The playground is not just for recess. It's a place where imagination soars. Through a heightened sensory experience, children create new worlds. Simple slides are escape routes. Bumpy walls, the tail of a giant dinosaur. New friends become copilots. It's where every play experience has the power to amaze and connect.
By engaging children of all abilities, we're bringing them closer together. No one stands out from the crowd, they're part of it. Focusing on engaging the senses of all, we bring all together to play in harmony--leveling the playing field for good.
Importance of Inclusive Play in Childhood
Play is the most integral part of the childhood experience. It's where children get to explore, discover, create and imagine--while expanding their knowledge of the world around them. However, not every child develops or experiences play in the same way. Children on the autism spectrum, for example, face the most severe challenges in play--from interacting with other children to communication to developing imagination, and even by being over-stimulated or over-enticed on the playground.
Today, playgrounds are more accessible to kids with physical disabilities, but they're not inclusive for all children--especially those with sensory processing issues. What might be inclusive for some kids is not for all. Sensory or social challenges haven't been considered with regard to their place on the playground.
By creating a playground that offers all kids a place where they can find their just-right fit, you give them the ability to develop together socially, and at a level that's appropriate for them. This is best done by offering a variety of sensory play experiences--where children of all abilities are able to come together and play as one.
Naturally, kids seek out play experiences that are developmentally appropriate for them. This is why sensory play components are so important on the playground. Not only are sensory play experiences mutually engaging for all children, they enable typical kids to play with those at a lower developmental level than they--even if there is a great age difference. This provides a better opportunity for kids to create a play community or play culture together.
Children who aren't included on the playground face a huge disadvantage. Not only do they miss out on the powerful benefits of play, they cannot learn from other children who also play. But it's not just children with disabilities who suffer. Typically developing kids miss out on the experiences of playing with peers of differing abilities--like the importance of inclusion and social justice, or even meeting new friends.
We need to remember that play is innate. It's the fabric of childhood. Therefore, we need to give kids the opportunity as well as the means to play together. And the more opportunities there are, the more likely children are going to naturally include kids who typically stand out from the crowd.
Without including all kids in play, the effects are detrimental to their future lives. A structured playground has the potential to cover the basic, yet very important first stages of development. But beyond having the right play experiences, it takes the community and its people to finally make inclusion a reality.