Teachers ensure the full participation of all learners during class time, but what about non-instructional times like recess, lunch and extracurricular activities? These parts of the school day provide students with great opportunities for developing friendships and honing social skills, but often kids with disabilities don’t get the support they need to participate fully.
Many children grow anxious and nervous when recess rolls around as they feel like they can’t connect and enjoy the fun space as much as other kids; it’s the job of those in the education system to enable kids to participate and help them feel valued in all aspects of life.
Try some of these tips in your school with the goal to boost student inclusion and participation in activities that happen after class, especially during recess.
1. Play Inclusive Games
Ensure games played are those that can include everyone. Nothing should be too competitive or too complicated, as that will leave some students feeling like they’re unable to participate. Pick games that children are familiar with and make sure everyone can join in. Many children are seen to struggle with entry behaviours, so they miss out on the fun play. Have a teacher around the game to make sure everyone plays fairly.
2. Improve Accessibility
Does your school’s extracurricular activities take place in easily accessible locations? Improving inclusion at recess greatly relies on creating a fully accessible playground. School authorities should consider a few things when it comes to playground design.
Wheelchair Accessible: Wheelchair accessibility in playgrounds are very important, and if your school does not have handicap equipment at your playground, then it’s far from providing an accessible recess experience. Make sure the school has equipment like a wheelchair-accessible Merry Go Round and Platform Swings. Including things like this will allow every child one to have fun at recess.
Sensory Playgrounds: In order to have an inclusive recess, schools should expand and renovate their playgrounds to have more sensory elements. Just like how wheelchair-accessible playgrounds allow children in wheelchairs to feel included at recess, sensory playgrounds allow children with Sensory Integration Disorders or Autism to feel included. Creating a space for those who need a sensory experience can truly improve inclusion in your school.
3. Create A Buddy System
One important tip on how to increase inclusion at recess is by making sure no one is left alone at recess. It is common to see a school struggle with inclusion when groups of students play by themselves. Some students often don’t engage with others, but the sooner teachers create an atmosphere of inclusion and friendship at the school, the faster that will change.
Creating a buddy system for recess also helps and encourages inclusion. Just make sure no student is left alone without friends to play with. If you notice budding friendships among students, do your best to nurture those - you will eventually see a significant shift in the personality and attitude of the students.
4. Start A Lunch Bunch
It’s important to encourage social interactions, especially during recess or at lunchtime, so students with disabilities don’t end up at one table without interacting with their classmates. An informal ‘lunch bunch’ could be an exciting way to promote inclusion at mealtime and bring together students who otherwise might not interact with others.
Schedule the group to meet a few times each week, these group gatherings provide a comfortable context for disabled students to get to know other kids and have fun together. Students slowly begin to develop relationships with each other, opening the door for students with disabilities to be invited to other tables to join their peers for lunch or other activities.
5. Put On Some (Calming) Music
Music is said to help create a soothing atmosphere for everyone and can be especially beneficial for students with autism (a condition that includes problems with communication and behaviour) or sensory processing issues. Julie Causton, founder and CEO of Inclusive Schooling, speaks of an autistic student that found that the cafeteria overloaded his senses. The student requested to play Beatles music at lunch. After analyzing the incident, the school started to play songs during recess breaks that helped create a calming atmosphere for all students, enabling the student to spend time with their peers and connect with them during recess.
6. Create Interest Tables
You might have observed teachers printing popular student interests on colourful, highly visible cards and placing them on lunch tables at some schools. This allows both students with and without disabilities to choose tables that interest them and discuss their favourite topics with their classmates.
7. Nurture Budding Friendships
Michael Giangreco, a faculty member in the Special Education program at the Department of Education, University of Vermont, in his book Quick-Guides to Inclusion, suggests adults keep an eye on their students and notice when exactly two students begin to enjoy each other’s company. After this initial interaction, those in the classroom should try to make a proactive effort to facilitate and nurture the growth of this budding friendship. In other words, looking out for opportunities to put these students together, as well as encouraging them to join the same after school group or play on the same dodgeball team at recess.
8. Give Students The Tools They Need
As Julie Causton points out, many times, disabled students want to participate in social activities but don't know how to start. Teachers should help such students recognize social possibilities at recess and give them strategies for approaching a fellow student. They should individually ask the student who they would like to play with at recess or participate in activities with, and provide suggestions on how to approach them with friendship.
In case a student is nonverbal, you might give them a visual list of the names of the students in the class, and help them to program their device to talk to a peer or create an index card with the student’s desired message on it. These small efforts can go a long way to inclusion at recess.
9. Identify Gaps In Extracurriculars Offered
Does your school offer a wide variety of extracurricular activity choices that appeals to diverse students with different interests? School authorities should prepare an inventory of all the clubs, programs, and activities available and identify what might be missing. Schools also need to evaluate if current activities are biased toward athletic and academic superstars? What new clubs/extracurricular activities could your school create to encourage greater inclusion and more participation by students with and without disabilities?
10. Use Peer Buddies
The book Peer Buddy Programs for Successful Secondary School Inclusion by Carolyn Hughes and Erik Carter provides some good examples and useful steps on how to implement a peer buddy program.
A carefully implemented peer buddy program could be an effective way to support student participation and inclusion in afterschool activities. Look out for students who already participate in activities and who could assist their friends/classmates with disabilities. Assess what types of support the student with disabilities might need in order to participate in the activity, and decide which of these supports the peer buddy could provide. Make sure the peer buddy receives all the information and training needed to provide these supports in an effective way.
The objective of inclusive playgrounds is to include everyone. They are thoughtfully designed to provide a safe place where children of all abilities can play together. An inclusive playground will ensure a positive, engaging experience for all children that breaks down the barriers to exclusion, both physical and social, providing a rich experience for all.