Healthy Living in the North

Building spaces where everyone can play

Playground

Healthy community projects don’t happen overnight. Quesnel’s first accessible playground – with a grand opening scheduled for September 15, 2016 – provides a blueprint for success.

Brooke and MacKenzie are twin sisters who cannot play together at Quesnel’s playgrounds. While MacKenzie scampers up and down stairs and slides, Brooke’s chase stops the moment her wheelchair gets stuck in the pea gravel. To help the girls play together, Brooke’s parents carry her around the playground.

Brooke and MacKenzie’s situation is hardly unique, and neither is the fact that Quesnel didn’t, until recently, have any accessible playgrounds. Chances are the playground closest to you has pea gravel, steps, ladders, and other features that make it difficult for kids and adults alike to enjoy. Because it’s not just Brooke and MacKenzie who can’t play together. It’s the family with the baby stroller that can’t roll through the gravel to watch their toddler go down the slide; it’s the grandparents with walkers who are left watching grandkids from afar when a ledge gets in the way; it’s the children with leg braces who can only look on as their friends race over traditionally uneven surfaces.

But this is all about to change in Quesnel and, as it turns out, the answer to the question, “how can Brooke and MacKenzie play together?” provides a valuable blueprint of how a healthy community project can take shape in your town.

Two people assembling playground equipment.

The Quesnel Accessible Playground was a project four years in the making for Sandy Meidlinger (right), who was involved in the project team that made it happen.

Fresh from the excitement of a long-awaited playground build event on May 28, 2016, I chatted with Sandy Meidlinger with the Quesnel & District Child Development Centre, who tells the story from here:

This project started in 2012 when Brooke and MacKenzie’s mom came to me and asked for help to get an accessible playground built in Quesnel. I’m a member of the Parent Child Resource Team (a group of service providers and parents) and we agreed this would be a valuable long-term project for us to take on. Having a team was crucial! Our committee included parents, health care professionals, local agencies, government and school district representatives, and others.

When we asked community members for letters of support for this project, the response was overwhelming! Why? Until now, there was no playground in Quesnel accessible to people with mobility needs. I’m talking baby strollers, walkers, leg braces, scooters, and more. In Quesnel alone, there are over 100 children who, because of complex developmental profiles, can’t participate in many play activities on typical playgrounds. These kids are cut off from a typical family activity of playing at the park. An accessible playground increases physical activity levels for everyone, promotes inclusive family enjoyment, and helps children with mobility issues develop independence.

Volunteers assembling playground

On the day of the build, 25 volunteers and professionals came together to assemble the park.

Our first step was to present to the City of Quesnel and Cariboo Regional District joint planning committee. Both groups agreed in principle to support the idea. Connecting with government early was key to getting support for things later in the process like ongoing playground inspection and maintenance. There’s a wonderful legacy component to this project, too, as the city has committed to incorporating accessible aspects into all future park updates.

With government support in place, we looked for a location. The Quesnel & District Arts & Recreation Centre had an old playground in disrepair so we asked about making this the site of the new playground. The Centre and their governing bodies were on board! This location was ideal because it’s central and on a bus route; the Centre will be using the playground daily for inclusive programs; and they offer accessible parking, doors, and washrooms.

Levelling rubber surface.

The recycled rubber surface replaced pea gravel, which is difficult to use for those with mobility needs.

The next step was to research playground developers. We settled on Habitat Systems. They took our ideas and created a design. We then asked therapists, play specialists, parents, and children about the plan; Habitat tweaked the design. The final proposal was about more than just mobility – there are sensory toys, considerations for visual impairments, and other equipment for integrated, inclusive play.

We then started the long and sometimes frustrating work of fundraising. We wrote lots of grant proposals; I presented to local agencies; we wrote letters to local businesses; and we all chatted with anyone interested in accessibility. Our generous community really stepped up! We managed to fundraise over $200,000!

We finally got to the day of the build. About 25 volunteers and professionals spent 13 hours assembling the park. The recycled rubber surface was poured the following week. The park is open for use this summer and our grand opening is scheduled for September 15!

It’s hard to believe that it took four years but MacKenzie and Brooke – and hundreds of other Quesnel residents – are now able to play together! We now have a space where everyone can play.


The Quesnel Accessible Playground is still fundraising for its last few pieces. To support this project with a tax-deductible donation, contact Sandy Meidlinger at the Quesnel & District Child Development Centre: 250-992-2481, SandyM@QuesnelCDC.com

For project photos and a list of donors, visit the Quesnel Accessible Playground on Facebook.


This article first appeared in Healthier You magazine. Find the original story and lots of other information about accessibility in the Fall 2016 issue:

 

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog.

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Just stop and play

Mother and child walking in forest

“Outdoor active time builds confidence, autonomy and resilience, and helps children develop skills and solve problems while giving them the opportunity to learn their own interests and limits.”

With our busy lives and commitments to our children to be sure their everyday needs are met, we often forget to just stop and play with our children.

Today is a chance for us to look at the benefits of outdoor play. I want to encourage all caregivers to connect with their children outside, no matter what the weather forecast says! If it’s raining, put on your rubber boots and play in the rain and splash in the puddles. If the sun is poking through, slap on the sunscreen and go outside and play.

Encourage fun, self-directed, free-range play!

Today, children are often scheduled with structured activities such as hockey and soccer practices and piano lessons. Equally important to these scheduled opportunities is the free time for children to dream and explore their own limits. This outdoor active time builds confidence, autonomy and resilience and helps children develop skills and solve problems while giving them the opportunity to learn their own interests and limits.

Play – how much is the right amount?

The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend 180 minutes (3 hours) of daily physical activity for children ages 3-4 at any level of intensity. The guidelines then change for children ages 5 and up to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous play per day.

Unfortunately, only 14% of children are meeting these guidelines. This drops to only 5% who are meeting the guidelines for children aged 12-17.

How to play?

Reduce screen time. Unplug and play. Make playing and exploring our neighbourhoods the reward rather than more screen time. Let’s embrace the beauty of living in the north! Everything is so accessible and nature is all around us. And it’s free! This may mean letting the child take the lead. You may get a glimpse into what the world looks like through your child’s eyes: spending time bent over exploring the colour in the rocks or examining pussy willows that you revisit later as they become leaves throughout the spring.

The benefits of play are across the board

The most obvious is that it is fun, but play also helps release tension, develops imagination, and allows for problem-solving and mastering new concepts. Play builds self-esteem, leadership skills, and reduces anxiety. Playing socially builds on co-operation and sharing as well as increases our children’s ability to resolve conflict. Outdoor play helps with gross motor skills, which build strong hearts, muscles and bones. Being active everyday as a child helps develop a lifelong habit of daily exercise as an adult.

Finally, be a good role model. Live an active life and rediscover the fun and freedom of outside play. While encouraging the whole family to “wear the gear,” wear your helmet when biking or skateboarding together. Turn your cell off. Make play a priority. Set aside time every day for free play and a chance to connect and have fun with your child today.

Reflect back to your own childhood playtime. I want to encourage everyone to build those same quality experiences for our children today! Let’s get everyone outside and active, having fun while promoting safe, active outdoor play.

Sandra Sasaki

About Sandra Sasaki

Sandra is the Children’s First Manager. In this role, she supports local committees and groups in Prince George, Quesnel, the Robson Valley and Mackenzie to work together to assess, identify and plan for the unique needs of young children. Sandra has lived and worked most of her life in Prince George where she and her husband are active members of the community. She enjoys weightlifting and working out at the gym, painting, skiing, camping, and fishing. Most of all, she enjoys spending time with her family as she is the proud mother of three daughters and a grandmother of seven.

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Risky play and the freedom to roam

Take a moment and reflect back on your own childhood experiences.

  • What did you love to do?
  • Where were you?
  • Who were you with?
  • Why was this So. Much. Fun?!

If you look back on your own childhood memories of play, would any of that be considered unsafe today?

Boy beside a tree

Give kids the freedom to decide how high to climb! This spring, Denise’s key message for outdoor play is to value health & fun as much as we value safety.

To kick off the spring, I’m excited to talk about promoting active outdoor play with the message that we need to value health and fun as much as we value safety. The 2015 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth revealed that to contribute to the health and wellness of children today, it’s imperative to get our kids outside, to give them the freedom to roam, and to take risks in their play.

Risk is often seen as a bad word that makes many people nervous, but let’s explore that a bit. When we look at risk in play, we are talking about play that allows children to recognize and evaluate a challenge and then decide on a course of action according to their own abilities. This definition of risk in play allows for the thrill and excitement that we all cherish from our own childhood memories.

When are talking about risk in play, that doesn’t mean allowing children to court danger that could cause life-altering serious injury. Allowing for risky, active outdoor play is not about being negligent or reckless. It’s not about skating on a half-frozen lake, or sending a preschooler out to the park alone. We as adults and communities still have a responsibility to eliminate the hazards: those situations that a child cannot assess for themselves and offer no benefit to the play experience. It is about promoting “As safe as necessary, not as safe as possible” and encouraging the balance of valuing health and fun as much as we value safety.

This discussion often invokes a bit of panic in parents, caregivers and leaders who feel responsible for safety in their communities.

But again, what we are discussing here today is the balance between:

  • Eliminating and protecting our children from life-altering or life-threatening hazards while
  • Allowing for and, in fact, encouraging some of the risks that come with sending children outside to play.

Indeed, the 2015 ParticipACTION Report Card found that the biggest risk to children’s long term health and development is actually keeping kids indoors!

And so, with spring melting snow and bringing new colours back to our yards, parks and neighborhoods, let’s give children the freedom to decide how high to climb that tree, to explore the woods, get dirty, play hide & seek, wander, balance, tumble, rough-house, and experience the outdoors. Because the evidence tells us that when children are outside they:

  • Move more,
  • Sit less, and
  • Play for longer

and these are all associated with improved physical health and fitness as well as mental health, social wellness and fun. Exactly what memories are made of!

Denise Foucher

About Denise Foucher

Denise is an injury prevention coordinator with Northern Health’s population health team and is passionate about working towards health and wellness for everyone in Northern B.C. When not at work, Denise can be found out at the lake, walking her dog, planning her next travel adventure, or snuggled in a cozy chair with a good book.

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Bringing back play

Slow...adults playing

Play isn’t just for kids! Adults, bring back play.

Play is just for kids….right? Wrong! As adults, it’s sometimes easy for us to get bogged down in the stresses of everyday life and responsibilities. We may find ourselves being caught up in personal and professional duties, such as being someone’s parent or being someone’s employee, and losing sight of ourselves as individuals. We may forget the importance of self-care, and living a truly balanced life.

For me, play has become an integral part of my life. There is something about devoting time to just having fun that helps create a sense of light-heartedness, that feeling like I’m a kid again which keeps me positive, smiling and happy. Often when I come home from work, I feel exhausted. Instantly, my mind and body go to battle as I try hard to resist the urge to pull on my sweats, curl up on the couch with the remote and a bowl of popcorn, watching some mind-numbing reality TV. Instead, I walk through the door, my kids come running, they wrestle me to the ground, and somehow I am instantly transformed into a human horse, toting a three-year-old around the house on my back as she laughs hysterically. I can feel the stress leave my body and I begin to relax, recharge, and revitalize. Other days, play may take the form of camping trips, kayaking, team sports, building blanket tents with my kids, summer BBQs with friends, and above all enjoying life surrounded by the people I love, doing the things I love to do.

Experts seem to agree that free, open-ended, pointless play is important to people of all ages. We stand to reap several benefits from play such as release from stress and anxiety, enjoyment, and enhancement of memory and imagination, all of which can help us to stay mentally fit.

I encourage everyone to start looking at play differently and not as something that is exclusively owned by children. Give yourself permission to have fun and make it part of your daily routine. Your body, mind and spirit will thank you in the end.

When was the last time you truly played?

Maria Bunkowski

About Maria Bunkowski

Maria Bunkowski is the Community Response Nurse for mental health and addictions services in Prince Rupert. She has been nursing since 2006 with a background primarily in internal medicine, and is really enjoying the challenge that this new position brings. When she isn't working, Maria enjoys spending time with her young family, interior design, and exploring the great outdoors.

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