Ark Encounter and Creation Museum Feature Musical Instruments in New Inclusive Playgrounds

The Ark Encounter recently celebrated the opening of its large new family play area which features amongst many fun elements several rainbow-coloured outdoor musical instruments from Percussion Play. Created for the entire family to enjoy, the new play area has been specifically designed for children of all abilities, including those with sensory disabilities (i.e. autism, deafness, visual impairments).

Designed with easy access to all the play elements for users of mobility devices such as wheelchairs, the playground also features: play tunnels (excellent for children who become overstimulated from the sensory experiences and need an enclosed area to decompress), an oversized swing that allows a child with a muscular disability to either sit in the center (if he or she has adequate core strength) or to lie down if not and an inclusive 'Whirl' which has wheelchair access. The fully accessible maze is made of special tactile panels in the colours of the rainbow.

Parents and grandparents are encouraged to join the activities by making music together or racing each other along the custom racetrack or simply watching the little ones swing along the Mantis Cable Way or climbing the mega tower or giant whale sculpture.

The Ark Encounter family attraction features a full-size Noah’s ark, built according to the dimensions given in the Bible, spans 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 51 feet high and is situated in Williamstown, Kentucky. Ark Encounter opened in July 2016 as a companion site to the Creation Museum, which bills itself as a natural history museum, that allows you to venture through biblical history, botanical gardens, planetarium, zoo, zip line adventure course, and much more.

The museum has added a host of new exhibits and additions to the ground since opening in 2007 most recently a brand-new, state-of-the-art children’s playground in the fall of 2018. Like the Arc Encounter, the playground was also specially designed for children of all abilities and features Percussion Play instruments.

Both were founded by Answers in Genesis (AiG) an American fundamentalist Christian apologetics parachurch organisation.

Playground Equipment Services (PES) installed the Ark Encounter playground. PES is owned by Eric Schmidt who along with Dr. Tina Stanton-Chapman owns PREP (Play Research Evaluation Playgrounds) Consulting.

Dr. Stanton Chapman told us why they selected Percussion Play outdoor musical instruments for the playgrounds at both the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum.

The Percussion Play outdoor musical instruments, selected for our designs, are not selected for a particular child. Rather, they are selected for our purpose, designing playgrounds that meet the Principals of Universal Design which means ensuring the end product meets everyone's needs regardless of age, gender, race/ethnicity, and ability.

Eric Schmidt and I conducted years of research trying to determine what caregivers, children, and educational professionals perceive as working and not working with currently available playgrounds. The results of this work informed our playground designs. As you noticed, Percussion Play instruments were selected for use in our Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter playgrounds. The Creation Museum Playground opened in late fall 2018 and the Ark Encounter playground opened at the beginning of June 2019.

We had multiple purposes for selecting outdoor instruments. First, we wanted a durable product that withstood use by the consumer and poor weather conditions. Other musical instruments that were available from playground manufacturers were cheap, ignored by the consumer, and couldn't play a tune. Second, children with sensory disabilities (e.g., autism, hearing impairments, visual impairments) often prefer music as a means to meet their sensory needs. Third, the chimes elicit a strong vibration that allows deaf (also Deaf) individuals experience music through touch. Fourth, playground laws require separation between the play area for children under 5 years and children greater than 5 years. Musical instruments are more visually pleasing as a barrier between the two play spaces than a fence or a wall. Fifth, in our research, we learned that grandparents and adults with disabilities (e.g., wounded warriors) wanted to be able to participate in play with their children. Musical instruments are a ground-level piece of play equipment that allow individuals of all ages and abilities to "play" together. Sixth, prior research also indicates that children prefer colors rather than natural color playground equipment. Percussion Play instruments are colorful. Finally, adults with disabilities need recreational play. Musical instruments on a playground provide this recreational play.

Our playground design and builds typically include musical instruments. Our clients understand and agree with our reasons for including musical instruments in our designs. They also like that our playgrounds focus on individuals' strengths and abilities rather than their disabilities. Our goal is to move the playground field away from inclusive playgrounds, which focus on disabilities and weaknesses, to universal playgrounds which focus on abilities and strengths.

Tina Stanton-Chapman, Ph.D. PREP Consulting Professor of Early Childhood Education and Human Development University of Cincinnati