Playing made fun, fair and free with Kilikili
The Chennai-based organisation’s curated outdoor escapes for children with disabilities have inclusive play equipment, lots of flowering trees, and musical chimes.
Wednesday May 24, 2023,
5 min Read
Kilikili has created 10 inclusive play spaces across Bengaluru, Chennai, Mumbai, Nagpur, Mangalore and Madurai.
The organisation joins hands with the local community, including parents groups, resident associations and NGOs to maintain these spaces.
Several city corporations have extended support to Kilikili in building new play spaces catering to different age-groups of children with physical and developmental challenges.
A day before three-year-old R Lakshna’s pre-school admission results were to be announced, she spent an entire evening playing on a merry-go-round.
Diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome a couple of years ago, Lakshna doesn’t have to do much in order to have fun at Kotturpuram’s Infinity Park in Chennai. She just has to be perched on an elevated stool in the centre of the equipment, while kids seated around her on a floor level platform revolve the machine.
“Coming here makes her happy,” says her father Raja, a daily wage labourer. “And that de-stresses me as well.”
This park, built during the pandemic by Chennai-based Kavitha Krishnamoorthy’s Kilikili, is one of the newest inclusive play areas that the organisation has created across the country.
Krishnamoorthy first toyed with the idea of an inclusive playground 17 years ago at a park in Bengaluru, where she saw her son Ananth, who is autistic, brighten up at the sight of swings but was unable to get on any.
“My husband also observed there were no children with disabilities in the play area,” she says.
This void became apparent at the informal meetings that parents, including Krishnamoorthy, had outside the therapy centres their children went to.
“A recurring concern in our discussions was the absence of public play spaces for our children with developmental and physical disabilities,” she says.
“As part of our first consultation, we took kids with physical disabilities to a crummy little park in Bengaluru to test it. We told them they could draw out everything they wanted out of it but wasn’t there; a dream park, so to say. And the results were magical.”
The drawings envisioned swings they could sit on without the fear of falling, slides that curved on their way down, and a whole lot of flowering trees.
“One girl, in particular, visualised a park with a lot of tall trees on one corner and a play space on the other with a vast stretch of free space in between just to move around and play in,” says Krishnamoorthy.
Taking these ideas forward on a mission to create inclusive recreational spaces, Kilikili has been developing highly researched, disabled-friendly play areas for children with varying challenges so that they can reap the same benefits of early childhood development that non-disabled children do.
As of today, the organisation has 10 inclusive play spaces across Bengaluru, Chennai, Mumbai, Nagpur, Mangalore and Madurai. Helping them build these spaces was the local community—parents groups, NGOs and residents’ associations.
Krishnamoorthy says parents of children with disabilities focus on trying to bring them into the mainstream—prioritising therapy classes, reading, writing and schooling.
“While this is completely normal, it takes time to understand what your child needs or enjoys playing with. In my own case, we saw that Ananth didn’t like blocks and puzzles, which we eventually realised was because of the difficulties he was having with spatial cognition, but he loved sounds and auditory toys,” she says.
Early child experts point out that brain development is at its peak before the age of eight. So parents—more so of children with special needs—can abundantly use nature to enrich their senses and nurture their motor and cognitive functions.
“The child’s brain is like a sponge,” says Durga Priyadarshini, the head of therapy at Chennai-based Mirra Charitable Trust, which works on inclusive education for neurodiverse children.
“The more varied the environment the child is exposed to—with water, sand, and outdoor games—the more conducive it is for their development. This especially holds true for children with neurological or physical disabilities, who learn a lot from visual, auditory and tactile play,” she says.
Kilikili’s first public play space for special children was unveiled in Coles Park at Bengaluru’s Fraser Town in 2006.
From staying at home or sitting on the sidelines, children with special needs found a whole new world of activity to engage with—bucket seat swings for children with no upper body support, slides with raised sides for children who are scared of heights, wheelchair merry-go-rounds and tyre tunnels with sand beds for children with developmental delays.
And, in no time, evenings at Coles Park came alive with giggles or ‘Kilikili’, as it translates to in Kannada.
Over the years, Krishnamoorthy says both she as a parent and Kilikili as an initiative have evolved. Numerous collaborations with fellow parents, therapists and disability organisations, followed by successful demonstrations, have gotten several city corporations interested.
In Chennai’s Santhome, the Infinity Park set up by Kilikili is part of the Greater Chennai Corporation’s (GCC) Smart City initiative.
“The Disability Rights Alliance was already in talks with the GCC about this park. With this, we began designing our play areas in every park, zone-wise, keeping up with the evolving play needs of children," says Krishnamoorthy.
The first area opens up to very young children with low slides and bucket swings, the second area has higher slides and rope climbers that can be used by slightly older children, and the third area, for children aged 12 and above, has open spaces for basketball for wheelchair-bound players, and skating and running tracks.
The parks also have instruments such as musical chimes, rope ladders, and textured stepping stones and walking paths for tactile stimulation.
Kilikili’s focus on inclusivity also reflects in how they have earmarked quiet corners for children with developmental disabilities such as cerebral palsy and autism, who may get easily overwhelmed with the sensory stimulation of a high-energy playground. At these corners, kids can get some down time by engaging in a two-table game of Ludo or Snakes and Ladders.
“As therapists we are always bouncing off technical terms and jargon with parents of special needs children around their development. But play is simple and powerful, and helps them grow up to become holistic and confident individuals,” says Priyadarshini of Mirra Charitable Trust.
Edited by Affirunisa Kankudti