Playing together

Many children with special needs have difficulty adjusting to unstructured time, such as time on the playground. But after reading the Together We Play™ essays and speaking with parents and caregivers of these children, we know that the playground is an important place for children to be welcomed.

I recently came across a blog, Thin Places—Faith, Family and Disability, that discussed this topic. The author has a daughter, Penny, with Down syndrome. Penny started kindergarten this year and really enjoys it, but she sometimes has trouble sitting still and using her words. Penny’s teacher, however, is working closely with the author to ensure that Penny has friends.

“On Monday, though, Penny’s teacher took it to a new level. ‘The hardest time for Penny is on the playground,’ she said. ‘I think it’s because it’s such an unstructured time.’ So she’s decided to create a game time for Penny and a smaller group of friends. Usually the teacher would use that time to prepare for the second half of the day. But instead, she’s outside, making sure there’s a place for our daughter.

I spoke with a friend last night who has a daughter with Down syndrome who is also in elementary school. My friend was in tears because some kids had yelled at her daughter on the playground: ‘You don’t belong here!’ We talked for a long time about the difficulties of being a child with special needs, and the difficulty of being a parent of a child with special needs. She talked about the purpose of inclusive education, and she said, ‘I know that for my daughter to fit in means putting a square peg in a round hole. But I thought that inclusion was intended to make that round hole bigger.’ My daughter will not become a circle, but I’m grateful that the circle is becoming large enough for our daughter to fit in.”

Inclusive education is exactly what Shane’s Inspiration’s programming is all about. Their playground programming helps break down the barriers of bias toward children with disabilities through education. Check out what Shane’s Inspiration might be able to offer to your community.

Play for Life

The 2011 Play for Life Symposium, held Sept. 22-23, in Minneapolis, attracted park and recreation professionals, landscape architects, individuals working for nonprofit organizations and many more.

Prior to the two-day Symposium, we hosted a small group of attendees at Landscape Structures’ headquarters. They learned about the history of Landscape Structures before taking a tour through our manufacturing facility, and then were able to go on playground visits around Delano. That evening, we hosted a social and gave them an opportunity to network and meet Symposium speakers.

The Symposium kicked off on Thursday, Sept. 22. Day one of the event focused on the many dimensions of inclusive play including traveling with a disability, music, inclusive playground design and playground programming. In addition to valuable classroom time, the attendees were given ample time to network and share ideas with their peers.

Day two of the Symposium concentrated on inclusive play and the natural outdoors. Attendees heard from Bethe Almeras, Head Start Body Start; Carol A. Krawczyk, ASLA; and Hedda Sharapan, The Fred Rogers Company. Each of the day’s speakers discussed play in the outdoors, engagement in any environment and how it affects our lives as grownups. With more interaction among attendees, this was a great way to close the third annual Symposium.

Guest Blog: Creating community

Image

Now that Stephani Victor, Paralympic gold medalist and Together We Play™ essay contest judge, has finished reading the essays, she’s even more in awe of those who submitted them.

It has truly been an honor and rewarding experience to contribute to this most generous award opportunity that I know will be embraced whole heartedly by the winners. I learned a lot through this process. I cried, I felt people’s loss and community need. I felt their frustration with failing budgets and poorly maintained or inaccessible playgrounds in existence. But most importantly, I felt their passion, their commitment and authentic motivation to bring people together for the purpose of play. I have thought a lot about “playing” and what that means in my life, how it has shaped my life and how we have a responsibility as a society to ensure everyone has an opportunity to “play.” It’s important that we provide a place for everyone to go that is safe, where they can explore, grow and develop their imaginations and, ultimately, their sense of self.

I am also deeply affected by the idea of inclusion and what that really means. And how damaging exclusion can be, even if it comes from well-meaning parents who want to exclude able-bodied children from playing with their child with special needs because they are trying to protect them. Ultimately, any exclusion has negative consequences for everyone. I am so committed to the exploration of inclusion–in life–for adults, too. I am really grateful to you for sharing your insights and educating me. I have mountains of respect for you and your teammates, who are so committed to making a difference in lives of so many. Lastly, I appreciated the reminder that each of us gets to create our community and if we would like things to change, we need to start with ourselves.

An amusement park for all

How often do you struggle to find family-friendly outings that offer fun activities…and also cater to everyone’s varying abilities? Families and vacationers near San Antonio, Texas, don’t have to look far. Morgan’s Wonderland, the world first ultra-accessible family fun park, provides a place where all ages and abilities can come together and play in a fun and safe environment.

Featured in the September 2011 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine, the article discusses how Morgan’s Wonderland started. Morgan Hartman’s parents dreamed of a place where everyone could play together, and so they held public forums so that other parents, inclusion advocates, therapists and more could discuss and brainstorm ideas for the project.

In 2010, the inclusive theme park opened it doors and offers play experiences including Landscape Structures playground equipment; a Sensory Village that mimics a city streetscape where visitors can buy groceries, go for a simulated drive through San Antonio and be on a newscast; an accessible carousel; a music garden and much more!

Have you met Norm?

I am Norm. You are Norm. Your neighbor is Norm. According to I am Norm, a campaign designed by young people to promote the acceptance, respect and inclusion of youth with disabilities, Norm is everyone. And everyone has at least one thing in common: that we’re all different.

In January 2010, 20 young people from across the country–with and without disabilities–came together in Washington, D.C. to create the I am Norm campaign. All of the young people shared a goal of raising awareness about inclusion and promoting inclusive practices in schools and communities. Learn more about the creation of I am Norm by watching the video below.

Help educate your community and local schools about the importance of inclusion. One way to do that is to promote the I am Norm campaign. Share their website and videos on your social media sites, blogs, etc. Learn more about I am Norm at iamnorm.org.

Inclusive play across the lifespan

Last week’s post, Teaching kids to be accepting, featured an article in which a mom regularly talks to her children about tolerance. Educating people–young and old–about differences they may experience with others sure seems like the best policy. Making people aware and helping them understand those differences often leads to acceptance.

Kanics Inclusive Design Services, L.L.C. is helping educate the public about inclusive play across the lifespan with its Play for Life Symposium. A group of leading experts on inclusion and inclusive play will gather in Minneapolis on Sept. 22-23 to examine the importance of play for all ages and abilities.

At the Play for Life Symposium, you’ll learn from and have the opportunity to meet and network with Hedda Sharapan, director of early childhood initiatives at The Fred Rogers Company; Muffy Davis, four-time Paralympic medalist, and her husband, Jeff Burley, certified therapeutic recreation specialist; and Bethe Almeras, education and outreach director for Head Start Body Start National Center for Physical Development and Outdoor Play; and more. Anyone interested in advancing inclusion and inclusive play for all ages should consider attending the Symposium including landscape architects, parks and recreation professionals, educators, therapists, service providers, students and parents.

Go here to register today. If you register before Sept. 1, you’ll receive the early-registration discount. For more information, visit playlsi.com/2011-Symposium or contact us here.