Everybody Plays: A Conversation About Playground Inclusion

Imagine your child sitting alone on the playground. Maybe she is playing her own game she made up because no kids ever play with her. Maybe he is daydreaming about the things he likes to do when he gets home because every time he tried to join a game the other kids don’t know how to include him. Every day around the country, kids with disabilities are being left out on the playground. We as parents try to teach our kids to be kind and include everyone, but if we aren’t there to see our kids running past the child in the wheel chair, we don’t know to talk to them about including everyone. Summer is a great time to talk about how everybody plays and have a conversation about playground inclusion.

I am a mother of a child with high functioning spina bifida. She was born with the most severe form of spina bifida, but because of the placement on her spine, she has more function than most kids with the same type of Spina Bifida. I’m a member on a few spina bifida groups online, and have grown to love and respect these women who are raising their children with spina bifida. They are optimistic, yet cautious, teaching their children to be kind, but also fighting like a dog when their child’s health or well being is in question.

playground inclusion
Photo Credit | Billie Colleen Hasewinkle

One of my online friends posted a conversation she had with her daughter. Talking about school, the mother asked what her daughter does at recess. Her daughter told her that she just sits there because no one plays with her because she can’t play games in her wheelchair. Shocked and concerned, the mother started listing off games her daughter could play with other kids. Reading her story I realized that I had never talked to my own children about including other kids at recess.

As I’ve raised my children, I’ve taken every opportunity as it comes, answering questions about people with disabilities as we see them, explaining to them how they live their life different and how no one lives their lives exactly the same. But it never occurred to me to talk to them about including other kids on the playground. I’ve asked them if they’re included, but never asked if they include other kids that are by themselves.

playground inclusion
Photo Credit Brittany Anderson

Reading my friend’s post about her daughter being excluded, I wanted to help spread the word about talking to our children about specific times to include everyone. When the topic came up to me I realized that I had just assumed that my kids included everyone because one of our family mottos is, “Everyone can play but no one has to play.” I stress inclusion to my children with each other and when they have friends over all the time, but I hadn’t expanded their bubble of inclusion rules to the playground at school.

playground inclusion
Photo Credit Bridget Ellis

So how do we talk to our kids about including kids with disabilities at school and at the playground? We ask. We ask if anyone is sitting alone at recess, and explain how they can play with them. We tell them about the games that kids in wheel chairs can play including: clapping games (Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack, and others), basketball, Red Rover, freeze tag, Four Square, racing, Simon Says, and bocce, just to name a few.

We keep asking as the years go on, and we keep educating.  Just because you taught it to your child once and they understood it doesn’t mean that it’s ingrained in them forever.  Just think about how your child knew every. single. word. to their favorite show tune when they were three, and then at age eight, they barely remember the words. Kids can influence each other in a way we can’t, during times that we’re not there.  We need to keep asking and keep educating in hopes that our voice is the echo in their hearts when they are faced with a situation where they have to make a decision on what’s right or wrong.

For additional resources about how all children play, please visit the National Inclusion Project.

Have you talked with your children about including others at the playground? Share your tips in the comments section below.

About Kari Alford 25 Articles
Kari is a military wife who gets to travel the globe with her favorite people: her family! She has a husband who is funnier than she lets on, a daughter who is more creative than anyone she’s ever met, and a son who is always up for an adventure (especially if it involves a sword fight!) Kari hails from Michigan, but thanks to joining the Navy when she was 19, she has lived in California and Japan until returning to the Midwest in 2015. Kari loves to experience what cities have to offer but also loves to kayak with her family, or explore the wilderness. Every day is a different one since she’s on her children’s school’s PTO board, the AYLL board, and goes to college part time. Kari hates being bored, so you’ll often find her with her crochet bag, working on an afghan while she’s waiting for her children during practice.

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