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Playground Renovation Addresses All Abilities of the Children


Playground Renovation Addresses All Abilities of the Children

After 15 years, the aging post and platform playground at Earl M. Lawson Elementary in Leavenworth, KS, had outlived its usefulness. Parts were becoming hard to find and with the school being the home for the district’s Functional Life Skills program, the playground needed to work for children of all abilities.


Evaluating Play Equipment Options

One of the challenges the school faced was the size of the playground area. It was a small lot so the new playground equipment had to have a smaller footprint; yet, still accommodate the largest number of children possible.

In addition, the play equipment needed to be accessible for children of all abilities, including those with physical and intellectual disabilities.

Dave Stokka, Grounds Coordinator for the District, made his recommendation for rope play equipment only after extensive research over several years. His research included site visits to area schools and city parks as well as visiting with several vendors.

Positive aspects with the rope play equipment:

  • The 18-foot structure Dave selected provided play space upwards, enabling the children to climb. This is something that the traditional post and platform playground did not offer.
  • The structure’s footprint fit in the available space, yet, still accommodated a large number of children at one time and allowed for a swing set and an additional chimes activity panel.
  • The ropes were more handicap accessible, enabling children of all abilities to interact with each other.
  • It solved the problem of having to find replacement parts. It actually made the job easier with fewer parts to inspect, for instance, having fewer fasteners than a traditional system
  • No vandalism. There are fewer places to mark on compared to other structures.
  • The openness of the rope structure allows for easier supervision.

playground at Earl M. Lawson Elementary in Leavenworth

Rope Play for All Abilities

Earl M. Lawson Elementary is a neighborhood school with about 300 students and 60 on staff, 30 of which are teachers. The Functional Life Skills program, which serves the whole district, includes children with some of the most severe physical and intellectual disabilities. These challenges include, students in wheelchairs or who have autism, sensory and motor needs.

The 18-foot net structure connects to a slide via a rope ladder and is designed for 5 to 12-year olds.  

The children in wheelchairs go under the net structure, look up and talk to the kids above them, increasing the interaction between the kids, enabling those in wheelchairs to be closer to the other children, weave in and out, chase and be part of the action.

The kids create their own imaginative play, creating their own rules and games. Children with physical or other disabilities become part of the games by grabbing hold of the ropes or being in charge of the music or a certain part of the structure. The rope structure brings children of all abilities together and they seem to love the change in play.

Children’s safety was an initial concern; however, the true 3-dimensional net climber provides plenty of footing and handholds for the children to safely climb up, down and side-to-side. It increases their confidence as the children climb higher and higher leading to a sense of accomplishment and pride when they reach the top.

The kids are visually stimulated when the sun is out and shadows are created from the “spider web” structure, creating lots of patterns on the ground. The kids have fun looking from different angles to find squares, triangles and many other shapes created from the rope patterns.

Success Story

One student with Cerebral Palsy had never been on a slide before. The teachers helped her up the ropes to the slide entrance and assisted her on the way down. The look on her face was priceless and her attitude about recess changed dramatically.

Benefits of the new playground equipment for the kids:

  • Balance and coordination
  • Opportunity for muscle development
  • Upper body coordination and strength
  • Problem-solving
  • Imaginative play
  • Increased self-confidence

Advice to Other Playground Planners

Whether planning a playground renovation or an entire new playground, be open to new ideas, new concepts and new play equipment. Matt Dedeke, Facilities Director for the District, had this advice to share:

  • Do your homework. Find out what options are available. Don’t be afraid to look at what is new and different.
  • Be prepared for questions from stakeholders. New concepts may require additional education. Oftentimes, stakeholders want to see “more” for the money spent when more equipment may not always be the answer.
  • Consider the real estate you have available for the play equipment. By going vertical with the equipment, we actually increased the play space available.
  • Check out purchasing contracts available to you. This can make the process more streamlined if the pre-bid contracts meet State requirements. Additionally, these contracts can help in your decision of what equipment to put on the playground.
  • Ask your vendor/contractor to provide renderings of the play equipment you have chosen. They can put this together for you to take to your stakeholders vs. showing a catalog of play equipment.
  • Rope play structures are a great alternative for children with mobility challenges.

The playground has been in place for two years and continues to interest and challenge the children, during school, after school and on weekends, too. Even though there is a small park near the school, the kids prefer to go to what they call the “coolest” playground, Lawson Elementary, the school with the web.