The Importance of Play

All children benefit from play, but play is especially important for children with special needs.  When I first started Playgroups at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library in February 2013, I offered a session specifically for children with special needs on Wednesday mornings (a day and time I had noticed some of our families with children with special needs informally meeting on their own).  Our Monday and Thursday playgroups, held out in the Kids’ World department, were well attended (30-50 people each), but my adapted playgroup, which took place in our storyroom, a much quieter and structured space, didn’t attract any customers.  I eventually dissolved the Wednesday playgroup for children with special needs and held it in the department like the Monday and Thursday sessions.  In addition to the usual crowd, some of my families with children with special needs attended. 

Playgroups for children can be either inclusive or targeted toward a special needs population depending on your activities, the modifications, and what your customers prefer.  Either format can be built on the same principle of the importance of child-centered, open-ended play. The activities I plan for my inclusive format playgroups are often drawn from books about children with special needs, such as 101 Games and Activities for Children with Autism, Asperger’s, and Sensory Processing Disorders.  All children benefit from hands-on activities that engage the senses and inspire teachable moments. 

And playgroups are filled with teachable moments.  Through play, children learn important social skills as well as other basic skills that will help them succeed in school.  Play helps children understand the world and one another.  Playgroups aren’t just for the kids, however.  While we love to see children and their caregivers interact, we’re equally pleased to see caregivers interacting with one another, using the time to network, swap tips, and enjoy the company of other adults.

Please feel free to stop by and observe, or watch the presentation to see Playgroups in action.  I would love to hear your ideas and feedback and learn how you implement playful activities at your library!

Lindsay Huth is the Early Learning Specialist at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library.