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Plan a Hawthorne playground for all children

Now that the swimming pool has been removed from Hawthorne Park, and the city is in preliminary planning stages to build a "typical playground" area, it's time the city of Medford and the Parks and Recreation Department step into the 21st century and rethink the playground concept. I hope they never have to experience a special-needs child looking on while his/her siblings and friends laugh and swing as they are left watching on the sidelines in a wheelchair.

If you have ever visited the Children's PlayGarden in Seattle, you'll know that the 21st century playtime should be about more than a slide or a swing set, it should be about children — children with walkers, kids in wheelchairs, as well as their siblings and friends. It's about special needs children able to play alongside their siblings and friends.

The Seattle Children's PlayGarden was founded by a speech and language pathologist in 2002. She wanted a therapeutic approach for children with physical and developmental disabilities, and she wanted to be able to serve the siblings of those children.

She began by using the concept "to improve the lives of children" with physical and mental disabilities by providing a safe indoor-outdoor recreation space. They are also able to offer programs to encourage their potential by offering a preschool, field trips, after-school programs and summer camps for kids ages 4 to 12.

The designated area was planted with ornamental and edible gardens, an extensive butterfly border, wheelchair-accessible raised beds, a 20,000 square foot "Wild Zone" with boulders and plantings, and an ever-so-popular mud pond. A pickup truck turned planter is a real hit for youngsters to step in (or wheel in), and turn the steering wheel or just pick berries from where the engine once was. The plantings were chosen to stimulate their senses, smell, taste and touch. They planted a large amount of berries, and the children can pick and eat as much as they want, and in fact, it's encouraged! It is a safe place that nurtures their natural discoveries of the world.

In the section "How to Create a PlayGarden," number one on the list is "Understanding the Need." "The lives of children with special needs are consumed with therapy, trips to the doctor, hospitals, tutoring and school, and when they have a "break" to play, usually their neighborhood parks and recreation centers are often unaccommodating."

A prominent Seattle pediatrician, educator and foster-care advocate can take some of the credit for instigating the garden's partnership with the city's park department. it was determined that children with special needs were under-served.

I would hope the city of Medford's parks director would step up and visit the Seattle Children's PlayGarden before wasting money on just another playground for Medford. The citizens of the Rogue Valley do not need to allow another child to be left out on the sidelines. This would be a place where volunteers would be endless; doctors, therapists, teachers will all retire someday, and Hawthorne's PlayGarden would be an excellent place for them to volunteer their skills.

The possibilities are endless: farm-to-table cooking classes, teaching children at a young age how to grow, harvest and prepare healthy foods, or an inside area with classrooms, a basketball court with multiple hoops at different heights, craft projects involving the garden and flowers, or a tree fort at ground level. 

Medford has top-notch medical facilities. It's time for Medford to have top-notch playgrounds for people of all abilities.

Melody Goodboe lives in Prospect.