What’s the key to dissolving social barriers in children?

Image credit: Aidan's Place from Shanesinspiration.org

While studies have shown that outdoor play and physical activity promote healthier, happier children, the idea of play is becoming recognized as a powerful tool to dissolve social inhibition. Play, a common language of childhood, has the ability to circumvent socio-economic and individual differences, but for children with physical, sensory and cognitive disabilities, often times peer play is left out of the equation. Perhaps this is why there is a growing trend to provide play areas and programs to support children of ALL abilities. Studies have shown that integrated play helps develop fine and gross motor skills, communication and social skills, cerebral functions, coordination, balance, and self-esteem. Furthermore, it also gives typically-able children the opportunity to experience and accept their peers with special needs as equals, teaching the vital lessons of compassion, awareness, and acceptance.

For every 1,000 children, 138 of them have one or more special needs, according to a 2009 report from the National Center of Education Statistics. One of those disabilities, autism, affects 1 in every 110 kids.

But consider this: people with disabilities are the nation’s largest minority group, and also happen to be the only group which anyone can join at any time. Realizing this, there are companies and organizations that are striving to get the word out on how communities can unite and spread this movement toward universal play. School and municipalities are being educated on how they can find funding opportunities and develop and/or modify existing playgrounds to make them instrumental to the development of all children. And families of both disabled and able children, are learning the advantages of working together to progress in the trend of considering the needs of all children.

Southern California-based non-profit organization, Shane’s Inspiration, has been facilitating universal play for kids for the past eight years. “Reach into your schools and neighborhoods,” says Marnie Norris, director of programs at Shanes’ Inspiration. “Invite children with and without disabilities to the playground and support their connections and communications through play.” Shane’s Inspiration has been working closely with the Landscape Structures, a national playground company that is pioneering the movement in developing innovative and thoughtful playground equipment for all children.

“Our industry has come a long way in providing access to playgrounds and to the play events on them,” says Steve King, co-founder and chairman of Landscape Structures, “But experience tells us this isn’t enough. Collectively we need to look beyond ensuring access to ensuring inclusion.”

On a more local level, Las Vegas-based park and playground development company, Creative Play, is making strides in spreading the movement toward play and social inclusion throughout the state of Nevada.

“The idea of building a playground for all children goes beyond offering just accessibility,” says Donnie Garritano, owner of Creative Play. “It’s inclusive play for everyone. It’s offering a common ground where all kids can be enriched by sensory stimulation of touch, sight, sound, balance, and coordination and find understanding through social interaction.”

What are your thoughts on this movement toward universal play?

Marisa Finetti

Social media-driven, passionate about living healthy, and writing about both. Marisa Finetti has been published in a number of magazines on topics of spa and wellness, and has her own blogs on social media and health: Best Be Well,Spa Pixie and Social Media Siren.

2 thoughts on “What’s the key to dissolving social barriers in children?

  • January 21, 2011 at 8:50 am

    Hi Marisa,

    I think this is excellent! I have a daughter with a disability and I believe whole heartedly in inclusion. Children and anyone who happens to have a disability work and live and a real world, so they should be included in the real world. Regardless of their disability.

    Very interesting post!


    • January 21, 2011 at 12:26 pm

      Evelyn: Glad you liked the post. I, too, believe that is important to champion a vision of inclusion within the community. The Insitute for Human-Centered Design explains that unviersal design is a framework for the design of places, things, information, communication and policy to be usable by the widest range of people operating in the widest range of situations. The focus on building “social sustainability” and considering needs of ALL children is a progressive trend in society that can change a life and tranform and community.


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