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Playing and learning

"Once I saw that Helen could play, I stopped seeing her as a syndrome, a problem, and saw her as a child with imagination, ideas and potential." Overheard from a parent

Getting started

  • Children with cerebral palsy need the fun of play like their peers.
  • You do not need to buy expensive equipment - adapt play to meet the child's abilities.
  • It is the play interactions between staff and children that matter.
  • Make the child a part of play.
  • Follow the lead of the child you want to include - observe what activities the child enjoys.
  • Find ways to stabilise toys to enable play e.g. with Velcro or non-slip mats.
  • Use play to encourage children to recognise differences in all of us.


All early years settings know that play is vital for all children. It is the way we explore the world about us and our place in it offering opportunities to relax, express feelings, experience success and failure, to learn about communication, our physical capacities - the list is endless. Play allows parents and professionals to focus on the child's abilities. It reinforces the positives and in doing so sends the message to all involved that the child is first and the impairment only part of their individual make-up. Parents have a key role in developing play opportunities since they are in position to bring in aids and adapted toys from home and have been working on ways to include their child. "For the private nursery, I take in most of Arron's equipment - chair, switch toys and other specific toys. Staff are creative and make mobiles, etc but generally, he is included in most of the activities with use of hiss chair (Jenx whale) or the Bumbo [a make of chair]". Parent of three-year-old at mainstream nursery and playgroup

Practical ideas

Scope has developed two useful play resources:

  • Playing and Learning - a booklet designed for parents and full of practical inclusive play ideas, downloadable from
  • Play Talks - a pack containing fun ways to promote communication through play for children under five who have additional needs. It consists of colour-coded factsheets and a CD-ROM and costs £18 including postage and packaging. To order a copy, call 020 7619 7342 or email

HemiHelp has a series of leaflets available on this website, and the pre-school information and parts of the primary school information can also be used for practical support. KIDSactive aims to ensure that the play needs of disabled children are fulfilled. It does this nationally by promoting inclusive play through training, consultancy and publications. For example, Planning Inclusive Play (PIP) is a Level 3 course that provides theoretical and practical training for team leaders to support them implementing inclusive policy and practice. Pre School Learning Alliance is a community pre-schools support and campaigning organisation. 69 Kings Cross Road, London WC1X 9LL. Tel 020 7833 0991. Email Web: National Association of Toy and Leisure Libraries aims to create and support high-quality play opportunities through advice and support, training, toy appraisal and information. 68 Churchway, London NW1 1LT. Tel 020 7255 4600. It produces an annual Good Toy Guide which can be ordered free from the website Play Matters (part of the National Association of Toy and Leisure Libraries) have produced a video "Play Helps" presented by Roma Lear. Roma spent her professional life as a teacher in hospital schools. She started one of the first toy libraries in the UK for children with special needs, and has lectured throughout the world at international conferences on this subject. This video is a reminder to all involved in play that toys do not have to be complicated or expensive to have recreational value. This is a hands-on video with many ideas. Play Matters, 68 Churchway, London NW1 1LT. Tel 020 7387 9592. Email or visit the NATLL website. Play Matters also produce three activity packs that are available as above:

  • Playing and Learning at home 3-6 year old
  • Playsense for play for babies and young children
  • Playing to Learn activity pack with game cards

Bag Books is a charity that produces multi-sensory stories for people with learning disabilities. 1 Stewart's Court, 218-220 Stewart's Road, London. SW8 4UB. Tel: 020 7627 0444. Email: Website: Portage - "Portage is a home visiting educational service for pre-school children with additional support needs and their families. It takes place in the child's own home and aims to equip parents with the skills and confidence they will need to help their child, no matter what the child's difficulties may be. Portage offers practical help and ideas to encourage a child's interests and make learning fun for all the family." Families have found Portage invaluable in supporting inclusion in early years settings.

Useful reading material

Rachel Scott (Editor) 2000: Side by Side: Guidelines for Inclusive Play, KIDSactive 2000. ISBN: 0952629518. Mary Dickens and Judy Denziloe: All Together: how to create inclusive services for children and their families. NCB Books. This book promotes the ideals of inclusion in the care and education of young disabled children with information about legislation and guidance. Tel 020 7843 6029. Philip Douch: It Doesn't Just Happen: A guide to inclusive management in children's play provision, Kidsactive. This books offers a step-by-step guide to planning and managing inclusive play; the ethos of inclusion; guidance on how to create and improve policies and practice; examples of good practice and details of relevant legislation, useful organisations and publications.

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