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The 10 Best Inclusive School Playgrounds in America

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10 Best Inclusive Playgrounds in America.

From inspirational stories to award-winning designs, join Soliant as we celebrate these ten best inclusive school playgrounds in the United States.

Soliant reviewed outstanding school playgrounds across the country based on several factors, including the utilization of inclusive playground design core principles, quantity, and quality of play features offered, and any unique inspirations or stories behind the development, funding, or name of the playground. These selected playgrounds go beyond minimum accessibility to offer play experiences for a wide variety of needs—for example, by offering braille features for students who are visually impaired and sensory-rich structures for students with developmental disabilities.

While all schools that strive toward increasing inclusivity and equal play are winners in our eyes, here are our picks for the ten best all-inclusive school playgrounds in the United States.

Under each playground listed, you can find photos, district comments, inclusive features, and background stories on the inspiration behind inclusive play initiatives.

1. Mr. Nick’s Inclusive Playground | Springfield, MO

School kids playing in Mr Nick's Inclusive Playground in Springfield, Mo.
Playground photo courtesy of Springfield Public Schools.

Located at McBride Elementary School, Mr. Nick’s Inclusive Playground honors the life and legacy of former special education teacher Nick Hostler, who tragically passed away in 2018, according to Springfield Public Schools.

Mr. Nick noticed a lack of play opportunities for his students and always hoped to make a more inclusive environment. Out of this dream, Mr. Nick’s Playground was designed to be available for the southwest Springfield community and accessible for all families and students who needed access to play, according to the district.

“Nick had a gift,” McBride Elementary School Principal Lael Streight said in a news release. “He saw the possibilities in all of us and then challenged us with questions to do better. Nick was a changemaker. He had a gifted ability to connect to students and to change lives. He did that here at McBride, and in his honor, we hope to change lives with this playground.”

McBride students can all play together, side by side, throughout the playground, regardless of their ability. The district said that some of the most popular features are the ziplines, inclusive whirl, the maypole, and the universal swings. The playground also has interactive panels, which include animal sounds and a keyboard. Recess for all students is a fun time at McBride; however, the playground is also used for physical education classes and adaptive P.E., according to the district.

Mr. Nick’s Inclusive Playground is adorned with a bright blue sign welcoming children to the innovative, interactive space, where the playground’s purpose is stated clearly—all abilities, all together.

“…This playground has continued to be a springboard for other inclusive play structures in surrounding communities. Mr. Nick helped create a legacy of compassion, and the project continues to unite the McBride and southwest community,” said Streight.

2. C. P. Swagger Shipyard | Lambertville, MI

Students playing in pirates dress at C.P. Swagger Shipyard at Douglas Road Elementary in Lambertville, Mich.
Playground photo courtesy of Bedford Public Schools.

The inclusive playground, C.P. Swagger Shipyard at Douglas Road Elementary School, was originally an idea that Hunter Gandee, an eighth grader at the time, produced to raise awareness for Cerebral Palsy, a condition that his younger brother has. According to Bedford Public Schools, Hunter watched his seven-year-old brother Braden struggle with mobility issues when trying to keep up with his friends at the playground.

To keep Braden involved in activities, Hunter would take Braden around on his back. Piggyback rides meant Braden could participate in things he would otherwise struggle to accomplish on his own without a walker or a powered chair, according to the district.

In 2014, Hunter took his younger brother on a 40-mile piggyback ride to raise awareness and inspire others to address mobility and accessibility challenges. The following year, the brothers completed a 57-mile walk, which was followed by a groundbreaking ceremony for the playground area. In 2016, the brothers completed the final C.P. (Cerebral Palsy) Swagger walk at 110 miles. According to the district, the walk from the Bedford Community Stadium in Temperance, MI, to the steps of the Capitol Building in Lansing raised awareness on both a national and international level.

The story of the C.P. Swagger Walk prompted donations and launched the effort to build an accessible playground at Braden’s school, where C.P. Swagger Shipyard Playground opened in 2015.
Danielle Gandee, mother of Hunter and Braden, was involved in the design process of the playground and said the main goal was to not only make it accessible to those with mobility equipment but to make it an inclusive, safe, and inviting place where all children could play and interact together.

“The opportunity to be able to offer an inclusive educational environment both in and outside of the classroom is extremely important for our students,” said Bedford Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Carl Shultz. “The Douglas Road Elementary community came together to purchase and install an amazing play structure that would benefit all students equally. This is another amazing example of what can happen when caring people come together for the benefit of all.”

3. Owen’s Playground for Kids of All Abilities | Downers Grove, IL

An arial view of school kids playing at Owen's Inclusive Playground at Hillcrest Elementary School in Downers Grove, Ill.
Playground photo courtesy of BCI Burke.

When the school community noticed that some Hillcrest Elementary School students were experiencing isolation from peers because they had limited access to the school’s playground equipment, which contained some rough terrain and inaccessible elevations, there was a collective desire to provide a playground that allowed all children of all abilities to play together, according to Downers Grove Grade School District 58.

The community worked together to make this dream a reality and opened Owen’s Playground for Kids of All Abilities, according to the district.

Named after a student at the school who has previously faced some challenges when wanting to play alongside his friends, the new universally designed play environment has double-wide wheelchair-accessible ramps, a wheelchair-accessible rocker, sensory panels, accessible touch and play elements, and more—all with safety surfacing that accommodates wheelchairs and other mobility devices, according to BCI Burke, the playground and recreation product company that worked on Owen’s Playground.

Owen’s Playground is open to the community and is the perfect place to bring everyone, of all abilities, together.

“Owen’s Playground for Kids of All Abilities came to fruition thanks to the incredible generosity of the Hillcrest community and many local businesses and organizations,” said District 58 Superintendent Dr. Kevin Russell. “We appreciate their support very much! District 58 is very proud to provide an all-accessible playground that benefits not only Hillcrest students but also children of all abilities throughout the region.”

4. Woodland Hills Elementary School Playground | Kingwood, TX

Kids playing in the inclusive Castle playground at Woodland Hills Elementary School in Kingwood, Texas.
Playground photo courtesy of Humble ISD.

The fairytale-themed inclusive playground at Woodland Hills Elementary School in Humble ISD opened in October 2022 in part of an ongoing district-wide initiative to invest in inclusive play.

“We had a lot of variability in our playgrounds across the district,” Humble ISD Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Fagen said. “Some were paid for by PTA fundraisers, but in some [schools] that wasn’t really possible, so the district paid for a minimal level playground. We didn’t like the fact that there wasn’t an equal opportunity for all kids across the district to have a wonderful outdoor play experience.”

Fagen said that the COVID-19 pandemic further magnified the importance of inclusive, collaborative play for students’ mental and physical health. Humble ISD saw a need to invest in inclusive playgrounds to provide additional learning spaces that inspire kids and make them excited about school.

“Creating community assets that enhance property values and recognizing the fact that schools have a really strong influence on the way the community goes, we wanted to make sure that we do our part to be a vital component of success,” Dr. Fagen said.

According to the district, the Woodland Hills Elementary School playground’s castle structure features wheelchair-accessible ramps from the ground level to elevated decks. This section of the structure features a variety of play and sensory panels where all students can interact and play together. The dragon’s tail, swings, and multiple spinning play structures are set at transfer height for equitable access to higher elements, encouraging interactive play among kids and adults of all abilities. In addition, the smooth playground surfacing ensures easy access to all areas of the playground.

5. The Guild School | Concord, MA

a view of the bright purple and yellow inclusive playground at The Guild School in Concord, Mass.
Playground photo courtesy of The Guild for Human Services.

The Guild for Human Services operates a licensed special education school, The Guild School, which serves students diagnosed with intellectual disabilities, including autism and behavioral or mental health challenges. The Guild School curriculum is customized for each student and focuses on developing skills in several areas, including communication, sensory integration, socialization, prevocational/vocational, play, and self-care.

According to The Guild for Human Services, the playground includes a variety of slides, swings, climbing structures, motor planning, and sensory activities supplied by Burke.

Construction of The Guild playground, which is used both by students and adult residents, was completed in the fall of 2018. According to The Guild, the 6,400-square-foot playground promotes the physical, psychological, intellectual, and social well-being of the individuals that The Guild serves.

6. Bloomingdale Inclusive Park and Playground | New York, NY

The silver tunnel slide at the Bloomingdale Inclusive Park and Playground in New York.
Playground photo courtesy of Friends of the Bloomingdale Inclusive Park and Playground.

Bloomingdale Inclusive Park and Playground is praised as one of the best inclusive playgrounds in New York. Located at P.S 145 (The Bloomingdale School) and West Prep Academy in Manhattan Valley, the $7.1 million project was first developed by the Manhattan Community Board 7’s Health and Human Services Subcommittee—now a task force—on accessibility. The subcommittee advocated for a playground design and process that reflects the vision of the inclusive community with local, citywide, and community support.

The Bloomingdale Inclusive Park and Playground was designed so children with diverse abilities and disabilities can play together in a barrier-free environment. There was a focus on implementing play equipment that does not segregate individuals based on their abilities and disabilities, according to Friends of the Bloomingdale Inclusive Park and Playground.

Instead, the playground fosters interaction and learning, which is achieved through considerations of physical, sensory, and social inclusion. It has a large flat playground with cushioned flooring and safety fences, a train-shaped play area full of sensory activities, a splash area nearby, a basketball court, and a grass area open for every kid to enjoy.

The Friends of the Bloomingdale Inclusive Park and Playground organization was developed to support healthy maintenance of the playground, sustainability of its programs, and ongoing development of the cultural shift toward inclusion.

7. The Valley View Community School Playground | Newhall, CA

View of school kids on the Valley View Community School inclusive playground in Newhall, Calif.
Playground photo retrieved from Sun Country Playgrounds news release.

The Valley View Community School Playground was the first inclusive playground to be introduced as part of a Sulphur Springs Union School District initiative to implement all-inclusive playgrounds across school campuses, according to the SSUSD website. The second inclusive playground was unveiled at Sulphur Springs Elementary in 2019 and the third and fourth playgrounds were unveiled at Fair Oaks Ranch Community School in 2021.

The sea-themed inclusive playground at Valley View Community School was designed to meet the needs of the whole child—social, sensory, physical, cognitive, and communication needs. According to a news release from playground equipment company Sun Country Playgrounds, the blue and green space prioritizes sound, sight, and touch so that a variety of senses can be engaged without creating an overwhelming space, such as a smooth-moving boat and noise-making musical notes. There are accessibility touchpoints like wheelchair-accessible ramps and harnessed swings, so no part of the playground feels inaccessible. According to the release, the playground is being incorporated into special education curriculum and occupational therapy sessions.

8. Toomer Elementary School Playground | Atlanta, GA

School students playing at recess on the Toomer Elementary School playground in Atlanta.
Playground photo retrieved from Atlanta Public Schools Communications Office newsletter Talk Up APS.

The inclusive playground at Fred A. Toomer Elementary School was the vision of kindergarten teacher Emily Max and became a reality with a gift from Farmers Insurance, according to the Atlanta Public Schools Communications Office online newsletter.

Max noticed the school’s large playground was not fully accessible to all students at Toomer. For example, the area’s floor of soft wood chips made it extremely difficult for students with wheelchairs or other mobility issues to move around freely, according to the newsletter.

Max was one of six winners in the Farmer Insurance $100,000 Dream Big Teacher Challenge as part of the company’s Thank America’s Teachers program. According to the Farmers Insurance news release, Max was granted $100,000 to build an inclusive playground that is accessible for the school’s special needs students.

Opened in 2015, the inclusive playground features a soft rubber floor for accessibility for students with special needs or mobility issues. In addition, the playground’s equipment is designed so that students can play at the same height and make eye contact with each other. In the newsletter, Max said that the subtle aspect of interaction can be difficult for some students who do not want to appear as if they are staring downward or upward at one of their peers who is different from them.

“I think this playground will help all of our kids see more of how they are alike, instead of seeing their differences,” said Toomer Principal Ashley Adamo in the newsletter. “I think it is going to foster more and greater interaction between all of our students, and allow them to play independently, together.”

9. The Three Rivers Playground | Pasco, WA

Teachers and students posing for a group photo at the Three Rivers Elementary School inclusive playground.
Playground photo retrieved from Pasco School District news release.

Located in Pasco, Washington, the Three Rivers Elementary School playground opened in 2019 and was designed specifically to address the physical and social inclusion of people of all ages and abilities. According to a Pasco School District news release, the playground is the only inclusive playground installed at a K-6 elementary school in Washington.

As of February 2023, the Three Rivers Elementary School playground remains the only inclusive playground at a K-6 elementary school in Washington, according to the PlayCore National Demonstration Site Map, which is a map of certified inclusive playgrounds that use seven major principles of inclusive playground design.

10. Friendship Learning Center Playground | North Fond Du Lac, WI

Arial view of the Friendship Learning Center Playground in North Fond Du Lac, Wis.
Playground photo courtesy of BCI Burke.

Bringing an environment that helps everyone find the best of themselves through play was an important pillar of the North Fond du Lac School District’s playground project, according to the playground company that worked on the project, BCI Burke.

Goals of the Friendship Learning Center playground project included having a space that was large enough to accommodate a growing population, creating a space that was inclusive, and bringing color in to enhance the experience. With an 18,000-square-foot area, Burke’s website states that there was plenty of room to spread out and offer a variety of play areas and activities that accommodate differing abilities, ages, and interests.

Valuing the importance of equitable access points in an inclusive space, the playground was designed to have an entire side flush to the surfacing, making a seamless transition into the play space. Play equipment ranges from “spinners” with three different seating options to adapt to a variety of abilities to spaces for musical exploration, swinging, sliding, climbing, and developing upper body strength.

Celebrating Inclusive Play

Soliant applauds the education systems, organizations, companies, and communities that played a role in the development of these playgrounds. We praise their commitment to ensuring all students—children of various abilities, ages, and backgrounds—have an equal opportunity to play, learn, and develop alongside one another.

“We were absolutely blown away at the number and variety of inclusive playgrounds in schools nationwide, so much so that it felt nearly impossible to pick just ten. Here at Soliant, we feel grateful for this opportunity to spotlight ten playgrounds with incredible design and stories. Additionally, we extend our acclamation to the school educators and support staff who help push inclusivity further into education systems and continuously work to benefit the experience for all children—regardless of abilities,” Soliant Senior Vice President of Education Lesley Slaughter said.

If you’re looking for a school health career and wish to make a positive impact on students, visit our jobs listings today, including openings for speech-language pathologists, special education support, sign language interpreters, teachers of the visually impaired, and more.