Teaching Children True Inclusiveness

Did you know that there is no universally accepted definition of social inclusion? The Australian Social Inclusion Board however defines social inclusion as everyone having the resources, opportunities, and capabilities to learn, work, engage and have a voice.

I believe that it goes much deeper than this and true inclusiveness extends to include how you make others feel.

True inclusiveness comes from within.

True inclusiveness comes from a genuine place of kindness, compassion, and understanding.

To truly include someone, you do it because you want to, not because you have to. 

Inclusion in the playground

When children feel included and supported through play experiences, they gain countless benefits to their wellbeing, happiness, and social development.

Some people think that inclusion in the playground means that all children should have to play with everyone all of the time. Inclusive play does not mean forcing children to play with everyone. Just like adults, children can prefer independent activities, small groups, or games with particular friends.

While I understand the intent behind “all children should play with everyone”, it does not promote true and authentic inclusiveness. Instead it creates resentment, hostility and children feeling like they are not in control of themselves or their own play.

So, exactly what is inclusive play and how do we achieve it?

In basic terms, inclusive play occurs when children:

  1. Feel included in their play environment
  2. Can include others in their own play experiences

Children don’t have to play with all children all of the time – but they should be encouraged to make them feel welcome and included. They have the right to choose who, what, when and how they play, as long as they are respectful, considerate, and thoughtful. Inclusive play is about enabling each child to play and express themselves in their own way and supporting them to play together when they wish to. A child can say no to playing with another child and still make them feel included.

Teaching children positive language is a way to do this.

For example:
Tom – “Do you want to play on the fort with me?”
Isla – “No thanks, I want to play with Charlotte at the Playdoh table. I can play on the fort with you after lunch.”

Mia – “Can I play snakes and ladders with you?”
Liam – “We are in the middle of a game at the moment, but you can play after this round.”

An inclusive play environment supports both the rights of the child who doesn’t want to play and the rights of the child who does.  In a genuinely inclusive environment, however, children are supported in adopting a mindset that openly welcomes others with also the ability to decline play offers in a respectful and thoughtful manner.   This ensures that the child who wants to play does not feel hurt or rejected because of their sensed differences and understands that their classmate simply just did not want to play with them in that moment of time.

What should I do when my child doesn’t want to play with another child?

Next time your child tells you that they don’t want to play with someone, instead of forcing them to play with them because you want your child to be inclusive ,try this:

Find out why they don’t want to play with them – is it a reasonable explanation?

Depending on their explanation you can teach them:

By forcing children to play with other children they don’t want to, we are not valuing their feelings or self-worth. Teaching them self-respect, positive language and how to make others feel welcome is the first step in the right direction towards social inclusion.

In order to help them with this, children need a lot of support, patience, scaffolding and role-modeling from a kind and loving adult.

Do young children have the ability to be inclusive?

When I look around the adult world today, I often feel  terrified. I see exclusion in decision making, education, politics, the workplace, on the news, on social media, and during conversations.

When I visit kindergartens, my faith in humanity is always restored.

The most progressive and inclusive people I know are always under 5!!

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