How Outdoor Play Strengthens Dispositions of Children with Special Needs

Topic Progress:

The outdoor environment is an important place for children with special needs. When children with special needs are given ample time and support to embrace and involve themselves in outdoor play, they build key social, creative and problem-solving skills that are interconnected to how their dispositions develop. The following examples reinforce the importance of outdoor play for children with special needs. When children engage in these types of activities, they develop positive dispositions about their lives and being with others.

Click on each heading below to learn more.

1. Connecting with peers and developing social skills.

Learning how to connect with and play with other children is an essential skill during childhood.  Think about how challenging these skills may be for children that are overwhelmed by large numbers of children or the noise in the early learning centres such as children with autistic spectrum disabilities. Also think about high energy children such as those with Attention Deficit Disorder and how challenging it may be for them to connect with other children.

When early learning teachers work with children with special needs to gradually introduce them to the outdoor environment and the children within the environment, it reduces the stress that they experienced indoors (Flatman, 2016). Loose parts and unstructured play spaces where children may play in small groups or independently contributes to children with special needs developing being social with other children.

2. Participating in activities that strengthen gross and fine motor development.

The array of outdoor experiences available to children and the freedom which is extended to them to engage in the experiences is directly related to gross and fine motor development.

To support children with mobility challenges, such as those with cerebral palsy, early learning teachers and families work collaboratively to determine how the outdoor play space and equipment may be designed so that the children experience body movements that contribute to their physical development.  When children experience such success, they gain confidence both in their movements and related social play with others.

3. Offering sensory opportunities that enhance connections to the environment.

The outdoor environment provides children with enticing sounds, sights, smells and stimulation.  The outdoor play environment heightens children’s senses. This is of particular importance for children with tactile challenges. Having exposure to materials that heighten their appreciation of the world around them influences how children view and interact in their environment. This influences how they develop a positive disposition.

4. Encouraging independence.

All children require outdoor environments that offer them options to execute their independence. Children with special needs benefit from outdoor environments that encourage them to be independent rather than being sheltered because of their special needs.

Exposing children with special needs to outdoor play environments where they need to problem solve and make decisions, such as determining how to make a fort or play the musical instruments, increases their abilities to exercise independence.  These experiences increase children’s confidence to make decisions and to act upon them.

5. Facilitating various play opportunities that have purpose and intrigue.

Outdoor play should be a place that supports children in working through different scenarios that they experience in their daily living.  Play is a venue for children to work through stressful events and gain skills and concepts that support group experiences.

Children with difficulties in retaining or processing information benefit from outdoor play that has defined goals.  For example, when children are creating a den, there are defined steps that are necessary for the den to be stable. Early learning teachers and children discuss the steps.  They may record the steps and then execute them in order of presentation. Having children refer back to the plan and reflect upon the plan supports them in developing strategies to retain and process information and “action” that information with success.  These skills support later academic success.

As you think about children with special needs, how do adults support them in having access to outdoor play that meets their needs? While outdoors, how do teachers support independence for children with varying special needs?

Record your perspectives in the comments box below.


  1. Brigitte Levesque

    Lots of children with special needs just want to be included. By including them in decision making for what kind of outdoor play they are able to do gives them the confidence in themselves to participate. To problem solve with their peers and come up with ideas together makes them feel included. As an educator i always make sure that environment is safe for all parties involved.

  2. Angela Hutton

    Access to play environments that invite all children and families of all capabilities in starts at the planning stages. Specifically, wider entrances to play/ Explore areas, appropriate ground covers or a range of ground covers beginning with a surface at the entrance that supports wheelchairs, walkers, and are firm enough to support individuals that struggle with balance difficulties. If they can’t enter the play/ explore area they have already been excluded. Once inside, the area should have a range of surfaces such as grass or living ground cover, wood chips, rubber, pea gravel etc for experiencing textures. A rain wall, outdoor instruments, out door kitchen area build at various levels that would support the various ages, stages and abilities of the centre so the area can be utilized by all and would support the children as the grow, as opposed to the children out growing the play area as the grow. Baskets of loose parts placed around the area would support exploration and encourage mobility, open spaces would encourage larger group play as well as room for greater creative play.

  3. Candy holloway

    Adults can support the access to outdoor play that meets their needs by determining the specific needs of an individual child and making the necessary adjustments, changes that will allow success in the follow areas;
    -fun with their friends/peers
    -motor development opportunities
    -sensory opportunities
    -having fun playing games/choosing subjects/ideas they like
    Adults also need to model and exhibit positive attitudes. and by ensuring these children are in fact having the outside time they are entitled to.
    Teachers support independence of children with varying spec. needs by finding ways to encourage their individual wants/needs and by recognizing any barriers that inhibit a child’s attaining independance

  4. Naznin Dhanani

    Educators need to find a way to ensure that all children are included in the outdoor play. The design of the playground should be designed in a way that you can make a pathway that is accessible for wheelchairs.

  5. Geri-Lynn Cajindos

    There are so many ways to engage special needs in outdoor settings. Both our outdoor programs offer opportunities for both children amd their families to connect, with activities that strengthen both gross and fi e motor development, plenty of sensory experiences that connect children with nture, encourages independence, and opportunities that intrigued both child amd families, plus connect given goals and purpose to the activity. What lacks at these programs is the consideration of either child or family members with physical disadvantages. We need to do is make these adventures more accessible for all families and children, especially our programming in the woods. We possibly need to find a more accessible space, or get permission to offer trails that are a bit more accessible.

  6. Wendy Gilchrist

    One of the first steps for educators is to examine their outdoor play space and look for ways to improve the space making it accessibility to all. Setting up the environment for success for children with diverse needs and abilities is critical. We want to be able to provide activities that promote independence, creativity, strengthen gross motor and fine motor skills, and enhance social skills.

  7. Vanessa Urlin

    Out door play is essential for all children. As educators we need to examine and plan outdoor play spaces that allow for children to explore, learn and develop essential skills.

  8. Corina Manasseri

    Children’s outdoor play is increasingly being recognized as an essential part of a child’s development. Having outdoor play brings light the benefits of physical activity, mental well-being, cognitive and social development especially in the the early years. Children with special needs only highlight the need to change the trends, so all children may have daily access to outdoor play. Interventions to reduce parents and practitioner’s fears are done with more training for the providers, policy changes and improve urban planning for accessibility for all to these natural play spaces.

  9. Shirley Suttak

    Adults can support children with special needs in having access to outdoor play by examining their outdoor play space and have equipment that children can experience body movements.
    Having a space where children have freedom to move and explore. Adults can provide outdoor environments that provide sounds, smells and stimulation eg having flowers,plants bird feeders
    Adults can have discussions with the families to understand the varying needs and ways to support the children with special needs so they can be more purposeful in planning experiences. Adults can gradually introduce children with special needs to the outdoor environment and for some starting with small groups of children if large groups are a stress for them.
    adults can also plan small group experiences to help these children connect with their peers and social skills.Adults can not shelter these children with special needs and provide opportunities outdoors. While outdoors the teachers can provide open-ended loose parts which can be used by children in various ways according to their abilities. Teachers can encourage these children’s independence by not sheltering them and give them time to problem solve and ability to exercise their independence..

  10. Susan Holt

    Adults can support children with special needs while in the outdoors by ensuring the area the children play in is “safe and relatively risk free” in terms of actual harm coming to the child. Adults/teachers really need to pay attention to their body language and spoken word when interacting with the children. All children are very perceptive of adults unspoken messages; I would imagine that children who have heightened sensory capabilities would be even more perceptive; especially if it their adult and know how they react when their child is at risk of being hurt….Adults and teachers need to help special needs children to overcome their fears and become more confident.

  11. marie-france bourgoin-leger

    We need to make outdoor play a [priority for all children. Caring adults should stop expecting “perfect” art project from different occasion…Even now, I see caregivers in our playgroups sitting beside children in their care and making a “mother’s day card”, because “they need to learn anyway…” Knowing that the mother knows very well that her child did not “make” the card. What if we had documented the child picking up flowers for mom? Or recorded the child talking about his/her mom? That would be, I believe, a real reflection of the child’s day.
    Also, often parents dont have much time to spend outside with their children. If we offer the pedagogical documentation, we might spark an interest to do so.

  12. Heather

    All children need to be outside daily, educators can help by adapting the play space and the materials so all children can participate freely. As always, some children may need support with play and educators should participate as a play partner, we need all children to have the same opportunities.

  13. Gaye Ferguson

    Outdoor play is (obviously) good for all children, including with special needs. The staff, the centre and the parents or caregivers attending the drop in programs with their special-needs child will all have to collaborate, figuring out what works best. Staff will have to advocate for the child if the parents are reticent to take them to play outdoors. This will take some thought and discussion. Each child with special needs has a particular set of challenges that we’d have to take into consideration.

  14. Francine Bolduc

    It is up to the adults to find information through the children, themselves, and/or their parents to find out what can be done to make the outdoor environment more inviting or better suited for the children’s abilities. We can, also, just go around in the play area and put ourselves in the children’s shoes to see what is missing, what can be removed to make sure children can be more independent in their play and thrive the best they can.

  15. Casey Holland

    It is the responsibility of the early learning educators to understand the intricacies of the special needs of a child in their care. Once they understand the child’s needs they are better able to create a safe space with adequate opportunities for them to actively engage in and benefit from their outdoor experience. The best thing that a teacher can do is educate themselves on the disability and plan for activities and an appropriately laid out space in preparation for outdoor time and then stand back and allow the child the find their way through. Remaining close at hand, but also out of the direct space of the child allows them to build their confidence through exploration while knowing they are safe.

  16. Rashida Samar

    Special need kids need to be outdoor as some of them have developmental delays, and playing outside will help to improve in muscle strength motor skills and balance . Outdoor play provides children with Vitamin D. Some special needs kids love to be outside ,as it help them to reduce stress ,anxiety and depression.

  17. Vicki Pollock

    To support children with special needs to strengthen their disposition about outdoor play I will need to “think outside of the box” sort of speak. To increase a child’s desire to go outdoors I could discover what interest the child has and offer that particular interest among the items in the outdoor play space. I would need to consider mobility challenges and advocate for ramps and such for those children. These are only a couple of examples. In the end I want the child with special needs to have the same opportunities the other children do.
    While outdoors with the child I would observe closely and intervene with positive comments, suggestions and gestures when needed.

  18. Marie-Claude Pilon

    I would like to share with you a short moment in the life of a child with cerebral palsy. He was born in the middle of the 60s , in does days the solution was to place children with disability . His family decide otherwise,they keeped him at home with them .His parents were very active:biking,camping ,skiing…. They never stopped him from participating in the activities with the family. They got him a three wheelers bike with a big basket so he could go biking with them. All the neighborhood kids thought it was great. He was able to socialise, develop motor skill, gain self confidence,self -esteem and the great feeling of being included. With the care and trust from his parents he was able to discover and try new things. He had the strenght to overcome adversity ,he did is schooling with his friend and I. He went on to university, got a job and a family. The adults in his life believed in his strength! There is always a solution for offering the best environment and opportunity for children to thrive. For him outdoor play was an intrinsic part of in his childhood. With all the research facts on the benefits of outdoor play for children with disability, I feel privilege to explore and facilitate playing freely outdoor. I can find opportunity for families and their children to explore the benefits of being outside .

  19. Talor Benson-Harper

    I think educators need to take a good look at their environments and the skills the children are learning and where they are developmentally. Making sure that the areas are safe for all children but especially for children with extra needs, is key for children to feel as though they can engage and explore their environments without being afraid. Having an inclusive and thought out space for all children is very important for outdoor play.

  20. Farnaz Karimizadeh

    Outdoor play is great opportunity for kids with special needs to develop positive dispositions.
    As an early childhood educator i need to make sure that the playground or outdoor is physically accessible for special need kids;is there any ramp or handrail?If not how can we rearrange the playground?
    Early childhood educator should be dedicated and knowledgeable to support and meet the needs of special need kids. We need to know their abilities and help them to build on it.

  21. Sasha Patterson

    Teachers need to be aware of how the outdoor space is laid out, how activities are set up and how easy it is for children with special needs to join in regardless of ability. If we keep children engaged in all types of play it should be easy for special needs children to participate.

  22. Sharon Evenden

    The first thing we need to do to support children with special needs in our outdoor environments is to make sure that it is designed with their safety in mind. An area that is too rough for a walker or too busy for an autistic child is not suitable. Design a play space that allows for fine and gross motor activities and some challenges that are suitable to age and ability that require some thought and problem solving to use.

  23. Kayley Bach

    When teachers are supporting independence in any environment the first step would be open communication to the family and caregivers of this child. Finding out what the special needs are, likes and dislikes etc. It makes it much easier for the teacher to support. Depending on the environment and the child, setting up materials for them to either play with others or to start maybe some opportunities for parallel play. Creating a safe environment for all the children and guiding them when they need help.

  24. Brie Schuler

    It is important that the educators ensure the outdoor environment is accessible to all children, and must make accommodations in order to do so. Children with exceptionalities may benefit from onlooker play in the beginning, in order to gain a sense of safety and understanding of the environment. The educator may provide provocations for the children and can use inquiry based question and answer discovery with the children in order to ensure all children are comprehending the materials available. Providing learning opportunities for these children to explore on their own terms fosters independence and self motivation dispositions.

  25. Crystal Thring

    Outdoor is important to all children. Let the child warm up to the setting, see what other kids are doing and then integrate them into the play that speaks to them the most. If you know that a child needs more room to run, then provide an opportunity for the child to run. If they need more quiet, then go out with a quieter group. Be positive and constructive and keep trying if something doesn’t work out.

  26. Jennifer Dyson

    Supporting children’s outdoor needs is done by setting up the environment purposefully and having a variety of materials that children have access to and can manipulate their way. Being supportive in helping some children engage in peer play by asking questions, guiding and offering suggestions when asked.

  27. Shawna Diduck

    As you think about children with special needs, how do adults support them in having access to outdoor play that meets their needs? While outdoors, how do teachers support independence for children with varying special needs?

    Adults can support children with special needs in outdoor play by creating an environment that is welcoming to all children and is inclusive. An outdoor space that helps the children to feel safe and secure and open them up to being able to explore and develop. While outdoors teachers can allow the children to take the lead in their learning by providing varying loose parts and open ended activities that allow children to make a choice of what and how they want to play. Teachers also need to remember to provide materials that can help the development of the whole child.

  28. Shannon Jarvis

    I think we must remember that every child is unique, and we have to develop learning strategies for all of them. We have to get to know each child individually to learn about their challenges, interests and motivations. We must make sure we plan and set up the environments, full of engaging choices, to meet the needs of the children, so they can play and feel comfortable.

  29. Katie Dowdle

    when you’re working with children with special needs there needs to be constant communication with their parents and members of their care team(physical and occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists, etc) to find out what kinds of scaffolding will be required for these children to play with and alongside other children in the center. These supports will vary from child to child, and even from day to day with each child.

  30. T Y

    As you think about children with special needs, how do adults support them in having access to outdoor play that meets their needs? While outdoors, how do teachers support independence for children with varying special needs?
    Adults supporting a child with special needs would need to first meet with the family and other persons involved (therapist, etc…) to determine what kind of support the child needs and how best to provide this in an outdoor environment. Planning and setting up the outdoor environment to meet the needs of the child are important to have in place. One on one support or support from other professionals such as Occupational Therapists may be necessary. Giving the child ample time outdoors is important in helping the child develop skills over time. It is important however, to take into consideration, how some children with special needs may respond to environmental stimulation such noise from lawn mowers or trucks or a large group of children at the playground. In this case, having strategies in place (headphones) to make the child feel safe and secure are important.

  31. HeidiK

    The early learning teacher needs to know their child or children with special needs before she can provide a safe learning environment. If a child gets overstimulated by noise and sound and too many children his outside time may be structured with less children. He may be offered headphones to help dull the sounds from outside. Which would make his other senses all the more sharp. Offering him sensory materials to use and having the early learning teacher be comfortable in her own space as well so the child will be interested himself.

  32. June

    Inclusion is important for children who require extra support and so it is very important that they have access to outdoor play, just like their peers. The outdoor environment is designed for the safety of all children and when there are children with varying special needs, adults need to determine what needs to be added to support these children. To support their independence, teachers should be aware of the children’s interests and their abilities and help them build on these abilities–start slow, create safe and comfortable spaces, and small group sizes . Once they develop their confidence, help add more challenges.

  33. Kerrie Sinclair

    I believe this varies from child to child. One way an adult can support a child having access to outdoor play is to take a look at the play space first to see where the child will have the most success. I feel a teacher can also suggest to children who they feel will best get along with the child, to play with that child. This will help that child feel included and part of the program.

  34. Louanne MacRae

    Every child, regardless of their abilities, should be supported in the outdoor space. Risk assessment is important for everyone, and any concerns around outdoor play should be addressed with the family and staff. All children should be able to contribute to the setup of the outdoor environment as well.

  35. Donna Legere

    Outdoor play encourages inclusion with all children and for those with special needs. Children with special needs may be more relaxed in the outdoor environment as it is not dictated and loose parts will give them opportunity to express themselves in ways that other children will learn from.

  36. Amy

    Supporting children with special needs outdoors may require some creativity. Bringing outside and talking to them about what their experiencing. Asking questions about what they see, if they are in a wheelchair consider taking them out and letting them explore the ground with your support. If they have sensory concerns you can provide them with some great supports such as sunglasses or earphones. As they get more adapted to the sights and sounds these supports can begin to be eliminated by the child.

  37. Kirsten Rosberg

    To support children with special needs we want to give them time to feel comfortable in the environment. We want to create or find an area that they are capable of using and that will put them at ease. We can do it in manageable steps with the support and infrastructure they need. We can create peer groups that they can feel safe and welcome in and that will encourage them to express themselves and challenge themselves, so that they can flourish. We need to give them freedom and independence in the outdoor space, and tasks.

  38. mvll

    This is a case by case type of situation, and depends of the varying capabilities of each individual. It is important to collaborate with staff and parents on how to expose children to outdoor play environments.

  39. DC

    Each child has their own special needs, some need better access, while others need less stimulation. A supportive teacher recognizes each child’s special needs and adapts the environment accordingly, while allowing the child to be independent through the use of extra time to finish their play, materials/equipment to assist their play or helping them access the play space.

  40. Laura Barthelette

    As you think about children with special needs, how do adults support them in having access to outdoor play that meets their needs? While outdoors, how do teachers support independence for children with varying special needs?
    Adults need to examine the outdoor area and make certain the child with special needs can participate in the area. We are currently having a problem with a wheel chair and a snow bound gate. We have had to look at alternate play areas outdoors. Teachers can observe children with special needs and provide support ( materials, additional time, physical assistance) to allow them independence.

  41. Nikki Meyer

    Adults need to design outdoor environments that meet the needs of all children in the program. Educators need to understand that outdoor play is an important daily experience and not use participation in outdoor play as a tool for getting compliance from children with behavioural challenges. Independence is encouraged through the inclusion of open ended materials that children can utilize with differing abilities.

  42. Emma D. Rodilas

    As Educators, we always keep in mind that preparing the environment that is conducive for learning is a must. Special needs children need exposure to their environment for their development skills. As caretaker to them be a good encourager to them to engage in such outdoor activities that would develop and enhance their learning ability. Let them socialize to peers and offer many sensory opportunities for them to explore.

  43. Tanya Morash

    As you think about children with special needs, how do adults support them in having access to outdoor play that meets their needs? While outdoors, how do teachers support independence for children with varying special needs?
    Educators must first view the space for obstacles that may hinder exploration for all children. By doing so, they are then able to remove any barriers or find solutions to them so that the area is inclusive. While outdoors, educators must allow the same opportunities for exploration and discovery to all children while offering varied support to those with needs- meaning for peers that require one on one or close contact, the educator could have another educator present as well as allowing peers to help support each other.

  44. melissa gallant

    I definitly think children with special needs should have access to the outdoor space. When a play environment is being created all children should be involved in the planning. Have things down low so children in wheels chairs can reach, and having the ground level and flat so that it is easy for all children to get around, having a quiet place outside can be very helpful for any children who could get over stimulated outside.

  45. Wendy Flegel

    I definitely think children with every ability and/or disability require access to play outside. The play space may need to be modified so the child can build independence and to help them get the most out of their outside time as every other child would. The adult can make sure that there are plenty of places that the child can explore.

  46. Sheila Maputi

    Early learning teachers and families should be working together in supporting a child with special needs in outdoor play. There will be a lot of benefits for children with special needs to experience outdoor play as well. For me, helping them strengthen the part that is hard for them. Starting with activities for sensory, gross and fine motor then after that we can practice in helping them to be independent so they can have the opportunity to be social or working and playing with peers.

  47. Colleen Maclellan

    The adult’s ability to include the special needs of children into the program during outdoor play. The child is given independence to discover their potential and develop skills such s problem-solving. It is the role of the adult to observe and collaborate with the parent as to the varying abilities that the child has so that modification made be made to equipment or programming that will leave the child with a sense of success.

  48. Adriana Carrillo

    I think to be able to support children with special needs having access to outdoor play experiences and supporting independence, we will need have family engagement to be able to create an environment accessible to them, safe and promote independence.

  49. Angela Gower

    Adults can support children with special needs by creating an outdoor play space that is functional for that specific child. ECEs need to discuss with the family what they think the ideal play space for their child would be and then strive to make that a reality so the child can explore freely. Observation is also important. When supporting independence for children with varying special needs, it would depend upon the child. For example, if a child was in a wheelchair, having wheel-chair accessible equipment and access to all the materials would promote independence.

  50. Alison Rinas

    Adults support chidlren with special needs in their outdoor environments in creating accessible movement for them around the whole area in a safe manner yet, providing a natural and still challenging environment in order for the children to learn through their own level of dispositions. I feel adults need to observe even closer in offering play pro action in the outdoor space that will present to the child as a challenge but allow them to become successful in the outdoor space as in the outdoor environment children are more likely to work together differently and pla and include each other in different and better ways. Adults need to around, but not huver over the child allowing them the trust to make their own choice and choose their own play that make challenge them and persist them to become successful which strengths their self.

  51. Andrea Sabean

    It definitely requires partnership with the family and some creative thinking! Stepping back and encouraging independence is important, as is being there as a support when necessary. Active observation is key.

  52. Linda M. Mason

    Outdoor play spaces should be inclusive as much as possible so all children can participate in creative experiences. Our centre created pathways in our forest areas that made our wooded area wheelchair accessible. This has created more inclusiveness and has helped develop independence for children with special needs.

  53. Kate Domingo

    Basing from my experienced, we encouraged children with special needs to play outdoor with all the children. At times the children helped them and asked them to play with them. The environment should be designed so as to be inclusive to everybody and nobody will be left out regardless of what or who they are. The planning of outdoor space and materials should be inclusive too and meet the needs of all the children, thereby providing them with variety of choices.

  54. 786naznindhanani

    I agree with others that outdoor play is especially important for all children and especially those children who may need extra supports. Having exposure to outdoor play reduces the anxiety and stress in children and allows them to feel safe.

  55. Nicole Morrell

    I think that children with special needs should be given the same outdoor opportunities as their peers. The nice thing about loose parts and recycled materials is that children can typically use them at their own developmental skill level. I think educators can support their independence by just being readily available when necessary and ensuring that they provide the child opportunities to be successful.

  56. Paula Watson

    I truly believe we all have special needs to some degree. Obviously some are more relevant than others. But if we look at everyone as an individual and work with what that individual needs there will be growth and success for both the child and the educator. Somethings do have to be taken into consideration such as wheelchair access and the height of things outside but working through obstacles together makes you into co-learners and opens a valuable dialogue with the individual.

  57. Ashley Barfoot

    Adults support children with special needs to access outdoor play that meets their needs by having a strong knowledge of the child, where their strengths lie as well as barriers they may experience. When the adult has a strong understanding of the child they can then assess the environment and make sure that it is accessible but also provides opportunities for growth. I think teachers support independence for children with varying special needs by being observant but also not jumping in too quickly. They need to make sure that everyone remains safe but also allowing children to work through challenges rather than stepping in. The teacher should provide the child with the materials they need to be successful but also allow them to make mistakes, like they would for all the children.

  58. Karen Koehli-Kozack

    We expose children with special needs inclusively. We have made paths for wheelchairs and walkers so children can access outdoor play areas. We have adapted our mobile toys so they can access freely and when classes go on walks we use a wagon or stroller for any child who struggles with walking long distances. Having these extra seats give them the freedom to walk as far as they can and know that when struggling or tired they are still with their peers

  59. Rochelle Muhlert

    As you think about children with special needs, how do adults support them in having access to outdoor play that meets their needs? While outdoors, how do teachers support independence for children with varying special needs?

    Adults can support children with special needs accessing outdoor play that meets their needs by, first of all, making it accessible so that they are able to get to the outdoor environment with relative ease, and then by being with the child and through observation being aware of how they can support inclusion of the child. Being a careful and attentive observer means that the educator is aware of the skills/capabilities of the child with special needs, and therefore they can encourage independence by being a partner with the child instead of a ‘helper’. The educator needs to be aware of what the child wants to do, what they are capable of doing, what they need encouragement with, what the child really cannot do, and how the educator can modify or enhance play so that the child can participate. With extra physical needs, the educator may have to modify the environment to make it accessible. The most important thing is observation and communication so that the child’s unique skill set is understood and built up.

  60. Mallory

    Having children with special needs participate in all aspects of program mean that they go outside with everyone else. Staff need to be aware of everyone’s needs and need to plan based on that. Special needs doesn’t make the child different or should not make them miss out on things. If staff include everyone then the children will as well, as for certain safety needs such as a child in my program that has issues with stability, she is with the rest of the group and her aid either joins the group or hangs out close enough to help but far enough away that this child can be independent and play with her peers.

  61. Kathleen Couture

    True inclusion is just that, including them in every aspect of the program including outdoor play. Allowing children with special needs these opportunities through using adaptive materials , allowing more time for activities, making adjustments to play areas, and outdoor equipment can be beneficial to all children. Adults need to ensure each child’s developmental needs are being met through these play experiences. Knowing the developmental level of the child with special needs will allow the educators to provide for opportunities for the child to foster independence. Through accessible playgrounds, adaptive equipment and rich and meaningful experiences all children can benefit from outdoor play.

  62. Mandi Bollinger

    Adults support children with special needs when the outdoor play space is accommodating for them and has ample opportunity for them to move, play, learn and grow. Even though it may be extra work, taking special needs children outside daily will help them become more familiar with the surroundings. They will learn independence and get rid of any pent up energy.

  63. Jessica Brosch

    Providing a safe outdoor environment is important for children with additional needs. They can have room to move, explore and connect with nature. They have freedom to be around other children or play individually. Adults should provide opportunities for them to explore and make choices and build their skills!

  64. Szandrita

    Adults support children with special needs’ access to outdoor play when they physically accompany them and expose them to it. When adults participate and are involved in outdoor activities, this facilitates the engagement and support of the child with special needs into the exploration of the outdoor play.

    I firmly believe in inclusion, and by supporting them in engaging and building relationships with other children at first, then everything falls apart. They will have independency in choosing friends and activities, nevertheless keeping in mind what sort of special support they need, the adults will need to either keep a close distance or at not so close one.

  65. BL

    I believe it is of utmost importance to involve the parents of children with special needs. Not only the parents but also the child’s whole team, physiotherapist, speech pathologist etc… and get their input of how to create a supportive outdoor environment for the child to make it the most beneficial for their growth and development. IT will also teach us what the child’s interest are and hopefully ensure that we incorporate them in out setting.

  66. jen.g

    Being outdoors with their group allows them to feel they are part of the group. Adapting the play space and materials gives them opportunities to create things themselves and gain independence.

  67. Hunter Goodine

    Educators should over look the area to make sure the outdoor environment is accessible for all children to enjoy, and if any changes need to be made the educator can ensure that happens so that the children can enjoy/have a hands on learning experience. Educators can support children independence with varying needs by providing a variety of materials/ experience for all the children to feel included in everything.

  68. Sarah Crumback

    Teachers must assess the outdoor play environment and make sure that it is accessible for all children to enjoy, they can then make changes if needed so that all children no matter their level of mobility may be able to enjoy the environment and have a rich learning experience. Teachers can support the independence of children with varying needs by providing a variety of play materials and experiences for children to engage in, ensuring that all levels of ability are provided for.

  69. Keiko T

    I think it is imperative to involve parents of children with special needs when planning to create the outdoor play environment that supports, challenges, and enhances their development. Working closely with those parents will help us understand their needs as well as their interests, and offer materials and activities that encourage them to engage in outdoor play. Providing ample time, space, play options filled with rich loose parts and intelligent materials can support independence for children with varying special needs. When children with special needs become more comfortable with playing outside, we could gradually invite them to watch a small group of children play or use materials so that they could start interacting with others at their own paces.

  70. Wendy Slavik

    First and foremost I think the parents must be wise in the choosing of the centre they place their child in as many meet a variety of needs, yet some are better suited for specific individuals while others are not. That said, all children have the right to enjoy outdoor play spaces that meet their needs, so having a good understanding of the children in question will dictate how the outdoor play space with work for them. For some children they may need to be outside when ratio’s are low because of issues related to noise levels or feeling overwhelmed. Items from indoors may need to travel outdoors too, such as board games, books, art. where gross motor skills are weak or lacking, encouragement and opportunity must be provided to stimulate development towards these skills. For example a 3 year old autistic child may not be able to climb a five step play structure, however a 2-3 step structure may be more viable and less of a challenge therefore more suitable. Adults need to provide muscle movement assistance when necessary too so that children’s minds memorize the sequence needed to
    accomplish a goal
    When early childhood educators work with children that have special needs they need to be inclusive and support independence by allowing choices, providing experiences and taking risks the in the same way they would for others, yet tweaked to meet the needs of those specific children.

  71. Alana Cornett

    Teachers can support children having access to outdoor play by adapting the environment. For example creating spaces that are suitable for play in high or low areas, small spaces and wide open spaces . We can support access and independence by following the child’s lead and providing opportunities that will enable them to be included.

  72. Deborah Boyles

    Safe places that the child can play and make choices of what they wish to do in an outdoor space while having support nearby is very important in making the experience of outdoor play a positive one that they will enjoy and want to do regularly.

  73. Tina Gouzecky

    It is important to provide children with additional support needs equal opportunities for outdoor play. This promotes an inclusive environment which is positive for the entire group. When we show children that we support and include everyone regardless of their abilities, it provides a safe space for everyone to feel capable and included.

    There should be accessible spaces for children with additional support needs that allows opportunities for them to work on their physical goals. Accommodations and enhancements to the outdoor spaces should be made to allow for everyone to be able to participate.

  74. Lena Hirst

    The approach to outdoor play might have to be adapted depending on the children’s special needs. Ideally all play spaces should be manageable for all children but that might require some creativity and for a lot of centers money will be the limiting factor to truly make all spaces accessible. For a child who has perception challenges and might be a flight risk extra measurements must be taken to ensure the safety of this child while still giving them an opportunity to experience independence. This might mean having to adapt outdoor play to places that are secure or having one caregiver shadow this child at all times while still ensuring that this child can get a sense of independence. Children who need extra support might need the outdoor environment adjusted to play safely and independently. Offering loose parts at a height that makes them accessible for a child in a wheelchair fosters independence instead of the child having to rely on a caregiver or peer to pick them up of the ground. Creating an environment that offers options to create smaller, less busy spaces for children who can get overwhelmed including children with sensory stimulation challenges.

  75. Kelly-Anne Robb

    Allowing the child to dictate how they wish to move in the outdoor environment will strengthen their curiosity and development. We need to give them space while still being close by to support them if they need it.

  76. Kim Janzen

    Adults and caregivers can support children with special needs during outdoor play by allowing them to lead in what they would like to do, and by giving them access to different items or materials that may benefit them. A child that needs to strengthen gross and fine motor skills may like to play pass with a ball, or draw with chalk. Another child that may be sensitive to large groups of children or noise, may benefit from playing quieter games with only a handful of other children. Giving them that opportunity will increase their skill level while also providing a positive environment outdoors.

  77. Cindy Piwowar

    As you think about children with special needs, how do adults support them in having access to outdoor play that meets their needs? While outdoors, how do teachers support independence for children with varying special needs?
    Adults need to make sure that children with special needs have access to outdoor play. For some children the exceptionality is not as obvious outside and it provides them an opportunity to feel do the same activities. I heard a story about a child in a wheel chair wanting to be pushed down a hill. The adult was hesitant because of fear the child might get hurt. The adult decided to allow the child to be pushed down the hill. Well as feared the wheel chair tipped and the child got scraped up. The adult was panicked and felt horrible. However, the parents of the child in the wheel chair complemented the adult on allowing this to happen. To that point it was the highlight of the child in the wheel chairs life. He got to be like the rest of the children.

  78. Janet Edge

    Early learning teachers can provide a outdoor space where children with special needs feel safe and comfortable. It’s important that we provide them with activities for their movements, independence and creativity as well. Teachers can provide loose parts to help build these skills. It’s important for the child to feel comfortable and to be able to do activities on their own and own time. Having age appropriate activities create opportunities for children with diverse needs.

  79. Jodene Muri

    Outdoor play relives stress and anxiety, develops social skills, and motivates learning. Accessible play spaces that are designed for all children provide inclusive access. They offer children with diverse abilities the opportunity to play alongside one another. Consider accessibility for children at a wide range of developmental stages and sbility. Appeal to the five senses. Create places to explore.

  80. Rondo

    Supporting a child with diverse needs is important to remember that all children need outdoor play opportunities that are appropriate. Supporting children with diverse needs is providing them with opportunities that are developmentally appropriate and supportive and specific to that child; depending on the degree of diverse needs or special needs. Outdoor play can be proportionate to the needs of the child.

  81. Cindy Schlamp

    I think that for some children the biggest thing we can do for them is give them space and time to process the environment. For example I had a boy with autism and his first week in the outdoor yard all he did was walk the fence. The next week he would do a couple times around the fence and then come play, to the point where eventually he could enter the yard and immediately enter into play.

  82. Brittany Godfrey

    Adult can help access outdoors for children with special needs by creating a safe environment to explore and play in where they will have many opportunities to learn social and motor skills, explore their independence, and have their sense stimulated. While outdoors teachers can help guide independence by having loose parts to explore, allow for places to have social play, create environments where the children have to problem solve and engage children in activities that encourage motor skills.

  83. Ashwak

    By exposing them to an outdoor environment that encourage independency and the freedom to make choices. Having children engage in activities that have defined goals to reduce stress will help in participating in outdoor play.

  84. Kim Dolezal

    Outdoor play strengthens the ability to to support ones needs and gain skills touching with our sensory, creates independence in area of space, develop positive thinking.