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Making child’s play inclusive

By Elaine Ford, Activities Coordinator

All children develop and learn through play. This might involve singing nursery rhymes or playing games like hide and seek or hopscotch.  The play may be quiet and creative or physical and noisy. It is diverse, like children themselves. Play encourages children to think creatively, develop their self-awareness, and interact socially. It is pivotal to a child’s development.

A few years ago, a public inquiry by Sense, found that children with complex medical needs have significantly fewer opportunities to access play and activities than their peers.

At Chestnut Tree House, we believe that every child should have the opportunity to play and have fun. And we are dedicated to making sure that all our play at the hospice is inclusive. But what does that mean?

Making sure everyone can play

We are all different. Being inclusive does not mean treating everyone the same; it means making adjustments that enable all children to take part, treating children fairly, and understanding their individual interests and needs.

Here are a few tips and tricks that we use at the hospice to encourage inclusive play.

Building relationships

By spending time with an individual, you will soon find out when they are happiest and calm, what their strengths are and what causes them difficulties. Armed with this information you can aim to reduce an individual’s anxiety and stress and spend time doing activities they enjoy.

Play is also a great opportunity for children to connect and make new friends, and where appropriate we encourage this through activity days or trips out in our local community.

We adapt play and activities so that everyone can be involved – and you can do this easily too! For example, if your child is non-verbal and their sibling(s) or friends love to sing, why not learn a song together using Makaton? Simple tricks like this can make play more inclusive.

Have a can-do attitude

Having a positive attitude will encourage children to develop an optimistic learning mindset and increase their self-esteem. When we look at our children and young people, we see their potential and all the wonderful things they can achieve. We focus on what they can do, rather than what they can’t. For example, a child who is hard of hearing may not be able to sing, but they might enjoy music through the vibration of banging on the drums.

Sensory differences

We learn about the world around us through Some children and young people require additional sensory input, and some do better with less. Either way, they might choose to avoid certain experiences if they are not comfortable for them. It is important to offer choice.

For example, many of our children love spending time in our sensory room as it combines a range of stimuli including lights, colours, sounds, soft play objects and aromas.

But, by offering a variety of stimulating activities, such as a sand box or some bubbles, we ensure that everyone has options as to how they want to engage with play. We always focus on the individual and encourage children to explore new things.

Let the child lead

Above anything else, play needs to be fun. Children and young people should be free to choose when, where and what they play with. For children with communication difficulties, we give children choice by adopting a few simple tools (that you can easily follow too!) to make communication more accessible.

Providing choice in play activities can help develop communication skills, confidence, and independence. This can be as simple as asking if they want to draw or paint a picture or play on the slide or the swing. This approach is also useful, as it helps us understand everyone’s likes and dislikes, so we can tailor activities to them in the future.

If you’d like to get more information and advice on enabling children with complex disabilities to enjoy inclusive play, Sense has developed a set of play toolkits for parents and professionals. Visit the Sense website and download their helpful toolkits.

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