A Better Way to Back to School Part 2: How to Make Activities Inclusive

Activities add interest and liveliness to the academic day, and they can do the same for your after school program. When you’ve already worked to create an inclusive classroom, the next step is setting up your after school program to continue the inclusion. 

As you kick off this new academic year, here’s how to put an inclusive twist on common areas of interest and ensure students with disabilities get to join in on the fun.


The arts are a vital part of a well-rounded education. In particular, theater performance is an engaging, enchanting entry point to deeply academic aptitudes and impactful social skills that empower students in the classroom and beyond. The reading comprehension and public speaking elements of script reading or performance help students connect with what’s on the page, while mirroring and interpreting actor portrayals challenges students to engage with social cues. 

These skills pay off: studies have demonstrated that students involved in theater – through performance, appreciation, or study programs – boast higher scores on various SAT components than those without theater experience

To make theater accessible to more students in your program, try these techniques:

  • Give Improv a Chance. Strict scripts can be a big ask. Maybe put Shakespeare back on the shelf and let your children explore their creativity with improv. 
  • Explore Script Formats. Everyone can audition if they know the role! In addition to standard text scripts, make sure audio tapes, Braille, and screen reader-friendly variations are available as well. 
  • Cut the Choreography. Your blocking shouldn’t block participation! Coordinate your show to accommodate your participants’ range of motion with thoughtfully planned dances or scene changes.

Can’t find a show that fits your troupe? Create your own with the help of Unified Theater!

Theater appreciation can be just as beneficial as participation. If you go that route instead of planning your own play, look for theaters that provide sign language interpreters, closed captions, or descriptive videos so everyone can enjoy the show.

Red theater seats and a theater curtain in the background


Like theater, music has huge proven benefits when integrated with daily educational routines. The Wall Street Journal references a growing body of research that shows music training boosts IQ, focus, and tenacity in kids – garnering better results than other efforts in many cases. It’s no wonder why: learning music unlocks a new way to communicate and express oneself, but it is also challenging and motivates students to buckle down and nail the tune. It’s an endlessly enriching activity for youth of all ages.

As you explore the addition of music education or play into your after school program, consider these ideas to make it more inclusive:

  • Find Modified Instruments. Every student deserves a chance to play an instrument that inspires them. With the right mechanical supports or apparatuses, that opportunity is available. Have a range of instruments available so kids can try out different options and see what works for them.
  • Browse Reading Devices. Learning music starts with reading music. Convert notes into alternative formats to make them accessible to everyone in your group using tools like the Lime Lighter for low-vision musicians. 
  • Involve Your District. Adding music to your program may take a chorus of advocate voices. If you can’t get the equipment you need from your school, seek help on a district level – they may have access to items and instructors to assist you. 

A child with down syndrome plays a guitar while the students in his class watch in the background

Book Clubs

Books are the foundation of education programs everywhere. From textbooks to novels, they are integral to the learning process. Learning to read, comprehend, and enjoy books can help students get better grades and impact their long-term relationship with schooling.

Reading is a foundational part of the educational experience, but it can come with complications for children with learning disabilities, visual impairments, or attention deficit disorders. To make book clubs and other reading activities more accessible to the kids in your program, consider these options:

  • Opt for Audio. Listening and storytelling go hand-in-hand. Try adding audiobooks to the mix for students who might prefer them to physical or digital copies of a book. Set aside time to listen together, too!
  • Choose Titles Wisely. Not all books are easy to acquire in alternative formats. Thankfully, Learning Ally makes it easy to find age-appropriate titles that are available for readers with visual impairments or learning disabilities like dyslexia.
  • Pick Reads with Representation. Getting students excited about reading is easy when they see themselves in the characters. Find books with diverse characters and an inclusive approach to help all kids feel included. 

two children holding books in a library

Academic Games

Who says learning can’t be fun? Gamification, or applying gaming elements to activities like education, can make learning more enjoyable and efficient. The promise of winning, getting a high score, or earning a prize ties an immediate incentive to mastering educational material. It can make learning a new skill or internalizing information more engaging than simply listening to a lecture or skimming a textbook. 

Give your academic activities a playful edge that everyone can enjoy with these ideas:

  • Try Trivia. The knowledge in your group is bound to be as diverse as the students themselves. Put it to the test with a game of trivia that combines multiple ways for kids to receive the questions and ample time to write or submit their answers.
  • Go Digital. Why reinvent the wheel with your own games when plenty are already out there? Find online educational games that offer screen-reading features or other accessibility functions that let youth learn in their own way and at their own pace.
  • Keep the Competition Friendly. Gamification motivates kids to win, but try to keep the competition fun instead of stiff . An inclusive atmosphere allows everyone a fair chance to triumph and encourages good sportsmanship regardless of the outcome.


After a full day cooped up in a classroom listening to lectures, sports are a great way to inject some inclusive excitement into your after school program. Playing sports can aid cognitive and memory functions. Sports participation correlates to academic achievement, positive body-image perceptions, and self-esteem, as well, according to research published in the University of Chicago Press Journals.

To start seeing those positive effects in your group, consider this:

  • Find the Right Fit. The kids in your care are bound to enjoy different sports for different reasons. Make multiple options available and work with students with disabilities to ensure they can try a sport they’re interested in safely. 
  • Take a Team Approach. Some of the biggest perks of sports in education are the collaborative skills that come from playing together. Put students in diverse groups and teach them the value of never leaving a teammate behind on the journey to victory.
  • Involve Local Athletes. After school programs are a team sport! Reach out to wheelchair basketball or cycling leagues and see if a group of volunteers can come to teach your students the rules of their games. 

A child in a wheelchair throwing a basketball.

Enhance Your After School Activities with Inclusion

Join Us for the Back to After School Series

The activities you plan are only one piece of the after school inclusion puzzle. Position your program for success with the supplement of our Back to After School webinar series. 

In four webinars, we walk you through how to create a more inclusive environment, including the why and how of it all. Join us for sessions on:

  • Understanding the Why of Behavior
  • Redirecting Challenging Behaviors
  • Managing a School-Age Group
  • Addressing Bullying

Course content will be available until September 30th. Join us to start the year off right!

Orange button that says 'Register Now' in white text