Friday, July 8, 2011
On the Playground
It looks so uncomplicated. If a child is willing and able to partake in the fun then there are bad guys to vanquish, princesses to be rescued and treasures to be found. A child's imagination is the only thing placing limits on the exploration.
However, we also notice that this ease does not come without occasional bumps; those little expected tiffs that cause small faces to redden, bodies to stand rigid and angry word to escape the lips.
As adults we think we understand the dynamics. But on the playground there exists a whole world outside the dichotomous phrases "Do you want to play?" and "I'm not your friend!" For children who are faced with developmental or physical challenges such as blindness, deafness, learning delays or limited mobility, the playground can be a lonely place.
Many of us also trust that these interactions engender typically developing children towards greater acceptance, compassion and knowledge about diversity. All we need to do is provide the setting and our hopes will play out as expected. Right? Perhaps it is time to take a deeper look and question our assumptions.
Researchers have taken a deeper look by exploring the play interactions of young children with and without disabilities in inclusive classrooms. They discovered that simply putting groups of diverse children in the same environment did not lead to resounding choruses of "Do you want to be my friend?" Instead children with disabilities engaged in more solitary play while the cooperative play was mainly reserved for typically developing children.
The separation was not a result of internal bias on the part of the children. It was about ease of communication and interaction. It was about whether one was not just willing but able to partake in the fun. Participation for those who had difficulty "keeping up" slowly dissipated and playing alone became the norm.
The good news is that with a little forethought, structures can be implemented to encourage play opportunities for all children. The presence of a teacher can greatly increase the frequency and duration of inclusive play interactions. Allowing for children of varying ages to come together has also been deemed successful in promoting fruitful engagement.
Understanding diversity takes time. When we talk with our students and children about learning and physical differences they begin to make accommodations based on this knowledge.
And a little knowledge can open up the door to other worlds, worlds where a pirate treasure is waiting to be found.