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"BEGIN" Helps Sightless Play

Photos and information supplied by Eric Torrey, Safeplay Systems




“Falling” down a slide is quite frightening for children who cannot see where they are headed or what awaits them at the end. The children experience the slide with an adult. Upon safely arriving at the bottom (a number of times), the “fun” of sliding is established. Still, that first slide by oneself has got to be scary.
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Behind a decorative security fence, next to a large parking garage, on a busy street in Atlanta, Georgia there is a little playground that does a very big job. The playground/outdoor classroom is an important part of the Center for the Visually Impaired (CVI) and its BEGIN program.

 




The Center for the Visually Impaired (CVI), founded in 1962 in Atlanta, is an accredited, private facility providing rehabilitation services for the blind or visually impaired.

 

Founded in 1962, CVI is an accredited, private facility providing rehabilitation services for the blind or visually impaired. CVI says it Independence with dignity and the preservation of self-worth are the primary goals of all services at the Center.

One of the programs offered at CVI is BEGIN (Babies Early Growth Intervention Network), a Pre-K program providing education and support for infants, preschoolers and their families. BEGIN combines individual training, preschool transition classes, and family information and support to help blind or visually impaired children reach their potential.

The Pre-K BEGIN program is aptly named. “When our children graduate from high school and go to college, that’s when we’ve succeeded,” says Anne McComiskey, M.Ed., BEGIN director.

 




Many children arrive at CVI afraid of stairs. Some have difficulty comprehending “stairs.” It takes guidance and patience for blind or sight-impaired children to navigate stairs on their own.

 

Development—On the Playground
For the BEGIN program, the playground holds a place of importance. Children blind or severely visually impaired at birth or in the formative preschool years have of course lost their most important source of sensory input. The CVI playground is an important teaching tool for children and their parents.

One important aspect of being on the playground is teaching these children how to interact with other children. Blind or visually impaired children do not have the advantage of learning about movement and ways to use playground equipment by watching other children. What sighted kids assimilate, without even thinking about it, the BEGIN children must be guided in learning these basic skills that other kids take for granted.

On a plot of ground measuring approximately 100 by 30 feet — on loan from and maintained by AT&T (formerly BellSouth) — is a custom-designed EcoPlay play structure with two slides; a climbing wall; a custom music panel touch-activated and powered by a small solar panel; two spring see-saws; a “teaching” playhouse; a play panel; a large faux rock structure; all types of wind chimes in various quadrants of the play area; and a Sensory Garden. Every part of the play area has its function.

 




Play panels and other landmarks in the playground help the children create a mental map. Different types of wind chimes located throughout the area are helpful references.

 

Sliding Isn’t Fun … At First
Understandably, many children arrive at CVI afraid of stairs. Some have difficulty comprehending “stairs.” Slides are even more terrifying for unsighted children. “Falling” down a slide is quite frightening for children who cannot see where they are headed or what awaits them at the end. With guidance, the children experience the slide. Upon safely arriving at the bottom (a number of times) the fun of sliding is learned. This provides motivation to tackle stairs.

 




The Sensory Garden is filled with safe, fragrant plants — rosemary, thyme, roses, gardenia bushes and plants with varied textures and shapes. The children are experiencing the smell and feel of rosemary here.

 

Play Panels
Play panels provide environmental landmarks. A teacher can help a child find the panel with the “squiggle lines,” then the child learns how to create a mental map. Different types of wind chimes located throughout the area are used as similar references.

 




One important aspect of being on the playground is teaching these children how to interact with other children.

 

Teaching Playhouse
The teaching playhouse has a real doorknob, latch and even a functional window, elements that would be deemed “unsafe” in a standard playground. But here, the functionality teaches children what these things are and how they work. Think about how to explain a “window” to a small child who can’t see one? Windows are too big to touch the entire thing, but that isn’t the case in the playhouse. And, what is a roof? On the playhouse, the roof can be felt, explored, understood.

 




The teaching playhouse has a real doorknob, latch and even a functional window, elements that would be deemed “unsafe” in a standard playground. Touching these objects and feeling how they operate is the best teacher.

 

Sensory Garden
The Sensory Garden is filled with safe, fragrant plants (rosemary, thyme, roses, gardenia bushes) and plants with varied textures and shapes.

The playground is located on a busy street, so the children are quite familiar with the sounds of traffic. With the use of Matchbox cars, the children “drive” all over the play rock. Imagine the difference this can make when transitioning into a kindergarten class with sighted children and be able to join in playing with sighted children.

As a private facility, funding is not always available for everything that wants doing. Because of this, the BEGIN playground has developed bit-by-bit over the years.

In 2002, the original large custom-designed play structure and two see-saws were installed, with wooden mulch safety surfacing.

In 2003 the mulch was removed and replaced with poured-in place rubber safety surfacing. A play panel structure was created to keep children away from a storm drain grate, while not impeding the flow of water into the grate during storms. In 2004 a sandbox and additional play panels were installed.

In 2005 a shade structure was added above the main play piece. The Sensory Garden was installed by volunteers working under the guidance and a grant from the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

By 2007 the sandbox was replaced by the “teaching playhouse,” and existing play panels reused as “walls.”

The wish list for future additions are a multisensory path (with materials like bricks, concrete, pebbles, wood, etc.) and a water feature.

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Playground Vendors/Supporters

  • Land: Loaned and maintained by AT&T
  • Playground Equipment: EcoPlay Playgrounds from Safeplay Systems
  • Shade Structure and Playground Rock: Superior International Industries
  • Safety Surfacing, Poured-In-Place Rubber: No Fault Sport Group
  • Sensory Garden: The Atlanta Botanical Garden

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November 18, 2019, 11:10 am PDT

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