Outdoor Play Activity Center

Designers: Jacqueline L. Anderson, Jialing Kim Png, Ying Min Wang
Client Coordinator: Diane Scoggins, Hilltop Home
Supervising Professor: Larry Bohs

A play activity center has been designed to stimulate the senses of children with very limited physical and cognitive abilities in an outdoor setting. The device consists of a frame structure with 5 activity stations and 9 different activities. The frame structure is weatherproof and height adjustable and can be easily dismantled for storage. The activities stimulate the visual, auditory and tactile senses as well as reinforce the sense of cause and effect. These activities are interchangeable and removable for cleaning or storage. The device is inexpensive, easy to modify and clean, and suitable for children who lack the physical and mental abilities to enjoy commercially available playgrounds.

This device will enable the residents at the Hilltop Home, a private, nonprofit residential center that serves children with profound developmental disabilities, to engage in outdoor play activities. The device can be easily modified to include other activities in the future. The client coordinator, Diane Scoggins, commented: “We have looked for many years for playground equipment that would address the needs of our children, but we have never found anything that fits the bill’. Our new play station has opened up a whole world of fun for our children. Not only are the play activities colorful and appealing, they are also accessible and easily activated by our children. The variety of activities stimulates all the senses, which helps our children learn to explore and to interact with their environment. The play station opens up a whole world of outdoor, recreational activities for our children and will definitely allow (the) children to play more independently.”

The Outdoor Play Activity Center (Figure 1) consists of five activity stations, allowing five children in wheelchairs to play simultaneously. Nine interchangeable activities are provided.

The frame is constructed from 1 1/4″ red furniture-grade PVC. To provide stability but also allow the device to be removed if necessary, the 5′ long vertical posts of the frame are inserted into 12″ long stainless steel sleeves, 2″ in diameter, which are submerged into holes in the ground, made with a garden auger and drill. The six vertical pipes are connected via L- or T-joints to similar PVC beams, 32.5″ long, parallel to the ground. The resulting height of the PVC beams is 4′. Five green powder-coated clothesline hooks are evenly spaced on the vertical posts, 26″ to 44″ above ground. Each hook extends 6″ in front of the vertical post, so that the wheelchairs can remain on the flat concrete patio, away from the adjacent grass slope.

For each activity station, a 36″ long, 1/2″ PVC pipe is supported at each end by the clothesline hooks. Two of the nine activities are directly connected to these horizontal activity bars. The remaining activities are connected to the activity bars via custom attachments with three components. A nylon strap loops around the PVC bar and extends 5″ to a plastic buckle. This buckle allows length adjustment of the nylon strap. The other end of the nylon strap loops through the terminal link of an 8″ segment of garden-grade plastic chain. The other terminal link of this chain attaches to a connecting device, either a metal key ring or a plastic latch, which attaches to the activity.

A variety of activities were designed to meet the needs of the client. The designs were inspired by our advisor and by toys currently on the market. All the activities are visually stimulating as they are brightly colored. Three of the activities stimulate the tactile sense. Activity A consists of strings of plastic beads hung vertically from a dowel rod. Activity B is a series of three rubber balls of varying textures. Activity C uses a commercially available children’s toy that vibrates and talks when activated. This toy was switch adapted with a standard 1/8″ phone jack so that vibration and sound occur only upon pressing the switch. Five other activities also reinforce the sense of cause and effect. Activity D is a commercially available bubble maker that was switch adapted to produce bubbles when the switch is pressed. Activity E consists of painted wooden balls within a clear plastic container. The container is attached directly to the horizontal activity bar and has three large knobs around the perimeter. When the user pushes the knobs, the container rotates and balls roll around within. Activities F, G, and H reinforce the sense of cause and effect and stimulate the auditory sense. Activity F is a “rainstick.” A clear plastic tube containing beads and obstructions to the beads is attached directly to the horizontal activity bar. When the user rotates the tube about the horizontal bar, beads fall from one end to the other, creating a sound similar to rain. Activity G consists of 7 hand bells, each producing a different note when hit. Activity H is constructed from 4 plastic Christmas ornaments, each containing small beads that rattle when the ornaments are swung. Activity I consists of a large colorful wooden butterfly attached to a commercially available wind chime. It stimulates the auditory sense.

Figure 2 shows two clients using the center. Cost of parts was approximately $600.

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