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The recipe for the ideal inclusive playground

When considering SEND within the design of a playground, safety risks are the most important consideration, right? Not necessarily, says the Association of Play Industries...

  • The recipe for the ideal inclusive playground

Success in outdoor learning and play lies not in concentrating on the restrictions presented by special educational needs, but by considering all educational needs and providing challenge for every child.

Yes, safety is important – but when we think in terms of ability, rather than disability, children with SEND will no longer be left out. So how can you ensure your playground is an inclusive environment that can engage all of your pupils, no matter what their needs? Here are our tips for getting it right…

Embrace challenge

There may be a range of abilities among your pupils, but it’s important to provide them with opportunities for challenging themselves. If children aren’t challenged they won’t experiment, and therefore be less likely to improve their skills. Children of all abilities should be able to explore new things and make mistakes, as both are vital parts of the learning process.

It’s important that things aren’t made too easy for the children. Make them feel able to move on to the next challenge without restrictions. Providing different versions of the same activity in the same area, with easier and more difficult options, will allow children to play side by side with their classmates regardless of ability, while simultaneously providing them with opportunities for progression.

Give your pupils purpose

All children need positive reasons for being active. Providing them with this will improve their general levels of health and fitness, give them a constructive outlet for their energy, lend purpose to their play and potentially lead to a reduction in behaviour-related playground incidents and accidents.

Stimulate the senses

Try to incorporate a few features that encourage children to explore their senses. Sensory play is often recommended for pupils with complex needs to help them to cope with the different sensory stimuli present in daily life, but all children can benefit from experiencing different colours, textures, sounds and movements during play – particularly if the school playground is one of the few outdoor spaces accessible to them.

Be mindful, however, of how much the specific needs of pupils in your setting can vary. To avoid sensory overload, try balancing those sensory items with some calmer, natural spaces where children can opt to spend time if needed.

Provide variety

Sometimes children may happily play and interact alongside others with gusto; at other times, those same children may want to relax outside of the formal classroom environment, or play entirely independently. You need to provide them with that choice.

For pupils easily overwhelmed by certain activities, consider creating a space where they can observe different activities and items of equipment from a distance, so that they can engage on their own terms and have control over their experience. Partially enclosed spaces, such as ‘secret gardens’ or play houses situated away from busy areas of the playground, can be positioned in a way that facilitates close supervision while also creating a space in which children can feel safe and secure.

Consult with experts

Discuss your plans with colleagues, the children and their parents. Look for a contractor with prior experience of creating inclusive play spaces that can share case studies of how their approach has worked at other schools in the past. Most should be willing to help put you in touch with said schools, so that you can learn from the impact their projects have had and pick up some practical tips.

Make your intended outcomes clear to your chosen contractor, and ensure that they adhere to the relevant playground standards (EN1176 and EN1177). Needless to say, they should also be covered by the relevant insurance and hold all necessary accreditations and memberships. Make sure you fully understand what will be involved in maintaining your new playground area, so that it continues to be a safe and engaging space for years to come.

The Association of Play Industries (API) is the play sector’s lead trade body, representing manufacturers, installers, designers and distributors of outdoor and indoor play equipment and safer surfacing; further details about the association’s Play Must Stay campaign for greater investment in public play provision can be found at here.

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