Outdoor play – more than just fun and games?

Sponsored: Outdoor play is exceptionally important to children with special needs – ESP Play discuss why

The ability to freely play outdoors is a fundamental aspect of the health and wellbeing of any child. It enriches their lives, improving health through exercise and providing an important means through which to socialise.

These benefits are of particular importance to children who have special needs. Although the education system is improving in its inclusion of children with special needs, it is regrettably often the case to this day that their needs and desires are not catered to as much as those without.

Catering to needs

It’s important for professionals, parents and the public to keep in mind that no one child is the same in regard to needs and care. Even those with the same kind of special need, such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), will have unique requirements for attention and care.

A common theme in the lives of children at this stage is the emphasis on outdoor play, which enriches their experience of school and is something that, regrettably, is not provided in adequate amounts.

It’s also vital to keep in mind the limitations of many children who live with disabilities, special needs and developmental issues that limit their ability to play with standard outdoor equipment. Special educational needs (SEN) play areas can cater to this effectively, providing playground equipment that is designed more inclusively, allowing more children to benefit from their use.

This is also invaluable in avoiding the feeling of abandonment many children with special needs experience when they are effectively excluded from group play due to equipment not being catered to them.

Further benefits

The case for investing in SEN equipment for the playground is made even stronger when further factors are considered. Chief amongst these is the fact that adequate equipment and space encourages children to make use of their senses to their fullest – something many struggle with or simply will not do otherwise.

The opportunities for physical play allow many children with special needs to further develop their spatial skills, body awareness and sense of balance. In some cases, this ability to play with peers is instrumental in the development of their physical independence from a carer.

Physical effects

The vestibular system, which is responsible for our sense of balance, can be difficult for children with special needs to develop. Despite it being a key to freedom as a young child and adult, many children who have special needs struggle with stress and difficulty focusing and learning. In time, this can lead to challenging deficiencies which may have been able to be addressed better if the individual had the ability to play fully.

Beyond this, it’s quite simply a benefit to be outdoors and away from technology. In a demographic where feelings of stress and panic attacks are common, it’s profoundly therapeutic for children with special needs to escape the societies they often struggle to integrate into.

Playing outside with SEN equipment allows a child with special needs to remove themselves from stressful triggers such as strong electrical lights, noise areas and classrooms, and more frequent social interaction. These stimulations can be tiring and dangerous in large quantities, making outdoor play an important answer to prolonged periods indoors and with others.

A better experience

Ultimately, outdoor play areas with SEN-appropriate equipment are incredibly important in enriching the lives of children who have special needs. It improves their development in many areas and is proven to be profoundly beneficial to their physical and mental health. Such an important array of benefits for a child as they develop makes this a worthy subject for consideration.


For more information, please visit ESP Play’s website.

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