Pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) can lose out at school if the outdoor amenities aren't inclusive. Although every school has to provide access to the playground, once outside, SEND pupils can easily become isolated and often have fewer things to to engage them. In this post, we’ll look at some practical solutions that can transform your playground for these children.
Why outdoor learning and play are so beneficial for SEND pupils
SEND children face more barriers than other children when developing key learning skills. The lack of space indoors can restrict them in classrooms and for some, a crowded and busy classroom can be too unsettling for them to learn. Supporting them with a well-designed and well-equipped outdoor environment means they have more space and, if needed, quieter areas, where they can better take on the challenges that will help them develop and progress.
Regular outdoor play helps SEND pupils to lead happier and healthier lives. It encourages them to try new challenges, take safe risks and make mistakes – all activities that help them become, resilient, confident and independent. At the same time, the less structured nature of the outdoor playground exposes them, in a safe setting, to the unpredictable and all the lessons that teaches.
The importance of playground design for SEND pupils
Design plays a fundamental role in making school playgrounds inclusive for SEND children. One of the main focuses should be on creating discrete zones, each designed to cater for specific kinds of activity. At the same time, you need to develop a layout that enables pupils of all abilities to move easily and safely from one zone to another.
There are many factors to consider when designing such a playground. These include the kinds of equipment you wish to install, where to place the zones so as to encourage play, how to ensure everyone has physical and emotional access, providing enough space for children to play and wheelchairs to manoeuvre and, importantly, making sure the playground is safe.
For those who need quiet spaces, it’s usually a good idea to locate these near the entrance to the playground. This way, less confident children don’t see going outside as a big ordeal and can quickly go back in if they feel uncomfortable.
Aside from the zones and the equipment you use, other important design features of a SEND friendly playground include the type of surfacing you use for each zone and their interconnecting pathways and whether you introduce fences, trellises or planters to screen areas off from each other. These can be installed for safety reasons, to reduce noise, to make areas more private or simply for improving the aesthetic of the environment.
Encouraging physical activity
Although some SEND children will face challenges taking part in certain types of physical activity, all of them should have access to activities that are appropriate for them. Not only do they need this to improve overall fitness and develop skills like coordination and spatial awareness, being unable to take part prevents them benefitting from its important social aspects. Participating in games and sports helps all pupils, including those with SEND, to learn about teamwork, social interaction and following rules. Installing appropriate playground and PE equipment and safe surfacing, like wetpour and artificial grass, can help make physical activity far more inclusive and prevent SEND pupils being isolated from their peers.
Physical activity doesn’t just have to come from structured activities either. Free play on equipment where they can have fun while learning to improve balance and mobility can be just as beneficial and rewarding.
Sensory stimulation and imaginative play
Sensory activities and imaginative play are important for SEND children’s development and creating a playground that offers an array of these experiences can make a big difference. Many schools opt to create a calming sensory zone, away from the more boisterous areas of the playground, which is built to stimulate a child’s curiosity. These can include things like body warping mirrors, sand and water play, bughouses, planters, outdoor musical instruments and a wide range of other resources to touch, see, smell and hear.
Imaginative play can come in many forms. Imaginative zones can include quiet areas to sit and listen to a story, somewhere to draw, paint or colour, exciting equipment that can inspire role play, such as a sit-on train or wooden shop counter or even themed climbing towers that create magical, made-up worlds with forests and castles.
Getting in touch with nature
A school nature area can bring lots of benefits for all pupils but for SEND pupils who need quiet, calm spaces it can be a haven. Even if you don’t have the luxury of a school garden, you can create a nature area with planters and trellises and encourage wildlife to move in with bug houses, butterfly boxes and bird tables. You can also use the planters, digging pits and growing boxes to engage the pupils in gardening activities and even use investigation tables to learn about the things they discover.
A well designed and equipped school playground, built to meet the needs of SEND pupils, can make your school much more inclusive. SEND pupils will be able to take part in more activities with other students and have specific areas or zones that help them develop and achieve in the most appropriate ways.
For more information visit our Special Needs page.