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For Children And Families Of All Abilities

inspiring play SUMMER 2012


I Want One, Too! How To Champion An Inclusive Playground In Your Community

FOR TEACHERS: A Free Inclusive Play Program

Local Inspiration:

Parks & Playgrounds Aren’t Just For Kids

plus... Learn How One City Has Made Inclusive Play A Top Priority


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Inspiring Everyone To Play! PLAY SPACES

A Sensory Garden Play Space Comes To Illinois By winning an essay contest, Wheaton Park District is able to build a horserace themed inclusive playground that will have cool swings, outrageous climbers and amazing bridges. And don’t forget the fragrance, sound and water play spaces. | BY JERRI HEMSWORTH EDUCATION

YAY! We’ve Got An Inclusive Playground! Now What? The free Together, We Are Able® Inclusion Lunch Box classroom program is taking lessons learned nationwide and is available for all teachers, principals and administrators! | BY MARNIE NORRIS FEATURE: COMMUNITY INSPIRATION

Priority: Play! Jon Kirk Mukri is General Manager of the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, one of the largest such departments in the country. Inclusive Play Advocate Cole Massie interviews Mukri on the importance of building inclusive playgrounds. | INTERVIEW BY COLE MASSIE FEATURE: PARENT INSPIRATION

The Gift Of Play How a new father found out that parks and playgrounds aren’t just for kids. They’re miraculous tools to help us connect with those we know and love. | BY WILLIAM COLINAS FEATURE: PLAYGROUND INSPIRATION

I Want One, Too!

“Happinessisnotagoal; itisaby-product.” —EleanorRoosevelt

How does a Champion Group get an inclusive playground built in their community? Here are 5 steps that Shane’s Inspiration will help with to bring the “how-to’s” of Design, Fundraising Expertise and Programming to a community. | BY JERRI HEMSWORTH KID PLAY Where young folks can express themselves and inspire others with what they like and how they like to play. SUMMER 2012 |


From The Editor

Inspiring Everyone To Play!


hen I was growing up, the rather large valley we lived in had 3 major parks, only two of which had playgrounds. One was commonly known as the “robot park” that was situated about 15 miles away from our house. The other got the non-complimentary moniker of the “baby park.” While it was much closer to home, nobody wanted to be seen playing at the baby park. None of my friends liked going to any of the parks for field trips, let alone family picnics. In the mid-70s, the playgrounds were fairly new and constructed of big fat telephone poles with ginormous tractor tires strategically bolted up and down the poles. They were great to play hide-and-seek in and bounce on, but we stank like the dickens and were blackened to the core after just one outing on the rig. One thing all of these playgrounds had in common was this—none were accessible for children with disabilities or children in wheelchairs. Fast forward 35 years and now the playgrounds are now super cool! Not only are there are a lot more of them, but they’ve been designed to be safer and incorporate more imaginative equipment like bars and swoopie slides and sand thingies and spongie ground. Granted, the monkey bars are still there (now they’re called horizontal ladders), but they’ve got groovy curves and different heights. A growing trend is that some are inclusive playgrounds that allow children of all abilities to play together. That’s always the case if it’s a playground planned and designed by Shane’s Inspiration, a 501(c)(3) nonINSPIRING PLAY | 4

profit in Los Angeles, Calif., whose mission is to create inclusive playgrounds and programs for children of all abilities. Their overall vision is to help eliminate bias toward children with disabilities. One inspiring sight at a playground is when a child with disabilties is playing right alongside an abled-bodied child and they don’t see each other’s shortcomings. They are laughing and goofing around and not conscious of any limitations. The other amazing inspiration that happens at these playgrounds is when parents who have a child with a disability realize that they are not dealing with complicated issues alone. They have an immediate network of friends and community leaders who share a common goal: To see the children laugh, play and instill tolerance of others. We created this magazine to bring you inspiring stories of parents, children, community leaders, teachers, educators, corporations and playground advocates who share a common mission and vision. We want to help families and communities all over the world know that they are not alone and that inclusive play can help all children and adults of all abilities laugh, smile, heal and hope. Welcome to InspiringPlay! Jerri Hemsworth Editor

We want to hear from you. Please tell us of people, children or events in your community that are inspiring play for families of all abilities. Email me your thoughts, pictures or stories!

The first online Dual Internet Platform™ publication dedicated to inspiring stories of children, parents, community leaders, teachers, educators, corporations and playground advocates who believe in inclusive play for children and families of all abilities. Editor Jerri Hemsworth Managing Editor Abby Ventzke Assistant Editor Taryn Gray Contributing Writers William Colinas Brian Hemsworth Cole Massie Marnie Norris Art Direction/Production Newman Grace Inc.

Designer Stephanie Capretta Assistant Designer Steven Higginson

Editorial/Advertising Offices NGI Publishing 6133 Fallbrook Avenue Woodland Hills, CA 91367 P: 818.713.1678 Inspiring Play Magazine is published quarterly by NGI Publishing, 6133 Fallbrook Avenue, Woodland Hills, CA 91367 Volume 1.01. SUMMER 2012. Copyright ©2012 by NGI Publishing. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission is prohibited. Advertising rates and information sent upon request. Acceptance of advertising in Inspiring Play Magazine in no way constitutes approval or endorsement by NGI Publishing or Shane’s Inspiration of products or services advertised. Inspiring Play Magazine and NGI Publishing reserve the right to reject any advertising. Opinions expressed by authors are their own and not necessarily those of Inspiring Play Magazine, NGI Publishing or Shane’s Inspiration. Inspiring Play Magazine Magazine reserves the right to edit all contributions for clarity and length, as well as to reject any material submitted. Not responsible for unsolicited manuscripts. This periodical’s name and logo along with the various titles and headings therein, are trademarks of NGI Publishing. PRODUCED IN U.S.A. | SUMMER 2012

Play Spaces

A Sensory Garden Play Space Comes To Illinois By Jerri Hemsworth By winning an essay contest, Wheaton Park District is able to build a horse-race themed inclusive playground that will have cool swings, outrageous climbers and amazing bridges. And don’t forget the fragrance, sound and water play spaces.


n April 2011, Landscape Structures launched the Together We Play™ essay contest along with Shane’s Inspiration in order to inspire the creation and programming of inclusive playgrounds throughout North America. The Grand Prize winner was based in Weaton, Ill., which is located in the northeast part of the state. The actual playground site is located in DuPage County, 30 miles west of Chicago. This project is a cooperative effort of Wheaton Park District, Kiwanis Club of Wheaton, Western DuPage Special Recreation Association, and Forest Preserve District DuPage County. The new garden/playground is being developed at Danada South Park. According to their winning essay, the groups envisioned, “a safely fenced play area with plenty of room for children to spread out, surrounded by a fitness trail for adults. We saw surfacing where wheeled devices move easily and equipment is designed to engage sight, hearing, smell, movement and INSPIRING PLAY | 6

touch. We saw places where a child can withdraw easily and safely, so that each one can learn to regulate his or her own sensory input. We saw a welcoming place where whole families can relax and engage and enjoy their time together.” As the Grand Prize winner, the group won $50,000 of design services from Shane’s Inspiration and $100,000 of playground equipment from Landscape Structures. Here is some of what the initial design for the inclusive playground includes: n Rubberized Surfaces that not only cushion falls but are great fun to walk on. n A Bounce Area that features a variety of equipment to encourage rocking motions which help to expend energy. n A Boulder Climber that provides opportunities for tactile experience and encourages muscular development. n A Fragrance Garden that offers a variety of colors, textures and scents in accessible raised garden beds. n A Sound Area that encourages

visitors to use a variety of equipment in order to experience the outcomes of their actions. n A Water Play Feature with flowing water where visitors may create diversion through touch and enjoy soothing background sounds. n A Tree House that serves as a quiet respite above and away from the action below; and n A Miracle Baseball Field as an auxiliary component where everyone, no matter what their degree of physical mobility, may join in baseball games. When this playground is finished, the community will be amazed at how a dream became a reality. Visitors will hear “the sounds of happy children running, climbing, swinging and digging, while parents chat nearby...Experience the relaxing atmosphere of unstructured play which encourages problem-solving and socialization among peers.” Best of all, the community will have “entire families enjoying recreation together,” just as the winning champion group envisioned. | SUMMER 2012

Mosaic Sensory Play Wall

Sway Fun

Water Play

Mushroom Pod Jumpers

Hollow Log Sensory Play

Herearesomeoftheideasofwhatwillgointothenew SensoryGardenPlaygroundinWheaton,Ill. Tree House Get-Away

Fragrance Garden and Quiet Zone

Superman / Oodle Swing

High-Back Swings


YAY! We’ve Got an Inclusive Playground! Now What?

By Marnie Norris

The free Together, We Are Able® Inclusion Lunch Box classroom program is taking lessons learned nationwide and is available for all teachers, principals and administrators!


ou’ve heard it before: the playground is life’s classroom. Through play, we learn to negotiate, communicate, assert ourselves, connect and trust others. And as we know from decades of research, play forms the foundation for healthy development in early childhood on every level; the physical, cognitive, sensory, social and emotional benefits of play last a lifetime. But what happens to the millions of children in the United States who either cannot access the playground or are not welcome on the playground because of their differences? What life lessons are they learning? This story, told by a mother during one of our Education Program field trips (see sidebar), illustrates the social and emotional impact of play: Twoyearsago,alovelylittlegirl withadevelopmentaldisability joinedShane’sInspirationonthe playgroundforaninteractivefield trip.Sarahshowedupimpeccably dressedinsmartbluejeans,pink poloshirt,andwhitesparklysneakINSPIRING PLAY | 8

ers.Butshekeptherheaddown, haircoveringherface,andherarms athersides.Sherefusedtomake eyecontactwithanyone.Sarah’s developmentaldelaymeantthatshe couldn’taccesslanguageskills,so shemadenoisesinherthroatwhen shewantedtocommunicate. Accordingtohermom,Sarahused tobeaconfidentchildwho approachedeveryoneontheplayground.Shewouldsmile,makeher sounds,waveherarmsaround,and inherownwayinvitethemtoplay. Sadly,theresponseontheplaygroundneverchanged:parents wouldgrabtheirkidsandmove awayfromher.Otherchildrenwould mimicandmakefunofher,orwould runaway.Afterafewyearsofthis, Sarahstoppedtrying.Bytheageof seven,shehadshutdownand refusedtoreachout.Thatpainfullife lessonlearnedontheplayground changedherfortheworse. Onthedayofthefieldtrip,Sarah spentthreehourswithherbuddies whoweretypicallydeveloping.We taughtthemtoplaywithoutwords

usingballs,bubblesanddrumsto communicate.Wespentquietminutesinthesand,diggingandtunnelingtogether.Herbuddieslearned toobserveandunderstandher soundsandfacialcues,andbegan tryingtohelpothersunderstandas well.Bytheendofthosethree hours,thelittlegirlwassmiling, movingandshoutingoutinherlanguage.Shewasevenreachingfor herbuddies’hands. What changed in Sarah? The people around her. People were listening to and engaging in Sarah’s way of communicating and playing. Her peers were reaching out to and accepting her. On this field trip, she was just another kid playing on the playground. Taking Lessons Nationwide When playgrounds are designed, most of us think through physical access and are finished once the playground ribbon is cut. Rarely do we think about the little girl mentioned above who will struggle through that accessible landscape. | SUMMER 2012

Education Program Field Trips and the Buddy Program


he buddy process starts in the classroom before a field trip, when children with typical abilities begin to understand how their peers with different abilities might communicate, play and move. The magic starts when their busses pull up to the curb. If the students come from different schools, they usually arrive at the playground at different times. As the students begin to see each other walk and roll down the path, hesitation and uncertainty mix with excitement and curiosity. Our staff begins introductions by introducing ourselves, modeling respect and openness with eye contact, a simple hello and a handshake. As we connect the kids with their buddies, we ask questions about what they love to do, directing them to start on the most engaging equipment. We ask questions and discover more about who our buddies really are. Buddying also allows us to discover any extra needs that we can support in the children with different abilities: communication patterns, sensory challenges, or medical considerations. This helps us provide the appropriate tips and play-based supports to the students on the playground. Within 15 minutes after the introductions, the initial hesitation and uncertainty dissolves in laughter and discovery. –M.N.


Education Phone calls have come in to Shane’s Inspiration from communities asking for help in addressing that very issue. Either the playgrounds aren’t being as fully and freely utilized by families of children with disabilities, or their typical peers are struggling to engage and accept. Either way, inclusion won’t necessarily happen on its own if it hasn’t been in practice from early childhood. But by partnering with cities across the nation, we can transform access into inclusion by transforming the playground into an outdoor classroom. The Together, We Are Able Inclusion Lunch Box is a powerful and unique three-step program that promotes a deeper level of understanding, awareness and inclusion in classrooms and on the playground through the following: n Classroom Ability Awareness Workshops: Language-arts based activities help students in grades 4–11 explore their perceptions and assumptions about disabilities. A written exercise, games, DVD, hands-on activities, and group discussion help them differentiate between fact and fiction. n Field Trips: Students with and without disabilities pair up and spend a half-day on the playground learning about each other through play. While the play is largely childdriven, toys, games and activities help children move beyond their physical, cognitive, communication and sensory differences. This simple, yet powerful day teaches compassion and understanding. n Follow-Ups: Post-field-trip activities help synthesize the experience and extend the ability awareness conversation throughout the year. INSPIRING PLAY | 10

This easy combination of classroom workshop and hands-on experience creates powerful inclusion and awareness for students on the playground while teaching lasting character development lessons. Shane’s Inspiration’s Together, We Are Able program has hit the road and will be coming to a city near you. Teachers, principals and administrators will find that it has been packaged into an easy “how-to guide” that can be implemented in schools throughout the country. The free Inclusion Lunch Box contains: Classroom guide that walks educators and volunteers through the classroom activities, offering talking points, hand-outs and extension opportunities that facilitate student discussion about disabilities and abilities. Education DVD that offers an inspirational look at the everyday lives of children with disabilities, giving educators the chance to pause the DVD and tie in relevant talking points.



Engaging, modular academic curriculum tied to national education standards that is easy-to-use and emphasizes language arts and social studies. Playground strategies guide that helps educators and servproviders facilitate interaction ice among children with sensory, cognitive and communication differences. Professional development training and materials to help promote ability awareness in your staff and volunteers. Free ongoing staff support via Shane’s Inspiration.


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Together, We Are Able is online and ready to play in your community. Visit You CAN make a permanent and lasting difference in lives such as Sarah’s, her buddies, parents and community. Marnie Norris is Director of Programs for Shane’s Inspiration. For more information on the Together, We Are Able Inclusion Lunch Box Education Program, contact her at (818) 988-5676 ext.112;;

Student Testimonies Illustrate the Power of Together, We Are Able® “Just because a student is in a special class doesn’t mean they’re different from you. If you get to know them better, you’ll figure out that they’re just normal like you.” —Tori, age 11, Emperor Elementary “What surprised me most about my buddy was her ability to hold things in her hand, like the bubble wand, even with her disability. I wouldn’t have tried it if I were her.” —Jonathon, age 10, Monte Vista Elementary “Being a buddy taught me that I can talk to people and learn who they are, inside their core.” —Vanessa, age 11, Emperor Elementary “My buddy was not able to speak but he had a good sense of humor. Just because people have disabilities doesn’t mean that they should not be friends with you.” —Will, age 11, Monte Vista Elementary | SUMMER 2012

the best playgrounds nourish the best in kids




Jon Kirk Mukri is General Manager of the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, one of the largest such departments in the country. Inclusive Play Advocate Cole Massie interviews Mukri on the importance of building inclusive playgrounds.


Cole Massie: You are in charge of one of the largest recreation and parks departments in the country, with many priorities, challenges and opportunities. What inspired you about the mission of Shane’s Inspiration to propel you to make inclusion for children with disabilities a priority? Jon Kirk Mukri: I think back to when I was growing up. I recall many families that had members with challenges or disabilities—both physical and emotional. These kids had nowhere to play. One of these children lived right down the block from me. I thought it odd that the only time we saw him was either leaving or returning to his house. We never saw him playing on the street or experienced his ability to interact with us. I never forgot that. And then I met Tiffany Harris [CEO of Shane’s Inspiration], who introduced me to Shane’s Inspiration and its mission and goals. Quite honestly, I fell in love with the idea. I embraced it. It brings together not just children with disabilities but adults with disabilities. It unites us and helps us understand that we are all people. A playground where everyone has access to interact breaks down barriers—social and intellectual. It helps us understand that we all have disabilities, if not now then at some future point, that preclude us from doing the things that we used to be able to do when we were young. So yes, it is a priority for the largest single recreation and SUMMER 2012 |

parks department in the country, and it’s not going to just start and stop with me. We’re going to continue to do this. Massie: How many inclusive playgrounds has the city built with Shane’s Inspiration? Mukri: I’m proud to say that we’ve been involved with Shane’s Inspiration on 21 projects so far. That’s 21 playgrounds citywide, and I hope it doesn’t stop there. Shane’s Inspiration doesn’t just design and build playgrounds, they actually program playgrounds. We have an agency whose mission is to bring together families and communities. Teach. Break down barriers. And we should be using these playgrounds as the social context in a community crossroads so that everybody has an opportunity to witness firsthand what life is really all about. Massie: Tell us a little bit more about what it means to “program” a playground. What does that look and feel like? Mukri: We can build many inclusive playgrounds throughout the city, but unless we can bring both kids who are disabled and typically abled together to break down the barriers, these playgrounds won’t have the biggest impact. So programming starts with an educational component in the schools to identify first13 | INSPIRING PLAY



hand the preconceived notions that kids have. Then bring them together, partner them, understand them. Kids have to understand each other’s abilities and disabilities. And Shane’s Inspiration does that better than any, any of the 501(c)(3) or nonprofits that we deal with. They get it all. They developed it. This is their plan. Between the educational component and bringing kids together on these playgrounds, you can actually witness change firsthand and it’s a lasting change. Programming is key if we are going to make a lasting difference with these playgrounds. And be part of the lasting legacy. Massie: Have you personally witnessed an ablebodied child making a change to accept a child with a disability? Mukri: Yes. The beauty of my department and of being in charge of this great agency is that I get to visit our parks and witness Shane’s Inspiration play dates. It is a remarkable transformation, because all of us have preconceived notions of what a disability is. There is a bit of fear—it’s different and unknown. Some arrive thinking, “Is it contagious?” “Is it going to affect me?” That’s where the educational component enters and it becomes an intellectual transition. Once everyone gets to the park and the kids are paired up, they undergo a personal and emotional transition. You can actually see both the child with the disability and the child without begin to understand each other. It’s a catharsis. You can actually see and witness firsthand both parties making this transition. Massie: You mentioned fear. What is the fear factor? INSPIRING PLAY | 14

ABOVE & OPPOSITE: Jon Kirk Mukri and Cole Massie meet at Westside Neighborhood Park in Los Angeles to discuss the importance of inclusive play while Massie’s assistance dog, Ilia, listens in.

Mukri: It’s anyone different from us. When a child interacts with another child who’s different from him—maybe a different color, a different religion, a disability, he’s out of his comfort zone. Adults understand this, but for a child that fear factor is real. And we have to address it as a real issue if we are going to maximize the interactions on the playground. Massie: Other major cities have inclusive playgrounds that are up and running. What distinguishes Los Angeles? What family programs and services have been implemented in L.A. playgrounds to make them special? Mukri: It starts with understanding the needs and getting the entire community, typically abled and those with disabilities, involved in the planning

stages—the design, the layout, the equipment, the sensory walls. And with every playground we build we learn more and improve on the next one. I think we have the best parks system nationally and internationally because of that. We want you to use the playgrounds. We want everybody to come here. Using Shane’s Inspiration as the bridge between the two worlds has not only distinguished us, but I firmly believe that we’ve become the international leaders in inclusive play. And we will continue to be. Massie: How do these parks impact families? What is the public response? Mukri: When I was growing up, a child with disabilities was all but hidden from the general public. Even today there are cultures and communities that

want to keep them hidden. How do we combat this? We have a safe, nonthreatening environment where everybody can come out and play. When parents see their child smile and they see the other children smile, they realize on a personal level that everything’s OK. I have not had one negative comment about these playgrounds from any community. They understand the mission and our goals. In some cases we have opened a whole new world to them. We want them to know that we are committed to this goal and that it’s important to all of us. Massie: How do you think these playgrounds and educational programs impact children without disabilities? Mukri: Typically abled children learn that kids are kids. Once they get to know each other, they realize that kids are all the same inside. They have the same hopes, the same dreams, the same aspirations. I really believe typically abled children will come to SUMMER 2012 |

understand the true value of life and have a greater appreciation of who they are. In 10 to 15 years from now, when these kids become parents, we’re going to see a whole different parenting strategy because of what they learned early on from this playground interaction.

all of us. I cannot tell you enough how strongly I feel about this mission. We are going to see more and more of our veterans coming back who are going to survive very debilitating injuries and still want to be active parents. These playgrounds are just perfect for that.

Massie: As a veteran and someone who has seen people who have lost limbs and suffered severe injury, what affect do you feel these playgrounds have had on parents or adults with disabilities?

Massie: What is your vision for the future of children and adults with disabilities, and these playgrounds?

Mukri: As a veteran I feel very strongly about this. Advances in medical technology now save countless lives on the battlefield, but the result is that many veterans now come back with severe disabilities. These playgrounds provide the opportunity for them to interact and play with their kids as any other parent would. Disabilities don't distinguish between adults and children. So when you create playgrounds where they can interact, it levels the playing field for

Mukri: I believe the next generation of playgrounds will continue to expand on the “normal” disabilities. We now have sensory walls where children who don’t process information as quickly or as soundly as typically abled children do, can sit down and play and understand and feel. Playgrounds will continue to evolve and we’re going to have to evolve with them. The future is unlimited. Massie: When you were growing up, did anything like this exist? 15 | INSPIRING PLAY



Mukri: When I was a kid we had stainlesssteel playgrounds, which were hazardous even for typically abled children. They were designed more for looks than functionality. Today we’re incorporating both. Massie: We all know that funding is limited in the public sector. Do you see corporate sponsorship as an option? Mukri: Public funding has been decreasing since 2007 because the overall economy has gone down. Corporate and private sponsorship is our future. We have to get out there and let them know we need their help. Corporations are actually benefitting themselves by sponsoring these playgrounds and the educational components of Shane’s Inspiration. By doing everything they can right now, they are developing a whole new group of people who will use their goods and services. Here in Los Angeles, the Department of Recreation and Parks has a section dedicated solely to sponsorship and partnerships. If we’re going to continue to provide services at the quality level that we want to, it’s critical that we develop these longterm relationships with both forprofit and nonprofit agencies. Massie: Are there drawbacks to depending so heavily on corporate sponsorship? Mukri: There’s always a risk, which is why we need a long-term agreement— three to 10 years. You can’t become dependent for programming and operational maintenance monies on one-time donations, because they may not be there the following year. We can’t do it all by ourselves. CorINSPIRING PLAY | 16

ABOVE: Westside Park incorporates intricate sensory wall play, a important element at many of the playgrounds that Los Angeles has built. RIGHT: One of the many types of creative climbers that are built into an inclusive playground.

porate sponsors need to understand that we depend on them and that they are going to have to be here for the long haul. It can be a positive relationship if we do it correctly. But corporate sponsorships and partnerships will be crucial going forward Massie: What do you say to corporations that think of parks as a luxury, not an absolute necessity for our children? Mukri: Parks are a necessity in any culture,

and be part of this new renaissance. We have the statistics. We don't need to do any more studies about the positive value of parks. If it’s an education issue with these corporate sponsors or these naysayers, I'll be the first one to pound on their doors and let them know. Massie: How do inclusive playgrounds and parks affect how new generations see kids with disabilities, not only in the community, but globally? Mukri: These playgrounds will have a lasting impact. We will have taught a whole generation of youth to look at children and adults with disabilities in a different way. I hope to be around at some future time to ask people, “Hey, when you were part of the Shane’s Inspiration program 10-, 15- or 20-years ago, what impact has it had on your life now?” Because I think the long-term effect is going to be profound. I cannot believe we won’t be a better city and a better nation with the engagements we’re having at the local park level. Think of it. This is so easy. ABOVE: D-ring links lead children to a Disc Challenge bridge. LEFT: More all-important sensory nooks that all children love at the safari-themed playground.

in any city. You can see for yourself [gestures] that people in this park are using the exercise equipment, sitting down talking, or reading under a tree. They are enjoying nature. So there is a physical aspect and there is a real tangible aspect in crime prevention. If we get our youth involved in positive activities early on, they are not out on the streets. Playgrounds are where you learn problem resolution at an early age. You learn how to play together. You learn how to imagine. That’s what we want to do: We want to invite children of all abilities, all financial backgrounds, all ethnicities to come to the park SUMMER 2012 |

Massie: You’ve already stated that Los Angeles is the global leader in inclusive playgrounds, how do you see yourself as being a champion, a leader, of this mission? Mukri: I truly believe in this program. With Tiffany Harris and Brad Thornton [Director of Project Development for Shane’s Inspiration], I’ve had the opportunity to go out and speak on its behalf both nationally and internationally. And I will continue to do so. I don’t want to think of myself as the leader, I just want to think of myself as part of the catalyst for change by being out there. Oftentimes on these trips, I pay my own way. I can’t ask the city to pay for it. I’m not going to ask the foundation to pay for it. This is just something I 17 | INSPIRING PLAY



believe in, and I want to be a champion, I want to be a catalyst, and I want to continue because I want to see kids who are disabled blossom. I want to see them become the best they can be. And this all starts here. It starts now. Massie: Are you a parent? Mukri: I am. Massie: From a parent’s point of view, how do you see this mission? Mukri: I have four wonderful kids and six grandchildren. As a parent, I wish I would have had the same opportunity when I was young. I’ve learned so much with this program and dealing with it in every aspect. And as a parent, I’m proud to have had some ability to influence the future of the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks with these playgrounds. Massie: If you could go back in time and speak to the neighbor’s child you knew so many years ago, the one who was hidden away, what would you say to him now? Mukri: With my knowledge of disabilities and what goes on inside a child or youth who is disabled, I would have embraced him more and invited him out. He may never have been able to participate in some of our activities, but I would have showed him that he was welcome, that I understood and saw him as a real person. It’s emotional to look back at all the opportunities I had as a young child to interact and didn’t INSPIRING PLAY | 18

ABOVE: Westside Park offers plenty of space for children of all abilities to explore and play. It even has an adult fitness section close by that inspires play in all.

take them. We just didn’t know; our parents didn’t know. Polio was probably the number one killer when I was growing up. We just didn’t understand it, so you kept away from kids who had been affected by it. Nowadays it would’ve been a lot different for all of us. Massie: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Mukri: I’d like to thank Shane’s Inspiration for inviting me to be a part it. I applaud everyone for doing what they're doing. Cole Massie lives in California with his mom, dad and Super Assistance Dog, Ilia. He has cerebral palsy and is an avid inclusive play advocate. He can be reached at | SUMMER 2012

Leading Consciously. Living Consciously.™


week before Mother’s Day 2001, we were looking for a location to celebrate the event with various factions of our extended family. As with any family, there were relatives that lived closer and others farther away. Our idea was to find a place that everyone would enjoy and one that was easy to get to without having to burden any one household with all things that go along with family gatherings. Two of the women in our family, including my wife, were new mothers with toddlers in tow. We also knew that we would need to cater to the interests of at least three and maybe even four generations of family. We were looking at about an 80year age spread. With nice weather on the forecast for Sunday, we opted for a picnic, but the question was, “Where?” We’d done the usual parks, playgrounds and beaches in the past. So we thought it would be nice to try some place just a little different. My wife had heard of a new playground not too far from where we lived. It was called Shane’s Inspiration, and all I’d heard was that it was a park designed for “kids with disabilities.” My wife convinced me it was a good place to try. The fact that it was geographically central for most of our family was a bonus. For the sake of full disclosure, I’m not a guy who is into most of the “forced family fun” events that come along. There’s always drama somewhere in the family. The food is always too spicy, or not spicy enough, or too something. I generally find myself on the periphery of the gathINSPIRING PLAY | 20

ering. And this time, as a new dad, I saw my role on Mother’s Day as part pack mule and part errand boy. We arrived at Shane’s Inspiration sometime midmorning and staked out a nice spot for the family. The picnic tables were taken, so we spread our blankets out on a nice piece of grass and set up camp. This included chairs, playpens, kid toys, ice chests and about a million other things. I am pretty sure the neighbors thought we were moving out when I loaded the car that morning. Once the rest of the family began to arrive, there were hugs and flowers as well as the constant squeezing of babies’ cheeks and baby talk by adults. Hey, this was the first real Mother’s Day for some and a first time for a few grandmas, too. As was my typical M.O., I kept to the outer circles of conversation. I’d occasionally venture into the inner circle for a fresh soda or some potato salad, and then I’d head right back out to my safe zone. Once the picnic was in full swing, I finally had the chance to breakaway from the many conversations and really notice Shane’s Inspiration. It’s a playground within a park and huge park at that. It’s part of a large city park where you can play golf, ride horses, ride merry-go-rounds, ride miniature trains, climb on full sized trains, go to the zoo and do about a zillion other things. One might think that another playground would be easily lost. Ah, not so much.

REVELATION #1 A playground for disabled kids, eh? Where were they? My cro-magnon naiveté led me to believe it would be | SUMMER 2012

How a new father found out that parks and playgrounds aren’t just for kids. They’re miraculous tools to help us connect with those we know and love.


SUMMER 2012 |


yarmulkes and bandana headbands. There were kids with no head covers, and one kid’s mother wore a burka while another’s dad wore a turban. We’re talking serious melting pot! What I realized was that this playground completely transcended common culture. The culture at Shane’s Inspiration was to simply play! To those playing, nothing else mattered: not skin color, not language, not income, not education, not physical ability.

“Isawfirsthandhow playcanreally transcendusall.” a playground full of wheelchairs and walkers. It wasn’t. There was one boy in a pediatric walker, and there was a girl in a wheelchair yelling into an upside-down funnel to her brother below the bridge section where she sat. Most of the other hundred-plus kids there were abled-bodied. As I walked into the play area, I noticed something else: this was an incredible playground. It had squishy ground, things to climb on, structures to feel, holes in panels to stick your head through, walls, high-backed swings, slides, springs, places to run and places to hide. I realized this was a place for kids of all abilities!

REVELATION #2 Shane’s Inspiration is about as centrally located in the city of Los Angeles as a place can be. It’s just a stone’s throw away from an intersection of several busy freeways, so access to it is easy from virtually any direction. As I strolled through the play area (and the truth be told, on each of the play structures), I saw kids and families of every kind. I saw kids of every race and color. I heard languages that I recognized and others that sounded Greeker than Greek. There were kids with cowboy hats and Cowboys’ jerseys. There were kids with baseball caps, INSPIRING PLAY | 22


The first two revelations were pretty big for me. I was really impressed with the playground, not only as a place to play but also at its ability to put everyone on common ground, and a really fun common ground at that. I, too, became a kid again, losing myself on the playground. Had I been 10, I would have pretended to have been on a pirate ship, or maybe a spaceship, or maybe even a pirate spaceship. I remember seeing a little girl trip and I feared immediate screams of pain would follow. However, she leapt off the squishy rubber ground and jumped back into the fray. As I rounded a corner of yet another cool play structure that was full of holes and spinning wheels, I saw the most moving thing I would see that Mother’s Day. It was an elderly man in a wheelchair right up in the middle of the “fort” part of the structure, playing alongside his grandson! It was at that moment that I really got what the whole thing was about. At any other playground, this man would have been relegated to the sidelines, figuratively and literally. He would have been a spectator in his grandson’s life. But here he was a participant, and an equal participant at that. He was playing alongside his buddy, his partner in crime, his compatriot. They were, along with about a dozen other kids in the immediate area, a band of brothers.

THE GIFT I realized that Shane’s Inspiration is a beautiful gift to the city I live in. Every man, woman and child there was enriched by the gift of play. Every kid playing was given the gift of play. Every parent, playing or not, received the gift either directly or through their children. The grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends and family members all enjoyed the play that day. The powerful moment that I witnessed between the boy and his grandfather may have been lost on some, but it changed me. The smile on the grandfather’s face was so full of emotion. That Mother’s Day was going to be one they (and I) would both remember. Selfishly, I have to say I got the best of it. I was there, a proud new father, looking forward to the time when my then-infant daughter was old enough to laugh, play and imagine with me. I was a kid again, playing on the playground myself. I got to really see just how special this playground, and play, were for all of us that day. I’ve also learned about (and hopefully since corrected) my own biases about people of different abilities. I saw first hand how play can really transcend us all. If you have never been to an inclusive playground like Shane’s Inspiration, give yourself the gift. Find a playground and just go play. Go when it’s busy or when it’s not. Go early or go late. It really doesn’t matter, as long as you go. And if you don’t have one near, then band together with some other likeminded friends and make one happen in your community. It may not be easy, but it’s not as hard as you think. And I guarantee it will be worth it. William Colinas is a husband, a father, a freelance writer and a marketing consultant. He and his family continue to enjoy Shane’s Inspiration and other inclusive parks around the greater Los Angeles area. | SUMMER 2012

I Want O


One, Too!

How does a Champion Group get an inclusive playground built in their community? Here are 5 steps that Shane’s Inspiration will help with to bring the “how-to’s” of Design, Fundraising Expertise and Programming to a community.



n interesting thing happens when adults see an inclusive playground. Most adults say to themselves, “How cool! They didn’t have anything like that when I was growing up. I want to play there, too!” Chances are they don’t even realize that they’re looking at an inclusive playground—a playground with real purpose and meaning that is accessible to all children. Imagine what children think when they see one: great ramps, wonderful slides, crazy-looking swings and raised sand bowls. The ground is made of squishy foam and has play equipment they’ve never seen anywhere else. They see a child in a wheelchair at the top of a ramp. She has a huge smile as she steers a pretend sailboat into a pretend harbor. That’s the “ah-ha” moment, and you begin to wonder: “How did this playground get built?” You may even ponder what the back story is? Who made it? Are there others? Was it hard to build? Expensive? Invariably you recognize that this is a wonderful project, and you say to yourself, “I want one, too!”

SUMMER 2012 |


I Want One, Too! HOW DO YOU START? Getting an inclusive playground built is a big project and a lot of work. The process can take up to two years. But if the money is available and the necessary players are on board, design and funding can take as little as four months and the building can start. On a fast track, a playground can be completed in eight months, though that scenario is rare. While there are many steps to building an inclusive playground and no two processes are identical, there are five main steps involved in developing and building an inclusive playground. Understanding these steps and what needs to be accomplished in each will go a long way into making your efforts successful. We’ve outlined the basic process here so you have a better understanding of the time, process and procedures needed to bring such a playground to life.

Step 1

GATHERING CHAMPIONS & INITIAL RESEARCH The process begins with a “Champion Group.” The champion group is usually comprised of four to five people made up of the friends and family members of a child with disabilities. It can even be mothers and fathers who don’t have a child with a disability but have seen or heard about the playgrounds. “These parents get involved in the cause and they can’t believe there isn’t a playground for children of all abilities to play at within their community,” explains Brad Thornton, director of project development at Shane’s Inspiration. This champion group will form the core group that will drive the process, but it’s very difficult to go it alone. That’s why most successful inclusive playgrounds are created by a partnership of both the champion INSPIRING PLAY | 26

group and an organization such as Shane’s Inspiration, one of the world leaders in the design and creation of inclusive play facilities, education and programming. But why should a community or champion group contact Shane’s Inspiration? Shane’s doesn’t just help design and build a playground and walk away. They work as a team to get the project accomplished and then stick around to help educate the community on how to eliminate bias toward children with disabilities. During this time, the champion group continues to take form. It may involve individuals, families, neighbors, groups, organizations, schools, or even governmental agencies. It’s also at this time that Shane’s Inspiration begins its own background research. By researching, assessing and prioritizing its findings and then sharing them with the champion group, plans will begin to take shape. Location selection happens during this time, but it’s not just a matter of picking a spot. What’s there now? Is there enough space available? At what cost? Is it close to the community that will be most likely to use it? As a part of the location selection process, Shane’s helps to identify the different entities that will need to be contacted, communicated with and even courted. This may be include government agencies, city managers, park departments or others. The goal of Step One is to initiate all the due-diligence efforts that will be needed along the way.

Step 2


Armed with local data, historical information and data, the champion group and Shane’s Inspiration begin the approval process. This can be a short time or a very long one.

Things To Think About n Existing playgrounds cannot be converted to be inclusive playgrounds by simply having pieces of equipment bolted on or retrofitted. The equipment cannot be guaranteed and safety becomes a major issue. n If a non-inclusive playground already exists, it will be more cost effective for the champion group and community to use the existing footprint of the old playground and have Shane’s Inspiration design to that established footprint. Then, the old playground equipment is completely removed and replaced with the newly designed and inclusive playground. n Shane’s Inspiration looks at every playground as a “legacy project” that will last for years. Shane’s Inspiration refers quality manufacturers and contractors to ensure the playground lives up to the high standards that SI is known for. n By the end of the building process, Shane’s Inspiration is part of this new inclusive play community. They never leave a champion group or community hanging with just a playground. They have many programs and fundraising events to help educate the community. Shane’s Inspiration is always there to help. n Incorporating “phases” of building playgrounds is possible. This has been quite effective as funds become available from corporate sponsors (e.g.: a community starts with a core playground and then adds an additional section of the playground each year over the following three years).—J.H. | SUMMER 2012

There are a number of factors that can impact the group’s ability to get the necessary approvals—the makeup of your group, the makeup of the community, obtaining local government buy-in and city policies and procedures. All of these play an important part through the whole approval process. The key to success in Step Two is in doing the homework, finding the right governing entities and budgets, and approaching them in the right order. Because of its vast experience in planning and creating inclusive playgrounds and meeting with

countless city officials, Shane’s can be a real partner for champion groups during this step.

Step 3


As approvals come in, the efforts begin to shift toward developing the actual play space. Shane’s has learned that in order to build a successful inclusive playground, the champion group must reach out to many community constituents. Building community and consensus is critical. This Step includes meetings and other sponsored events to get the information out and solicit feedback. Over the years, Shane’s has learned that allowing friends, neighbors, parents, teachers, professionals or organizations that work with chilSUMMER 2012 |

dren, and city managers to have a voice is the best way to build community and consensus.

Step 4


To build an inclusive playground, money will need to be raised. This is another area where Shane’s is a champion group’s best friend. They have all the “What Works and How To’s” with regard to funding opportunities, fundraising and grant writing (of which Shane’s has all the templates to assist). A playground price tag can range from a few hundred thousand dollars to over a million. For some, it may seem an impossible amount knowing that bake sales and car washes can only go so far. Thank goodness fundraising can take on many forms. One format that has proven to be very successful is a fundraising salon or mixer. Not only does this help bring in money, but it also serves as a way of recruiting more onto your team of champions. This will help identify more people who are willing to work for the success of the project. Sometimes the opening up of a Rolodex is far more valuable than simply writing a check. While some groups may be hesitant to tap into local, state or even federal funds, in today’s economy, champion groups need to explore as many options as possible. If there are any government funds to be had, it’s usually very minimal. Another form of funding partners that are easier to find are “funding champions.” These can be individuals, families, foundations, organizations or even corporations who step up to the plate and take on some of the heavy lifting of fundraising.

Step 5

BUILDING THE INCLUSIVE PLAYGROUND...AND BEYOND With a champion group in place, approvals in hand, committed funds set up and approved designs, the play-

ground is ready for construction. Yay! This step is characterized by project management, which can be taken on by any one of several different entities. In some cases, municipalities will require that they manage the bidding and construction, while others will avoid it. Shane’s is very experienced in playground project management, and can advise groups or even assume the project management for the playground construction. A mistake that many groups make is the “build it and they will come” syndrome. While many playgrounds will find immediate use and community success, others are slow starters. A major thrust of the Shane’s Inspiration effort begins at this point. The organization has the goal to create on-going educational programs to ensure inclusion, integration and success within the local community. Shane’s goes into the community and works with it on the inclusion education program that Shane’s Inspiration has created. This is the multi-faceted, free Together We Are Able® Education Program that reaches out to local teachers, principals and schools to help bring children of all abilities together to play at the playground. Shane’s Inspiration has all the templates and “how-to’s” on getting the community and area schools involved. Ongoing events help keep the playground thriving and Shane’s is there to help with a blueprint.

ARE YOU READY? Championing an inclusive playground will take time, effort, stamina, and money. Working as a team, Shane’s has proven it can happen, and has proven it more than 70 times with various champion groups. Is yours next? Jerri Hemsworth is the editor and publisher of Inspiring Play Magazine. She lives with her husband and daughter in Los Angeles. 27 | INSPIRING PLAY

Kid Play

Where young folks can express themselves and inspire others with what they like and how they like to play.

A Sibling’s Perspective On Inclusion By Nadav S.




efore we found out about Shane’s Inspiration, my sister, Adina, and I would go to a park near my house where I would have the time of my life going on the jungle gym, slides and swings. What I wasn’t paying attention to was that my sister, Adina, needed help from my parents to get up to the slides or get pushed on the swings. Then we found Shane’s [Inspiration playground in Los Angeles, Calif.]. On the accessible playgrounds, Adina could get her wheelchair up and down the ramps and play with the playground equipment that was made to be used by everyone, disabled or not. Shane’s Inspiration meant I could play with my sister on the playground instead of having her watch me play while my mom or dad pushed her on the swing. I think inclusive play is important for everyone to be a part of, whether they are disabled, know someone who is disabled, or just want to play with a kid and make their day. If they are disabled it gives them a chance to play with able-bodied kids as equals and just enjoy being independent on a playground. For people who know someone who is disabled, especially a close family member, like my case,

Adina and Nadav played together at many of the playgrounds in Los Angeles that Shane’s Inspiration helped plan, design and build. This one is Aidan’s Place in West Los Angeles.

Shane’s Inspiration gives us the chance to play with them rather than having to help them with what seems like ordinary tasks for us. And for people who don’t know someone that is disabled, it is a wonderful opportunity to meet new people and learn that just because a person can’t walk doesn’t mean that they don’t think the same or feel the same way that we do. In my mind there are two extremely important things about Shane’s Inspiration and inclusive play. The first one is gaining the

knowledge of disabled people. Playing with them helps us realize that we are all the same, whether we are able-bodied, in a wheelchair, or have another disability. The second thing is it gives disabled kids a chance to feel like everyone else. What I realized by going to the Shane’s parks with Adina was that although she loved the playgrounds, that wasn’t her favorite part. The best feeling for her was that she and I could play together, and not be separated by physical boundaries. • | SUMMER 2012

Inspired By Elephants


By Libby H. — age 12

lephants are a joy to watch when they play with each other. Baby elephants love to play pushing games with their parents. I’ve even seen baby elephants that choose an item that they like to carry around with them. I know of one baby elephant in a


Wildlife Rescue in Africa that loves to carry around an umbrella. Elephants love to roll around in mud and dirt! These are a few things that keep them happy during the day. I really enjoy drawing elephants, especially baby ones. •

Swing Fun

Going My Highest

By Sydney H. — age 12

By Schuyler H. — age 10


wings are my favorite type of playground equipment. I like the swings because I enjoy trying to go my highest and feeling the cool breeze on a hot day. I also like it when my sister or friend goes on the swing next to me and we try to go higher than each other. I could spend hours on the swings at the park though it is fun to play on different things as well.


y favorite activity on a playground is the swings. They make me feel like I’m flying in the air like a big birdie. I like how any kid with a disability or without one can enjoy themselves on the swings as well.

SUMMER 2012 |


Hey Kids! Whatinspiresyoutoplay?Whatisyourfavoritethingto doattheplayground?Doyouhaveapictureordrawingof whatyouliketodowhenyouplay?Wewanttoknowand we’llpublishitinthemagazine! Email us your story or picture (or both) at:


Profile for Jerri Hemsworth

Inspiring Play Magazine Summer 2012  

How To Champion An Inclusive Playground In Your Community. How Los Angeles Has Made Inclusive Play A Priority. We've Got An Inclusive Playgr...

Inspiring Play Magazine Summer 2012  

How To Champion An Inclusive Playground In Your Community. How Los Angeles Has Made Inclusive Play A Priority. We've Got An Inclusive Playgr...