Children aged two to seven can learn game rules, teamwork spirit and other abstract concepts through experiencing the Youth Athletes (YA) programme in a fun and systematic setting before entering the formal training programme of Special Olympics.
“Play is a fundamental right for all children. Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that every child should have the right to play—but millions of children across the world are denied this opportunity.” From the IWitness Programme Magazine 2017.
All children need to play. Like the children we met in this trip, who take part in Special Olympics Young Athletes twice a week, enjoying extra fun challenges that the normal school syllabus may not able to provide because of their intellectual disability (ID).
Children with ID can learn numbers, shapes and colours through the different materials selected in the programme games.
“Play is a crucial part of children’s development. Children who can play in a safe environment develop communication, teamwork and negotiation skills. They are healthier and more resilient to life’s challenges. Play makes the world bigger. For children and for grown-ups” From the IWitness Programme Magazine 2017.
This means that play helps children learn abstract concepts that will help them as grown-ups, like following rules, team spirit (like giving hi-fives to others for encouragement) and being persistent in pursuing a goal. The Young Athletes can experience this through the programme as well.
When exploring the issue of social integration of able-bodied and disabled persons, we discovered some universal and crucial elements when playing with the athletes. I was deeply impressed by the programme’s support to the children. Thanks to the IKEA Foundation and Special Olympics. They are promoting, through sports and play, the inclusion and development of children with intellectual disabilities.