When Tom joined the reception class with special needs and severe language delay, he had not spent much time with other children. He was anxious to join in with his classmates, but did not know how. He would hang around the edge of the group, watching.
Then he would dash in, pushing and pulling other children and grabbing at the toys, often making unfamiliar noises. The other four-year-olds became wary of his interventions. Tom's teacher was able to mediate in the classroom, but concerns developed over playtimes, especially lunch break.
The school already used play buddies to help integrate isolated children.
Appropriate older children were invited into the reception playground to help Tom play more successfully. This was not a complete solution, but it provided immediate help.
We all know that play is an important feature of children's learning and that it is essential to the development of social skills. Find out what the child with special needs likes or dislikes about playtimes, and ask the parents about the child's preferences and needs. Consulting other children is also a good idea.
Play areas and equipment must be safe, but children need to explore and test their physical skills within a carefully managed environment. Children with disabilities are sometimes further disabled by over-protective adults who stop them from doing things they want to attempt. As well as the safety of equipment and surfaces, are there shaded areas? Is it easy to get to the toilet? Are there places that provide shelter from the more physical play?
Successful play involves other children. Prepare the class for the arrival of a child with special needs. Can you use playground buddies? At Tom's school, children in Years 5 and 6 operate a toy library during playtimes.
Another school taught all of its children some sign language to help reduce marginalisation of children with communication difficulties.
All children need a variety of play experiences, and children with special needs and physical disabilities will benefit from multi-sensory opportunities, such as equipment with different textures, perfumed plants, a small bubbling fountain or wind chimes. All children need places where they can play actively, or socialise quietly, areas that stimulate the imagination as well as the senses, and for role play and drama.
Choice, independence, a broad range of experience, physical challenge and the chance to form friendships are the characteristics of good practice for all children. Disabled children need these opportunities too Gill Moore is a lecturer in basic skills and an SEN governor. Kids, a charity for disabled children, has published an inclusion checklist for play settings. See www.kids.org.uknddpublications