Children make the best music when playing together
This Dream Playground at Ada was built on the wings of children's ideas, designed by primary school children in Belgrade to make it accessible for every child.
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Belgrade, Serbia - Nine-year-old Andrej Andjelkovic loves football. He’s always happy to talk about his favourite players and team.
"I love football, because the players score goals,” explains Andrej and raises his arms up high, like a goal-getter. Andrej often plays football with his mom and dad. His mom and dad are goalkeepers and Andrej is the one that scores all the goals.
Andrej has just completed first grade at the Desanka Maksimovic Primary School in Belgrade. After school, he often goes to the nearby playground with his parents.
“The swing and the slide are my favourites,” says Andrej. But he couldn’t enjoy the playground equipment without help from his mom or dad.
“Andrej has difficulty walking because he’s a child with disabilities. When he was ten months old [the doctors at] at the Mother and Child Health Institute noticed that he couldn’t walk. When he was thirteen days old … all his problems started: epilepsy, cerebral palsy, cytomegalovirus infection. God willing, one day it will get better, it’s starting to,” explains Andrej’s mother Maja Andjelkovic.
All of this makes using traditional playground equipment hard for Andrej and he could enjoy his favourite swing only with his parent's help. But even then, his parents often feared that he might fall and get hurt.
Using equipment at a traditional playground is just as challenging for eleven-year-old Pavle.
“Pavle has cerebral palsy and some mild developmental delay. He’s moving well now. We’re making progress every year, with exercises and kinesiotherapy, but he has difficulty moving. That’s why one of the biggest obstacles [Pavle faces] at the playground are the steps, [but also] climbers, which are usually the classic old climbers, made of metal, which are very tricky, especially for children with motor disabilities,” explains Pavle’s mom Sanja Pavlovic.
But Andrej’s and Pavle’s parents were relieved and happy when a new inclusive playground was built in Belgrade, with UNICEF’s support. The idea originated from primary school children from Belgrade, who described their Dream Playground to students from the Faculty of Architecture from the University of Belgrade.
The result is a children’s playground in which every child can use the equipment, and which facilitates the joint play of children with and without disabilities.
The playground is in a lovely spot, surrounded by trees. The flat concrete surface makes it easy for everyone to move around, even in a wheelchair. Children in wheelchairs can also use the merry-go-round. A softer, tartan surface has been placed under each piece of playground equipment. There are safe low seesaws and spring rockers as well, a slide, and the children’s favourite – big musical instruments –a metallophone, and drums.
All of this was done with help from the City of Belgrade, the Sports Association of Persons with Disabilities, and the University of Belgrade’s Faculty of Architecture.
“The playground is amazing and it’s finally accessible to children with disabilities too. The biggest frustration for children with disabilities is when they can’t play with their peers. Everything here is available and accessible, and they can easily play without feeling different,” Pavle’s mom shares her impressions and adds that Pavle playing together with his friends motivates him to make progress and feel equal to other children.
“The swing is his favourite and … [it’s safe, especially] compared to the ordinary ones. [We would always] worry when he was using [the old swing]. There’s also a bird’s nest swing. The surface on the ground is amazing, so if a child falls, there's a soft surface and the nest swing is also hanging low. They really thought of everything when making this park.”
Andrej’s parents are convinced that their son’s independent playtime is boosting his self-confidence.
“I can just sit down and watch him play; he doesn't need help. It’s very interesting because he likes music, likes playing with these instruments,” explains Maja, while Andrej and Pavle play the drums together with their friends Marko and Milos Bogdanovic. Clearly children make the best music when playing together.
„There’s a lot of equipment, and I've never seen such good equipment at other playgrounds, like this metallophone. It’s fun playing here,” says Milos Bogdanovic. His bother Marko loves the merry-go-round. “This is a merry-go-round in which you push off with your foot, and then you can sit down and enjoy. The swing is also interesting.”
This Dream Playground in Belgrade, in addition to the one already built in Cicevac in central Serbia, is now one of two inclusive playgrounds in the country built exactly as envisioned by children. It ensures safe play, accessible to every child.
UNICEF’s project was implemented with the financial support of the NCR Foundation and the Basketball Association of Serbia, and in cooperation with the Sports Association of Persons with Disabilities of the City of Belgrade (SSOSIB), the City of Belgrade and the Belgrade University Faculty of Architecture. These playgrounds are set to become models for building new inclusive playgrounds across Serbia.