I was asked by one of our facebook friends if I had any ideas on how to include a child with a disability in the playground at her daughter’s school. I decided to make it a blog post so others may benefit from the answer.
Looking at primary schools when BJ was about to embark on his school life I was sad to see what was happening, or should I say, not happening, in the playground. BJ went to a mainstream school which had a support unit. The kids in the support unit were assisted with their lunch and then they sat in their wheelchairs doing nothing unless they were able to move themselves. Although I understood that staff and teachers aides needed a break I couldn’t imagine BJ sitting doing nothing at “play time”
Lunchtime was the most anticipated time of the day for me when I was at school. Spending time with my friends was a real highlight of the day and I wanted BJ to have that experience, even if it had to be modified due to his limitations.
It is difficult when approaching a subject like this with a school because it is natural for their reaction to be a defensive one. It can be seen as a criticism of the way they are doing things. I have learnt over time that all educational settings have their limits with staffing and funding and it often takes the contribution of parents or volunteers to provide the extras.
HOW IT STARTED
A group of parents formed an organising committee, met and discussed what we would like lunchtime to look like for our kids. For our ideas to work we needed the school to agree to the project, money for equipment and most importantly people power (volunteers). We also had to come up with a name which gave people an idea of what we were trying to achieve. The name we settled on was G.O.A.L (which stood for Get Out (and play) At Lunch.
BJ’s school was located near a large business park which housed international pharmaceutical companies and others like Canon. We sent letters to many companies and asked them to help us raise money by participating in a mufti day (paying a donation for the privilege of dressing casually for the day) or for the company to publicise the volunteer program and try to get a group of staff to come and play with the kids at lunchtime. We asked them to commit to volunteering for one hour either once a week, fortnight or month.
We stressed to them that there was no lifting or hard work involved. They could choose how involved they were and for some children it was a matter of them assisting them to hold a parachute or to help push a ball to play ten pin bowling. The local paper also ran a story which helped boost the profile of our project.
We had a fantastic response from the local businesses and received both money and volunteers. It involved a lot of parent participation with rosters, equipment purchases and liaising with the volunteers all needing to be done. This lessened once G.O.A.L. was well established.
The main focus for the start of the project was recruiting a good number of volunteers and purchasing smaller pieces of equipment.
We alerted the wider school community to the project by presenting the idea to the parents and citizens monthly meeting. We were thrilled to gain their support and to have parent volunteers step forward from the mainstream part of the school.
As you can see it did take quite a lot of work to get the program up and running and we did hit obstacles along the way. We needed to provide storage for all the new equipment, we needed to involve TAD (Technical Aid to the Disabled) in mounting some of the musical toys. We had to ensure that the volunteers had some education in how to understand the children who were non-verbal and how to best assist the children (Cerebral Palsy Alliance provided a physiotherapist and a speech pathologist to provide an information session prior to the volunteers commencing. A parent from the committee then attended the early lunchtime sessions)
G.O.A.L ran three days a week and although there were concerns by staff initially it became a valued part of the school in the long run. I believe it is still running one day a week.
Approximately 61 volunteers participated on a roster when BJ was at the school. Lunchtimes became dynamic, with colour and happy sounds filling the playground. It also attracted some of the children from the mainstream part of the school down to the support unit. It was amazing to see what a difference that one hour of a volunteers time could make to our kids.
THE NUTS AND BOLTS
- Approach the school diplomatically and ensure they understand that the idea is to add another positive aspect to the school. Point out how beneficial it will be and how it is a great way to support the teachers and aides.
- After you have written to companies and had a positive response regarding providing volunteers, send them a guide as to what is involved.
- Educate your volunteers and be available to answer questions. For some it will be the first time they have had the opportunity to interact with someone with a disability. It is natural that they may have questions.
- Don’t push people to commit to more time than they can reliably attend. Reliable volunteers will ensure the programs success.
- Have each volunteer fill out a police check form.
- Have a profile on each child for the volunteers to read. Have a photo and a brief description of each child’s likes or dislikes. If they are non-verbal also include how they communicate. Ask the child’s parent to provide the information and ensure you have permission from parents for their child to participate in the program.
- Get the kid’s input into what equipment and games they would like to play with at lunchtime.
- If there is a mainstream element to the school try and involve the kids in the school by holding a Mufti day and explaining what the equipment will mean to the children in the support unit.
- Ensure there is appropriate storage for the equipment and that it is robust and suitable for the children using it.
- Keep reminding everyone of their own childhood and what play meant to them. It is something we take for granted unless we are missing it.
- Make choice boards for the activities available and encourage the volunteers to use them with each child.
- Have a clear list of volunteer duties. Ensure volunteers sign in and out and wear identification. The volunteers should not take the children out of a designated area where there is a school staff member on duty.
We were so lucky to have a wonderful group of volunteers and a school willing to take on the program. I hope this gives you some ideas on how you could help your children Get Out and play At Lunch.
The pictured equipment was made by the volunteer organisation Technical Aid to the Disabled in NSW. The idea of the portable boxes was that the games could be set up by the volunteers and that the boxes could be accessed by children in wheelchairs or those who were mobile. A variety of games and musical instruments were then purchased for the children to use.
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