One of our biggest challenges parenting my stepdaughter right now is building up her confidence. She’s really struggling with making decisions, joining activities, and finding her own voice. She used to be such an opinionated, feisty little girl… what happened?
She realized the world is full of judgmental people and that she’s not going to be some girls’ cup of tea. And that frightens her. She wants friends who encourage her and respect the decisions she makes – not friends who make fun of her for her choices.
The more we talk about bullies and their effect on our little one, the more my husband and I realized we need to be stressing the importance of inclusive play in our home. And since October is Sensory Awareness Month, is there really a more appropriate time?
What is Inclusive Play?
There are SO MANY important life lessons you learn on the playground. If playgrounds aren’t accessible to all children, then there are several missing out on those valuable lessons. Accessible playgrounds allow all children to play.
The advantages to children with challenges are obvious: equal access and ability to learn and play! For children that don’t have the same challenges with existing playgrounds, they can still benefit greatly from inclusive play areas. They’ll connect with children of different abilities and backgrounds and learn valuable empathic, emotional, and social skills. Learning and playing with a variety of children encourages a more compassionate heart and inclusive mindset.
Beyond accessibility, inclusive play also addresses age and developmental appropriateness and sensory awareness. This holistic approach to play and friendship helps us raise better, more aware and considerate children. If we want to reach social equity and inclusion, inclusive play areas and increasingly diverse communities will help get us there!
5 Ways Parents Can Promote Inclusive Play
1. Role model inclusivity
For better or worse, our children follow our example. Even when you think they’re not listening or paying attention, they pick up on subtle things you didn’t realize. The more inclusivity we can role model, the more encouraged our children will be to follow suit.
Take a look at your social habits, and if they don’t follow patterns you’d want your children to follow, mix them up!
2. Diversify play areas and groups
Instead of frequenting the same playground in that one neighborhood you like, spice things up. Go to a different playground in another neighborhood, visit a different indoor play area, and switch up the time of day you go! Allow your children to interact with new children outside of their usual bubble and subsequently increase their social awareness.
3. Emphasize the importance of sharing and friendship
Maybe this should have been number one? I cannot emphasize the importance of this one enough. You need to encourage your children to be kind and to share. Kind children are more likely to include others in their play, and less likely to bully others.
Mastering these skills early on will serve them well into adulthood.
4. Incorporate sensory activities appropriately
Where possible, incorporate sensory activities when you’re facilitating play for children of diversified abilities. It helps aid the play and encourages productive conversation about diversity.
5. Visit playgrounds that are inclusive
We love spending afternoons at the playground; it is so much fun for the whole family! I particularly love finding new Landscape Structures playgrounds because they’re built with intentional design, including an entire line of inclusive playgrounds!
You can find one near you here.
There are a few things that make accessible playgrounds look and feel different for the children: a safety surface that allows children with mobility devices to access the playground, ramps to climb equipment, and wheelchair-accessible equipment. Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive, and inclusive play takes many forms.
These accessible playgrounds teach important lessons like leadership, empathy, support, and perseverance. They also ensure that our children are meeting friends with different capabilities and backgrounds than they have; this valuable perspective will serve them for years.
FREEBIE: Playground Bingo
One way that we can encourage our children to open their eyes and really see what’s happening around them at the playground is through a fun game like Playground Bingo. By incentivizing our children to find objects on their bingo boards, we’re allowing them opportunities to see others on the playground. When they’re searching for someone running or someone smiling, they’re noticing other friends on the playground with them.
Click the photo below or the pink link to grab your FREE Playground Bingo printable.
So can we all agree to be more inclusive with our play and work toward a more empathetic and compassionate environment for all of our little ones?
PS: Don’t forget to find a Landscape Structures inclusive playground near you!
PPS: It’s incredible how many life lessons on the playground our children can learn!