Making Dreams Come True … Boundless Playgrounds by Julie DesJardins
Why play that includes children of all abilities is important:
My hopes and dreams for my daughter, Camille, include a world that sees her for who she is. Not defined by her wheelchair, her glasses or her feeding tube. Not a special needs child, but a child with special gifts and challenges. A little girl who lights up when children push her on a swing or talk to her close enough so she can see. A tenacious spirit that works hard to accomplish life’s seemingly simple tasks like holding her head up, swallowing or reaching for a toy. A sweet little girl with an infectious smile and a ready laugh. Someone to call a friend.
Inclusion in schools is a wonderful aspiration. Steps have been taken to ensure that children of all abilities have equal access to learn together, but we have yet to reach the point where children have equal access to play together. However, playing is how young children truly learn, navigate their world, negotiate differences and develop friendships. Children at Hancock Park Elementary are at a stage in their lives when they are establishing their views of the world, unfettered by expectations and norms. These are the years in which attitudes can be shaped. Children who learn and play with special needs children develop a heightened sense of compassion, acceptance and a fuller appreciation of diversity. With a Boundless Playground, children of all abilities could have the opportunity to play together, independently and interactively, free of barriers. Explore, engage, make friends and appreciate the unique gifts of children of all abilities.
What a Boundless Playground would mean to our community
Our daughter, Camille, attends a special education preschool class at Hancock Park Elementary School where she has an incredible teacher, a wonderful principal and a strong network of parents, therapists and paraprofessionals. Our school has approximately 700 students in preschool through fifth grade including 85 special education students. Those in special day classes interact with their typically developing peers in music, art, reading and outdoor playground time. Unfortunately, the playground is not accessible for handicapped children and as a result, students are unable to play side by side with children of all abilities.
A Boundless Playground at Hancock Park Elementary School would have a meaningful impact on the students at this public school, children from neighboring communities and would also serve as a model for other schools within the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). LAUSD is the second largest school district in the nation with 720,000 students. Schools within the district could benefit from a “best practice” benchmark at Hancock Park Elementary.
The children who graduate from Hancock Park will go on to schools throughout our community. They will be the cheerleaders, the soccer players, the club leaders and the diverse group of children that comprise a school and community. They will establish the norms, expectations and rules of acceptance. How children play and interact in their school years defines how they view and treat others throughout their lives. A Boundless Playground in our community will have a tangible and lasting impact.