It is normal to be different

by Karin Belch, Planning and installation of children's play areas

It is normal to be different

Creation of a playground which promotes the individual development of different children.

The Therapeutic Education Centre (TEC) in Hof (Bavaria) is on the one hand a school (a private support centre with focus on intellectual development) with an adjoining day centre and therapy department and on the other a Montessori Children's Home including a crèche, a nursery and an after school care centre. In this building a large number of children aged from 0 - 21 years are supported and cared for in the most varied of groups. Whether severely disabled or really fit, whether needing 1-to-1 supervision or in normal nursery school groups, each one is supported according to his capabilities. In accord with the principle, "it is normal to be different" the school attempts to promote the strengths of all the children, adolescents and young adults according to their potential and to compensate for their weaknesses.

 

The most important things for this establishment are

  • spatial training in all areas as the basis for the acquisition of motor and cognitive skills
  • integration - inclusion
  • the acquisition of social skills within the group and outside it
  • the achievement of the greatest possible independence
  • and the holistic promotion of development of the personality

One day when she had been searching long and hard in numerous play equipment catalogues Ute Mai, the Director of the Montessori Children's Home, who had been given the task of conceiving a new plan for the play area, came across the Belch Company in Herzogenaurach (www.kinderspielbereich.de) and asked them to plan a playground based on the following criteria: Children develop at different rates, but their needs and inclinations remain basically similar nonetheless. This also applies to people with disabilities. Therefore it is a huge challenge to provide them with parallel opportunities for developing and enjoying life.

A playground was created, which makes it possible for different children to develop individually. Two large playgrounds with, among other equipment, a ramp, an electric lift and a wheelchair swing were created in the 15,000 sq. m. of grounds.

"Playgrounds and leisure areas require careful planning, which should always be graded according to the purpose and suited to each age-range. Differentiated, suitable play areas are planned for everyone, from the toddlers to the adolescents. New play spaces encourage children to develop their creativity. In this case we have chosen the theme of inclusion and have decided on the firm of Pieper Holz for play equipment, because Pieper Holz manufacture sturdy, indestructible, tried and tested high-quality equipment with a natural appearance to promote play, which meets the needs of individual children and blends structurally into the landscape. Since the Pieper Holz Company itself processes the majority of the woods used, from undressed timber to the finished product, in its own production plant, the supply chain is completely under control. The Pieper Holz Company is certified in accordance with the PEFC standards for the promotion of sustainable forest management and thus this company offers the best prerequisites for implementing special requirements," says Karin Belch from the Minimobil Company.

The remit was to plan a playground on an area of 5,000 sq. m. for children aged between 3 and 21 years, taking into account all disabilities, including faculties for wheelchair users, who also should be able to move about at dizzy heights.

Because the area already has an established population of trees and various hills, there was a further task, that of creating the playground between the trees taking into account the hillsides with their vegetation across heights and depths. In all this the wheelchair users were not to be forgotten.

In order to create a durable playground among a large population of trees, materials had to be chosen which would stand up to the strong tree roots and the humidity under the trees. The entire play area had to comply with EN 1176 in the first instance; every platform and access had also to be constructed in dimensions large enough for an accompanying person to be with each disabled child.

On both the large scale areas the wheel chair users were included in such a way that they could safely reach a height of two metres with, but also without an accompanying person. A lift has been built on to a play tower, to provide direct access. In this way both wheelchair users and also children with walking difficulties can reach heights, which would otherwise be impossible for them and can move about together with all the other children at high playground levels. That was the most exciting thing for the children in the TEC.

In the second large scale area all the children and not just the wheelchair users can reach various types of play equipment over long bridges and play safely at relatively great heights with or without supervision.

In order to promote the children's motor skills, various items of equipment with differing degrees of difficulty have been included in the planning, always with suitable additional safety precautions.

The Belch Company took a year to complete the planning and they consulted Ute Mai, Gerriet Giebermann and Siegfried Wonsack, the people with responsibility for the institution, over the development of every detail. They introduced their ideas and their working methods to the children and in the end the Pieper Holz Company could be commissioned to start production and assembly. "Pieper Holz's play values were what persuaded us, for this is where we saw our special wishes coming true. They responded both to the various disabilities we care for in our children and to the details we had specified from the educational viewpoint. First-class quality was also supplied at a very cost-effective price," says Ute Mai, who is delighted with the planning and the implementation of the project.

Norbert Schlick, the establishment's safety officer, saw the project through from the planning stage to the final handover of the playground, ready for play.

 

Conclusion

The area as it is today with its various facets and play facilities is the visible evidence of successful planning for all the children in the TEC and also for the carers and those in charge of the children. This is how inclusion is implemented, experienced and lived.

The area as it is today with its various facets and play facilities gives the children a wealth of opportunities to progress and develop in conditions of safety.

Thanks to the vast extent of the area there is no stress. Each child feels safe. The carers and all those involved feel at ease and secure. For almost two years now all the children and adolescents have been playing in the garden, enjoying their play and using all the equipment. "Even our children in wheelchairs are delighted that they can independently reach a height of two metres," says Ute Mai.

"Now I can play up there with the others," says Emilia, a six-year old girl in a wheelchair.

 

 

Photo: Karin Belch (Planning and installation of children's play areas)

 

 

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