Playing is an important aspect of children’s development in many spheres. According to Barton (2016), play constitutes the basis for language, literacy, and mathematic development (as cited in Pullum, 2020, p.1). Moreover, children acquire and improve their communicative, social, and cognitive skills, including analytical thinking and problem-solving, while they play (Lifter et al., 2011, as cited in Pullum, 2020, p.1). Within the play, children learn to interact with their environment: different objects and their peers (Barton, 2016, as cited in Pullum, 2020, p.1). Although children with disabilities might need additional or specific educators’ guidance, they should not be excluded from playing, as it provides them with valuable developmental and educational opportunities.
One of the primary issues for children with special educational needs is difficulty with interpersonal interaction within a group. Thus, social play that implies collaboration with peers may be especially useful for them, as it develops children’s social-emotional skills. Such experience would help children adjust to social norms and communication rules and facilitate social integration. Therefore, social play with peers benefits learners with special educational needs to improve their communicative and social-emotional skills.
Play can also be utilized as a distinct teaching method. As Taylor and Boyer (2019) stated, apart from social-emotional skills, it can also develop academic skills, such as learning new words or composing a story. It is noteworthy that, unlike other teaching methods, play-based learning is equally available for all learners regardless of their abilities and backgrounds. Moreover, it can be applied to different domains of knowledge and development. In other words, play is a universal teaching method that can facilitate the learning process for children with special educational needs.
Another important observation is that play can be a valuable source of information for educators. According to Passmore and Hughes (2020), playing reflects children’s preferences and developmental needs. Educators should pay attention to their playing behavior to make the playing and learning process more efficient and beneficial for children. In brief, teachers can better understand strong and weak points in learners’ development by observing playing activities and can adjust the teaching style and learning format to children’s individual needs.
However, children with special educational needs may require extra interventions to acquire and develop the necessary playing skills. First of all, playing activities should not be too simple and monotonous. Otherwise, they would not prompt cognitive, social-emotional, or academic development. Secondly, teachers should provide a specific learning environment for children with developmental disabilities. Pullum et al. (2020) noted that a structured learning model might benefit such learners, as it implies clear physical and visual boundaries and minimal distractions. A well-structured and organized playing session would help a child focus and perceive the educator’s instructions and guidance. Therefore, educators should consider the learning environment and guidance format to facilitate concentration and task comprehension for children with disabilities while playing.
In conclusion, play is important for the development of children, especially those with disabilities. It can help develop their communicative and social-emotional skills, providing them with more opportunities for social integration. Play can also be utilized as a distinct learning method available to all students regardless of their abilities. Moreover, playing reflects children’s preferences and developmental levels, which may help teachers better adjust the learning process to children’s individual needs. Educators should prepare a learning environment with minimal distractors and a clearly structured schedule, playing activities, and tasks to make the acquisition of play efficient for students with special needs.
Passmore, A. H., & Hughes, M. T. (2020). Exploration of play behaviors in an inclusive preschool setting. Early Childhood Education Journal, 49, 1155–1164. Web.
Pullum, M. R., King, S. A., & Kennedy, K. (2020). Structured teaching and the play of preschoolers with developmental disabilities: An evaluation. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education. Web.
Taylor, M. E., & Boyer, W. (2019). Play-Based Learning: Evidence-based research to improve children’s learning experiences in the kindergarten classroom. Early Childhood Education Journal, 48, 127-133. Web.