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Movement Experiences for Children
KIN 366
Instructor: Dr. Shannon S.D. Bredin
Office Hours:
Class Schedule:
Important Course Pages
Lecture Notes
Course Discussion

Inclusive recreation refers to activities and an environment that facilitate both individuals with and without disabilities developing recreation and social skills. In order for children to develop optimally, they must be provided opportunities to participate in and achieve success in various challenging and intrinsically motivating physical and leisure activities. The benefits of recreation cannot be underestimated. If done properly, participation in recreation will help all children to develop life-long friendships, positive self-identity, and confidence as well as hone their physical motor skills and enhance their physical and mental health. However, children with disabilities often participate in fewer leisure opportunities than their non-disabled peers, which means making inclusive recreation a reality is truly an important issue in creating a more equal society (Deaton, 2011).

Key Definitions

Recreation: Recreation may be achieved through various types of play, games, leisure activities, and sports. Recreation provides children with the opportunity to create a sense of identity and community connectedness (Roberts, 2011).

Inclusion: Inclusion is the process that allows children to be part of their social and physical surroundings, the ability to make choices, to be supported by friends and family, and to be valued within the community. For full inclusion to exist, children with disabilities must be able to engage in activities of their choice while enjoying the same opportunities and benefits as everyone else (Pegg & Compton, 2010).

Adaptations: To promote inclusive recreation opportunities for children with disabilities, providing adaptations is critical. Adaptations require adjustments of instructions, rules, and objectives. Changes may involve simplifying tasks for children with disabilities or adjusting an activity to make it suitable for children with and without disabilities. Adaptations encourage children with different levels of ability to participate in activities. Minor changes will lead to improved learning outcomes and enjoyment of recreation (Wheeler, Watkinson, & Steadward, 2003).

Universal Design: Universal Design is an approach that sees environments, products, and activities that are accessible by all people that will improve human performance, health, and social participation. This approach recognizes that a diverse population must be considered if full inclusion is to be met and the ultimate goal is to be able to address the needs of all so that full inclusion can exist (Steinfeld, Maisel, & Levine, 2002).

Top Disabilities Facing Children (5-14 years old) in Canada Today

1. Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities result from impairments in perceiving, thinking, remembering, and learning. Children with such disabilities will have severe difficulties with language processing, visual spatial processing, processing speed, and executive functions. Furthermore, a learning disability will hinder a child's organizational skills, perceptual learning, and interactive skills (Edmunds & Edmunds, 2014).

2. Chronic Disability

Chronic disability is classified as the limited ability to participate in any activity due to the presence of a chronic health condition that has lasted for six or more months. Chronic conditions include severe asthma and allergies, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, fetal alcohol syndrome, and spina bifida (Statistics Canada, 2006).

3. Speech Disability

Speech disability is characterized by a diminished and restricted ability to communicate. Children diagnosed with a speech disability will show limited verbal expressions and limited vocabulary usage. Delayed speech deficits will be evident (Spiel, Brunner, Allmayer, & Pletz, 2001).

4. Psychological Disabilities

Psychological disabilities encompass a range of conditions which include depression, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety and panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders etc. (The University of Texas, 2014).

5. Developmental Disabilities

Developmental disabilities are defined as a significant difference between the child's current level of functioning in a wide range of domains (cognitive, motor, communicative, social, adaptive) and the child's chronological age (Edmunds & Edmunds, 2014). The most common conditions associated with developmental disabilities include autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, down syndrome, and intellectual disabilities (Burch & Longmore, 2009).

Main Barriers to Inclusive Recreation

Lack of Social Acceptance

Social acceptance of disability is defined as the equal opportunities that are shared between people with and without disabilities (Schwartz, 1988). Unfortunately, in today's society, we seem to focus on an individual's disability rather than his or her functional abilities. People with disabilities, especially people with visible disabilities are often stigmatized and are not welcomed to participate in recreational activities (West, 1984). When children face constant social rejection and perceive that they are not welcomed, these children may choose not to participate in recreation at all. Even if children with disabilities participate in inclusive recreational programs, they will often choose a program based on perceived acceptance rather than a program of their own interest or choosing as they fear being bullied. If children with disabilities perceive a lack of social acceptance, this will limit their ability to form meaningful social relationships with their peers, which leads to poor social health (Devine, 1997). Essentially they want to be treated as independent citizens in the community.

Continual Use of Segregated Recreation

Many recreation providers and families often find it easier to provide segregated leisure and recreational opportunities for children with disabilities. Parents often feel more comfortable putting their children with a disability(s) in a segregated setting as there is competent and qualified staff to look after their children (Mayer & Anderson, 2014). Although segregated facilities may provide more opportunities for participants and their families, this defeats the purpose of making programs as inclusive as possible. Many children with disabilities choose segregated programs as a stepping stone towards participating fully in community services. Because of this mentality, these children often become trapped in these segregated programs which make it difficult for them to participate in the available inclusive recreation services (Taylor, 2004).

Lack of Direct Support

Today, many recreation organizations have identified that a lack of direct support to children with disabilities as an issue that prevents children from being included. Many recreation providers are inadequately trained to provide certain necessary accommodations for children with disabilities. Recreation providers are generally relied upon to help children with disabilities develop the physical skills - gross and fine motor movements and social skills that are necessary to participate in any program. Furthermore, child safety is a critical issue as children with disabilities will need increased attention and physical assistance as these children are known to lack focus (wander off) and may have a lower perception of threat and danger (Miller, Schlein & Bowens, 2010). If recreation providers do not understand how to make certain adaptations and modifications for children with disabilities, an inherent barrier already exists when these children come to participate in a program. Therefore, staff training is critical and training should be provided prior to the beginning of any program so that every recreation provider will have the tools and skills to provide a welcoming and accessible environment for children with disabilities (Miller et al., 2010).

Benefits of Inclusive Recreation

Inclusive recreation provides benefits to both children with disabilities and children without disabilities. Studies have shown that inclusive recreation leads to a higher quality of life because children can develop friendships through recreation thus maximizing social experience (Moulder, 2003). Having a disability should not be an excuse for children not to participate in any type of recreation activity. For example, children without sufficient upper body strength may have trouble getting in and out of a canoe. However, with physical assistance to get the child into a canoe, the child will be able to perform and enjoy this task with ease. Another example would be a child who is deaf. A coach or even a translator that understands how to use sign language is all this child would need to be able to compete in and perhaps win competitions (Moulder, 2003).

An approach to promote interaction among children known as the Integrated Play Group (IPG) model brings together children with a disability and typical developing peers in small playgroups. The recreation provider may take on a passive role and allow the children with disabilities to take on active roles to develop their social skills. This is a good opportunity for typical developing children to take on mentorship roles and thus improve their leadership skills and interpersonal skills while providing a welcoming environment for children with disabilities (Wolfberg, 2012). Lastly, inclusive recreation can allow typical developing children to recognize the enthusiasm, drive, and determination that many children with disabilities bring when participating in recreational activities. This should be a good learning experience for typical developing children to realize that they should not take anything for granted (Moulder, 2003).

Examples of Inclusive Recreation Opportunities for Children With Disabilities

Adaptive Sports

Community-based recreation programs provide an opportunity for children to engage in age appropriate activities while interacting with their peers (Bell, 2012). Recent research has shown that there are many benefits for children with disabilities to participate in adaptive sports. This is because adaptive sports provide many physical benefits which include increased strength, flexibility, endurance, and mobility (Murphy & Carbone, 2008). Adaptive sports also allow children to increase self-efficacy and self-perception which will lead to a greater quality of life. Participation in adaptive sports also allows children to learn new skills and live a more independent lifestyle. An example of an adaptive sport is boccia (Bell, 2012).

Boccia is a game that is easily modified for people with disabilities. A set of boccia balls will include six red balls, six blue balls, and one white jack ball. The objective of the game is to roll the boccia balls as close as possible to the white "jack ball". If children have difficulties with gross motor skills such as throwing, an assistive device can be provided - usually a ramp to assist the children rolling the ball forward (Akins, 2002). Other examples of well-known adaptive sports are wheelchair basketball and sledge hockey. These examples show the wide range of activities that can be adapted to meet the needs of people with varying degrees of disability. As adaptive programs encourage children with disabilities and children without disabilities to recreate together, inclusion of the non-disabled children will allow such children to better understand the sport. Furthermore, children with disabilities will begin to feel more competent when competing against their non-disabled peers in a non-competitive environment (Bell, 2012).

Inclusive Playgrounds

Playgrounds are critical to a child's development as they offer opportunities for children to develop imaginative skills and creativity. Having an inclusive playground will allow all children to benefit. There are four key characteristics to keep in mind when designing inclusive outdoor spaces: 1) healthy risk taking, 2) graduated challenges, 3) a variety of play types, 4) opportunities for children to manipulate their environment (Burke, 2013). For example, one study examined the impact of a newly designed school playground that wanted to increase the amount of interaction between children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and their typical developing peers (Yuill, Strieth, Roake, Asperden & Todd, 2007). The new playground was built to promote an increase in imaginative play and to provide more difficult activities that required extensive physical effort. The playground also had areas where the children with autism could watch their peers play without necessarily interacting with them. The old playground had tasks that were not as stimulating and were easily performed by the students with ASD. The researchers found that if designed properly, playgrounds could be a place for children with ASD to engage with their peers and foster meaningful interactions (Yuill et al., 2007). Ultimately, the concept of universal design plays a key role in making playgrounds as inclusive as possible. The application of universal design will allow the environment and equipment to be usable by all children so that no child will be left out. The best part about universal design is that it recognizes the diversity of abilities so that having a disability is not seen as being abnormal (Burke, 2013).

Practical Application for Recreation Providers

Although segregated programs provide an opportunity for children with disabilities to engage in recreational activities, research has shown that children with disabilities are happier when they are with peers that are non-disabled than with peers that are disabled (Schleien, Green & Stone, 1999). The following are some strategies that recreation providers can consider when designing inclusive recreation programs.

Approaches for the Recreation Providers to Facilitate Inclusive Recreation

Integration of Existing Recreation Programs Approach

In this approach, children with a disability will choose age-appropriate recreation programs offered within the community. A recreation specialist will work with the children with disabilities and will make adjustments to the program's requirements based on the strengths and capabilities of the children. Therefore, these children with a disability will still be able to participate in some age-appropriate recreation and develop the social skills along the way instead of being isolated (Schleien et al., 1999).

Reverse Mainstreaming Approach

This approach's objective is to design recreation programs specifically for children with disabilities. Then these programs are slightly modified to attract participants without a disability. Many recreation organizations use this approach to encourage children with disabilities (who previously have only had the opportunity to participate in segregated activities) to join these programs so that they can enjoy the recreation activities with people with varying skills and abilities. There are two important outcomes with this approach. First, the participant base will expand as the non-disabled participants join. This will allow children with disabilities to experience many different types of recreation activities with their same aged peers instead of participating in activities with various age groups. Secondly, the children with disabilities are able to build their self-confidence by learning from their non-disabled peers through play and meaningful interactions (Schleien et al., 1999).

Zero Exclusion Approach

To make recreation as inclusive as possible, this approach looks at constantly establishing new and exciting programs because children’s interests change rapidly over time. New inclusive recreation programs are developed to meet the needs of the children. With this approach, recreation facilitators and program leaders design programs that suit the needs of people with varying abilities. The recreation programs are not specifically designed to target a specific group, rather this approach wants to put out programs that meet the needs of every member in the community by providing equal and equitable programs so that no one is excluded from participating in recreation (Schleien et al., 1999).

Practical Application for Teachers - A Hypothetical Example

Many teachers today lack the necessary training to serve students with disabilities. Courses taken during undergraduate training are not sufficient as they may not always include practical experience working with students with disabilities. Teachers with a lack of training will not know what accommodations or adaptations to make when providing instructions for students with disabilities (Cornelia, 2010). Below, is a hypothetical case study example of a newly graduated teacher with the lack of experience teaching a student with a disability.

Case Study

Kyle is a 6 year old boy who was involved in a car accident when he was 2 years old. He broke his neck in the accident and is unable to walk but has adjusted to his condition. Kyle's teacher, Ms. Dionne (a new teacher), realizes that Kyle is also struggling with reading, math, and writing. Kyle has been assessed by a psychologist and has been diagnosed with a learning disability. Ms. Dionne is feeling extremely nervous and does not think she will be capable of helping Kyle since she has never received any training on working with students with disabilities.

Strategies for Ms. Dionne to facilitate an inclusive environment

  • Understand and be aware the disability exists
Teachers are not doctors or psychologists, they don't need to know how to diagnose a learning disability. Ms. Dionne should only focus on how to provide a satisfying experience and provide accommodations to activities when necessary (Peniston, 1997).
  • Collaborate with other teachers and parents
Teachers want to be confident when they are giving instructions to children with disabilities. When in doubt, Ms. Dionne should consult other teachers who have taught students with learning disabilities/physical impairment before to gain ideas on what strategies they can implement. She should also aim to build a strong partnership with parents. Teachers can gain a lot of information on the student's likes, dislikes, and preferences from the parents and can use that information to plan activities (Holbrook & Koenig, 2000)
  • Prepare Peers without Disabilities
The idea of disability awareness is quite important. It is important for Ms. Dionne to provide a formal class on sensitivity training for students without disabilities. This way, students without disabilities will be more prepared to accept a classmate with a disability (Holbrook & Koenig, 2000).
  • Simplify Rules and Skill Sequence (Peniston, 1997)
For example, instead of playing ultimate frisbee, Ms. Dionne could set up an activity where students in the class can work on their throwing accuracy skills. Two cones can be set apart and the students' objective is to throw the frisbee in between the two cones. As a result, all the students in the class will be able to benefit from this activity as the activity can improve their arm strength and their throwing capabilities. Further skills can be added once competency is achieved.
  • Adaptive Motor Program
Using adaptive equipment will help provide a stimulating movement experience for children (Peniston, 1997). Activities provided should be planned based on the child's skill level rather than having the child adapt to the activity. Adaptations can include reducing the size of the playing area, using larger and or lighter equipment, shortening the period of the activity, and slowing the pace of the activity. Children should be able to feel safe and successful in the environment provided (Davis, 1997).
  • Engage in Parallel Activities
Parallel activities allow students in the classroom to perform activities based on their choice and skill level. For example, students may improve their dribbling skills by dribbling a soccer ball around pylons while Kyle could use a wheelchair to maneuver the soccer ball back and forth (Sanderson, Heckamen, Ernest, Johnson & Raab, 2013).
  • Promote Friendships
Ms. Dionne could choose to use an extrinsic strategy known as sociometry to promote friendships between students with disabilities and students without disabilities. Sociometry is a process in which the teacher will restructure the class into smaller play groups so that a potentially isolated student with a disability (such as Kyle) will have the opportunity to interact with students that he might be able to form positive social relationships with (Schleien et al., 1999). For example, the teacher could ask Kyle to be the captain of a team during PE class and allow him to pick people to form his own team. This way, Kyle will not be picked last and will be able to separate himself from peers that may express rejection (Schleien et al., 1999).
  • Allow additional time to perform activities
It is important to be patient when working with children with disabilities. Providing them with additional time to do tasks can enhance their level of self-esteem and improve learning outcomes (Bell, 2012).


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