Play is important work for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. Through unstructured play, little ones develop imagination, social/emotional, cognitive and motor skills in the most natural way. Children with disabilities need to learn through play as much as their typically developing peers, building and expanding on their psychological health and these crucial early developmental skills together. Inclusive play groups and programs encourage acceptance and diversity early on and help to serve as a model for creative play, especially important for older little ones who are still learning through parallel play alongside other children.
How can we adapt play programs for children of all abilities? This summer, we made our Wee Play program, for ages birth through three years and their grown-ups, even more inclusive and accessible with a few changes and additions of adaptive aids and toys. We now call this program Wee ALL Play. Here's what we have been doing so far:
- Adjusting or dimming some of those lights in the room (especially those bright fluorescents!) and taking advantage of our wall of windows in our program room which lets in natural light to help prevent overstimulation in children who are sensory-sensitive.
- Making sound-reduction headphones available in the room who may need help cancelling out some of the noise. (You can also add a small pop-up tent in the room for those looking to head off a meltdown or just in need of a "quiet area.")
- Providing adaptive toys with built-in or attached capability switches for those with fine motor difficulty
- Adding more high-contrast toys, light panel activities, puzzles with sound features, and noisy balls (like the Wiggly Giggly Ball) for youth with visual disabilities
- Story boxes not only help youth who are blind or have low vision engage with a story, but they are also great for "acting out" stories with tactile manipulatives, providing a sensory experience that helps give more meaning to the words in a story and builds early literacy skills in children of all abilities.
- Providing simple American Sign Language (ASL) puzzles and toys with visual stimulation features that allow those with hearing disabilities to "see" sounds, like this Pop! Pop! Piano with popping stars.
- Adding more easy to grip (and great for all abilities!) building and textured sensory toys to help kids build fine motor, sensory and hand-eye coordination skills.
- We also added more sensory-engaging gross motor toys, including Bilibo seats and a tactile beam.
In the future, we may also consider partnering with a local university occupational therapy department to provide some professional therapeutic insight and support for parents and caregivers who are interested.
What are some ways that you have made your play programs more accessible and inclusive?