Seattle Children’s PlayGarden is a beautifully designed, modern playground just south of Interstate 90. It’s also an inclusive place where kids with different abilities can create connections with each other, engage with nature and simply have fun.
The PlayGarden plays numerous roles, serving as a public park, a garden, a summer camp and preschool. The playground’s layout and structures are wheelchair-accessible, and include a climbable “volcano,” a tree fort and an arbor with sprinklers where kids can cool off on hot days. The most interesting element might be the playable Bongobenny Music Fence, designed by world-renowned artist Trimpin, that lets kids touch and tap metal bars that resonate with sound.
In addition to traditional play equipment, the playground has a water cistern and enclosed beehives, which are featured in PlayGarden’s nature-based camps and classes. The garden is filled with fruits, vegetables and flowers that kids can pick, and the park has a fully equipped kitchen with wheelchair-accessible cooking stations.
The park and playground space are open from dawn to dusk year-round, and during periodic “PlayDates,” kids can work with staff members, tending to the park’s bunnies and other animals and helping out in the garden.
The PlayGarden is the brainchild of now-executive director Liz Bullard, who was inspired by the Rusk Children’s PlayGarden in New York, a space created for interactive therapeutic play. In 2003, Seattle Parks and Recreation provided the south end of Colman Playfield for the project. By 2006, the PlayGarden began offering programs for kids, and the facilities were completed in 2010, when the preschool also opened.
Adana Protonentis, a parent and staff member at PlayGarden, says it’s a magical place. Protonentis first heard about the PlayGarden through a listserv for parents of kids with disabilities. She was struggling to find the best preschool for her son Langston, who was diagnosed with regressive autism and might struggle in a traditional environment. After learning about PlayGarden’s preschool and its emphasis on outdoor education, Protonentis knew it would be the perfect fit. Langston flourished outside and even regained his ability to speak.
Because of her overwhelmingly positive experience, Protonentis has since enrolled her daughter, 3-year-old Aurelia, who is developmentally typical.
“Teachers [here] know how to engage kids for their developmental needs,” Protonentis says. Kids with differential abilities go to school with abled and neurotypical kids, which means they get a much broader view of ability and what it means to be “normal.” When confronted with their classmates’ varied abilities, Protonentis says, PlayGarden kids see that differential ability is “neither good nor bad, it just is.”
Seattle Children’s PlayGarden is located at 1745 24th Ave. S. Learn more about PlayDates, camps, choir and preschool at childrensplaygarden.org.
See the PlayGarden in action in this video.
Read more articles from the May 2015 print edition of Seattle's Child.