Thursday, May 9, 2019 was a little brighter and more inclusive thanks to the budding leadership and vision of Brent Henry, a seventh grader from Goddard, Kansas. His vision showcased during the League of Kansas Municipalities this year painted a world that included play spaces where children with and without disabilities play together. Henry could have focused on anything while imagining being a “Mayor”, and he chose to call for community collaboration and the mobilization of funds for something so basic, yet so critical… play.
Research supports that active, independent play is critical for the development, health, well-being, and social opportunities for ALL children. Many leaders and parents forget that a child learns best through play. In the age of test scores, academic outcomes, sedentary digital gaming and organized sports, the notion of play is on the chopping block. Some doctors are even prescribing play for children after realizing the damaging effects that a play-deprived childhood will have on the next generation.
Traditional ADA compliant playgrounds pose physical and often, social barriers for children with disabilities. Inclusive play is not solely about physically accessing an environment but also about providing meaningful and fun play experiences regardless of ability.
Play 4 ALL, an extension of Cunningham Recreation, works with communities across 16 states to develop and mobilize funding for play and fitness spaces. “Raising community awareness and sparking community action are the best ways to put play back into our daily routines,” says Play 4 ALL Community Resource Manager, Victoria Schmitt Babb.
The Play 4 ALL Youth Champion 4 Inclusion Award recognizes tomorrow’s leaders for understanding the value of not only standard play environments but play environments that promote inclusion. “The call for a more kind and compassionate generation will truly transform our world,” Babb says. “Brent understands this at his age, imagine the social impact he will have on communities during the years ahead.”
Brent Henry was pleasantly surprised at Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School assembly when Justin Long, Sales Associate of Cunningham Recreation and Victoria Babb, Community Resource Manager of Play 4 ALL, presented him with the Play 4 ALL Youth Champion 4 Inclusion Award along with a “Buddy Bench” for the district’s local elementary school. We hope that one day, his vision of more inclusive play spaces will become a reality…. future generations depend on it.