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#Goals: ‘Sensory’ Playground Designed For (And By) Kids With Special Needs Debuts in July

May 5, 2016Posted by Helaina Hovitz

Phelps Sprinkle’s full-time job is being parent to a 13-year-old daughter with sensory processing disorder.

His other full time job is working at Peacehaven Community Farm, a local sustainable farm that provides permanent housing and a supportive work environment for adults with special needs.

When he and his wife, Kate, heard that Greensboro, North Carolina’s new LeBauer Park would have a playground with equipment designed to accommodate children with physical disabilities, they got to work figuring out how they could personally make a significant contribution to the space.

They decided to create a public art installation designed for, and made in part by, children with sensory processing disorders, including those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, cerebral palsy and developmental challenges. To do so, the couple teamed up with architect Carrie Gault, designer Cynthia Frank, and local occupational therapist Meg Harris to create the “Peacehaven Sensory Space,” which will make its debut in July.

Many of the children in our community who have significant physical disabilities have much different responses to the sensory environment through sight, sound, touch, and movement,” Harris said. “We’ve tried to incorporate visual, auditory, and tactile features, in particular, as these are accessible to almost everyone.”

The torque of the installation itself will bring portions of the wall physically closer to children who may not be able to move their own bodies very easily, and there are many elements of the wall, which provide ways for people to satisfy sensory “cravings” through interaction with these components.

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Because some children have a hard time simply “reaching up,” the curve of the wall has been angled to create slight overhangs with easier access. Additionally, various textures of glass tile invite the children to run their hands along the wall, and “mosaic mandalas” each address one of the five senses.

The children helping create the wall used all sorts of tools to work with: clay shells, branches, vegetables and nuts, antique wooden type, and pattern rollers. Their circular tiles were cut, glazed, fired, and will be incorporated into the rainbow colored mosaic wave that runs along both sides of the wall.

“Hopefully the children who participated will return to the wall time and time again to search for the marks they made and take pride in their contribution,” said Frank.

“These days, most public spaces are physically-accessible via wheelchair ramps, wide doorways, and braille, but we are still a ways off from being ‘sensory accessible,'” Sprinkle added. “We hope to see more public spaces, not just artwork, but entire parks or buildings, designed with this kind of approach.”

Looks like they’re starting to see some traction already, as Greensboro’s Parks and Recreation Department just asked them to become involved in their park design.

To keep up with the Peacehaven Sensory Space at LeBauer Park when it opens this summer, or visit Peacehaven Community Farm on a Saturday workday to spend time with their workers, click here.

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