Every body can play! Gearing up for inclusion in your summer program

This is the second blog in a series sharing tips from Say “Yes!” to Kids with Disabilities: Stories and Strategies for Including ALL Kids, an inclusion toolkit created in partnership with Seattle Children’s PlayGarden. Read the first blog in the series here.

Spring is officially in full swing! The sun is out, days are growing warmer, and across King County our youth-serving organizations are gearing up for the best time of the year: summer programming.

Creating an environment that includes all kids and families starts long before the first day of programs. As families begin to look for summer programs and sign their kids up, we asked our partner Seattle Children’s PlayGarden to share a few simple tips for making enrollment inclusive for families that include a child with a disability. From the images you use to promote your program to the questions on your registration forms, keeping these tips in mind can make a big difference for kids with disabilities and their families.

1. Promote your commitment to inclusion

If families have to work too hard to find information, or don’t see themselves reflected in your program materials, it sends the message that your program is not designed for all children. So proudly promote your commitment to inclusion! Use photos of children with disabilities in your program materials. Make information about accommodations prominent and easy to find on your website. Use inclusive, respectful language. These changes will send a big message to children and families.

Photo credit: Seattle Children’s PlayGarden

2. Let families know they can ask for support

When signing a child up for a program, many families ask themselves, “Should I tell the program staff about my child’s disability and risk being turned away, or keep it quiet even though it means my child might not get the support they need?” If you take the first step and let parents know that support is available, they don’t have to make this choice. Make a clear statement like, “Our program strives to meet the needs of all participants. Please contact our director to discuss accommodations or supports.”

3. Plan ahead for inquiries

Plan ahead so you’re ready for inclusive conversations with families. Often, when families of a child with a disability inquire about a program, they’re met with the question, “Can your child do what we do in our program?” But an inclusive attitude doesn’t start with decisions about what kids you can’t serve—it starts with a commitment to make your program work for any child. When a parent calls to inquire about your program, open the door for conversation. Say, “Tell us more about your child. What can we do to be successful?”

4. Share each child’s strengths along with their needs

When communicating a child’s needs to staff, be sure to also talk about their strengths and interests. If program staff know that a child loves dinosaurs or robots, they’ll have a way to immediately connect and build a relationship. Give program staff time before kids arrive to discuss the day’s activities and what level of support each child needs to be successful. For example, if a parent lets you know that transitions are difficult for their child, staff can use this time to generate ideas on how to ease the transition from one activity to the next. Take time at the end of the day to share successes, talk about what worked, and make a plan for the next day.

Ready to say yes to kids with disabilities this summer? Download Say “Yes!” to Kids with Disabilities: Stories and Strategies for Including ALL Kids, an inclusion toolkit based on listening sessions with kids with disabilities, their families, and youth-serving organizations in our communities. You’ll find more strategies and tools to empower yourself to take the necessary steps to make your organization welcoming for all kids.

If you’re interested in further training or resources to make your program more inclusive, contact Seattle Children’s PlayGarden’s Inclusive Programs Director, Hannah Gallagher at hannah@childrensplaygarden.org

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