Playground Fairy
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Remember being a kid?

Play dough game

Take a moment to sit back and close your eyes and remember what it was like to be a kid. You attended school; you probably walked there. You would come home and have a snack, and then you would run out and play. These are some of the best times and memories of childhood.

Chances are you have a little movie clip running through your mind — hopping on your bike, riding to the local playground and waiting to see who else might show up. Your movie clip may include going to a friend’s house and playing in their home or backyard. You might play kick-the-can, softball and other games; some would be physical while others might include make-believe play. Maybe you were a princess awaiting your handsome prince, or a brave pirate looking for treasure.

Your imagination took you too many special places. Aside from going to school, this is what you did– play! Play was your childhood work. And although you probably were not aware, this is where you built the foundation for your social, physical and cognitive skills. These are skills you use in everyday life.

All children learn from developmental learning and recreational hands-on-play. Hadley’s Park Projects encompass both parallel and cooperative play in a free and supervised environment. The ideas and visions of Hadley’s Park Projects have resulted in the development of theme-play playgrounds.

Often, a playground is considered as strictly physical. When the physical play is achieved, a structure’s limited appeal can lead to boredom. How can we add to the restrictions of physical play? Theme-play offers a creative challenge to the child’s imagination and encourages play for extended periods of time. Theme-play provides endless journeys of discovery and excitement. Think of what Disney did in creating a land from the imagination.

When children are given an “equal” playing field, they learn from each other through physical and cognitive growth. A child with a disability gains so much by playing with a typical able-bodied peer. What people don’t stop to think about is how the reverse is also important – to give able-bodied children a chance to interact with children with disabilities. Through this cooperative play, children learn at an early age that a young person with a disability is a child first, then a child with a disability second. Children see that people with disabilities have feelings and like to play, just like them. They learn to feel comfortable with people who have disabilities. Children who play together at Hadley’s Park learn empathy while learning to accept people for who they are at an early age. Hadley’s Park helps young people learn not to discriminate or be fearful of the disabled. It becomes a win-win situation and a teachable moment for all the participants.

I invite you to help your community and bring a fully inclusive playground to your area, follow along and I will show you the how to’s, all you need to do is get up and “go.” I’m challenging you! Does your community have a playground such as this? If not come on, what are you waiting for?

Hold on to your dreams!

Stand up and Hold On To Your Dream
Maybe this is your moment
Stand up and Hold On To Your Dream
You know no one can take it
There is a path it’s always been yours
And you have the right of passage
Signed in blood and sealed in tears
Sending you a message
Across the miles and thru the years
Stand up (and be there) and Hold On To Your Dream
With some faith and conviction

and don’t forget to Dream!

dreamphoto credit: Melody Campbell

What’s your dream?

Why worry about accessibility?

playground transfer station and child in walker, accessible?

Over five million children living in the United States have disabilities. For most of these children, the thrill of the playground is as foreign as a trip to the moon. To date most local playgrounds exclude these children.

I as the Playground Fairy am dedicated to the “true spirit of children”. The park and recreation industry vendors work to make playgrounds compliant; worrying too much about how many components it takes to meet minimal ADA guidelines. Contrary to popular belief, meeting these minimum guidelines does not make a playground fully inclusive! What is a transfer station anyhow? And just how many children with physical disabilities can get out of their wheelchairs, or put down their walkers or canes, and climb up a staircase to play on a particular piece of equipment? The answer is: not many. A full 10% of children with disabilities have a physical disability. Out of five million special needs children, that number represents a lot of kids!

Now assume that some of these children can climb their way up into a structure for play. There isn’t much more they can do besides crawl around the structure. Isn’t that degrading? This is not a solution if it continues to deny children with special needs equal access for play.

It is my belief that the spirit of play should always be for children of all abilities! Let’s take a moment to remember what it was like to be a kid. Why would anyone want just the minimal play opportunities for children? Twelve years ago in creating Hadley’s Park, the first fully inclusive playground in Maryland and one of the first in the country I raised the bar. I believe that in doing so we set new standards, and I hope to continue and help bring fun to every child. And remember, the thrill of a playground is for all!

Follow along if you would like to bring an inclusive playground to your area, or pass this blog information onto someone who you know would want to create a playground like this in your area. We will deal with everything from starting a nonprofit organization through what it takes to raise the funds to do so. And we will also give tips about playgrounds across the country. If you have a story about an inclusive playground please feel share it and I will do a feature story so that others can use this as a resource to find wonderful and fully inclusive playgrounds.

Clemyjontri is more than initials


After working with me as one of the first benefactors for Hadley’s Park, Adele Lebowitz decided she wanted to do something more with her estate, she decided that the joy she understood that came from the children playing at Hadley’s Park would be a wonderful legacy to leave on her property. So, she decided to donate her 10 acre estate to Fairfax County Park Department with the understanding that they would create a fully inclusive playground like Hadley’s Park. Thus the birth of “Clemyjontri.” You might wonder where this odd name came from or what it stands for. Wanting to commemorate her family the name Clemyjontri is made up of the initials of Mrs. Lebowitz children. Fairfax County authorities worked hand in hand with Grace Fielder and Associates to create a joyous and fully inclusive playground complete with a merry go round! Grace and her staff used many similar elements that we used at Hadley’s Park after learning from us the importance each play piece or element had.


To the casual observer, the playground at Clemyjontri Park looks like an ordinary playground, with swings, slides and play equipment fun to climb on, under and around. A closer look will reveal that some of those swings have high backs for children who need extra support. Instead of standard transfer platforms there are ramps to the elevated play components. Pathways between equipment are wide and colorful, and the ground surfaces are non-slip and porous designed to provide a greater level of access for children.

There is something for everyone – children will be able to find something to climb on, touch, read, do or create. Children will enjoy the challenges of balance and depth perception on the playground’s balance beams. A mini-track can be used to race, playhouses and cubbies offer pleasant spaces for social interaction while also allowing children seeking quiet or separate areas to play in smaller groups. Tent sails provide areas of shade in the playground and benches are located throughout the play area. The playground is open daily from 7 a.m. to dusk, year-round.The Two Acre Playground Consists of 4 Outdoor “Areas” Surrounding a Centerpiece Carousel.

The Rainbow Room – With rainbow archway, surface with colors of the rainbow and a variety of swings:

Accommodates all physical levels

Integrates sign, Braille, pictures and language

Teaches colors of the rainbow


The Schoolhouse & Maze – With learning panels forming a maze that may be reconfigured:

Focuses on educational learning games

Teaches where am I reading, maps and a globe

Teaches what time it is using time zones and clocks


The Movin and Groovin Transportation Area Designed with transportation themed equipment such as a race track, motorcycles, planes, and trains:

Stimulates imagination

Teaches balance and special skills

Mimics true roadway situations


Fitness & Fun – Includes the largest piece of play equipment along with various jungle gym components:

Stimulates imagination

Progressive challenges for physical strength

Energy burner

Builds confidence


If you are in the Northern Virginia area or want to make a little day trip while visiting the Metro DC area I would strongly recommend this your children will thank you for it!

Inspiration formed from love

shane's inspiration logo

Back in early 1998 while I was in the “building phase” of Hadley’s Park I had heard of an organization in Los Angeles that was planning on creating a fully inclusive playground and I thought, “Wow! Someone else with the same vision, a place for all children, someone who was doing the same thing that I was doing clear across the country, I would love to meet these people and learn about what they were planning on doing. So that is exactly what I did, I made a phone call introduced myself to one of their founders, Catherine, traded a few frequent flier miles, grabbed one of my board members and we were off to California to meet the founding crew of what today is known as “Shane’s Inspiration.”

Shane’s Inspiration was created by Catherine Curry-Williams and Scott Williams in memory of their son Shane Alexander who had passed away the year before of Spinal Muscular Atrophy only a few weeks after his birth. Had Shane lived, he would have spent his life in a wheelchair. Because of a physical disability, Shane would have been denied one of the most fundamental rights of childhood: the right to play independently with friends and family at neighborhood and school playgrounds. This realization encouraged the Williams and family friend Tiffany Harris to turn a tragedy into a vision that resulted in Shane’s Inspiration… a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of children with disabilities.

I was so glad to take the trip out there and meet the entire group of fine folks and listen to their story; we laughed, we cried, we shared our visions but most of all we bonded over a common cause. I cannot believe that was 13 years ago! Shane’s Inspiration is very close to my family’s heart and I will write much more about them over time. But right now I just wanted to introduce you to them and to their wonderful work!

shane's inspiration

Upon completion Shane’s Inspiration gave a gift to thousands of Los Angeles children through the creation of an environment where all children can play together at the highest level of their ability. With the support of visionary community leaders, Shane’s Inspiration created the first Universally Accessible Playground in the Western United States. Located in Griffith Park, “Shane’s Inspiration” provides two acres of fully accessible, sensory-rich and physically challenging equipment.

In June 2002 they started an inclusive play program called “Shane’s Club.” with a small group of committed families which has grown to almost 1,000 members today!

Run today by Tiffany Harris, I applaud this wonderful organization for all it does for all children! If you live in the Los Angeles area I invite you to go visit this wonderful playground or check out many more that they have developed. Should you want to get involved in helping them raise funds to build playgrounds, an exceptional woman named Marci Moran is head of their events, and I know she would be glad to have you stop by and say “hi!” I know somewhere Shane is smiling!

Some kids dream about flying while other kids just dream about playing at a park


sarah and hadley Some say “necessity is the mother of all inventions,” that became evident to me one spring day in early 1996 when I brought my then 4 year old and 7 year old daughters to play at a local park. We were very excited to finally get out of the house from the winter doldrums and get some fresh air at the playground. My older daughter was thrilled to have a place to run around and I was just thrilled to get outside after winter.

When we got to the playground it was the usual ritual of letting my older daughter out of the car and having her bolt like lightening to the playground area, and for me, not so fast. I had to lift the wheelchair out of the back of the station wagon and then put my 4 year old daughter into it. When that 5 minute ordeal was over, we were off but almost immediately we were stopped by a timber barricade which seemed to be placed there to keep in mulch but very obviously was a problem for us. So, as usual supermom that I am, picked up both the wheelchair and my daughter over the timbers and then thought we were off. But again, not so easy to push a wheelchair over mulch, think of trying to drive over sand; it’s not so easy, is it?

We then caught up with my older daughter who was running from each piece of equipment to the next. When I finally told her to “hold up.” She exclaimed she wanted us to “come up” on the equipment. Come up? Now how exactly was that supposed to happen? Oh, I know the wheelchair was supposed to sprout wings. Well, that is what it would have taken to get her up on the equipment. And let’s say that actually could have happened, then what? Sit up there and watch from the tower while her sister ran around and around. This was no fun!

So my younger daughter and I went over to a seating area where I sat and we both watched my older daughter run around. At one point my older daughter came over to us a little frustrated but then realized when she came over to us that my younger daughter had a tear dripping down her face. That was it! That was the moment I went from a stay at home mom to a mom on a mission! Why was there not anything my children could do together? Why was there not anything I could do with my younger daughter while my older daughter played? This was going to change, it had to!

I went home and started drawing (coming from a design background, drawing was second nature to me) and visualizing what a perfect playground would look like. When my husband came home I told him about that days adventures and how I was now out to change the world. I had a dream; a goal- “to build a unique park where all children could play together with or without disabilities.” A park where through playing, the concepts would help all children socially, and cognitively, as well as physically. Equally as important, a place for children with disabilities to play with their own siblings and peers.

The ideas and visions of this playground resulted in the development of a theme-play park. Often a playground is considered strictly physical. Although, when the physical play is mastered, the appeal of the playground can lead to boredom. Theme-play offers a challenge to the child’s imagination and encourages children to play for extended periods of time.

My dream playground encompassed a Transportation Area, Pirate Ship, Frontier Village, Castle, Dinosaurs, and Main Street themes. In the design, accessibility was ensured through the implementation of the ADA requirements, CPSC and ASTM guidelines; those are playground rules.

By combining all of these elements in the design and equipment, my dream would create the best playground for all children to play!

That was the day I put on my “big girl pants” and “hard hat” and formed a non profit organization which would come to be known through out the country as Hadley’s Park. In 1999 after three years of lobbying and fundraising I raised the needed one million dollars to build my dream park which has gained much national recognition for its creativity and play-ability for ALL children.

Do you have any “fully” inclusive playgrounds near you? I’d love to hear about them!

Join me in my families journey and subscribe to I’m Still Standing to keep updated! I’m here to now share with you how you can build on your dreams of building a project like Hadley’s Park.

It all started with a story…

Once upon a time there were two sisters.

One spring day they wanted their Mom to take them to the park and play. When they arrived at the park the older sister jumped out of the car ahead of her Mom and sister. She was so excited.

“Come on Mom, hurry up! I am going to go over to the pumpkin carriage.”

“Ok, be careful and stop there and wait for us,” said the Mom.

At this point the girls Mom was getting a wheelchair out of the car for the younger sister to use. She quickly buckled her younger daughter in her seat and off they went with big smiles on their faces.

When they got to the sidewalk in front of the playground that smile quickly turned to a frown because they were stopped by railroad ties which keep the mulch in, but children who use wheelchairs out.

“What a nuisance!” the Mom said, as she lifted her daughter and her wheelchair over the barrier.

When the young girl and her Mom finally made it across the bumpy mulch, the older daughter was eager to play with them.

“Hey, come on up here. Mom you can be the Queen and we will be the princesses.”

This sounded like fun, both girls anxious to play, only one problem, their Mom couldn’t get the little sister up on the carriage without having to take her out of her wheelchair.

“I’m sorry, but we just can’t get up on the carriage, isn’t there something for all of us to play on.”

At that point all three of them looked around the playground.

“Mom, I don’t see anything we can all do together because we can’t get the wheelchair up on anything!”

With a sigh the Mother said “you are right, ok, you go and play and we will sit here in the shade and watch.”

“I wish there was something we could do together.” The Mom said to the little girl in the wheelchair. As she spoke to her she noticed a tear rolled down the little girls’ cheek.

The older sister jumped off the carriage and ran around and used all of the equipment, the slides, the bars, the swings, and then she stopped and looked back at her Mom and sister who were looking very sad watching her.

“What’s the matter Mom?”

“Well, your sister wants to play like you.”

“You know what Mom, I think we should go home and I will make up a game to play with my sister. She’s special and should be able to play like me.”

So they pushed the wheelchair back over the bumpy mulch, over the barriers and headed back to their car, to go home and play.

This is an actual story, as these two little girls are my daughters, and this was the beginning of the creation of the first fully inclusive playground in our state and one of the first of its kind in the country.

I worked for almost 10 years creating fully inclusive playgrounds in the metro DC area and helped many communities around the country before I closed our nonprofit organization shortly after September 11th. I will continue to write about “building a dream,” and hopefully it will inspire many more playgrounds to come! So hold onto your dreams and reach to make them happen!