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Providing Inclusive Physical Education Facilities

The Importance Of Physical Education For Special Needs Students

All children regardless of their ability should undertake some form of daily physical activity. By exercising regularly, children will see a positive progression not only in their physical but also in their social development. Children with Special Educational Needs should participate in physical education classes or activities to enhance and develop these skills.

children sit inside the outdoor classroom gazebo labelled the hubPhysical education for special needs students should be incorporated into every school. Schools should include SEN children in all physical activities, by adapting  areas of activity accordingly creating a culture of inclusivity and thus meeting the needs of SEN pupils.

By including children with SEN in PE lessons and activities, their lifestyles can improve by:

  • Encouraging the development of their gross motor skills
  • Controlling obesity
  • Improving their confidence
  • Improving their social skills
  • Promoting an active and healthy lifestyle
  • Improving mental health
  • Improving problem-solving skills
  • Increasing concentration
  • Improving academic achievement

When SEN children participate in a whole class physical education lesson or activity (with children who don’t have any SEN), this encourages them to build vital communication and social skills. These are essential skills for later life, helping children with Special Educational Needs to:

  • Develop and nurture caring social groups,
  • Find a job, and
  • Live on their own.

For children without any SEN needs there is also a huge benefit of working and socialising with SEN children. Increasing their acceptance of differences between children and improving their awareness of individual needs.

children exercise on pentagon gym equipment


What Is Inclusion?

What Is Inclusion?

Inclusion means that every child irrespective of their ability or disability should be seen as a valued member of their school community. They should engage and involve themselves in all school activities, as well as interact with their peers at all levels of abilities. Thus, providing the children with the chance to improve their self-confidence and make new friendship groups.

 a teacher supports a child as they walk across the get set go blocks

Inclusive physical education for special needs students helps them by:

  • Providing lessons and activities and meeting the needs of SEN pupils. By delivering new:
  • teaching strategies (adapted, modified, or separate activities or approaches to learning)
  • equipment,
  • environments and
  • assessment.
  • Providing support to SEN children who want to take part in physical activities before, during, and after school.
  • Enabling SEN children to have the same experiences as their friends during physical education and other activities.


How Do PE teachers, Practitioners, And Support Roles Help SEN Children In Physical Education?

“Recent legislation and guidance make clear that all the teaching staff in a school are responsible for the provision for pupils with SEN and/or disabilities. All staff should be involved in developing school policies and fully aware of the school’s procedures for identifying, assessing and making provision for pupils with SEN and/or disabilities. Staff should help pupils with SEN to overcome any barriers to participating and learning, and make any reasonable adjustments needed to include disabled pupils in all aspects of school life” – Including pupils with SEN and/or disabilities in primary physical education -

children swing on a heavy work swing on their new playground

Unfortunately, studies have indicated that children with Special Educational Needs don’t take part in physical activities as often as children of their own age. Therefore, implying that children with SEN are at a higher risk of developing childhood obesity than their mainstream peers.

There are a lot of contributing reasons for this, and it also depends on the child’s abilities. However, research has found that there is a stigma about including an SEN child in a physical education lesson or out-of-school activities due to the teacher or coach not having enough:

  • Experience
  • Confidence
  • Resources that are suitable
  • Specialist training
  • Information

It is therefore important that all those working alongside SEN children during physical activities (whether it’s a PE teacher, TA, support role, or coach), have the appropriate training, knowledge, and skills so that they can confidently include and meet the needs of SEN pupils in any physical activity that they are teaching.  

a teacher supports a child as they cross the get set go block steps

PE teachers, support roles, and coaches should have training in:

  • Understanding the importance of children of all abilities taking part in physical activities together
  • Responding to children’s diverse learning needs
  • Planning, modifying, and adapting lessons to include SEN children
  • Choosing objectives to meet SEN children’s needs
  • Understanding that SEN children “can do” activities if modified to meet their needs
  • Working with SEN children directly to see what they “can do” and would “like to do”

Once trained, PE teachers, etc. can assess each child’s needs. In some cases, some children with specific Special Educational Needs may need Developmental Adapted Physical Education (DAPE), to improve their physical fitness and improve their fine and gross motor skills. Whereas other children may simply just need support and encouragement to join in with the physical activity. It is down to the PE teacher and support roles to assess each child’s situation and adapt their lesson accordingly to include all children.

children try the new gym equipment in their playground

It is very important that a PE teacher, support role, and SEN child relationship is formed. So that they can talk to each other about what the SEN child would like to do and “can do”, not “can’t do”! By understanding the needs and capabilities of the child and involving the child in the process, the child will start to form positive associations with physical activities such as:

  • Increased motivation
  • Increased engagement
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Improved self-worth

And therefore, meeting the needs of SEN pupils.

Physical education for special needs students in the past has been overlooked. Luckily for SEN children, schools (whether the child is in a specialist school or mainstream school) are now providing “inclusive” physical education lessons for all children, as well as other physical activities during the children’s lunchtimes and in the form of after-school clubs.

a child leaps down from the in and out shapes and smiles for the camera

Simple things such as walking to school, participating in the school’s “walk a mile” scheme at break times, and using specialist playground facilities are all fantastic ways of encouraging children to do some form of daily physical activity. Of course, it all depends on the child’s physical abilities, but help from staff, support roles, and their peers engaging in these activities will encourage SEN children to participate and form a lifelong enjoyment of being active.

Inclusive Facilities For Active Play

Physical education for special needs students can improve SEN children’s lives forever. By encouraging SEN children to be active and physical from an early age, PE teachers and support roles are preparing SEN children for a much healthier, social, and fulfilling adulthood.  

So, what can schools physically provide to improve and meet the needs of SEN pupils?

a child leaps from the in and out shapes and into the grass below

We have already discussed the adaptation of PE lessons by the PE teacher. But there are other resources that could enhance an SEN child’s physical activity at school. Pentagon Play specialises in providing Inclusive outdoor playgrounds and SEN outdoor equipment for schools. Our team of SEN experts works closely with the school SENCO team and SEN children to design, develop and install a unique outdoor inclusive play area for your school.

There are so many benefits for children with SEN to do physical activity daily as discussed above. Here we will look at the main 3 benefits and show you how Pentagon Plays products can provide the resources to do so.

a child sits in the sensory swing and smiles at the camera


Physical Development

Studies have shown that SEN children who take part in physical activities have a better level of physical health and mental well-being. For those children who have not only intellectual but physical disabilities as well (resulting in their motor skills being below age-level performance), participating in regular physical activities can aid the improvement of these required skills.

a child stands and spins the wheels on a sensory spinnerPhysical education for special needs children must be encouraged daily. Once involved the children can see for themselves how certain skills improve such as:

  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Flexibility
  • Increase in muscle strength
  • Stamina

By improving the above, children are setting themselves up for life and benefitting from a better physical state and well-being.

Pentagon Play's Sensory Circuits Heavy Work Swing is a great inclusive resource for any outdoor play area. It can be used at playtime and during PE lessons to enhance and meet the needs of SEN pupils. Whether a child is in a wheelchair or has physical disabilities the Sensory Circuits Heavy Work Swing is fully inclusive and enables children to participate at any level. This piece of equipment is easy to use for children who have a wheelchair or other aids. They can easily position themselves under the frame and use the equipment alongside their peers.

a child sits in a heavy work swing and smiles at the camera

The Heavy Work Swing is a fantastic resource enabling children of all abilities to be physical through heavy work activities. It allows the children to improve:

  • Their hand-eye coordination by seeing, reaching, and holding onto the swing grips
  • Their gross motor skills – muscle and grip strength by holding onto the swing with their hands and supporting their own body weight. Where possible the added element of moving their bodies forwards and backwards also enhances their gross motor skills
  • Their flexibility – allowing children to swing their legs forwards and backwards increases children’s flexibility
  • Their stamina – by using the Heavy Works Swing on a regular basis, children’s grip stamina will improve as well as their muscle stamina, being able to hold their body for longer with potentially moving onto swinging their legs forwards and backwards for prolonged periods.

As well as the above, the Heavy Weights Swing enables children to regulate their energy levels, increase their concentration, act as a sensory resource and allows children to become more aware of the position and movement of their body


Mental Benefits – Confidence Building and Well-Being

Daily physical education for special needs students is not only important for their bodies physically, but it’s also fantastic for their mental health by:

  • Improving general mood
  • Improving mental health in children who suffer from depression and anxiety
  • Improving self-esteem
  • Improving self-confidence
  • Improving social understanding

Providing inclusive outdoor activity areas, where children can go when they are feeling stressed, anxious, and/or depressed will help SEN children wind down and is a valuable resource to have.

a child stands inside the imagination station and peeks over the top

By having inclusive areas for all children to use, SEN children are able to interact with and do activities with their peers. This will enhance an SEN child’s self-worth by:

  • Feeling part of the class
  • Increase in confidence
  • Improve their social / group work skills
  • Improve their self-esteem
  • Improve their self-image

It’s imperative that PE teachers and support roles adapt their lessons accordingly, meeting the needs of the SEN pupils, but also enabling them to participate and contribute to all lessons. Therefore, feeling like valued members of their class.

children sit on the timber in and out shapes

Pentagon Play’s Adventure Fitness Package is the perfect resource to add to any outdoor area. It enables every child to use it and creates a fabulous inclusive activity area for all to enjoy. It can be used for both playtime fun and as an enjoyable resource during PE lessons…

Consisting of 8 trim trail items, vibrant playground markings and artificial grass the Adventure Fitness Package is a wonderful addition to any playground. Keeping all children entertained, active and healthy!

a birdseye view of the adventure fitness trim trail

It’s designed so that children of all abilities can improve their physical development by improving their:

  • Muscular endurance and strength
  • Core strength and stability
  • Upper and lower body strength
  • Coordination skills

But it also provides more than just physical development!

The Adventure Fitness Package can be used during playtime allowing children to explore and move in a free-flowing environment. Thus, encouraging children with Special Educational Needs to get “stuck in”, play, move, and collaborate with their peers. There is something for every child to do whatever their physical ability. Further improving SEN children’s self-esteem, confidence, team-building, and communication skills.

a render of the adventure fitness trim trail

The Adventure Fitness Package can be incorporated into inclusive PE lessons, such as an Athletics lesson when the area is used as a circuit. The class can be split into groups and placed at different stations. One station could be doing timed laps of the area. Another station could be a throwing station where the children could use bean bags to throw into the markings provided. A different station could be a jumping competition where the children can see how far they can do a standing jump. Children in wheelchairs could use the roped part of the trim trail to see how high they can pull themselves off their seats enabling them to be part of the circuit. There are so many ways to use the package! Whatever, the ability of the child and if a child is in a wheelchair, every child can be included. Therefore, helping SEN children feel that they are valued members of their class, increasing their self-confidence, improving their team-building skills, as well as improving their mental health.


Behaviour Benefits - Increased Concentration, Forming Relationships and Academic Success

Physical education for special needs students will enhance cognitive thinking through physically being active. Unlike any other lessons, PE and outdoor activities have a different range of skill sets that an SEN child would not normally do in a typical classroom environment. By having set structure and rules in physical activities and PE lessons, SEN children can learn to:

  • Self-regulate
  • Make judgments for themselves and their team member
  • Problem solve
  • Focus on set goals or targets
  • Improve their communication skills
  • Improve their team-building skill

When looking at outdoor physical activities, some lovely resources that bring children together are Pentagon Plays Inclusive Roundabout and Inclusive Swings

The Inclusive Roundabout is designed for children with Special Education Needs and disabilities. It encourages children of all abilities and wheelchair users to use it in unison, whilst enjoying the exhilarating sensation of spinning around together with their friends. This is a great active resource to enhance communication and group play for children. By working together as a team to:

  • Make the roundabout go faster or slower
  • Judging when a peer has had enough and wants to get off
  • Helping each other on and off
  • Deciding how many children can fit on it
  • Working together to physically push the roundabout
  • Understanding each other’s emotions

Our wonderful Inclusive Swing is designed solely for wheelchair users and can be situated next to our Timber Swings, so that children of all abilities can enjoy the amazing sensation of swinging and socialising together!

The Inclusive Swing is fully accessible via a ramp for children to wheel themselves onto it. Once on, the ramp is secured, and the child can swing to their heart’s content. This is a great resource for individual use to help with self-regulation, where the child can focus on using the suspended rope and pulley to swing themselves. It can also be a fantastic way for an SEN child and a mainstream child to play together. Allowing the SEN child to be pushed by their friend, therefore, improving their self-esteem, communication, and teamwork skills. It also encourages the children to problem-solve together by working together to get the wheelchair on and off the swing safely.

a child in a wheelchair swings in the inclusive swing

Once back inside, the positives of being active outside should manifest in the classroom showing improvements in an SEN child’s behaviour, concentration levels, academic improvement, and friendship groups.

For more information on Pentagon Plays Inclusive Outdoor Play Areas and products please follow the links below:

Supporting Children with Special Educational Needs | Pentagon Play

Special Needs Outdoor Playground Equipment | Pentagon Play

Our expert SEN consultants are always happy to talk to you about how to improve your outdoor facilities to enhance physical education for special needs students at your school.