Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Natural play for all kids, in Sussex NB

Long post, but please do me a huge favour and read it, ok? OK.

This Sunday, July 26, Kraft will announce the four finalists in their Kraft Project Play contest for a $250,000 prize! Sussex's Discovery Park, which is the most amazing nature-inspired universally accessible playpark I've ever seen, is in the running and hopes to make the final 4, thanks to the hardworking committee from the Sussex Elementary Home & School and other community partners. After the grant the committee just received from the Enabling Access fund, the Kraft prize would allow construction on Discovery Park to start right away.

To help show the judges that our community is behind the Discovery Park project, and hopefully inspire them to shortlist it for the voting round, I'd like to ask you to do 3 very simple things:

1. Click this link, read about the Discovery Park plans and leave a comment saying why you think this project would be good for our community.

2. If you use Twitter, post a Tweet using the hashtag #KPP_DISCOVERYPARK saying why you support Discovery Park. 

3. Share this post with your Facebook and Twitter friends and even your real life friends. Tell them why you think this project, which will open up the play area to all kids, is important for our community, and ask them to comment, tweet, share. 

I want to tell you why this means so much to me. The initial pencil drawing, which through the efforts of a brilliant committee, has morphed into the amazing park plan you see represented here, was done by my wife Jodi at our dining room table, after she was asked to join the Home and School specifically to help with the grade 1&2 playground project. She took her idea  of a fully-accessible playpark to the committee, and one by one they all added their ideas to make Jodi's drawing even more accessible, to add as many natural elements as possible, and after countless hours, they came up with what I feel is, without any overstatement, the most amazing playpark you'll ever see. 

Of course you know that our oldest boy Eric lives with complex special needs, resulting in part from three massive strokes he experienced when he was 3 and 4 years old. Living with Eric has changed the way I look at the world. 

While there are improvements all the time, (and the Sussex area has been working very hard to open up the community to people with mobility issues), the world overall is not designed for people with any kind of disability. 

This is never more apparent than when you take your children to a playpark, and two of them have a blast using every piece of equipment, while the third gets bored quickly because maybe there is one swing for them, or maybe a ramp that goes up onto a structure where there usually isn't much for them to do when they get up there. 

I also imagine that if your kid has anxiety issues, or like Eric, has sensory processing problems, recess on the playpark might at times have a negative connotation.

There is also the issue of having older play partners.It  can be hard for grandparents to join in on the playground fun. And I'm finding it harder and harder to lift 60 lb Eric to the top of a slide (he LOVES slides).

The Discovery Park committee have thought long and hard about these issues and this park, in which 90% of the play features are universally accessible, addresses all of these concerns and more. The louder toys such as the musical garden, with real instruments for the kids to experiment with, are set away from the area that's made with quieter play in mind. 

The willow huts are a great place for a kid to have a little quiet time, too. The ramp to the top of the slide and the transfer station at the top make it easy to get a mobility device up, and to get down onto the slide in stages. Those transfer stations will be found in several areas around the playground, to make transfers easier from a chair, walker, or for someone who just finds it difficult to get to the ground. The extra wide slide is made so kids can have a race down, or a grandparent or other play partner can go down alongside a child who needs help. Surfaces are accessible (the wood chips you often see in parks, which are presented as accessible, are nearly impossible to get most mobility devices across). 

When we lived in Toronto, there were a couple of parks that had more accessible features. They were not as widely accessible as Discovery Park will be, but they were worth the drive. So drive we did. In order to allow both of our kids (Nicholas wasn't born yet!) to enjoy the playground experience as much as possible, we were willing to drive 45 minutes each way to get to these parks. I know Discovery Park will be that kind of destination for families in our wider region too.

You might think it's just a playpark, For families like ours and several others in the area, it's a life changer. 

When the committee launched the fundraising program for Discovery Park, they heard that Marc Garneau, Canada's first astronaut in space, was going to be in the area (his mother was born in Sussex), and they asked if he'd help launch the fundraising initiative. He agreed, and after reviewing the plans, he said to CTV News that Discovery Park appeals to him as a scientist, engineer and leader, because  it is "leading edge in the sense of thinking about what kind of playground environments children thrive in... It's unique here in Canada." This is a man who has spoken at countless schools across Canada, and even has two named after him. this is a man with a Ph. D. in Engineering. That's a hard endorsement to argue with.

(and so you don't think it's just a "special needs playpark", you should hear the reaction of the kids at the school when they look at the plans. This park is truly the future of playpark design, and design in general, because it has been imagined with ALL kids in mind. That's the point of universal design.)

So, thank you to those of you who read this far. I hope you'll help this project out with the three easy things I mentioned above. 

Let's show the Kraft Project Play judges that the Sussex area is excited about this amazing project.