Helping Preschoolers by Building a “Sustainable” Playground


I work as an Occupational Therapist for preschool children with special needs at two schools within the South Bend Community School Corporation.  At one of these sites, our little preschoolers do not have a playground that is appropriate for them to play on.  When my mother discovered this, she immediately thought there had to be grants or other funds from community organizations that could be tapped to finance the construction of a playground for these little ones.


Below is a letter composed by her and myself and presented to the school principal for his approval and signature.  This letter requests approval for an Indiana Department of Environmental Management grant for a recycled rubber playground surface.  We hope this is approved as we try to piece together the funds for this much-needed facility.


If you know of any businesses, individuals or organizations who may also be interested in helping out with this project, please don’t hesitate to post a comment to this site.



May 22, 2008


Mr. Michael Mendyk

Department of Environmental Management

State House

Indianapolis, IN 46204


Dear Mr. Mendyk,


Webster defines play as “amusing yourself,” “having fun,” “occupying yourself,” which  makes it seem rather frivolous; but then he goes on to say it is “to participate,” “take part in,” “join in,” which gives it the much more importance in our lives that it deserves. Play is a significant component of everyone’s life; to children it is vital, to children with special needs, it is crucial.


To develop young minds to their fullest potential, the importance of gross motor play is well understood. For young children with developmental delays such as autism, Down Syndrome or Cerebral Palsy, the need to climb, jump, swing, and run in a safe environment is even more important. Children with special needs require even greater levels of proprioceptive (spatial awareness) and vestibular (movement) input as a foundation for learning functional educational skills.


For example, a four-year-old with autism may be unable to sit still to listen to his Gramma read him a bedtime story. Therefore, learning to sit for a minute or two at “Circle Time” would be one of the goals his teachers, paraprofessionals, the Speech Therapist, and the Occupational Therapist would help him with at his special needs preschool.


Incorporating structure and gross motor play into his preschool day is an essential building block in helping our little friend modulate his impulses during teacher-directed learning activities. From learning to attend to a story at Circle Time, he can go on to learn turn-taking for communication and from there – the world is his.


The South Bend Community School Corporation’s Special Needs and Abilities Preschool (SNAP) Program has preschool classrooms at several locations, including Darden Primary Center. At Darden, nearly 100 three- to five-year-olds with special needs are enrolled in SNAP classes. Incredibly, Darden does not have a developmentally appropriate outdoor play facility for these youngsters.  With the help of the Indiana Department of Environmental management, it is our hope to rectify this situation and have a suitable playground for the next school year.  Therefore we are requesting our Darden SNAP program be considered a recipient for the recycled rubber play surface grant currently being offered by IDEM.



We recognize recycled rubber material is one of the most shock-absorbent surfaces available, important for all children, but in particular those children with balance difficulties who may be prone to falls, as well as children with osteogenesis imperfecta, whose delicate bones need extra precautions. The playground being sought should also accommodate the special needs of motorically challenged kids who may be in wheelchairs.


Furthermore, South Bend’s mayor, Steve Luecke, recently signed onto a pact to help South Bend become a more environmentally-friendly city. Using recycled rubber for a playground surface also fits right into the city’s mission of becoming more sustainable.


Please favorably consider this request for IDEM’s recycled rubber play surface grant for this deserving group of special needs preschoolers.


Thank you for your time and consideration.






James Bankowski, Principal

Darden Primary Center