April 13, 2021

More musical instruments bring new tune to old playgrounds

Special to PNW by Kyle Blankenship

Credit: Jordan Schwartz

A rise in the installation of “true-tone” musical instruments on public playgrounds has added a new dimension to children’s play experience, according to a national consultant for playground manufacturers.

Mara Kaplan, an inclusive play design consultant with Let Kids Play! in Pittsburgh, said more manufacturers are designing playgrounds with instruments included to help bridge the gap for children with learning disabilities and other community members.

“Those musical instruments are attractive to all ages, they don’t need surfacing, (and) they can be placed almost anywhere,” Kaplan said. “They enhance the inclusivity of a playground.”

Kaplan highlighted the growing number of “true-tone” instruments on playgrounds, which are an upgrade from plastic instruments of the past.

“For years, the playground manufacturers have been making play panels out of plastic,” Kaplan said. “Now they have xylophones of all different kinds that make real musical notes.”

Freenotes and Playworld, two manufacturers of “true-tone” musical instruments for playgrounds, have lead the way in creating instruments that offer a different learning experience for children.

Unlike a traditional playground that only facilitates sliding and climbing, playgrounds with instruments allow children to interact with their surroundings through music. Kaplan said that new degree of interaction can appeal to children with autism or other physical or learning disabilities.

“It really can serve your community completely,” she said.

According to Freenotes, which has installed instruments on playgrounds in all 50 states and five continents, children’s ability to interact with instruments can boost cognitive development and help with memory, time management and more.

“Playing and listening to music can reduce stress, ease pain, lower your blood pressure, increase workout endurance, improve sleep, enhance blood vessel function and help you eat less” Freenotes’ website reads. “As we co-create music we grasp a sense of joy, our focus and social engagement align without effort. Playing music with others fosters deep listening, respect, a sense of belonging and builds community.”

In addition, according to research from the Peterson Foundation, a San Francisco nonprofit organization advocating for music therapy for children, music education at an early age can help boost brain elasticity in children and offset serious learning disabilities.

Alongside xylophones, Freenotes markets four additional categories of instruments, including bells, chimes, drums and marimbas.

Their products have helped fuel a rise in musical instrument installation on playgrounds, according to Kaplan. While instruments add a new dimension to children’s play patterns, Kaplan said manufacturers also appreciate the fact that the instruments can be placed almost anywhere on a playground site.

Overall, she said, playground manufacturers are discovering the importance of installing instruments because of their cognitive benefits and inclusivity.

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