Making play inclusive for all is important

Inclusive play can bring families closer together while promoting development and enhancing relationships.

Inclusive play refers to involving everyone in the activity and making the activity accessible regardless of individual abilities.
Inclusive play refers to involving everyone in the activity and making the activity accessible regardless of individual abilities.

Children are born with the inherent need to develop and enjoy the love of play. Adults and caregivers can also enjoy interacting with children while increasing their own creativity and exploring new and exciting ways to engage in play. Most importantly, play should include everyone who wishes to participate in the fun. Inclusive play refers to involving everyone in the activity and making the activity accessible regardless of individual abilities.

According to the National Lekotek Center, “Research has shown that children need to play in order to learn important developmental skills, as well as develop a healthy sense of self-esteem. Play even helps children cope with pain, illness and the stresses of everyday life.”

Play can give children and adults the opportunity to exercise individual developmental skills while enhancing independence, creativity and curiosity. Play greatly expands everyday learning and helps increase academic skill achievement in all age levels. Making play inclusive can introduce enhanced opportunities to build upon sensory, motor, language, relationship, coping and social skills. Including others in play helps to develop feelings and emotions while exploring social situations and self-expression.

The mindset of making play inclusive is to bring everyone together to interact in a safe and encouraging environment by offering activities that incorporate the interests and ability levels of all who participate. It is a great opportunity to communicate unconditional love and approval while encouraging cooperative choices and shared interactions. Inclusive play helps a child learn respect for other’s needs and desires while also learning to express feelings and emotions without the fear of rejection or disapproval. Michigan State University Extension emphasizes that by offering and encouraging inclusive play, children become confident in their own choices and instincts as they develop good decision-making skills.

Crucial to inclusive play is the fact that parents or caregivers and children all want to do the activity together and that activities should include the interests of all who participate. Inclusive play is essential to building a child’s self-confidence as well as their social awareness of others. Children will develop pride in their accomplishments as they learn to interact with others.

Not only does inclusive play involve all who participate, it gives everyone the chance to be a part of decision making when choosing activities. For parents and caregivers, follow the child’s lead when choosing the activity, game or toy to be played with. However, once an activity is chosen, feel free to share individual experiences and ideas while playing. Adults have a wealth of knowledge they can share with children, which can greatly enhance any interactive experience.

Play is meant for the enjoyment of everyone. The goal is to always have fun while interacting, exploring and creating new experiences. Be sure to create a supportive environment that encourages choice and exploration. Never be afraid to make a mess and always encourage trying new ways to play, as toys and other objects do not always have to be used for their expressed purposes, as long as they are being used safely in a manner increasing learning and fun.

Be sure to provide many opportunities for everyone to play. Include anyone who wishes to participate, whether it be extended family, neighbors, friends, teachers or other children. Being inclusive with play can happen in many locations including the home, classroom and playground. Always take time to explore the environment around you as it can open up many ideas and opportunities for interactive activities.

Remember that play should always be encouraging, is never meaningless and is essential to every child’s developmental growth. It is important to think about play through an inclusive lens of everyone having different interests and abilities. Children, parents and caregivers will essentially learn that everyone deserves the chance to interact and enjoy activities based around the inclusion of others. Inclusive play should always aim to be fun, creative and enjoyable for all those who participate.

For more information about early childhood education and other topics, visit the MSU Extension website.

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