of ability, should have the chance to be kids. These boundless playgrounds are allowing some children to forget that they have a wheelchair, walker, or sensory integration disorder, among other things. They are giving all children the chance to just be kids.
*If you are in the South Jersey area, check out Jake’s Place
101 Bortons Mill Road
Cherry Hill, NJ 08034
Be sure to follow them on social media as well!