As a parent to a first time JK student, I found myself asking him question after question once he got home today.  At first he answered I don’t know and later he shared more about his day. 

As a teacher to new students in a new enviroment an idea would be to send home a little information about their first week.  On a piece of paper create some simple sentences like; I played with ________, I played at the _______ centre. Then, let them illustrate a picture on their own about something they enjoyed. You can call them over in small groups, you can circulate around the room and engage in oral conversation while recording their ideas during play.  When time allows you can take a photo and send it home .  This way they can talk at home about things they actually did!


In planning for children with special needs in your classroom, you may have to adapt your learning centres for students with special needs.  Important things to think about for any adaptations are:

  • safety – make sure areas are clear of barricades that might cause injury, or may block accessibility.  Also make sure materials are large enough that they cannot be swallowed.
  • space – is there a quiet area children can go to for rest, or if they become overwhelmed?  Ensure pathways are large enough for children with mobility issues or spatial needs.
  • access – if there is an entry/exit to the outdoors, ensure it is secure and can be locked so children can leave unsupervised.  Also ensure easy accessibility to all centres and materials within the classroom.  Think about height of materials, easy to open containers, etc..
  • materials – try to use materials that are child-friendly.  For example, board books are easier for children to use, especially those children with fine motor issues.  Having a variety of sensory materials available can make it easier for children who have sensory issues to become engaged.  Visual cues (pictures) assist children who may not be able to read.

Some children may have difficulty with sensory activities. Providing tools that will allow these children to slowly experience new things to touch and create, as well as promote motor skills, will help children deal with the world around them. Some of these tools and ideas are simple and easily accessible at school, or at home.

Break out the clay. Some children may pound or roll it, while others try to build things. The kinesthetic joy of squeezing the pliable clay and the simple goal of making a pinch pot or rolling out a snake offer a sense of mastery. This releases tension if children are becoming frustrated or angry, so there are behavioural benefits as well.

Add texture to paint with sand to create a stimulating tactile experience in finger painting, or allow children to paint with cars or marbles. To help with other possible sensory issues, you can also add pleasant scents to playdough, paint, etc…as long as you do not make the smells too strong, especially the first few times you do this.

Get children engaged in “heavy” gross motor activities such as using weights, weighted products, jumping, bouncing, rocking, pushing, pulling, and swinging.  All children need this and it is fun for adults to join in too!

Use a sand or water table.  Add some toys to the table to help children use their imagination and focus on playing, rather than the feeling of the sand or water.  Or put non-toxic shaving cream in the table for something different!

Sensory integration activities are unbelievably fun and a necessary part of development for any child, whether they have a sensory processing disorder or not.  But, if you think your child may have sensory issues, you should consult with your child’s doctor.


Children with special needs benefit from play just as much as any other child.  EVERY child needs play.

Some needs of children are obvious (physical and can be seen), while other children have special needs that can not be visually seen.  Some children may have difficulty reading, listening or some children may not have the self confidence to participate.  The term “special needs” covers a wide range of topics for children.

One easy adaption for play is when providing opportunties in the arts.  A feeling of self-worth – the knowledge that you can do something – is a critical part of the learning process. Children with special learning needs often come to think they are incapable of learning because of their ongoing difficulties in school, at home or in social settings. A paintbrush, a costume, a drum or paper, scissors and glue can be new tools for self-expression that boost confidence while providing opportunities for learning and practice. The arts are intellectual disciplines – requiring complex thinking and problem solving – that offer students the opportunity to construct their own understanding of the world.  By providing children opportunities to express themselves creatively, freely and with open-ended art materials, you can help every child build their feelings of self-worth.


Every child can play. Every child has an imagination that can be an amazing guide to play. Some children play actively, while other children enjoy more quiet play. Children with special needs are no exception to this.

Adaptations to physical activities can be easily done. Provide large balls, hoops, and other oversized equipment outside or in a gym for visually challenged children. Provide large sticks of chalk for sidewalk drawing for children with fine motor difficulties. Provide tabletop activities for children who are in wheelchairs (marbles, create a garden), or have an easel outside.

Small adjustments can allow every child the opportunity for physical activity.


Every child has the right to play.  Every child deserves to play.  But not every child is capable of actively engaging, or enjoying play.

Adaptations are made for children with special needs in our schools’ classrooms. Their desks may be lowered or raised to accommodate a wheelchair. A child may have a special cushion to sit on to help he/she sit still. Some children may have more time on computers as they learn more easily through technology. Teachers wear special microphones to accommodate students with hearing difficulties. These are only a few examples of how we assist the education of children.

But do we pay close attention to play for children with special needs? Or do we take it for granted that children instinctively can and will play when given the time and opportunity? And what about those children who do not have obvious needs?

Making small adjustments in a classroom, or at home are quite simple. It just takes a little time to observe children, learn what they may have difficulty with and then provide the appropriate changes or additions to play that may be necessary.  Set aside blocks of time to simply sit and watch your students, or children at home play.  Do they socially interact with other children, or adults while playing or do they play by themselves, seperated from others.  Do they get frustrated very quickly?  Do they actively engage in the activity?  Do they stay away from sensory activities (ie: water, sand, fingerpaint)?

There are several small adjustments that can help every child play and learn. Trial and error with different toys, times of day, length of play periods and even playmates may be necessary and may be a valuable learning experience for you, the adult.

Family physicians, special education teachers and community services are also valuable resources to use.

The most important things to remember are to observe children to learn what they might need, and to make adjustments so that every child can receive the most benefits that play has to offer.