Children with special needs have special challenges. They may tire faster than other students may and some may have limited mobility. Communication challenges, problems with social skills, and sensory issues may also come into play when it comes to outdoor play. However, getting these kids outdoors for some playtime offers some excellent physical, mental, and social benefits, particularly when outdoor play is used as a teaching mechanism.

Physical Benefits

Playing outside, whether it’s directed play or independent play, offers significant physical benefits to children with special needs. Many of these children experience developmental delays, and playing outside often results in improvements in flexibility, muscle strength, and coordination. Getting active outdoors also helps to improve cardiovascular health and exercise endurance, which may help increase life expectancy. Regular outdoor play also helps children to improve body awareness, motor skills, and balance. Being out in the sun also provides children with vitamin D, and since many children with disabilities suffer from vitamin D deficiencies, regular exposure to the sun can be helpful.

Mental Benefits

Outdoor play also provides special needs children with mental benefits, and one of the main mental benefits is the boost in self-esteem. As children overcome obstacles and improve physical skills, it increases their self-confidence and feelings of self-esteem. They have the chance to experience personal satisfaction and accomplishment, which goes a long way towards building their confidence in every area of life. Playing outdoors often results in increases in their attention span as well. Kids learn to solve problems and collaborate when playing outdoors, building important mental skills. Being outdoors getting physical activity in the form of outdoor play also helps reduce stress, reducing a child’s risk for stress related issues, such as anxiety and depression.

Social Benefits

Children with special needs often have problems with social skills, but outdoor play can help address these problems, providing some helpful social benefits. Playing outdoors often results in improved behavior and makes it easier for these children to build friendships with others. Special needs children have the opportunity to learn how to share, how to deal with conflict, and how to work in groups, all while having fun in a low-stress, outdoor environment. When these children get to learn and explore through outdoor play, they often overcome challenges and learn new skills. This promotes self-advocacy, resiliency, and self-confidence, which have the potential to help children build healthier relationships with others.  

Although playing outdoors often comes with challenges for children with special needs, the physical, mental, and social benefits make it well worth the time and effort.