How to Create An Inclusive School Environment

An inclusive school makes all students feel safe, respected, and valued. All students should feel they are included in all aspects of the school day – in the classroom, in the lunch line, outside at recess on the playground, etc – regardless of individual differences.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act require equal education opportunities for students who have disabilities. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) highlights the importance of inclusion for all children. According to IDEA, schools must include students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment. Students with disabilities must:

  1. Be placed alongside students who are typically developing
  2. Have access to the standard curriculum
  3. Have access to typical non-academic activities

A team of the student’s parents, teachers, support staff, and administrators should work together to create the best possible plan for the individual student based on their unique needs. Full inclusion is the most ideal scenario. So rather than removing students from their mainstream classroom, schools should insert support staff into the classroom as much as possible. This same thought process can be applied to recess areas – don’t create separate play areas for developmentally different students, rather, include opportunities for all abilities to play and engage in the same playground spaces.

How to Create A More Inclusive School Environment

  •  Use Diverse Education Resources

When choosing education resources such as posters, academic texts, and library books, seek resources that include diverse representation. Many children’s books now address topics of race, ethnicity, religion, disability, and other differences. Books are a phenomenal way to spark discussion and will normalize differences among students.

  • Create Collaborative Projects

Students learn so much from working with their peers. When creating lesson plans, identify which aspects of the lesson can be done in pairs or groups. Collaborating and working together as a group allows diversity to be celebrated and all contributions to be valued. Consider implementing student roles within groups and supply your class with sentence starters that will encourage productive discussion.

Here is a great resource that can help with student roles and sentence starters shared by the Illinois State Board of Education:

  • Create Accessible Playgrounds

Inclusion must go beyond the classroom and extend onto the playground. We know the importance play has on a child’s social, emotional, and physical development. All students, no matter their abilities, deserve opportunities to develop on the playground.

In order to be considered accessible and inclusive for everyone, a playground should try to meet as many of the following criteria as possible:

  1. Activities are sensory-rich and engage the auditory, tactile (touch), proprioceptive (muscle and joint movements), vision, and vestibular (balance and spatial orientation) sensory systems
  2. Unitary surfacing provides users of mobility devices with an easily accessible play space
  3. Varying challenge levels are present to ensure all ages and abilities are actively engaged on the playground
  4. The “Coolest Thing” – the piece of equipment children will be most excited about –is accessible and usable for all
  5. Stimulating play elements encourage imaginative, cooperative, and parallel play
  6. Routes around and through the playground are wide enough for those using mobility devices to easily pass each other, transfer onto equipment, and get close to activities

It may not be possible for the entire playground or all of the equipment to meet these standards, but taking steps to make even part of the area accessible and inclusive is a step in the right direction.

Creating an inclusive environment benefits everyone. We must celebrate diversity among students in order to ensure the same opportunities for all. Schools should promote inclusion both in and out of the classroom – including offering inclusive playground equipment at recess.

For more info on Inclusive Play, why it is important, and how it can be achieved, click to read our FREE Inclusive Play Idea Book.

If you would like to learn more about designing and building a playground at your school  that is accessible and inclusive, visit

Midstates Recreation designs, supplies, and builds community-enhancing recreational play and site structures. Midstates Recreation offers a variety of playground equipment in communities located in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Michigan. Our emphasis is not only to create play and recreation spaces for all but to also provide a truly valuable and inclusive addition to your community! Contact your local sales representative to learn more.

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