The History of the
Seattle Children's PlayGarden
"The lives of families of children with special needs are consumed with therapy, trips to the doctor, tutoring, and school. When these hardworking kids have a break to play, their neighborhood parks and rec centers are often unaccommodating." These observations by Seattle Children's PlayGarden Executive Director Liz Bullard prompted her to form the PlayGarden in 2002. Liz, a speech/language pathologist, had sought outdoor play spaces that were both accommodating and nurturing for children with special needs. Her research revealed a striking lack of safe and accessible outdoor learning environments in Seattle/King County. She approached Ken Bounds, former Seattle Parks and Recreation Department Superintendent, about this finding. Mr. Bounds agreed, and offered the Department's support for developing this program.
In 2003, the PlayGarden became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit , and the Seattle Parks Department offered the south end of Colman Playfield, at 24th Avenue South and South Grand Street, as the site for a public-private development. The PlayGarden eagerly accepted the offer because of the opportunity the site presented to involve the residents of the surrounding economically and ethnically diverse neighborhoods and the site's easy access for families of children with disabilities from all over King County. The PlayGarden began holding summer programs in 2006, when a 10-year renewable, no-cost lease for the site was ratified by the Seattle City Council in September.
Meanwhile, schematic designs and engineering studies had been ongoing and were completed in 2004 for the garden and associated facilities. Construction was planned to be completed in 5 phases. Phase 1 was completed in 2005, and involved moving an existing basketball court on the site, and improving its design to accommodate wheelchair athletes. The court also includes adjustable hoops to encourage children to play. Construction of Phases 2 and 3 was completed in June 2010. These phases included renovation of an existing Field House, and construction of a new Garden House and Family Play Plaza. Portions of Phases 4 and 5 are underway: These phases include creation of the upper play garden (vegetable garden, orchard, rainwater cistern) and improvements to the lower half of the site (treehouse, marsh, rock scramble).
Now that we are ready to serve at full capacity, our current focus is now program development. A preschool was begun in Fall 2010. The PlayGarden also offers school-break camps, play dates, classes, and celebrations such as our Earth Day event in April, Summer Barbecue in August, and Harvest Festival in October. All programs integrate children with special needs with typically developing children. Programs are often multi-age, to maximize the opportunity for siblings and friends to attend together.
The PlayGarden is led by a volunteer board of directors along with Ms. Bullard. A volunteer advisory board and leadership council now assist the group. Committee members have expertise in children's health, children with special needs, gardening, and various business and social services professions.