When you have a child with special needs or siblings with different abilities, outdoor fun often requires some thought and organization to ensure safety and fun for all. It can be exciting and overwhelming at the same time!
Here are some ideas for inclusive outdoor fun:
One solution is bubbles...the international language of outdoor fun! My son Zack loved bubbles, and so did all of the neighbourhood kids! If your child with special needs can’t blow them by themselves, have the kids take turns playing “pop the bubble” games to include everyone. You can make your own bubbles with these fun recipes.
Outdoor Water Play and Sensory Bins:
Take your sensory bins outside or fill a bin with water and have some fun filling cups, placing toys in and out of the water or even make a “car wash” by washing toy cars. Check out our Pinterest pages for some great ideas!
Outdoor Sports and Ball Activities:
Purchase an adjustable basketball net for your child and enjoy some sports outside from seated or standing position. Partner up the kids to add a social aspect to the game. Watch for good deals online and at neighbourhood garage sales in the upcoming months!
Try these tips for adapting your ball activities to suit the needs of all your children:
- Different-sized balls: different weights can make the game move slower or faster. For example, balloons would slow down baseball and they make an easier target to bat or catch. A smaller or slightly deflated ball may be easier for some children to grip and throw
- Velcro gloves can make catching easier!
- Different bats, like a foam noodle or a badminton racket can add a new challenge to the game
- Change the rules: number of turns, playing field size and giving kids more tries to hit the ball can all go a long way in promoting success for everyone
- Substitutes: one child can be the “hitter” while another is the “runner,” a child with limited mobility can be the referee or umpire
Easy ball games to adapt:
If your child is able to enjoy a trampoline, it is guaranteed to give him or her hours of entertainment, assuming all the safety rules are followed. Ask your child’s team about any limitation or tips for play.
Kids can participate with parachutes in a variety of ways: holding the handles, running underneath, or making a ball bounce on the top. Be sure to sing some fun parachute songs too.
Ride-On Toys and Trikes:
With helmets on, many kids like to try to ride-on toys and adapted bikes for sidewalk adventures! Even some children who aren’t walking independently can use their feet and legs to propel them down the sidewalk, like my young son did. While he couldn’t walk or run with the kids, he felt totally included using a ride-on toy that gave him the freedom to be mobile. Speak to your child’s team to learn what is best suited for your child’s needs.
Inclusive and Accessible Parks:
Don’t you just love that more and more parks are becoming accessible for children of all abilities? Whether it’s a ramp to explore a second level of a jungle gym or adapted swings, community parks are becoming a great place for kids with special needs!
With my three boys at very different stages of development, our visits to the park were very stressful. My son Zack, who had special needs, really loved the swings, while my other boys loved the climbing equipment. Zack hated the feel of sand, while my other boys liked to dig to China! After a few attempts that failed, I learned to bring some equipment from home (like his ride-on car) to help keep all the boys safe and entertained. Sometimes Zack would play on a blanket with tons of toys (and snacks) while I took turns chasing and hiding with my other boys. Bringing another adult for support is a great idea to help keep kids safe and allow you to have some fun too!
Our family loves our local fully wheelchair accessible Park in Richmond Hill, Ont. Crosby Park is one of many accessible parks with ramps and railings that allows every child to enjoy their right to fun on outdoor equipment. Waterparks with attention to sensory issues, raised sand tables that accommodate wheelchairs, cushioned surface to add safety and swings with full seat backs are only a few of this park's wonderful facilities. Going to this park meant that I could also meet and connect with other parents who have children with special needs (CTN even host some summer events at these parks). I loved that our little boy could be independent as he walked along the railings just like he had practised in physio. Bring your camera, as there will be moments that you will want to remember.
There are several inclusive and accessible parks including Sunnidale Park in Barrie and Crosby Park in Richmond Hill (our family favourite) or R. L. Graham in Keswick.
To find other parks that might work for your family, try Barrie Tourism, this listing in York Region or this great site with accessible parks across Canada.
Enjoy this lovely spring weather with your children!
This post was written by Heather Hamilton, Family Resource Program Coordinator at Children’s Treatment Network (CTN) and mom of three boys, including her son Zack who had special needs and died in 2011.
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