How SEN teachers can use outdoor activities to aid teaching


Taking the classroom outside brings a wide range of learning benefits with it, especially when supporting pupils with special educational needs and disabilities.

Changing the surroundings can help to boost engagement with pupils, reduce elements of stress and provide a stark contrast to the learning environment they are used to.

Special educational needs (SEN) teachers may want to turn to outdoor activities as a means of developing skills too, particularly around problem solving and communication.

The government has placed an emphasis on outdoor teaching too, as the nature-friendly schools’ programme formed part of the wider environmental plan launched by former Prime Minister Theresa May in 2018.

And while the needs of young people with SEN can differ widely from pupil to pupil, SEN teachers can still use the outdoors to aid their teaching, as we’ve detailed here.

A complementary experience to the regular classroom

Providing an outdoor quiet space for pupils with SEN can allow them to do tasks as their own pace, giving them a feeling of space while they work.

This can also help to foster independence among pupils and can allow teachers to introduce learning concepts based on what is around them outside. 

Reducing stress and anxiety

Primary SEN teachers may want to incorporate outdoor spaces as a means of reducing stress and enhancing sensory stimulation – reading is one such activity where pupils can benefit.

It is often easier to engage with pupils when they are calmer too, meaning it may be possible to enhance their knowledge and understanding.

The role of gardening

If space exists in the school grounds, having a gardening area can provide benefits for pupils with SEN, from enabling them to nurture their own plants and see how they develop.

It can also showcase the need for patience, which can be a key life skill for those who are struggling to fully understand the world around them.

Think about the structure of the outdoor environment

Any outdoor learning environment still needs to have a structure, with different areas set aside for different tasks and activities.

This should include quiet areas so that pupils can focus on the task at hand without any distractions while freeing up SEN teachers to provide individual support to pupils when it is required.

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