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Ideas for Encouraging Children's Friendships Through Recreation

By Linda A. Heyne, Stuart J. Schleien, and Leo H. McAvoy

Families, school personnel, and community recreation staff all play a role in encouraging the growth of friendships between children with and without disabilities. The following recommendations from members of all three groups address some of the ways that friendships can be promoted through recreation activities in homes, neighborhoods, schools, and community recreation programs.

What Families Can Do

Families can take many positive steps to influence friendship building between children with and without disabilities through recreation activities. Recognizing that friendships for their children will generally not occur by themselves, parents recommend to other families the following approaches for encouraging friendships:

What School Staff Can Do

Along with families, school personnel can play an important part in encouraging friendships between students with and without disabilities. Here are recommendations that have been offered for facilitating and supporting friendships through recreation activities during the school day:

What Community Recreation Staff Can Do

Community recreation personnel can create many ideal opportunities for children with and without disabilities to meet, get to know each other, and become friends through participation in a variety of recreation activities. Community recreation agencies, which already include individuals with varying abilities in their regular recreation programming, have offered us the following recommendations for ensuring inclusive recreation that encourages the development of children’s relationships:


For children with and without disabilities to become friends, they must have opportunities to be together as peers in recreation activities. Parents, school personnel, and community recreation staff all play an essential role in creating and shaping these opportunities.

Adapted and reprinted with permission from “How to Encourage Friendships: Strategies for Use in Home, School and Community”, in Heyne, L.A., Schleien, S. J. & McAvoy, L H. (1996). Making Friends: Using Recreation Activities to Promote Friendship Between Children With and Without Disabilities, published by the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota. Linda Heyne is currently Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Therapeutic Recreation and Leisure Studies, Ithaca College, Ithaca, New York. Stuart J. Schleien is Professor and Department Head with the Depart-ment of Recreation, Parks, and Tourism, University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Leo McAvoy is Professor and Head with the Division of Recreation and Sport Studies, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.


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Citation: Gaylord, V., Lieberman, L., Abery, B. & Lais, G. (Eds.). (2003). Impact: Feature Issue on Social Inclusion Through Recreation for Persons with Disabilities, 16(2) Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration. Available from


See our listing of other issues of Impact.

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