Siskin Children’s Institute in Chattanooga, Tenn.
The Siskin Children’s Institute in Chattanooga, Tenn., is a facility whose mission is to improve the quality of life for special needs children in the community. By offering services to children with special needs through educational programs, field trips, support services, advocacy and community partnerships, Siskin is dedicated to working with persons who have disabilities and showing them what they can do.
When the Institute moved into its newly renovated facility in 2001, the board of directors decided that an exceptionally accessible playground would be an integral part of supporting the mission and made the commitment to implement the use of play in the education and therapy of children with special needs.
Research has shown that the opportunity for play is an integral part of a child’s well being and social development, regardless of his or her age or individual abilities. In 2001, Siskin formed a pioneering relationship with GameTime, a manufacturer of playground equipment also specializing in the development of ADA-accessible playgrounds. The resulting playground built at the Institute is not only universally accessible but will hopefully serve as an example of accessibility for other playgrounds.
"Our playground now serves as a model for the community," says Lisa Moore, assistant director of Siskin Children's Institute. "We are using it to educate and support others with their playground design, so that children with disabilities will ultimately have more play opportunities."
In addition to GameTime, Siskin collaborated on the project with park and recreation community leaders in Chattanooga as well as Boundless Playgrounds, a national, nonprofit organization that works with communities throughout the country to facilitate universally accessible playgrounds. This unique partnership brought a well-rounded knowledge base to the project, ensuring that the playground would benefit children of all ages, be developmentally appropriate as well as accessible and open the world of play to children of all physical abilities. The playground also would be used as a testing facility for ADA-accessible components for years to come.
In February 2001, the parties met to outline their goals and vision for the facility. This initial meeting was followed by several design meetings to incorporate the needs of the Institute with the landscape architect’s vision and to choose the playground components. As part of the innovative direction of the program, GameTime began to customize existing components and develop new ones to create a truly unique playground that would meet the goals of the Playground Committee and provide an exciting new dimension to the lives and education enrichment of the children at Siskin.
The playground opened in September 2001 at a dedication ceremony just in time for the new school year. Siskin’s teachers and therapists began to incorporate the play space in therapy sessions.
"The children’s response to the playground has been incredible," Moore says. "We see them accessing this playground in so many ways. Children learn through play and exploration. It’s their job to play."
The benefits of play are crucial to all children’s emotional, physical and social development—regardless of their abilities. It allows them the opportunity to develop social, physical and emotional skills while having fun. The new playground allows Siskin’s children to interact with their peers in a way that was not possible before the playground’s construction—sliding, swinging and playing independent of adult intervention. They are able to use their imagination, interact in games and develop relationships with the other children.
Besides the playground equipment, there are nature elements that the children can interact with. The garden plantings located around the play area give the children sensory opportunities, allowing them to feel the dirt, smell the flowers and touch the variety of textures used in the plantings. The sand and water table encourages them to mold and imprint the sand, as well as use the waterways to learn about dams and water flow. The multicolored poured-in-place surfacing, combined with areas of grass and engineered wood fiber, offer a variety of colors and textures while remaining completely accessible.
The brightly colored playground, located in the heart of downtown Chattanooga, is a benefit to the entire community. The multiple areas that make up the playground are designated with colorful poured-in-place surfacing, grass and attractive landscaping, which adds to the festive colors of the equipment itself.
For more information
Siskin Children's Institute: www.siskin.org