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How SEND pupils can benefit from outdoor gyms

Exercise can sometimes seem daunting to any of us at the best of times, so it can feel even more overwhelming for pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).

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1st July 2024

SEND Children often struggle with new experiences, sensory processing, social interactions and their motor skills, and may have a tendency to wander off from an exercise session. 

Equally, most conventional gyms simply don’t have the trained staff, equipment or accessibility to suit students with SEND. Indeed, according to Activity Alliance’s My Active Future report, only a quarter of all disabled children participate consistently in physical or sporting activity. 

Yet an inactive youth is more likely to result in a similar adulthood. Additionally, Sport England says those who have a disability are twice as likely to be physically inactive as those who don’t. 

And, disability or not, inactivity can ultimately mean a range of potential health problems, from type 2 diabetes to elevated blood pressure, not to mention poor mental health and self-confidence, or feelings of exclusion and anxiety. A sedentary time at school can also lead to weight gain, reduced upper-body strength, less cardio endurance and poor flexibility. 

So we need to understand and overcome the barriers preventing SEND pupils from accessing and taking up opportunities to work on their fitness with their peers. After all, why should this group miss out on the chances which others their age enjoy?

It’s not willingness to participate which poses the greatest barrier, but the lack of accessible options. So we shouldn’t expect SEND to adapt to existing provision – we should change to provide equal access. 

What can teachers do?

There are a number of things teachers can do to support children with SEND enjoy a more physical activity: 

  1. Before using the equipment, describe in detail what the equipment is and how to use it.  We have a range of animations perfect for supporting teachers to do this, particularly if visual aids are the child’s preferred method of learning. 
  2. Talk to pupils about the support they may need and how to ask for help. 
  3. Keep goals simple and achievable, reviewing and changing challenges regularly. 
  4. Include all children in sports days and similar events. 
  5. Teach key sporting vocabulary so learners can communicate with their peers and discuss their sessions. 
  6. Imagination and creativity make exercise fun as well as more accessible. Take a child-focused approach when building sessions. We have some fantastic lesson planners with fun warm ups and various different challenges to help.
  7. Daily engagement throughout the school week is key to making it a normal part of everyday life.

If you’re designing a playground for youngsters on the autistic spectrum, again there are many things you can do. These include incorporating quiet spaces, remembering to engage all the senses and creating an organised, intuitive layout. 

Additionally, consider:

  • Activities which work on balance
  • Safety surfacing
  • Ways for children to interact with each other. 

Finally, remember that your facility will need to cater to varied abilities, skills and fitness levels. 

Why are the benefits of working out outside?

Regular indoor gyms often have an over-stimulating environment or are otherwise unsuitable for SEND students. Being outside provides a calmer sensory experience. It’s easier to find a quiet space if someone needs to take a time-out. Many will benefit from a degree of sensory stimulation, for example in the form of textured surfaces. Al fresco gyms allow them to explore their senses safely.

Exercising outside helps SEND children build essential motor skills as well as coordination, strength and spatial awareness while letting off steam in a controlled way. Actions including swinging, climbing and balancing can all help overall wellbeing. 

Being outdoors can also reduce anxiety and stress and promote independence, motivation, confidence and wellbeing. There’s also the chance to develop social skills and interact with others in a supportive environment. 

Fresh Air Fitness’s SEND Gym Equipment

Outdoor gyms provide all of the above for all pupils – and more. At Fresh Air Fitness, we have extensive experience of supplying outdoor gym equipment to schools supporting children and young adults with SEND

Our products are very intuitive, simple and straight forward to use. We have a vast product range which challenges the body in different ways, including cardio, muscle strength, co-ordination and flexibility. We also have products suitable for wheelchair users.  Many of our products have multiple user stations, including for 2, 3, 4 or more people, supporting interaction and communication with peers.  All this allows us to find the very best solution for your setting.

We’ll be with you every step of the way, from site inspection through to post-installation care and beyond. Plus there’s a 25-year long warranty on all our equipment. 

Contact us today for an initial chat about what we could do for SEND pupils at your school.  

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