Getting children with special needs outside is important for their development and growth, says the staff at the Episcopal Center for Children, a nonprofit organization that assists elementary and middle school aged children with special needs.
- It improves coordination and motor skills. Many children with special needs have developmental delays. Playing outside can improve flexibility, muscle strength, and coordination. It can also help them improve body awareness, motor skills and balance.
- Outdoor play builds self-esteem and improves behavior. As children overcome obstacles and improve physical skills, their feelings of self-confidence and self-esteem go up. They experience personal satisfaction and accomplishment, which builds their confidence in other areas.
- They improve their social skills. Playing outside gives children with special needs opportunities to share, deal with conflict and work together – but in a low-stress and fun environment.
- They advocate for themselves. When these children learn and explore, they often overcome challenges and acquire new skills. This promotes self-advocacy, resiliency, and self-confidence.
- Their health improves. Playing outside makes children fitter and leaner. It also boosts their immune systems and raises Vitamin D levels, which many children today are deficient in.
- It increases their attention span and problem-solving skills. Children who play outside can increase their attention spans and problem-solving skills. They also tend to have more creative imaginations.
- Playing outside lowers stress. Outdoor play reduced stress and lowers a child’s risk for anxiety and depression. It can also ease some symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Getting your child outside may be easier than you think. “Make sure your child gets at least 15-30 minutes of outdoor play each day,” said Dodd White, president and CEO of ECC. “If you live in an apartment building or don’t have a yard, try to get to a neighborhood park a few times a week, and leave your technology at home or turned off.”
Other suggestions are:
– Pack up a “healthy picnic” and enjoy family time outside at an area park.
– Paint a rock garden and put it outside. Visit the garden and play with it.
– Join a recreational sports team or community activity that gets your child outside and playing.
– Encourage your child to act out stories or make up their own. Maybe they can put on a play outside for you to watch.
If you have a limited amount of time available for outdoor play, use a visual cue like a timer, to ease the transition when it’s time to go home.
“A child with special needs may need structure and supervision but you don’t want to excessively hover over them while they are playing,” said White. “Part of the benefit of outdoor play is getting to explore and be creative. So be observant and keep your child safe, but try to give your child some breathing room and keep it fun.”
The Center needs a new playground and is currently raising $30,000 as part of its “Let Them Play!” campaign, which kicks off on June 2, 2016 during DoMore24, a 24-hour day of giving in the Washington, DC metro area for nonprofits organized by the United Way of the National Capital Area. A YouTube video is available.
“We have a beautiful and historic Northwest D.C. campus, but the playground structures we inherited are old and need replacing,” said White. “The children enjoy time outside now in our school garden and play games in the field, but we are eager to get a play structure built for our students, so they can reap more of the benefits of playing outdoors.”