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District 302 elementary school mulls therapeutic playground

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

ELBURN – Kaneland School District 302 officials are in the design stages of building a therapeutic playground with sensory elements at Blackberry Creek Elementary School.

Fran Eggleston, director of special services at Blackberry Creek, said the district is pursuing state and federal grants to build the playground for children in the school’s special-education program. She said there’s a need for a therapeutic playground for younger students.

Eggleston said she got input from early-childhood education teachers on which elements to include in the playground, which she estimated will cost about $150,000.

Ideas include a small bike path with different types of surfaces, such as pebbles and bricks; something that spins so students can work on muscle and motor control; and a raised sand table, making it accessible to children who use wheelchairs.

“There is a need for a playground that’s specifically designed for our little kids,” Eggleston said. “We’re taking it one step further, making sure the equipment we’re looking for can meet therapeutic needs, as well.”

She said children in the early-childhood education program are special-needs children for a variety of reasons, including autism, cognitive impairment or speech impediments. The school serves about 60 children ages 3 to 5.

She said district leaders haven’t decided whether to phase in equipment over several years or to build it all at once. The district is pursuing an IDEA grant through the Illinois State Board of Education. The project still needs school board approval, but Eggleston said she hopes construction will start as soon as spring. If that’s the case, she said the playground would be ready as early as the next school year.

The existing playground would remain, she said, with the addition of the new equipment that is more age-appropriate, such as being lower to the ground and smaller.

Eggleston said school officials also are looking at playground equipment that includes sensory panels, allowing children to explore tactile shapes, textures and colors.

“We’re certainly looking for equipment that addresses the sensory processing needs our kids have, and find equipment that addresses the motor planning deficits that some of our children have,” Eggleston said.

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