Meeting all needs

Making stimulating, safe and fun play accessible to every child is vital, says Deborah Holt of the Association of Play Industries

Over 770,000 UK children have special education needs (SEN), yet many have no access to an outdoor space with play facilities. All children have a right to play and member companies of the Association of Play Industries (API), the UK’s leading play industry trade body, work closely with schools and settings to create high-quality, fun and stimulating play and outdoor learning spaces for children of all abilities.

API member companies are manufacturers, installers, designers and distributors of both outdoor and indoor play equipment and safety surfacing. They are leading play experts with wide experience of creating accessible, inclusive learning and play areas that support physical literacy and the development, health and wellbeing of children with SEN, disabilities and other diverse needs.

Well-designed play and learning spaces provide safe environments that support sensory, emotional and physical stimulation, movement, mobility, balance, co-ordination and spatial skills. They also support social inclusion, integration, communication, confidence and self-esteem. Spaces should be adaptable and versatile to accommodate both learning and play and should provide an appropriate level of challenge. Challenge in play takes children of all abilities outside their comfort zone, teaching valuable lessons about their capabilities and skills whilst building confidence in the process.

Creating zoned spaces using themed equipment or coloured surfacing, for example, ensures there are distinct areas for children to enjoy different types of play. Sheltered quiet play areas might be used for socialising, reading, storytelling and small-group-learning activities while bright, colourful areas might be used for high-intensity play activities, sport or PE lessons.

Planning an outdoor learning and play space for children with SEN requires care, consideration, expertise and experience. Every school is unique and has children with specific and sometimes complicated requirements so it is vital the design of any new playground or outdoor space reflects that diversity. API member companies work in close partnership with headteachers, governors, school business managers and school staff throughout the planning stage to ensure a school’s investment offers excellent play value, clear educational and developmental benefits, accessibility and challenge for every child, whatever their skills and abilities. It goes without saying they like to involve children, often in the form of school councils, wherever possible to ensure a sense of collective ownership, pride, teamwork and excitement in the project.

Design and education experts at API member companies create solutions that incorporate equipment and facilities developed specifically to support children with visual, hearing and mobility difficulties, sensory processing disorders, learning difficulties and developmental impairments. They provide plenty of ground-level play opportunities, sensory stimulation, wheelchair access, gripping equipment, ramps, bridges and links to enable children of all abilities to play together. All equipment is designed to comply with European standards: EN1176:2008 and many members are working with charitable organisations which represent the needs of people with SEN and advise on new product development and innovation.

Schools play a vital role in encouraging children of all abilities to be active and many are investing in improving their outdoor space to provide more opportunities for outdoor play and learning. When planning a new play area, the Association of Play Industries is a first port of call for advice. Its member companies operate to the highest standards, abide by a strict professional code of conduct and are rigorously and regularly monitored for financial security.

The API website,, and member directory provide advice, resources and links to planning and play project guidance. By choosing an API-member company, schools can be sure they will be working with a reputable, financially stable and experienced play partner who understands the education world and the specific needs of children with different abilities. 

Deborah Holt is association manager at the API

Twitter: @apiplay, @API_Chair

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