How Outdoor Play Helps Children with ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a behavioural disorder in which children display high levels of hyperactivity, inattention and impulsiveness. It’s quite a common disorder which affects, depending on which diagnostic method is used, up to 7% of UK children. ADHD can have a significant impact on sufferers, disrupting their learning and affecting their behaviour. Their behaviour can also disrupt the learning of others.

While coping with ADHD can be a challenge for both the child and the teacher, outdoor play has been shown to help, giving the child a break from studying, enabling them to socialise with friends and allowing them to let off steam by being physically active. Here, we’ll look in more detail at the benefits of outdoor play for children with ADHD.

Stops children feeling isolated and stigmatised

The tell-tale signs of ADHD are most noticeable in the classroom where quiet and stillness are often required to get on with work. Those with ADHD will be aware that their behaviour is different to others and this can make them feel like an outsider. The problem is exacerbated when everyone else becomes aware that their behaviour is different too. Regular reminders or telling off from the teacher, complaints from other pupils or constantly being withdrawn from lessons to work with the TA can make the child feel both isolated and stigmatised.

In the playground, where there is no need to be still and quiet, the differences in behaviour are less noticeable and important. This enables children with ADHD to feel more at ease in their surroundings and take part in social activities, lessening their isolation and helping combat feelings of stigmatisation.

The other key advantage is that children with ADHD can often take part in structured outdoor games better than they can in structured lessons. Because they can move around and display their hyperactivities while taking part in games, they can improve self-discipline and focus; skills which can be used elsewhere in their lives, including in the classroom.

A release for pent-up energy

Most children find it difficult to maintain long periods of classroom study without becoming restless. For those with ADHD, even sustaining short periods of concentration can be a struggle. To combat this, play has become an important therapy for ADHD, enabling children to be physically active and burn off pent up energy. This makes them feel calmer and better able to cope in classroom environments.

For the most benefit, schools need to offer children with ADHD the opportunity to take part in physically demanding activities, such as playing on climbing frames, taking part in sports or doing activities that involve running and jumping.

Helps children learn better

Taking part in regular, moderate to intense physical activity has been shown to have an important role in developing the cognitive abilities of all children. It can also reduce the symptoms of ADHD, at least temporarily. Regular outdoor play, therefore, is important and can help children with the disorder focus better on their lessons and improve the quality of their learning.

Importantly, this works better when breaks are at scheduled times and are rarely cancelled. As children with ADHD become familiar with the structure of the day, their knowledge that a break is around the corner helps them focus that little bit longer during the lesson. This is one of the reasons why schools should not cancel break times at the first sign of rain and why, if needed, those with ADHD should be offered an extra break if it helps them settle.

Additionally, schools that punish the disruptive behaviour of ADHD students by keeping them in during break times may find this approach worsens the problem rather than rectifying it.

Improves social skills

Besides impeding the academic development of children, ADHD can also affect their ability to develop relationships and acquire social skills. Aside from the feeling of isolation and being stigmatised, those with ADHD are often physically removed from their peers, either working in isolation with the TA or, in some instances, being taught in SEND rooms away from their classmates all together.

Separating children from their peers not only reduces opportunities for them to develop relationships and improve social skills; it can also build boundaries. Both the child with ADHD and their peers thinking of them as ‘different’.

Regular opportunities to take part in unstructured free play provides a more inclusive environment in which those boundaries can be taken down and in which relationships can flourish. Not only will children with ADHD acquire those essential social skills; they will also take them back into the classroom where they can help the children better manage their behaviour. This in turn can lead to fewer incidents of working on their own.

Creating a playground for children with ADHD

Children with ADHD need three things from their playgrounds: the opportunity to take part in active play, the chance to interact with their peers and a touch of calming greenery. Active play can be introduced by installing climbing equipment, such as Trim Trails and play towers, or with playground markings for games and sports, like football. Interaction can be encouraged in many ways, such as through messy or imaginative play as well as through climbing and sports. Adding a touch of nature is easy, too, and can be achieved with nature and garden equipment, like planters, trellises and artificial grass.

Conclusion

ADHD is a common disorder that can have a serious impact on the education of those children who suffer from it. Outdoor play allows those children to release pent up energy so they can focus better in the classroom and, at the same time, removes their feelings of isolation, enabling them to develop relationships and acquire social skills.

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Practical Solutions for SEND Friendly Playgrounds

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.

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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

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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.

Conclusion

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.

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