According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 6.6 million children and young adults between the ages of 3 and 21 are receiving special education services in the USA. Among these children, 35% have specific learning disabilities. Children with special educational needs face challenges daily. They often tire faster than other students and some may even have limited mobility. Problems with social skills, communication challenges, and sensory issues are all obstacles that can influence both learn and play time for special needs children.
Regardless of the difficulties faced, it remains imperative that these children enjoy some outdoor time due to the significant physical, mental and social benefits it holds. Outdoor time can take on a variety of forms which includes free-play on safe playground equipment, interactive games with peers, gardening activities like starting a compost bin or tending to a vegetable garden or music and movement activities.
Whether through independent or directed play, playing outside offers substantial physical benefits to children with special needs. Many of these kids experience certain developmental delays apart from the educational setbacks and playing outside can assist them in terms of muscle strength, flexibility and coordination. Being active outside also promotes cardiovascular health and an increased sense of body awareness, motor skills and balance. Children in general today do not spend as much time outdoors as they did a decade ago, mostly thanks to technological advances in terms of TV’s, computers, smart phones and gaming devices which leads to Vitamin D deficiencies. Spending time in the sun helps combat such a deficiency significantly.
Outdoor play provides children with special educational needs with numerous mental benefits such a boost in self-esteem. Overcoming obstacles and improving physical skills increases self-confidence which will carry over into the classroom. Playing outdoors may also result in an increase in attention span and provide the learners with a sense of accomplishment while reducing stress, anxiety and depression.
Children with special educational needs often have severe problems with a variety of social skills which can be eased by outdoor play. Playing outdoors often results in improved behavior which makes it easier for children to build friendships with each other. Children with special needs have the opportunity to learn how to deal with conflict, how to share and how to work with their peers in groups. Self-advocacy and resilience is promoted when social obstacles are overcome and enables the children to forge positive relationships with others.
Having the opportunity to empower a child with special education needs be the best that he or she can be may be one of the biggest blessings the universe can bestow upon anyone. By taking the time and making the effort to develop the skills of a special needs child you are creating a better future for a very deserving individual.