The Inclusive Playground – How does it fare?

Remember how your heart fluttered to a new playground ride when you were little? I had that in the eighties when I saw Pasir Ris Park for the first time.

You exhaust yourself simply by darting from one ride to another – from the rope pyramid to the flying fox. 

Last week we went to the inclusive playground at the Ang Mo Kio-Bishan Park and my two kids got high without the need for chocolates. Joel, the eldest, exerted himself to a rosy flush in the first ten minutes. Amos, our three year-old son with Down syndrome and younger of the two, spends most of his time on his knees and bottom. He got to the playground gizmos and we never saw him walk and climb as much as he did that morning.

Completed just last August, this inclusive playground is the result of a joint-effort by NParks and the National Council of Social Service (NCSS), and a commendable step towards inclusiveness. Much of it has been reported so I would not elaborate too much except that it is one of eleven to be built across the island by end-2017.

That morning we got off to an excellent start. And for those who are considering a visit, allow us to share our two cents’ worth.

Roller-Coaster Swing

Pluck a seat out of a roller-coaster, string it up on chains and you get this magnificent ride. The ergonomic, cradle-like seat provided good back support for Amos, who suffers from low muscle tone (hypotonia). Its full-body brace can be locked in place by a hardy rubber strap and it would probably keep its rider secured in a hurricane. 

The kids swung higher than they ever did and Amos got his fair share of sensory stimulation and more. For more adventurous parents, you might want to try the 360 never before attempted on conventional swings.

Just kidding…

Wheelchair Swing

We never got to try the wheelchair swing because a sign at its fence told us not to. Only wheelchair-users are entitled to it. It makes sense, but people still use it anyway. It is, after all, a new thrill because it holds up to four kids in it even though it probably was not designed for the load. So you risk wearing it out before an ambulant-disabled user comes along. 

Perhaps the solution is to design swings for general use but with a larger capacity and complete with a ramp and a sign that says wheelchair-priority.

After all, it is supposed to be inclusive.

Merry-go-round

This one is a hit. It is one of the rare ones with seats, and rarer still that one of the seats is braced to prevent its rider from shooting off like a stone from a sling. I pushed the boys harder than I ever did and that thing spun like a centrifuge without throwing the boys off.

Amos, who is usually terrified of thrilling rides, chortled to the G-forces that pinned him sideways and asked for more. If Amos acted that way, it was only natural that his elder brother – a manic thrill-seeker, ended up squealing till he dribbled.

You can swirl it anyway you want because every surface is smooth and every corner is rounded. It is a very safe ride for all the sensory thrill one could get. Best of all, it is wheelchair accessible. Just wheel the rider in, close the doors, brace the wheelchair against them, and spin to your heart’s content.

It is probably the closest to fighter pilot training anyone could get.

Roller Slide 

Amos loved the way the rollers gave him the extra acceleration on the way down. It is an excellent source of speed-sensory stimulation and it guarantees a perfect slide each time unless you are dressed in sandpaper. 

But for children with weak trunk control, parents beware. The rush was so sudden that Amos reeled backwards and would have bumped the back of his head if we had not held him. It might be prudent to desensitize the child by taking him through a couple of rounds and have him learn the necessity of firming his trunk against the surge of speed – before he flies solo.

Sand Pit

This is an indispensable element of the playground. It is located at two ends of the playground and is separated by not only paved surfaces but also narrow skirtings of cobblestone that Amos detected beneath his shoes! Yes, I walked him along the paving and he instinctively checked out the floor surface at the transition across the paving, cobblestone, and sand.

Locating the sand pits at two ends of the playground is clever layout planning because one of the pits will be shaded at any one time. Even at noon. We ended up spending most of our time there.

Sand pits are social spaces. A mother of two kids shared their sand toys with Joel and Amos and they warmed up quickly to the play. Sand also had an intriguing effect on Amos. We smiled while watching his little fingers and toes squirm over the grains and we gasped and lunged when he started sprinkling them over his head like snow. 

Sand Table & Basins

An excellent complement to the sand pit, but dry sand basins just would not do. So plug up the openings below the basins, fill up the kiddy bucket with water, pour them over the basins and voilà! 

You just made your kids a little mud-pit without the mess.

Please, try not to drain the river…there is an ecosystem in it.

Adventure Tunnel

This one got me thinking. I could not find the gem in it until Amos revealed it to me. It is scarcely two metres long, its interior paved with undulating features and we could not get Amos to crawl through it however hard we tried. Just as we were giving it up as something for older kids, Amos started peeping and grinning cheekily at us through the peepholes. Then he babbled, and out came sounds and actions he seldom performs in public. 

Then it all clicked – the tunnel amplified the reverberation of his voice and got him interested in making more sounds. 

Still, I think its downside lies in its stubby length and linear configuration. A longer, perhaps slightly winding tunnel with an exit point at the middle could be an improvement.

Also, the play elements are rather disparate and isolated. Integrating them would have been great. 

The sound tunnel, for instance, could connect multiple play elements.

In all, this inclusive playground made our day and we certainly had a “sweltering” swell time. If there is to be any strategy in planning family outings to this spot, it is in getting the timing perfect. Shade was limited, and we had to give some really fun gizmos a miss because the playground was baking white-hot by eleven. 

If we may offer a tip: start your play at eight in the morning, conclude it at ten and then head off for a good hearty, leisurely brunch at any one of the park’s quaint cafés.

C E Tham

Through blogging and social media, CE Tham and his wife hope to share about their parenting journey with their older boy Joel and his younger brother Amos, who was diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth.

CE Tham and his family can be reached at thumbs.sandals@gmail.com or at their blog.

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