Everyone Can Play Outside

Children, no matter the age, no matter the ability level, love to go outside.  For parents and early childhood educators, it is important to make the outdoor accessible to all.  To give some insight into this topic, here are some thoughts from a guest  blogger, Nicole Wysong.

Have a Great Week!




Every year, residents of Indiana endure our cold winters knowing that spring and summer are just around the corner. The weather is getting warmer right now in Indiana which means it is easier to spend more time outside.

I often found, as an early childhood educator, that when I told the children that it was time to go outside, they reacted happily and eagerly.  Outdoor time in warmer weather offers many opportunities for all children to explore nature whether or not a child has a special need, such as a hearing impairment, Autism, a physical disability or others. The benefits for children spending time outside are the same for everyone. However, children with special needs may take some specific caregiver planning to maximize the enjoyment and learning opportunities of the outdoors.

Of course, caregivers always need to keep in mind the safety needs of all of the children in their care as well.



One thing to consider when planning for outdoor play time is the mobility of the child. Is the outdoor environment set up to meet the needs of a child with a physical disability? The optimal goal for a child with any special need is creating an environment where the child can be as independent as possible and have opportunities for successful completion of activities. We need to consider the barriers that might hinder a child from being independent.

An example of a barrier for a child with a physical disability would be a cluttered play area with too many toys and obstacles to move around. Another example would be for a child who wants to play in the sand box but cannot get into the sandbox by himself. Our planning as caregivers should include planning for ways to reduce barriers of participation for any child.

There are some resources available that caregivers can use that specifically detail adaptations and accommodations for specific types of special needs. One resource is the book, “The Inclusive Early Childhood Classroom,” by Patti Gould and Joyce Sullivan (available for loan at the Early Childhood Alliance library). Another good resource comes from an article titled, “Including Everyone in Outdoor Play,” by Linda Flynn and Judith Kieff from the May 2002 publication of Young Children.



Here is a specific list of recommendations to consider when planning for the outdoor environment –

  1. At least two pieces of equipment are suited to the children’s sizes and ability levels.
  2. Appropriate modifications have been made to equipment and materials to increase the playability for children.
  3. Children can get to and play in this area with limited, if any, adult assistance.
  4. Caregivers assist children to engage in outdoor play as needed.
  5. Children can access play structures such as swings, slides and climbers.
  6. There are opportunities for peer partnering or the buddy system as needed.
  7. Children are engaged with other children and materials.
  8. There are options for play during outdoor play other than gross motor activities such as books or games.

This list comes from the ‘Inclusive Environment Tool’ written for the use of the Inclusion Specialists in Indiana.



References for the Inclusive Environment Tool

  • Dixon, Susan (C.C.C.) & Frazeur-Cross, Alice (Ed.D.). 2004.  Adapting Curriculum & Instruction in Inclusive Early Childhood Settings (Revised edition). Bloomington, Indiana:  Early Childhood Center, Indiana Institute on Disability and Community, Indiana University.
  • Hope-Irwin, Sharon.  (2005).  Specialink Child Care Inclusion Practices Profile and Principles Scale.  Canada:  The National Centre for Child Care Inclusion.
  • Mulligan, Sarah A. (M.Ed.), Morris, Sandra L. (B.A.), Miller Green, Kathleen, (M.A.) & Harper-Whalen, Susan (Ed.M.).  (1999).  Child Care plus+  Curriculum on Inclusion.  Missoula, Montana:  The Center on Inclusion in Early Childhood, The University of Montana Rural Institute.
  • Child Care Center and Home Regulations, The Bureau of Child Care, Family and Social Services Administration, State of Indiana.
  • Paths to QUALITY Level Indicators, The Bureau of Child Care, Family and Social Services Administration, State of Indiana.



Nicole Wysong is the Inclusion Specialist at Early Childhood Alliance. Through The Indiana Partnership for Inclusive Child Care (IPICC) project, Nicole impacts families of children with special needs and their child care providers. IPICC focuses on:

  • Offering on-site technical assistance.
  • Providing training opportunities.
  • Assisting child care providers to meet criteria in Paths to QUALITY.
  • Increasing awareness of and providing resources for the unique needs of all children.

Contact Nicole at nwysong@ECAlliance.org or 800-423-1498.



Including Children with Special Needs – Are You and Your Early Childhood Program Ready? From NAEYC