10 Fun Outdoor Activities for Kids Who Need Different Accommodations

 In Adapting to Special Needs, Lifestyle, Youth Sports and Athletics

Fifteen percent of children ages 3 through 17 have one or more developmental disabilities. Children with chronic conditions and disabilities benefit from regular outdoor activity, movement, and athletics just as their peers do; however, children with disabilities and/or chronic health conditions may need different accommodations than their peers.

Understanding the common accommodations for children with differing abilities will help you provide kids who need different accommodations with the most enriching experiences, and help them build their confidence and skills. We’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite outdoor activities along with some modifications that are helpful to kids who need different accommodations.

Since 2002, CoachArt has provided free lessons in arts and athletics for children impacted by chronic illness. Some of the inclusions tips we’ll be sharing are from our work with children of different abilities, and we’ve added some additional resources to help modify specific outdoor activities for kids.

The inclusion tips we’ll be sharing include accommodations for kids with vision impairment, hearing loss, asthma, speech impairments, limited use of hands and arms, and cognitive impairments, and for children who use wheelchairs. These adaptations are suggestions; accommodations for children should always be considered individually. Whenever appropriate, speak with your child’s doctor prior to participation in a new activity and, if necessary, obtain the doctor’s written consent.

10 FUN OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES THAT CAN BE MODIFIED FOR KIDS WHO NEED DIFFERENT ACCOMMODATIONS:

1. Basketball

Basketball gives children the opportunity to learn teamwork. Working as a part of a team while playing is a great way for kids to adopt a “team spirit” and work through challenges together. Manchester University has a great guide for adapting basketball for children of differing abilities, including general modifications such as using a softer ball when needed, lowering baskets, or enlarging baskets.

Basketball Adaptations for Kids Who Need Different Accommodations | CoachArt

General Adaptations for Basketball Adaptations

 

2. Baseball

Like other group sports, baseball gives children the opportunity to work on both individual skills, and as a part of a team. Some general modifications for adapting baseball for kids who need different accommodations may include: using velcro balls and mitts, increasing or decreasing the size of the ball or bat (or using softer materials), using a batting tee rather than pitching, reducing the size of the playing field, and/shortening the distances of pitch or bases. Manchester University provides a guide for adapting baseball for kids of differing abilities.

Baseball Adaptations for Kids Who Need Different Accommodations | CoachArt

General Adaptations for Baseball

 

3. Miniature Golf

Miniature golfing is a fun outdoor activity for kids that be played as a group, or as a fun family activity. When playing with children who need different accommodations, you may consider using a different size club or ball if necessary, allowing the child to explore the course before jumping right in, encouraging the child to practice with the club to be comfortable using it and swinging it, and trying a non-peak time to give the child more time to be comfortable. Mark Riccobono, the Executive Director of the National Federation of the Blind, wrote a wonderful article with tips to help children with visual impairments: Introducing Your Blind Child to Miniature Golf!

Miniature Golf Adaptations for Kids Who Need Different Accommodations | CoachArt

General Adaptations for Miniature Golf (CoachArt)

 

4. Outdoor Art Projects

If you want to take a regular activity outside, moving art projects outdoors is a fantastic way to get fresh air and allow a child to be creative. Try a mixed media project using nature, such as leaves. This adds an extra element of creativity and discovery. For children with asthma, be aware of potential triggers, especially if the pollen count is high. For children with disabilities affecting fine or gross motor skills, be sure to check out our post on adaptive crafts and art materials.

General Adaptations for Outdoor Art Projects (CoachArt)

General Outdoor Art Adaptations (CoachArt)

 

5. Nature Walks

As a group activity, or one-on-one, being outdoors — in nature — encourages children to use their senses, connect with nature, and get the body moving. This is an especially beneficial activity if a child is shy or needs less rigorous movement activities. For children who use wheelchairs, many parks list accessibility on their websites, but if not, make a quick phone call to be sure that there is accessibility. If a child has difficulty walking distances, try coupling it with a picnic. In addition to the health benefits of being active, one study found that just five minutes spent being active outside causes significant improvements in self-esteem, mood, and depression.

Nature Walk Adaptations for Kids Who Need Different Accommodations | CoachArt

General Adaptations for Nature Walks

 

6. Scavenger Hunts

Scavenger hunts are not only a great way to get outdoors with kids, but they offer hands-on learning that can aid children of all abilities in boosting problem-solving skills, they are easily customizable to a child’s specific needs, and they encourage group cooperation and working together as part of a team. Be sure that the scavenger hunt is suitable for individual needs. For example, use flat surfaces, and ensure that the area is free of tripping hazards and easily accessible. For students with visual impairments, consider a smaller area. Utilizing a team system or buddy system gives kids who need different accommodations the chance to work as a team, with support and assistance.

Scavenger Hunt Adaptations for Kids Who Need Different Accommodations | CoachArt

General Adaptations for Scavenger Hunts

 

7. Tennis

In addition to getting the physical benefits of learning and playing tennis, kids of all abilities will learn valuable skills like teamwork, commitment, and self-confidence. Tennis helps children to work on physical skills like gross and fine motor coordination, balance, flexibility, and speed, and is great opportunity to add aerobic and physical exercise to their day. There are many adaptations available for kids who need different accommodations, from equipment to game rules. Disabled Sports USA offers common adaptations that can benefit children of differing abilities, including:

Tennis Adaptations for Kids Who Need Different Accommodations | CoachArt

General Adaptations for Tennis (CoachArt)

  • Tennis rackets: Rackets come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including ones that are shorter, smaller, and lighter, which make gripping the racket and hitting the ball easier, especially if range of motion is an issue. Sometimes athletic tape or a gripping device is used to secure the racquet to the hand and forearm.
  • Two-bounce rule: Allow the ball to bounce twice before a return volley.
  • Tennis balls: There are numerous kinds of tennis balls that vary in size and compression. Larger tennis balls are easier to hit and lower compression means that tennis balls will move more slowly and be less likely to bounce overhead, allowing rallies to last longer.
  • Tennis courts: Even courts can be reconfigured for adaptive tennis play. For instance, reducing the playing area means longer points and more fun. Lower tennis nets and portable nets are also available to modify the playing areas to whatever works best for learning and playing, even off the tennis court on a flat surface like a blacktop, driveway, or playground. There are also swing tee stands to practice stroke mechanics.
  • Wheelchairs for Tennis: Special wheelchairs with cambered wheels can be used for better stability and maneuvering, but for introductory learning, a child’s regular wheelchair can be used.
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    8. Soccer

    Playing soccer is great exercise for kids that improves cardiovascular health, increases coordination, improves physical strength, and enhances flexibility. Like other group sports, soccer offers kids a chance to work on team-building skills, improves self-confidence and self-esteem, and enhances a child’s social connections and interactions. Adaptations to the rules of the game, and altering equipment (such as a larger or softer ball) can be a great way to ensure that every child can participate and have fun while working on new skills. For example, in our work with children with visual impairments, we often use balls with bells, or brightly-colored balls, to assist in tracking the ball. For children who use wheelchairs, use of hands is appropriate, and allowing chest passes to the child can also be appropriate. Kids Sports Activities offers wonderful tips for adapting soccer rules and materials for kids who need different accommodations.   

    S Adaptations for Kids Who Need Different Accommodations | CoachArt

    General Adaptations for Soccer

     

    9. Flag Football

    Flag Football can be a safe alternative to tackle football for all kids. It allows children to get outdoors, participate in physical exercise, and work together as a team. A few general modifications that may be helpful for children who need different accommodations include: shortening boundaries, using various sizes or types of footballs (such as foam footballs), increasing the amount or length of flags on a player, and using brightly-colored flags. For children who use wheelchairs it may be appropriate to move the game to a flat area, such as a court or clear parking lot. When working with children of differing abilities, it can be helpful to use a buddy system to ensure that every child has the support they need, as well as to strengthen teamwork skills. Manchester University has a great adaptive guide for working with kids of differing abilities and adapting flag football rules.

    General Adaptations for Flag Football

    Flag Football Adaptations for Kids Who Need Different Accommodations | CoachArt

     

    10. Outdoor Yoga

    Engaging children in a yoga practice has numerous benefits for the mind and body, and can be done in a group or one-on-one setting. Yoga helps kids of all abilities to manage stress and focus on breathing, awareness, concentration, balance, and self-confidence. You will be able to incorporate poses and movement that are appropriate for the child’s specific needs. Yoga is fun for kids and allows children to do poses in a way that feels right for their bodies. Some general modifications may include the use of a sticky mat for children with balance issues or motor disabilities, props like blocks or blankets, and sensory items. Step-by-step instruction and doing the activity with a child can help the child learn, relax, and feel more comfortable participating. PBS Parents offers excellent general Tips for Doing Yoga with Children with Disabilities.

    General Adaptations for Outdoor Yoga

    Outdoor Yoga Adaptations for Kids Who Need Different Accommodations | CoachArt

     

    GENERAL INCLUSION TIPS AND MODIFICATIONS FOR KIDS WHO NEED DIFFERENT ACCOMMODATIONS:

    WHEELCHAIR INCLUSION

    INCLUSIONS TIPS AND MODIFICATIONS:

    • Always let your students try — never assume they can’t do something.
    • Work with students to adapt to their abilities (e.g., players may hold the ball in their laps for periods of movement).
    • Create new rules if you recognize a limitation (e.g., if a child cannot bounce a ball, allow them to instead have to touch their wheels before having to pass the ball).
    • Limit the amount of quick wheelchair movements to prevent exhaustion and blisters.
    • Practice sports indoors or on dirt ground for easier maneuvering (avoid grass).
    • Utilize the STEPS principle (Space, Task, Equipment, People, and Safety) to ensure that you are thinking through all the different ways to adapt lessons to integrate children with disabilities.

    COMMUNICATION

    • Whenever possible, put yourself at eye level to facilitate conversation by sitting in a chair or crouching down.
    • Do not speak loudly and/or slowly to an individual using a wheelchair unless you know that doing so is necessary to communicate.
    • Always ask permission before pushing somebody’s wheelchair.
    • Make conversation with students when you push their wheelchairs, just as you would if you were walking with a student who does not use a wheelchair.

    VISION IMPAIRMENT INCLUSION

    INCLUSIONS TIPS AND MODIFICATIONS:

    • You can use brightly-colored markers and equipment as appropriate.
    • Allow time for the visually impaired child to explore the site and be comfortable with using the equipment.
    • For activities using balls, consider a ball with bells for easier tracking.
    • Use larger and/or softer materials as appropriate.  
    • Reduce the size of the playing space as appropriate.
    • If appropriate, assign a buddy for support in group activities.  

    CHECKLIST

    1. Are you prepared to provide the students with verbal directions about all parts of the activity?
    2. Is the space clear to allow for easier movement?
    3. Are frequently-used resources kept in the same accessible place, and labeled?
    4. Have you taken time to allow the child to explore in a way that’s helpful for them?

    HEARING LOSS INCLUSION

    Hearing loss is the most common disability in the U.S.; three out of every 100 school-age kids have a significant hearing loss.
     

    INCLUSIONS TIPS AND MODIFICATIONS:

    • Obtain the student’s attention prior to speaking.
    • Reduce auditory distractions (background noise).
    • Enhance speech-reading conditions (avoid hands in front of the face, keep mustaches well-trimmed, no gum chewing).
    • Face your students and make eye contact when speaking. Clearly enunciate speech.
    • As a general rule, always stand close to a student who is hard of hearing when giving instructions.
    • Use visual supplements (predetermined visual signals or signs, whiteboards, or visual charts).
    • Do not exaggerate your lip movements, but slowing down a little may help some students.
    • Use facial expressions, gestures, and body language to help convey your message, but don’t overdo it.
    • Repeat others comments and/or questions before responding to make sure the hard-of-hearing student heard.

     
    ASTHMA INCLUSION

    INCLUSIONS TIPS AND MODIFICATIONS:

    • Check in with the child, and offer a rest break from activity if necessary.
    • Have the child’s inhaler nearby and ready to be used.
    • If a child is uncomfortable with activities that include running, consider a slower pace or for group games, try a position that requires less running if necessary.  

    UNDERSTAND POTENTIAL ASTHMA TRIGGERS:

    • Rigorous exercise
    • Dust
    • Animal proteins
    • Fungi
    • Pollen
    • House mites

    TYPES OF ASTHMA:

    Child-onset Asthma: This type of asthma happens because a child becomes sensitized to common allergens in the environment – most likely due to genetic reasons.

    Exercise-Induced Asthma: Some people only experience asthma symptoms during physical exertion. With proper treatment, a person who suffers from exercise-induced asthma may not have to limit his/her athletic goals.

    Steroid-Resistant Asthma (Severe Asthma): Steroid-resistant asthma refers to inflammation and constriction of the airways that does not respond to treatment with steroids.
     

    SPEECH IMPAIRMENT INCLUSION

    INCLUSIONS TIPS AND MODIFICATIONS:

    When speaking with people who have difficulties with speech, you should:

    • Be patient- don’t rush them or finish their sentences.
    • Always ensure you understand what the person has said before proceeding.
    • Ask the student, if necessary, to repeat what they have said or write it down.
    • Consider working out a better way of communicating with each other- use pictures, diagrams, and drawings to make or clarify your point.
    • During group activities, allow the use of predetermined hand signals if it is helpful for a child.

    LIMITED USE OF HANDS AND ARMS INCLUSION

    INCLUSIONS TIPS AND MODIFICATIONS:

    • If young people have difficulty throwing or sending a ball by hand try using a chute, plastic tube, or a piece of folded board.
    • You can use a Velcro mitt or makeshift glove to help retain a firm grip.
    • Athletic tape and an Ace bandage wrap are two simple solutions to maintain a proper grip. Use the lightest possible bat or racquet
    • Orthopedic racquet holders and “grasping gloves” are available if more support is required.
    • Modification of game rules to include one-hand or two-hand involvement if necessary.
    • Modify equipment, such as larger or softer materials as needed.

    COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENT INCLUSION

    INCLUSIONS TIPS AND MODIFICATIONS:

    • Repeat instructions
    • Provide frequent feedback
    • Break down tasks into smaller steps
    • Display rules
    • Prepare students for transitions
    • Reduce distractions
    • Buddy student up with a strong student or volunteer
    • Find out the student’s strengths and emphasize them
    • Be flexible about expectations
    • Seek advice from parents/guardians
    • Be patient

    TYPES OF COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENT:

    • Difficulty Processing Information (Sensory Processing Disorder)
    • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
    • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
    • Cerebral Palsy
    • Down Syndrome
    • Developmental Delay

    A student with a cognitive impairment may:

    • Have a short attention span
    • Have speech and language difficulties
    • Have a range of difficulty with physical/ motor skills
    • Be overwhelmed by a large amount of new information at once
    • View each learning experience as new, instead of attaching new knowledge to prior learned ideas
    • Behave inappropriately due to difficulty reading social situations
    • Have low self-esteem

    GENERAL TIPS FOR GROUP/TEAM INCLUSION

    1. If possible, offer a volunteer buddy if extra support is needed. This gives every child the chance to work on cooperative and teamwork skills.
    2. When working in groups, discuss with the group what modifications are going to be made to the game, sport, or activity.
    3. Be prepared to field questions so that all participants understand and feel included in the process.

    HOW TO EXPLAIN DIFFERENCES TO CHILDREN

    Children have a natural curiosity to try to understand the world around them, including differences among themselves and others. Children learn to view differences with acceptance when adults model respectful behavior and acknowledge curiosity with honest explanations that children can understand.

    When explaining differences and accommodations:

    • Say “he/she uses a wheelchair” (not wheelchair bound).
    • Say “children with illness” or “children who are differently-abled” (not cancer patients, disabled kids, etc.)
    • Say “same-age peers” or “children without disabilities” (not normal, able-bodied, etc.)

    CHECKING IN WITH A CHILD ABOUT THE ACTIVITY

    Before the Activity: Ask the student for their thoughts on how they would like to modify an activity.

    During the Activity: Check in with the student during the activity privately if necessary, and revise or make additional accommodations as needed.

    After the Activity: Check in with the child after activity to see what went well and what they might like to try differently next time.

    GENERAL COMMUNICATION TIPS

    • Speak directly to the student (as opposed to a caretaker)
    • Be clear and comprehensive
    • Avoid assuming preferences
    • Ask questions
    • Relax and have fun!

    ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

    PE Central offers several general adaptation suggestions for specific activities with kids who need different accommodations.

    Scholastic provides excellent suggestions to help children with a variety of abilities to feel welcome and able to participate outdoors.

    CoachArt Special Needs Inclusion offers tips for communicating with special needs children and inclusion tips for kids who need different accommodations.

     


    Think outside the box! For many outdoor activities, a child may not require different accommodations. Always be aware and encourage a child to participate in a way that makes them feel comfortable. It’s okay to be creative — there are ALWAYS options for adaptations. And most important, have FUN! The more fun you have, the more a child will be open to trying fun, new, and challenging activities.

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    MAKING A DIFFERENCE FOR FAMILIES IMPACTED BY CHILDHOOD CHRONIC ILLNESS

    10 Local Resources for Parents of Kids with Chronic Illnesses in Los Angeles | CoachArtWhat are some of your favorite outdoor activities for children who need different accommodations? We’d love to hear from you. Please share your experience with us in the comments.

    CoachArt offers free art and athletic lessons to chronically ill children and their siblings between the ages of 5-18 in Los Angeles, San Francisco Bay Area, and San Diego. If your child has been diagnosed with a chronic condition, we invite you to fill out a student eligibility form or get in touch to learn if CoachArt is right for your child.

    CoachArt creates a transformative arts and athletics community for families impacted by childhood chronic illness. Since 2001, CoachArt has matched volunteer coaches with kids for free one-on-one or group lessons in arts and athletics. We invite you to get involved!

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