Friday, July 8, 2011

On the Playground

A familiar statement expressed by adults as they watch children frolic on the playground centers around the observation that their interactions appear effortless.  There seem to be no barriers, no ego or self-doubt; if you want to play with someone you simply ask him or her.

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.

In schools we adhere to the belief that these children will benefit socially and developmentally from interacting with their typically developing peers.  We believe that all children have the right to participate in and have equal access to the same activities.

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.


Mona said...

I see that children are more accommodating with the 'special' children, and can mingle well. Some are even helpful and display a lot of patience with 'special' friends.

Angella Lister said...

such a thought provoking post. thank you.

Hilary said...

The elementary school that my kids (now grown men) went to was the one among a family of schools equipped to take special needs kids. This was precisely how they enlightened the other kids about their needs and abilities. They learned how to interact quite beautifully.. each helping the other. It did indeed take planning and implementation by teachers and admin. The results were so well worth it. A fine post, Gary.

Gary said...

Mona - Children can be so wonderful to one another and when that happens it is a joy to witness. I especially love seeing how 5 and 6 year old children interact with preschool aged children or babies. It brings out the best in them (unless of course it is a brother or sister and then all bets are off).

Angella - xo

Hilary - I love that you called this "a fine post". I honestly think that is the best compliment I've had in a long time. So, thank you. And thank you for sharing your experience with this.

Irene said...

That is really interesting and looks like something I should research a bit more!!! Thanks for the information and sparking my curiosity.

Elizabeth Grimes said...

Thoughtful post...something I've honestly rarely thought about myself. Congrats on the POTW.

SueAnn said...

Great post!! And hence the need for more teachers...not less...but unfortunately we are going into the "we need less teachers" mode! Sigh!!
Congrats on your POTW

TexWisGirl said...

thanks for enlightening us. congrats on your POTW.

Bossy Betty said...

Great insights!

Congrats on your POTW!

Gary said...

Elizabeth, SueAnn, Tex and Betty - Wow, four new comments from four new readers! Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to give feedback. The funny thing is I have no idea what POTW means so now I have to do some investigating. It seems exciting though :)

Hilary said...

Gary, POTW stands for Posts of the Week.. and I plead guilty over at my blog. :)

Gary said...

Hilary! Thank you so much - I am honored and appreciative. It is really wonderful to get support from the blogging community. Writing posts is such a solitary experience so it's nice to get a pat on the back every so often to know someone is reading. Thanks again!

ds said...

It is a wonderful, insightful post--and I've been taking notes.
Congratulations on your well-deserved POTW!

christopher said...

Great POTW.

Eons ago I was involved in early childhood wife stayed with it and has been working with special needs children for 30 years.

Definitely works best when there are ample teachers, support and a commitment to the kids needs first.

Out on the prairie said...

Very nice thoughts, I worked around this.whenI see a blow up by a kid I always wonder which parent acts the same way.

Gary said...

ds - Thanks for reading and for stoppy by FYB.

Christopher - Kudos to you and your wife. It makes such a difference when the teachers working with diverse populations or children with learning challenges WANT to be there. I have had experiences where the adults do not treat the children very well or treat them with less respect than they deserve. Caring, educated adults make such a difference.

Prairie - Too true. I've noticed that the little apples don't fall far from the tree most of the time.


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