Are you a teacher or parent looking for ways to engage special needs children with exercise? This article explores some ideas for doing just that…

6 Top Tips for Making Exercise Fun for Special Needs Children
Robert Collins

A child with special needs might require a different approach, at school and home, with a number of everyday activities. An SEN solicitor will help you to get your child into a school that caters to children with special needs. Here, they will be far more equipped, with special training, to deal with children of certain needs.

That said, some children with special needs may not have severe enough cases to require a special school. So, it’s important that parents and teachers can make physical activity as fun as possible to ensure the child gets their daily exercise.

In this post, we’ll take you through some ideas of ways to achieve this. Take a look…

What Classes as Special Needs?

There is a huge range of special education needs, ranging from physical to cognitive. Some of the most common ones that teachers at non-special schools might come across include:

  • Autism
  • ADHD
  • Anxiety
  • Brain injury
  • Dyspraxia
  • Learning difficulties
  • Social difficulties
  • Sensory processing disorder

Special schools will implement proper training to ensure teachers are well-equipped to encourage the children to get physically active. That said, teachers in non-special schools won’t have this sort of training, and most parents won’t either.

Because of this, it might become tricky to encourage everyone to get involved. But why is this?

Why is Exercise Hard for People with Special Needs?

Individuals with disabilities are 57% more likely to be obese than adults without them. This occurs for a number of reasons; for those with physical disabilities, it’s mainly due to the inability to be properly active.

That said, for those with cognitive and mental disabilities, it’s less about physical ability and more about mental capacity. Children with disabilities may become overwhelmed with certain activities, get bored easily, and may depend on their parents more.

6 Ways to Make Exercise Fun for Special Needs Children

Because of this, making exercise fun for kids with special needs is paramount to encourage them to remain active, and reduce their chance of obesity. Here are some ideas to achieve this:

1. Try Non-Repetitive Activities

For people with special needs, repetitive and monotonous exercises can quickly lose their attention. Having goals to reach and engaging the brain is much more effective than, say, running or walking.

A great way to engage the mind is through less repetitive exercises, like dancing or obstacle courses. You could easily get them involved in a Zumba class or perhaps set up an obstacle course using household equipment. You could even try popping on some classic songs that we all know, like the Cha-Cha Slide, to encourage movement.

This could help to maintain their attention for longer periods of time, improving their chance of keeping a healthy weight.

2. Play Games

In a similar vein, making the exercise into a fun game could really help, as it’ll seem much less like work and more like fun!

For example, you could try some fun exercise games as a family or in a group, like Simon Says, Twister, or Tag. Alternatively, you could even purchase some video games which encourage movement, like the Wii Fit, for example.

Studies show that exergaming “has the potential to serve as a valuable addition to therapies for children with autism spectrum disorders who have a motor and executive function impairments.” It’ll also be great fun for classmates or family to bond over.

3. Use Equipment

We’ve already spoken about obstacle courses, but there are plenty of other fun pieces of equipment that can make exercising fun, and less monotonous. Some examples could include swings, trampolines, roller skates, balls, cones, or an agility ladder.

Some of these are self-explanatory, but others might require a bit more description. Starting with the cones, you could set up cones around the room and command the child to run, skip, jump, and hop to the next cone. This is sure to engage their brain, as it’ll act as a sort of obstacle course in itself.

Also, the agility ladder is fun, as you can simply lay it on the floor, and try various exercises with such a simple device. For example, you could try hopping a bit like hopscotch, two feet in each rung and two feet out, running through each rung, and more.

Generally just engaging the brain will help to make it much more interesting.

4. Consider Thinking Activities

Speaking of engaging the brain, why not try bringing letters and numbers into the mix to make it even more fun and challenging?

For example, you could paint or use chalk to draw a letter snake down a path, and get the child to spell out certain words by running to each letter. Try and be creative with it – there are so many potential ideas out there!

5. Try Swimming

Swimming is a fun activity in itself; not only does it teach a valuable life lesson, but it’s also much more varied than the average sport. Just teaching the child the various swimming strokes should be engaging in itself. If not, though, you could even try throwing heavy objects down to the bottom of the pool to encourage retrieval.

6. Sing

Finally, why not add a bit of a sing-song to any sport you do? This is especially easy with dancing, as you can stick with songs you know and love to make it a musical exercise class. Or, you could add classic nursery rhymes to any activity to provide a rhythm to stick to.

This is sure to make it all a lot more of a brain exercise, hopefully holding the child’s attention for a lot longer.

Ready to Exercise?

It’s clear that there are many ways you can make exercise fun for children with special needs. It’s so important that all children get a good dose of physical activity regularly, not only to help build confidence and make friends but to also ensure they remain healthy.

By engaging the brain throughout, and keeping things varied with goals to hit, you’re sure to make it a fun and exciting road for everyone involved.