8 Inclusion Strategies to Use When Facilitating Group Games

Lesson Length : 15 minutes


What is the Purpose of Group Games?

Group games such as tag, relay races, obstacle courses, or pick up soccer are staples of daily life for school-age children. Yet, these kinds of games- whether led by other children or by adults are times in the day when children with disabilities are excluded.  To begin, let’s clarify: What is the purpose of group games?  The purpose of group games for most educators is to bring a new group of children together or to build cohesion among those who already know each other. The purpose is to promote TOGETHERNESS.  Group games create opportunities for children to be silly, move their bodies, get exercise, and make new friends. Through group games, children  learn how to be a member of a team, develop their problem solving and social skills, and of course, have fun with their peers.

Lead Group Games with ALL Children in Mind

Physical, developmental, cognitive, behavioral, social-emotional, and sensory disabilities influence how a child may engage with a group activity, not if they can participate. Modifications can be made to all group activities to make them more welcoming and accessible to all. The following strategies will provide tools and strategies for how to lead group games with the needs of children with disabilities in mind so that group games are fun for all.
Use these 8 strategies to help you adapt common group games:

1.Presume competence for every child. 

Presuming competence means, to assume that ALL children are capable of learning, thinking, understanding, and participating given the right kinds of support to help them succeed. Coaches, teachers, program directors, parents and community members ALL have a role to play in ensuring that everyone receives the supports they need to participate.  

Imagine the following scenario: You are a camp counselor at a summer camp.  You are starting a game of Sharks and Minnows with the group of 22 campers. You ask a child in the group if they want to be a shark or a minnow. The child looks up at you with curiosity but does not respond. You assume they didn’t understand and you usher the child to the Minnows group. The child goes along but looks a little frustrated and becomes more reclusive. 

Now, imagine a second scenario: Same scenario as above, only this time the camp counselor told by the Camp Director that the child they were going to add to a team is non-verbal. The first scenario seems pretty unfair right? It is not that the child didn’t understand but that they didn’t have the right supports to answer the question.  

Unfortunately, the counselor takes in the information from the Camp Director but still doesn’t know how to support the child so they still just usher the child into the Minnow group anyways. 

Now, imagine a third scenario: This time around the camp counselor is told that the child is nonverbal and the Camp Director reminds the counselor that they can use pictures to communicate.

The camp counselor decides to approach the same child and in addition to asking verbally “Which team do you want to be on? Sharks or Minnows? The counselor shows a  picture of a shark and a picture of a minnow and allows the child pick which team they wanted to be on.

How is scenario 3 different that the first two? In scenario 3, would the child feel more empowered? More understood? More seen for who they are? What about the Camp Counselor? Do you think that by  presuming competence will increase their positive thoughts about the groups overall participation? Did the counselor model inclusive practices for the other children to see? 

Cheryl Jorgensen, inclusive education consultant, shows us just how importnat presuming competence is:  “Our judgments about students’ intellectual capacities affect every decision we make about their educational programs, their communication systems and supports, the social activities we support them to participate in, and the futures we imagine.”

Presuming competence helps to ensure each child is treated with respect and with their autonomy intact. It can also help keep us from lapsing into a disrespectful stance with a person we may not immediately understand. 

2.Plan for the unique needs & interests of every child.

If you have information on a child beforehand, use that information to guide you as you come up with creative ways to help them participate in a group game.

If you don’t know the child beforehand, take time to carefully observe, talk to parents or caregivers if you can, and talk with the child themselves.  You will get a sense of what aspects of the game they are understanding, excited about, or confused about. From there, you can come up with creative solutions to support that individual child. 

Anticipate a Variety of Needs
In an inclusive setting, you will have some children who will need 1-1 support throughout a game while others may just need support to help them get started or learn the rules. Similarly, you may have a child that uses a wheelchair to move around, a communication device to speak, a walker to walk,  or a picture schedule to help their brain stay organized throughout the day. This variety of abilities can and should also be used to make games more complex and interesting.
Invite the children to design the games using their knowledge and skills and work together to come up with ways for everyone to participate. Doing so builds buy-in from all children, helps them develop autonomy in their play, and builds self-confidence.

3.Consider support you need to provide for every child to be successful.

Ask yourself…

  • How many children will be participating in the activity?
  • How many people will be needed to support the children? 
    Example response: Of my 22 campers, I have 4 that need 1-1 physical support, 2 that need 1-1 social support, and 4 that will need help getting started in the game/activity.  To provide this support I will have ___ counselor lead the activity and use 6 of the other counselors  to provide the 1-1 support.  2 of the Junior Counselors can help the campers that need just a little support to get started. 
  • Can the support be provided by another participant or does it need to be an adult?
    Example response: “Last week I know that these two campers played really well together. They can be paired up 
  • What has worked well for the children in the past? 
  • How has the game fallen apart in the past?
    Example response:
    Last time the game fell apart when ___ camper got upset because another child broke the rules. 
  • How can you preemptively plan for these things so they don’t happen again?
    Example response: To help all the children feel more prepared we will go over the rules of the game at the beginning. We will show them visually on a picture schedule and share them verbally.   We will also come up with specific rules together as a group that are more applicable to the group of children currently participating. 

4.Set an inclusive tone.

Your introduction to play sets the tone for the rest of the game or experience. Is the language you are using inclusive? Is it framed in a way that children who may have felt unsuccessful in the past will be encouraged to try to play this time around?

  • Introductions that use language that does not apply to everyone such as, “to get started, everyone stand up,” or “everyone run to the yellow line!” can be exclusive, if you have children who are not able to stand or run. 

  • Consider instead saying something like, “To get started, everyone stretch up,” or “everyone meet me over at the yellow line.”

5.Set clear guidelines for the game each time you play

Do not assume that if you explained how to play a game the week before, you don’t need to explain it again. If adults are directing the play, setting the stage for the game helps all children understand the rules of the game and is a reminder for how they can participate.  

If children are directing their own play, adults can help by gently asking clarifying questions about the rules and offering suggestions. Suggestions can help children to think about how they are/or aren’t including everyone. Having a conversation with everyone at the beginning can also be a great time to help the children come up with creative roles for children who may want to participate in a slightly different manner than the rest of the group.  Again, this gentle clarification will end up helping all children participate. An example of an inclusive introduction may sound like, 

  • “Okay everyone, we are going to play ‘What time is it, Mr. Fox?’ Some of you may have played this before but in case someone is new to the game, let’s go over how to play as a group so that everyone can play.” 

  • “This is a new game for our group. I am so excited to play! To get started we can brainstorm ways everyone in our group can have a role.”

6.Talk about human diversity (and neuro-diversity) with your kids

We are all different in some way and that we all do things every day to adjust to our unique circumstances. For example, someone who wears glass uses them to correct blurry vision, just as someone who is non-verbal may use an assistive device like an i-pad to communicate. None of these things are “wrong” they are just different ways of being in the world. Kids use the word “wrong” because they have been socialized by adults and society’s attitudes about what is considered “normal” versus “abnormal”. We can expand the notion of “normal” by talking about neurodiversity with kids and talking about how ALL body types, ways of moving, communicating, thinking and behaving are normal and healthy.

7.Emphasize similarities and shared interests

Avoid focusing only on differences between children.  Doing so, sends the message that people with disabilities are inherently different than the other kids. This kind of attitude perpetuates segregation and othering of people with disabilities.

Instead, emphasize similarities. ALL kids are kids first and foremost and everyone wants the same things– to have friends, to play, to be loved, to laugh, feel included and to participate in activities together with their friends and family.

Example of focusing solely on differences:
“Good Morning Everyone! We are about to start our soccer game but first I want to point out that we have a student today who uses a wheelchair. Because River uses a wheelchair, she is going to play soccer with the blocker attached to her chair, so the ball doesn’t go under her chair. We are also playing on the basketball court because Rivers chair doesn’t work as well on the grass. River is going to have an adult with her to make sure her chair doesn’t fall.”

In this case, the coach is highlighting River’s differences. By saying her name multiple times in a row it further emphasizes those differences. It is not a bad thing to point out the different ways River’s chair can be adapted so she can play. But it is important to bring it back to the things the children have in common.

Example of finding similarities:
“Good Morning Everyone! I am so excited to be here today. Are you all excited? To get started let’s thank our bodies. Give yourself a big hug! Our bodies do incredible things and each of our bodies are a little different in how they move. Some of us walk, some run, some of us use our chairs to move around. But we all love to play soccer, right? Even though we each move differently, we can ALL play soccer and have fun together. Are you ready to get started?”

8.Facilitate conversation- before, during and after the game

No matter the age, social interaction with kids and teens stems from having shared experiences together. Adults can help children with and without disabilities successfully play group games together by facilitating conversation before, during and after a group game expereince.  Adults or older youth can help children find common ground,  talk about what they liked about the game, what made them frustrated and help come up with interesting roles in games so everyone can play. 

Pause and Reflect

  1. What games do you play at your organization? 

  2. If you are a Program Director- how do your staff (coaches, counselors, teachers) learn how to facilitate group games? Is there any training for them? If so, how can you incorporate these strategies into the training? How can you model inclusive practices for your staff? 
  3. If you are a coach, mentor, or teacher facilitating group games, write out how you would normally introduce a game or activity. What parts of your introduction to the game can you change to be more accepting of all children?