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close this bookDisabled Village Children - A Guide for Community Health Workers, Rehabilitation Workers, and Families (Hesperian Foundation, 1999, 676 p.)
close this folderPART 2: WORKING WITH THE COMMUNITY: Village Involvement in the Rehabilitation, Social Integration, and Rights of Disabled Children
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentChapter 44: Introduction to PART 2: Disabled Children in the Community
View the documentChapter 45: Starting Village-based Rehabilitation Activities
View the documentChapter 46: Playgrounds for All Children
View the documentChapter 47: CHILD-to-child: Helping Teachers and Children Understand Disabled Children
View the documentChapter 48: Popular Theater
View the documentChapter 49: Children’s Workshop for Making Toys
View the documentChapter 50: Organization, Management, and Financing of a Village Rehabilitation Program
View the documentChapter 51: Adapting the Home and Community
View the documentChapter 52: Love, Sex, and Social Adjustment
View the documentChapter 53: Education: At Home, at School, at Work
View the documentChapter 54: Work: Possibilities and Training
View the documentChapter 55: Examples of Community-Directed Programs

Chapter 46: Playgrounds for All Children

A good way to start a village or neighborhood rehabilitation program is to involve the local people in building a low-cost ‘rehabilitation playground’. It is important that the playground be built for use by all children - both disabled and non-disabled.

With a little help from adults, the local children can build most of the playground themselves. To prevent the playground from being destroyed or vandalized, you may wish to invite some of the roughest local children and ‘gang leaders’ to help lead the project. Or you can appoint them as ‘maintenance chiefs’.

Building a playground ‘for all children’ is a good way to get enthusiastic community participation. It can be built quickly as a group project at low cost using local resources and gives quick, easily seen, fun results.


The playground brings non-disabled and disabled children together through play.

To build the playground, it is best to use local, low-cost materials, and simple construction. One of the playground’s main purposes is to give disabled children and their parents a chance to try different playthings and exercise equipment. Whatever works for their child, a family can easily build at home, at no or low cost. For this reason, a playground made of tree limbs and poles, old tires, and other ‘waste’ materials is more appropriate than a fancy metal playground built by skilled craftsmen at high cost. (Also, metal gets very hot in hot, sunny climates.)

These pages will give you some ideas for simple playground equipment. Although most of the photos come from PROJIMO in Mexico many of the ideas shown are based on a playground in Thailand and on designs by Don Caston.

A ‘playground for all’ built by children - PROJIMO, Mexico

When disabled village health workers in the small village of Ajoya decided to start a rehabilitation program for disabled children, one of the first activities was to involve the local children in building a playground.

1. First the children went into the forest to cut poles and vines

2. These they brought back to an empty lot at the edge of the village

3. While some children cleaned up the lot others began to build the playground equipment

4. They built ramps or wedges like this one which can be used in many ways for play and exercise. Here a child with cerebral palsy walks up the ramp to help improve balance and stretch his feet upwards to prevent contractures.

The wedges can also be used for severely disabled children to lie on, so that they can lift their heads and play with their hands

Pole seats like this help a child sit who still lacks balance, or has trouble controlling his position

These separators will hold apart the legs of a child whose legs pull together (spasticity)

Putting front posts the same height allows a shelf to be placed for play

Simple parallel bars can be used as gymnastic bars by the able-bodied children and as bars for learning to walk by disabled children



Bars need to adjust to different heights for different children. Here are 2 simple ways

For most children, the bar should be about hip height, so that the elbows are a little bent (the same height as the handles of crutches).

A child with very weak upper arms may find it easier to rest his forearms on the bar. The bar will need to be elbow high.

A child who tends to slump forward may be helped to stand straighter if the bar is high, so that he has to stand straighter to rest his arms on it.


Bars should be close enough to leave only a little room on either side of the child’s body. Too close, they get in the way. Too far apart makes weight bearing more difficult.

Smaller children require closer bars. Therefore, put uprights so they are wider higher up.

Simple, homemade bars, adjusted to the individual child’s needs, often provide more benefit than expensive walkers or other equipment.



This can be part of an ‘obstacle course’ for wheelchairs, including hills, drops, curbs, rocky ground, sand pits, and zig-zags between posts.

A simple seesaw or teeter-totter like this is fun and helps disabled children gain balance. The one in the photo was made by putting a pole in the crotch of a mango tree.


Rocker supports for a seesaw can be made in many ways

One way to prevent rolling and rotating is to pass a metal pipe (1) thru the pole rubber crutch tips to keep from bumping head

One end of this seesaw has an enclosed seat for a disabled child. Space is left behind the seat for an able-bodied child to sit and protect the disabled child strap to hold in child


On the other end a wooden donkey head adds fun

Here are some other ideas for seesaws.




1. To avoid accidents, be sure the pole for the seesaw is strong enough. Test it every few weeks by having 2 adults put their full weight on the ends of the pole

2. To avoid coming down too hard, put old tires under the ends of the seesaw

3. Make sure the seesaw will not roll lengthwise or sideways (see above)


Children can make a simple climbing frame out of poles, by nailing them or tying them together with string.

The climbing frame can be used for all kinds of play, for helping disabled children pull up to sitting or standing, and for therapy exercise.

High bars (horizontal bars) at different levels for different children can be used for exercise and gymnastics.



Climbing gyms can be made out of many materials, including old tires.

Gym will be more solid if tires are bolted together.



The children in the village of Ajoya, Mexico helped those in a nearby town build their own rehabilitation playground. This tire climbing gym was one of the playthings they created

Building and riding a rocking horse made of logs

Pieces of car tire to join logs allow horse to rock back and forth


A wide variety of swings can be built out of different local materials. Swinging is fun; it can help develop balance, head control, coordination, and strength. Swings with special features can be built for the needs of particular children.

Here children in PROJIMO make an enclosed swing.

This child with cerebral palsy had never had a chance to swing before. At first he was afraid ...

but after a while, he loved it.

Regular swings are placed next to special and enclosed swings, so that non-disabled and disabled children learn to play side by side.

Swings in the form of animals or fish add to the fun.

Extra wide swings allow 2 children to swing together - one assisting the other.


Rings for swinging and many games can be made by cutting out the inner rims of old car tires.


This swing made of an old tire is especially good for children with spasticity because it bends their backs, heads and shoulders forward.



In this swing, a ‘floor’ of sticks can be put in the tire and covered with straw or a mat

This flat-hanging tire swing is especially useful for the severely disabled or delayed child who is just beginning to learn to move his body. The child can lie across the tire and move this way and that by pushing the ground with his hands

It swings! It spins! It bounces! Fun for the able-bodied! Fun for the disabled! Several children can play on it at once!

Hang tire just a few centimeters from ground so the child can move with his hands


Cross beam pivots on an iron pipe.

Hole in beam is soaked in old motor oil to make it turn around easier.


Circular swing in PROJIMO rehabilitation playground. (Here the child pushing the swing has cerebral palsy. The twisting motion he uses is excellent therapy)

CAUTION: Be sure both the pole and beam are of strong hard wood. Test them occasionally with adults’ weight.

BOUNCING TUBE (from Low Cost Physiotherapy and Low Cost Walking Aids)


Be sure to notch poles and attach tubes so they do not slip.

A cow’s skull (1) makes a good head for many playground toys. The child holds onto the horns. (Cut off the points.)


Note: It is much easier to put holes through tires that do not have steel wire in them


Disabled children who can sit and hang on can play with non-disabled children on the maypole. But to start turning round the circle, they may need another child to help push them.






The weight of the tires adds stability for smoother swinging.


WARNING: Be sure to use extra strong rope or cable in any equipment where children could be seriously hurt if the rope breaks. Adults should test rope strength regularly.


Old tires and drums can be used for crawling games and obstacle courses.




A wider rocker base makes rocking smoother

For the rocker you can use 2 pieces of old tire.





A row of half buried old tires. The tires sink in when stepped on. A test of balance and great fun!

Old barrels, oil drums, paint cans, and logs make good playground equipment-for therapy and fun



CAUTION: Hold drums apart with sticks to prevent smashed hands and feet.



For children who have trouble going after dropped balls or rings, tying a string to the toy allows the children to pull it to them

Examples from the ‘bamboo playground’ in the Khao-i-dang refugee camp, Thailand

Especially good for the child whose sudden uncontrolled movements may knock over an unfixed walker.

One way to mount the platform of a merry-go-round.

Small wheels (1) slightly above ground level protect merry-go-round when too many children get onto one side.


1. Involve as much of the community as possible in building and maintaining the playground.

2. Keep the playground simple and build it from local low-cost materials. Only this way can it serve as a model for families of disabled children to build the most useful equipment for their child in their own homes. Resist offers from the local mayor or politicians to build an impressive metal frame playground. This will eliminate community participation and makes the equipment too costly for poor families to build at home.

3. For poles that are put into the ground, use a kind of wood that does not rot quickly. Or paint the posts with old motor oil, creosote, tar, copper sulfate or some other insect and fungus resistant substance.

If poles are used that will rot quickly, to avoid accidents, check strength of poles frequently and replace them at regular intervals-especially during the hot rainy season.

4. Swings can be hung from ropes or chains. Rope or vines are cheaper but may rot or wear through fairly quickly. Plastic or nylon rope will not rot in the rains, but will gradually grow brittle and weak with the sun. As with posts, to avoid accidents, check the strength of ropes frequently by having several heavy persons hang on them at one time. Replace ropes at regular intervals, before they get weak.

5. Regular maintenance of the playground is essential, and this will require planning and organization. Perhaps once a month the village children can take an expedition to cut new poles to replace rotting ones, to repair old equipment, and to build new. Adult coordination of such activity is usually necessary.

6. To boost enthusiasm, keep lists in a public place of all the children and adults who help with the playground - and put a star for each time they help.

Children play on a ‘merry-go-round’ in PROJIMO. Enclosed ‘cars’ protect more severely disabled children. A cow’s skull provides handles for a rider.