How to Encourage Inclusive Play In Your Neighborhood
Playing is an integral part of childhood. It is something that is intuitive for young children — you don’t have to tell them how to play, though many parents and teachers do. You simply set them free and leave them to their own devices, and they’ll invent games, create worlds and do things that you’ll never imagine.
Inclusive play isn’t something you need to teach, but it is something that close-minded adults can discourage, whether they’re doing it purposefully or not. What is inclusive play, and what can you do to encourage it in your neighborhood?
What Is Inclusive Play?
First, what is inclusive play?
If you ask ten different parents, you’ll get 10 different answers. In general, though, inclusive play is defined as activities that promote play between children of all abilities. In a playground, this might mean having facilities accessible to children who use wheelchairs or other mobility assistance. On different settings, it might mean encouraging children to include everyone in their games, regardless of their ability.
The idea behind the inclusive play is that all children deserve to play, even if they have health conditions that might make them a little different than their peers.
This kind of activity is natural for children. They might ask questions about why their new friend is in a wheelchair, or why they can’t seem to hear them, but once you answer those questions, children will welcome their new friend into their games without a second thought.
Inclusivity is normal and natural for children — it’s only as we get older that the prejudices of others cloud our opinions and offering a welcoming hand to someone different than us becomes problematic. What can you do to encourage inclusive play in your home neighborhood?
Check Your Reactions
The first step you need to do is take a close look at your own reactions when interacting with someone with different abilities. Do you start up a conversation as you would with anyone else, or do you shy away because you’re not sure how to react? When your child asks a question about a person in a wheelchair, or someone using crutches or a walker, do you hush them and quickly change the subject?
Children are excellent mimics. They copy what they see us doing, so if they see us acting in a prejudiced manner toward someone, they’re likely to mimic that behavior. They won’t even realize they’re discriminating against their peers — they behave the way they’ve seen mom or dad act.
If you want your children to be more inclusive, start looking at how you treat people with different abilities — especially when your children are watching.
Be Vigilant About Preventing Bullying
Bullying is a growing problem in schoolyards and playground across the globe. As many 30 percent of children have admitted to bullying others, and often, the targets of this aggressive behavior are children who are perceived to be different than their peers. Even isolation, refusing to include children with different abilities, can be a form of bullying.
Playgrounds are at higher risk areas when it comes to bullying. Even the most vigilant teacher or parent can’t keep an eye on all the potential blind spots where harassment could occur. Instead of letting bullying grow to the point that it becomes a problem, focus on emphasizing togetherness and concentrate on the things your children can do together rather than on something one of them can’t do.
Petition for Inclusive Playgrounds
Playgrounds with sand, mulch or other rough surfaces are often inaccessible for children who require mobility assistance to move. It’s hard to be inclusive when all the other children are climbing the monkey bars, but one child is left out because they can’t even reach the equipment.
Inclusive playgrounds need to be accessible for all children, regardless of their ability. Instead of sand, choose soft rubber or other solid foundation materials that children in wheelchairs or using walkers can navigate. Replace stairs with low-grade ramps that they can walk or wheel up and ensure these facilities are safe for everyone to enjoy.
If your neighborhood doesn’t have inclusive playground facilities, work with city planners or local school boards to either update the equipment you already have or to build a new inclusive facility that everyone can enjoy, regardless of their abilities. You can visit or research plenty of such playgrounds in cities around the country to give you some ideas.
Set a Good Example for Your Kids and Other Children
Children will welcome anyone into their circle of friends. It’s up to us as adults to moderate our interactions with people of differing abilities so our children aren’t learning to discriminate those who they might otherwise call a friend.
About the Author
Jennifer Landis is a mom, wife, writer, and blogger. She enjoys yoga, tacos, and drinking all of the tea she can find. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferELandis.