Designing Play Ecosystems for Inclusion and Equity

How do we define inclusion and equity? As early childhood educators, are we questioning our understanding of the meaning behind these two words? If so, this is a must-read blog article!!

When most people hear the words “equity and inclusion,” they may think about achieving a sense of equality for all in our society. Equity means “the quality of being fair and impartial.” On the other hand, inclusion refers to “the act or state of including or involving someone or something.” 

When we consider equity and inclusion in terms of education, we might consider what it looks like when all children have access to the same resources and opportunities, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender identity, socio-economic background, or disability status. Creating an equitable and inclusive learning environment is a complex process that involves everyone in the school community—educators, administrators, support staff, parents/guardians, and children.

Since I wrote the book, Loose Parts for Children With Diverse Abilities, I have been reflecting on my perception of the meaning of equity and inclusion. I know that as a society, we can’t remain passive and compliant with the current educational system, which focuses on meeting standards rather than creating citizens of the world. We must join hands and work towards creating ecosystems—biological communities of interacting organisms and their physical environments—where every community member is valued and supported. We must design an ecosystem where every voice is heard. We must commit to education that serves liberation and freedom rather than promoting oppression and minimizing people by reducing them to a label or an assumption based on negative perspectives and focusing only on the needs of children without recognizing their strengths.

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For me, inclusion and equity have a new meaning. I see my responsibility as an early childhood educator is to create ecosystems of hope where creativity and innovation emerge. Where playfulness and joy are what guide our practices. We must use a play equity lens in all our work. We must embrace the ethos that all children have the right to play and that no other adult agenda will replace this fundamental right. We must learn to see and listen to children and respect their uniqueness rather than trying to change who they are. Language matters, but what is essential is how we perceive children and the way we honor and respect them. 

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In my journey into the Loose Parts Educational Philosophy, I have learned that Loose Parts are materials that entice and invite children of all abilities to explore and engage in sustainable play. We all remember playing with rocks, sticks, shells, and other natural or found materials. I remember collecting interesting metal bottle caps and playing intricate games with them. Loose Parts are inexpensive and even more often free. Loose Parts support children’s interest in discovery and exploration, giving full rein to children’s imagination, creativity, and innovation. Loose Parts support educators in creating spaces where creative and joyful expression is inspired and where relationships are built through sharing ideas and interests. 

Loose Parts are nonprescriptive and can be used flexibly. This can be particularly helpful for children with diverse abilities, who manipulate the Loose Parts according to their abilities. Unlike toys, Loose Parts do not come with predetermined directions that measure children’s skills, knowledge, or capabilities. There is no right or wrong way to manipulate and use Loose Parts, so they diminish the possibility of failure and decrease anxiety and frustration. Loose Parts remind us that our focus must be on children’s joy of play rather than assessing skills and striving for mastery. 

How will you create hopeful, joyful, playful ecosystems where every child can thrive?