Play is fundamental to child development and building a healthy, happy society. As opportunities for meaningful play are often limited for children with disabilities, inclusively designed play environments, programs, and services are critical to creating a community that values play for everyone. Community playgrounds are natural settings in which children choose and select activities with which to participate, as well as peers with whom to socially interact.
Contact among children with different abilities is often not enough to get children independently playing together or to create true meaningful play experiences. An in-depth review of the literature indicates that social intervention strategies positively impact the inclusion of children with disabilities in play activities with their peers. Educators and programmers that use intentional strategies to help children with and without disabilities understand how to successfully play together, equip children with the tools to ask questions, get accurate information, explore their feelings, and learn how to positively interact with their peers.
The Joint Position Statement of the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) state that the desired results of inclusive experiences for children with and without disabilities and their families include a sense of belonging and membership, positive social learning to reach their full potential. High-quality inclusive programs include access, support, and participation by using a variety of instructional approaches to promote engagement of play and learning activities to create a sense of belonging for every child.
Outdoor inclusive play destinations in schools and parks can be important assets to communities in promoting meaningful play, healthy physical activity, and learning for all children. Applying the 7 Principles of Inclusive Playground Design®, developed by PlayCore and Utah State University's Center for Persons with Disabilities, to outdoor play environments is a critical first step in offering high-quality spaces where both physical and social inclusion can occur. However, teaching children about how to successfully play together can take inclusive play to the next level by celebrating similarities and differences supporting character education initiatives.