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A Magical Tour of a Magical Place

In Short

A Magical Tour of a Magical Place

Torrie Dunlap

Note: This isn't exactly an "In Short" post, but I hope you enjoy anyway! I have a lot to say about this wonderful playground. 

This week I had the absolute pleasure of visiting the Magical Bridge playground in Palo Alto, CA. I'd been so eager to do this since I learned of its opening last Spring. Touted as the nation's most "innovative inclusive playground" (it is Silicon Valley, after all) I had to check it out. I was in the Bay Area for a Diversity Leader's Panel, organized by the great people at the YMCA of San Francisco, so I convinced (it wasn't hard!) my friend Beth Foraker, founder of the National Catholic Board on Full Inclusion, to join me. 

We met Olenka Villarreal, who envisioned this magical place when she could not find an accessible playground for her daughter Ava, who is now 12. She, as a volunteer, raised the significant funds needed to make it reality and got it done. Endless respect for that! 

I am not sure if my favorite part is the kindness corner, filled with inspiring words and beautiful quotes,

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or the Clubhouse complete with a community stage, where both planned and impromptu performances can occur, 

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or the laser harp that creates a beautiful symphony as you and your friends move through it. 

While there we talked to a dad of three, named Jay, who is part of a volunteer group of parents who help monitor the playground. He and his children can walk there from home, and it's clear that this beautiful place has become a home-away-from-home for them. He shared with us which activities were the most popular. There is a spinner that many playgrounds have, but this one is flush with the ground (instead of inches off the ground, and so inaccessible to many, as you typically see) and there is space for for probably six children sitting on benches and two children who use wheelchairs to safely ride. Jay says everyone loves the spinner. There are swings where children can lay flat, instead of sitting up and a couple of cozy pods where children who may feel overwhelmed by the noise and activity can take a break. It's well thought out, and they took into account the needs of adults who would attend as well. Olenka told us that they procured a lot of the equipment from Europe, and there is a distinct lack of American-style bright color plastic, that does make the park more calming. 

What tickled me most was seeing how kids were using the park- and often times it wasn't the way the adults attended. There is a big astro-turf covered mountain that holds three really cool slides. You can climb to the top up a rope wall to a gazebo, and then pick one of three slides as your way down the mountain. Beth and I chose one that has rollers. However, the kids there that day were skipping the slides altogether and sliding down the mountain on their tummies. It reminded me that kids might just be the best innovators of all. 

What if every community had a playground that had been so lovingly planned to meet the needs of everyone? Olenka and her team would love to spread what they have learned. Their vision is to bring socially inclusive playgrounds to communities everywhere, by uniting innovative thinking, compassion and technology. This is very in line with KIT's mission and vision, and I plan to find a way we can support their effort. Stay tuned for that! 

Images from Google, because frankly, they were much better than mine.