Don’t forget to play! Inclusive Playgrounds for AAC

Young boy standing in front of the playground board It is great to see that more community places are coming on board with AAC and accessible communication. Maybe you’ve seen some of those cool communication boards in your local playground like the one below that we developed for the City of Playford Fremont Park Playground, in South Australia. Don’t forget though that Communication is a Two Way Street. A playground board is a wonderful tool for accessibility, but it’s only good if it gets used. Otherwise it’s just a nice decoration. We decided to put together some extra information and tips to make playground boards even better! What are they?
  • An activity (ie. playground) specific communication board. The playground board has been designed to include a range of words and messages that are ‘predictable’ in a playground setting.
  • A representation of the way that some people in our world communicate. This shows that those who created the playground acknowledge and respect this form of communication. It also creates awareness of this form of communication and may prompt people to learn more about the use of symbol-based communication boards.
  • An added prop to enhance interaction for others who might also need it, such as young toddlers.
Who are they for?
  • Playground boards were designed to be used by a child/person who is not able to successfully communicate their message with speech. This might be someone with a communication disability, a small child or someone who does not speak the same language as their peers.
  • Playground boards can also be used by anyone at the playground and can be part of the game or just a different way to say things.
How to use them: The idea of the boards is that a child/person might point to the symbols to ask for, talk about, or direct activities. Below are some examples of the kinds of things you could say by pointing to the symbols on the playground board. Then their friend or parent, could use the symbols to answer them or take a turn about something else. It’s just like talking with symbols. An important note is that if you do have verbal speech, you can still talk while pointing to the symbols. Using the symbols just helps to get the message across clearly, or can be an alternative to speech if someone has a communication disability. If your child can’t independently go over to the board and point to the symbols, you might like to try some of these ideas:
  • Point to (and/or read out) the messages and ask them to tell you ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when you get to the one they want to say. After they choose one, ask if they are done or want to add another word, otherwise you might only get half of the message.
  • To speed things up, you might point to a column at a time first, then the individual messages. Watch this video to learn more about scanning the communication board.
  • Maybe it would help if you take a photo of the board so that you can carry it around with you at the playground. That way you have it handy all of the time.
  • If you are going back again, then print a copy of the photo, or download a copy of the playground board from the playground website if it’s available.
  • If your child uses their own communication book or device, you could add some of the vocabulary from this board if you don’t already have it, or even make a page for this playground if you visit regularly. This is a great option because then you can talk about the playground before and after you go there too! It’s always great to tell others about the fun you’ve had or what you’re going to do first when you get there.
Extra Tips:
  • Use the board yourself to talk to your child.  Doing this will help them learn how it can be used for lots of different messages (see examples below). It also shows them that it’s a good way to talk about things and to help them learn what all of those symbols mean.
  • Don’t make them use the board if you already know what they are saying. This board is designed to enhance communication, not make them tell you something you already know.
  • Encourage other children to use it with your child. There is nothing more motivating than seeing other children valuing and using something that you need to use. Your child will likely want to copy the messages they see others saying, or at least feel like they are not the only one using this board.
  • The other benefit of encouraging other children to use the board is that they will always come up with more interesting messages. Children are not only good models for physical activity, but also for fun and interesting things to say.
  • If your child is just beginning to use communication symbols, just show them 1 or 2 word messages rather than having to point to all of the words in a sentence.
Example messages: The playground board has a range of words and messages so that your child can say some of the predictable things they may be thinking when they are at the playground. Below are some examples of things they might be able to say or that you could show them how to say. Interaction is not just about asking for something. Lots of times children can do that just by pointing to the place in the playground. This board also gives them the opportunity to say other types of messages such as those listed below in orange.  Under each message type, are some example messages. The blue text shows words that you might find on a playground board such as the one in the photograph. We’ve also created 2 levels (Beginner and More Advanced) depending on the complexity of language you need to use.
Beginner (point to 1 or both of the symbols for the words in blue) then just say the other words. More advanced You can show them how to combine words on the board. (point to the symbols for the words in blue) then just say the other words.
Talk about what they did or want to do
I bounced on the trampoline I bounced on the trampoline
I want to go on the slide I want to go on the slide
We had a BBQ. We (I/me and you) had a BBQ.
Can you play the music Can you play the music
Ask a parent or friend to watch them
I (me) can do it (watch me) I can do it.
Can you see me? (Look! ) Can you see me? (Look!)
Let’s go basketball. Let’s (you, me) go basketball.
I want you to look/(see). I want you to look/(see).
Ask a question about something
Where is the slide? Where is the slide?
What do I do on this? What do I do on this?
Uh-oh. I don’t know how to climb up. Uh-oh. I don’t know how to climb up.
Can you help? Can you help?
Direct others
Can you bounce me? Can you bounce me?
Stop the swing. I don’t like it. Stop the swing. I don’t like it.
Can you help me go to the pond? Can you help me go to the pond?
Can you push me (go) fast. Can you push me (go) fast.
Tell you what they think
I like it. It’s fun. I like it. It’s fun.
I don’t like (it) the trampoline. It’s scary. I don’t like (it) the trampoline. It’s scary.
The music is too loud. I don’t like it. The music is too loud. I don’t like it. Stop.
Enhance the activity
Go faster Go faster
More climbing More climbing
My turn again (more) My (me)  turn again (more)
Stop. Go. Stop. Go.  Stop. Go. Stop. Go. 
Interact with others
Do you want a turn? Do you want a turn?
I’ll help you. I’ll help you.
Let’s play. Let’s (You me) play.
Where are you going? Where are you going?
Talk about problems
Uh-oh. The boy fell over. (point to boy). Uh-oh. The boy fell (fall) over. (point to boy).
I’m not finished. I don’t want to go. I’m not finished. I don’t want to go.
I’m tired. Something’s wrong. Rest. I’m tired. Something’s wrong. I want a rest/break.
And many more…. Are there any other messages that you can think of? Please remember these are just example messages and examples of the symbols you can use to say them. It’s important to use messages that are meaningful and useful to your own situation.

Make sure it’s not all work, no play!


Image shows a hand drawn swing set