Why inclusion matters to us.

The memory I love the most from bringing the kids to the playground is an odd one. They pretty much only got to go on one piece of equipment and it was bitterly cold. But the memory still makes me smile a lot (and sniffle a little).

It was our first visit to a playground together since our son became ill and we were thrown into the world of ‘special needs’. We had escaped for a break from the hospital on a day of appointments which were exhausting for little brother, but mind numbingly boring for older brother who had to just keep out of the way. We went out for some fresh air and came across a playground. Older brother didn’t even ask to go in. After nearly a year of this new reality he knew it was unfair to ask his little brother to sit in a wheelchair and watch him have fun. Visits to the playground were strictly for when cousins or uncles whisked him off on his own.

On this day though he needed a release. And I spotted something little brother could sit on, a spring rocker in the shape of a motorbike and one of a car. So in we went. Those rockers are intended for kids half their age, but you should have seen the smiles on their faces. We were there for ages and I had to drag them off! And little brother was content for big brother to have a quick go on the zip line while he had a go of the other rocker.

I love playgrounds. Maybe I like the idea of them more than the reality early on a windswept Saturday morning, but I know their value. They are a microcosm of society where children learn about themselves and others. They learn about turn taking at the slide. They learn about team work on that weird circle thing that everyone falls off. They learn that everyone is catered for, from the baby swings to the big, scary climbing frames. They learn that something they can’t do today may be achievable one day if they persevere. Children talk and play, all the while developing their fine and gross motor skills. And they have fun.

Unfortunately not everyone is catered for. Kids with disabilities often can’t access the equipment, or even the playground, and they need the social, emotional and physical learning opportunities just as much as everyone else, if not more. And they too need the fun. The skills they spend hours in therapy trying to develop could be easily practised if they could just get on that equipment. The hours spent in adult company could be broken if mum or dad wasn’t standing behind them trying to be inconspicuous (never easy by the way on a climbing frame- you almost always end up playing a pirate!). They too could feel the breeze on their cheeks if the swing seat was just a bit more supportive. Even small changes can make the world of difference to these children who already miss out on so much.

An inclusive playground doesn’t just benefit children with special needs. All those boys and girls who miss out too because it’s unfair on their brother or sister get their playground back. All those boys and girls for whom disability is a far removed concept get to learn a little bit more about our society and the people in it. All those parents of kids with disabilities will get to experience that windswept feeling early on a Saturday morning. And boy, will they love it too.

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