Creating an inclusive sensory and imaginative play experience
In 2018 we began working with a disabled child in Yorkshire to find a solution that would enable to enjoy exploring new play experiences. We created a play kitchen which allows him to roll up to the sink in his wheelchair and use the handrails around the counter for supported standing. Being able to practice standing with secure handholds is great physical therapy and allows him to strengthen his muscles, all while being joyfully distracted by interesting sensory experiences.
Having trialled the prototype briefly with a class at Castle School in Cambridge, we were excited to find that aside from being a great independent play experience, the kitchen allowed many children to play together and interact. Children using wheelchairs or standing frames and others standing with support could all engage with the activity together.
“EJ is a truly sensory being, she loves to experience sounds, colours, and interesting textures. She loved being the first test pilot for the play kitchen, her classmates joined in the fun and were enjoying the sounds of the pots and pans! It would be wonderful for EJ to access a toy like this and be able to play alongside her brother. She would get a lot of value from spending time engaging with a toy she can safely stand at and immerse herself without me needing to be involved and help keep her upright.” EJ’s mum Vaila
While being a wonderful sensory experience for some, the kitchen will also be a platform for role-playing, which enables children to practice empathy skills which help them thrive in later life. The kitchen will be a platform for engagement among disabled and non-disabled peers who may typically be prevented from engaging in the same activities because of physical barriers to access. We believe both disabled and non-disabled children will enjoy richer learning experiences.
Now, we want to refine the design and build 5 play kitchens to carry out longer-term testing in real-life environments. We’ll partner with 5 schools whose students could benefit from opportunities to access physical therapy and engage with new sensory experiences and imaginative role play. With insights and feedback from these tests, we’ll be able to further refine our design and make it available for even more children who have never been able to access a typical play kitchen.