Play as a Pathway to Inclusive Education for all Children

June 26, 2023

Authors: Paul Otwate, Charity Waweru-Mwangi, Silas Onyango, Linda Oloo


All children, including those with disabilities, deserve equal rights to access quality and inclusive education and caregiving. Learning through play (LtP) provides a thriving and survival opportunity that enables all children, particularly those with disabilities, to attain their full potential.

Our views here follows a study conducted on strengthening capacities of teachers on play-based learning as a pillar to the access to the inclusive quality education for all children, in the three participating counties of Kajiado, Kiambu, and Nairobi in Kenya. We share key information requisite to leverage play-based learning to attain access to equal educational opportunities.

Teachers underscored that learning through play is an approach that allows children to enjoy more while learning new concepts and socialization skills. Further, play is integrated into learning experiences through realia, whereby all children use their senses to manipulate play materials. These experiences fulfill the innermost intent of playful learning in all children and  improve their conceptual mastery, especially for those living with disabilities.

Teachers in the project schools reported the following observed types of disabilities in children in the thirty schools: children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disorder, physical impairment, and intellectual disorder.

“I have a hyperactive child that requires to be seated near me and needs constant motivation and supervision,” one of the teachers commented during the survey.”

Inclusive learning through play approaches that were reported and incorporated into school activities by teachers include; giving special activities such as modeling and coloring using attractive crayons for children with learning disorders. Equally, teachers reported they assign children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder additional roles, such as distributing learning and play materials to the groups. For children living with physical impairments, the teachers indicated that they give them roles that can contain their hyperactive and increase their confidence, such as leading the cheering squad.

Parents acknowledged that all children, including those with disabilities, have equal learning and developmental opportunities. For instance, one mother mentioned that whenever she does laundry, her child also wants to do it and she proceeds to give her light garments such as socks to wash. Similarly, her child has also developed an interest in cooking and she allows her to cut carrots while observing what she is doing. Further, parents reported that when reading religious books such as the Bible, they use the opportunities to sing gospel songs with their children.

“Learning through play has helped my son living with an intellectual disability. He has developed confidence and can now socialize with other children,”Said one of the caregivers we interviewed during the survey.

In terms of the barriers that teachers face when implementing LtP approaches for all children include management of hyperactive and passive children. Teachers observed that when distributing play based materials, the hyperactive children always come to take the materials from those who are passive. One teacher observed a challenge arising from such occasions,

“My challenge is balancing and bringing everybody to the same level,” she mentioned. In addition, another teacher recognized that they had no knowledge and skills to handle children with autism during LtP,  “There are also autistic children, we’re not able to deal with them as teachers, but the parents have to guide us on how to do it,” said the teacher.

Another challenge facing teachers in the implementation of LtP is a lack of adaptive play materials to address the varied needs of children with disabilities. Consequently, parents acknowledged that not all of them were able to provide play materials because some were expensive, especially those needed by children with disabilities. “We have no materials for learners with disabilities, they just play with the available ones that others are playing with.” one of the teachers noted during the survey.

Notably, teachers highlighted that the critical challenge faced when implementing LtP for all children including those with disabilities was denial emanating from parents. This barrier is largely attributed to the perceived discrimination of the child with a disability in the school and the society. As a result, most teachers only learn of the child’s disability status after the condition is noticeable during playful learning activities in school. “The mother told me that if she told us about the boy’s condition, we would discriminate against her child and she is an old parent,” said one of the teachers.

The preferred agreed next step from the teachers and parents perspectives in meeting inclusive learning for all children in our school systems, especially through play based learning includes: regular capacity building of teachers on inclusive play based learning instructional approaches, training teachers and parents on development of and provisions of play based low cost learning materials, sensitization of parents on acceptance about the disability status in their children, and strengthening the link between home and school to allow teachers obtain full support necessary to provide inclusive learning for all children.

In conclusion, we underscore that all children, including those with disabilities, have a right to access quality and inclusive education. Learning through play presents a low hanging fruit in the Kenyan education system to address systemic and structural barriers faced in providing quality inclusive learning. Therefore, we suggest all like-minded stakeholders reinforce a call towards strengthening the integration of instructional play-based learning approaches into school curricula beneficial to all children, including those with disabilities in Kenya and regionally.

Although we have gaps in policy implementation on the provision of adequate and adaptive play resources in schools, timely responsible and efficient action on this issue would bridge a gap on educational marginalization and guarantee quality inclusive foundational learning for vulnerable groups such as children with disabilities and those from poor backgrounds.