“Maya Makes a Friend” is an illustrated book where a young girl has an afternoon at the park learning lessons of friendship, inclusion, and accepting others who are different than herself. This book teaches kids of all abilities about others and provides a platform for conversation with caregivers about being kind and respectful to everyone. “Maya Makes a Friend” stems from a collection of books that written specifically about disabilities that can be personalized for each individual.
Playtime: An Exercise in Inclusion
Playtime is open to all, and that is how it always has been. Rain or shine, children have always been able to find joy in play. This is namely because all you need is the desire and some imagination (but friends and toys certainly don’t hurt) to play. For an activity that is open to everyone, it is only natural that it should be a highly effective focal point to promote inclusion.
For an illustration of this, think about play itself. In most playground games, there is generally some sort of “safe haven” incorporated into the rules of the game. Sometimes it is called a base, sometimes no man’s land and sometimes it is just called a “safe zone.” Regardless of the name, this is a spot in the midst of the competitive fervor for all children to catch their breath without allegiance and bond over the shared experience of being in the game together.
While in the scheme of everyday life, playtime might not seem stressful enough to warrant these safety precautions, think back to what it was like as a child. Living in the moment, when all that mattered was whether or not you were tagged. That was the most important thing on earth. Those few inches—the ones between your ribcage and the person whose hand was “it”—were all that mattered.
Let’s look at playtime as it relates to life. If life is the game, then playtime is the safe zone. Across the globe, despite varied and unique upbringings, every child of every nation plays. Just like the role of the “safe zone” inside of a game, playtime can be seen as a base from the seriousness of life. A place where all kids can escape the humdrum of everyday life to just be kids.
With that in mind, play should always be a “safe zone.” A place where politics and hatred should be forgotten, and the only beliefs should be make believe. Play is an inclusive place.
Here are a few different ways you can teach the importance of inclusion through playtime:
The adage says not to judge a book by its cover, and what better way to do this than with books themselves? There are many children’s books on bookshelves nationwide that tackle the issues of inclusion. There are two books that we think do this quite well. One is “Maya Makes a Friend” by Someone Special Books and it is a picture book story of a young girl who encounters a child in a wheelchair at the park, and over the course of the playtime she comes to the realization that despite what she might have thought at first, he is just like her! The second book, “A Different Little Doggy,” by Heather Whittaker, is the real life story of the author’s dog, Taz, which illustrates to kids that it is okay to be different, because we are all still alike in oh so many ways.
This is a broad category that is defined as any game with more than one person. With a diverse group of children, kids can learn to either work together or engage in friendly competition to build good sportsmanship. Kids will have to work with others their entire lives, and it is within the rules of these games that they build many of the essential skills they will carry with them their entire lives.
- Blue Orange Games is a company that makes games for a wide variety of players and ages. Spot It!, KeeKee the Rocking Monkey and Goblet Gobblers are the ones that we have come back to time and time again.
- Peaceable Kingdom—Sunny Day Pond, The Great Cheese Chase, and other cooperative games are plentiful with this company. Everyone wins and loses together!
Empathy through imagination.
Inclusion can be a hollow gesture if there is no feeling behind it, and for this children need to have developed the ability to feel for other people. This is called empathy. While kids might find it difficult to determine how others are feeling at a young age, children can connect with toys and stuffed animals in a unique way that can teach them to consider how others might feel.
Many companies even have specially designed toys to promote inclusion. For example, Lego has a figure in a wheelchair, Barbie has a new line of dolls of all body types, and American Girl Dolls include a hearing aid accessory as well as offer a doll with no hair, much like if a child had alopecia or was going through chemotherapy.
If the world is full of different people, then inclusion is the glue that can bind us all together. By teaching children at a young age the importance of empathy and respect for others, children are given values they will take with them as they grow, mature, and enter the world as adults.
“For me, inclusion is about a community where everyone is recognized for their differences and everyone is recognized as belonging – not only in our schools, but in our communities.” - Dr. Joseph Petner, Educator