Play Ideas for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities
Whether your child is slaying a dragon, pretending to be a pirate in a paddling pool or building a fort out of the sofa, there are so many ways they can engage in play. For children with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND), play is equally important but is not always as accessible. Here are some handy play ideas to ensure children with SEND can join in on the fun of playtime.
When the word art is mentioned, many parents first reaction is to think of the mess! But art is a great gateway to play for children with SEND because it’s such an open activity – there are no right or wrong answers when you are creating a masterpiece. There are a variety of adaptable art play options for children with SEND such as making a texture book, face painting, mural painting, hand print painting, making collages or sticking some blank paper on a wall and turning it into a ‘graffiti wall’. For less messy art, try water painting on the pavement or a brick wall outside.
Art therapy may be particularly beneficial for children with autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and research has shown that taking part in classes can improve social skills including assertion and decrease hyperactivity and problem behaviours. So get your aprons at the ready!
Who doesn’t love a bit of biscuit decorating? Get some ready made biscuits and provide icing, sweets and decorations (keeping in mind any allergies or sensory sensitivity). This can be done relatively inexpensively and is an activity that children with or without SEND can join in with and enjoy. Your children might even share their creations…if you’re lucky!
Treasure hunts seem to really capture children’s imaginations and can be easily adapted to suit many needs and abilities. Ask your child to find objects in the house or in the garden, e.g. a leaf or a daisy. For children with a hearing impairment or difficulty following instructions, print off pictures of the objects you want them to find. Another version of the game is to use things they are interested in, such as spotting animals or finding pre-hidden sweets.
Some children with SEND have difficulties with understanding and processing language, so sensory play ideas that utilise their senses (and don’t require language or comprehension) can be ideal.
Turning your pots and pans into a drum kit, complete with wooden spoons as the sticks can provide endless hours of fun. Flying to space in an old cardboard box, popping old bubble wrap or even ripping up junk paper from your paper recycling into shapes are simple ways to entertain youngsters too. These high energy activities are great for children with ADHD who find it difficult to sit still and concentrate.
If your child has limited mobility, focus on what they can do rather than what they can’t. For example, if they can blow with their mouth, get them blowing bubbles, or blowing ping pong balls across a tabletop.
Plastic bottles can also be a very useful tool for a parent or caregiver. You can fill them with pasta, beads or buttons to create maracas. Or, you could fill them with water and glitter (make sure the lid is sealed tightly!) for visual stimulation. Another water based idea is getting a tray/bucket of water or sand for your child so they can play with different textures. You can even add bubble bath and include their favourite bath toys for double the fun.
You could also play a sensory guessing game. Place a number of different large objects in several cloth bags, such as a candle, a hunk of bread, a mobile telephone, a tissue, or a leaf. Each child gets to feel the bag and identify one object without looking inside, then pull it out. If they guessed wrong they have to put it back (or keep it/gain a point if they are correct).
Role Play/ Story Telling
The beauty of role playing and creating fantasy worlds is that anything is possible. This makes storytelling a great leveller for groups of children with differing abilities and needs to play together. Every child has the opportunity to become the main character in a role play story – even for a child with limited mobility, imaginative play is both possible and thoroughly enjoyable.
Playing with friends can encourage this but by providing props that your child can use (which will depend on their SEND), you give them the opportunity to make up their own stories. You could also tell them stories and add extra features to make it more exciting – whether that’s pictures, puppets, or even adding sounds and smells to bring it to life.
Fun should be for all. Getting everyone playing together not only helps children with SEND feel included, but it also teaches other children to understand and accept the differences in others. The key to inclusive play is not just that it is accessible for everyone, but that it’s also fun – who knows, maybe grownups can enjoy these play ideas too!