Toys & Tips for Blending Nature and Play for Children with Special Needs

October 15, 2013 at 4:33 PM Leave a comment


It is important for children of all abilities to go outside and enjoy the fresh air, green grass and birds chirping. Nature provides children with many opportunities for physical activity, creativity, and social and emotional connections. The out-of-doors gives children fresh ideas for play and expands their horizons to hone skills and explore all of their five senses in the environment.

Types of Play in Nature

Nature Inspired Play- Children can use elements of nature to play. This type of play allows children to try out new actions, including exploring and manipulating objects. Children learn cause and effect as well as develop problem-solving skills through nature inspired play.

  • Play Idea: BINGO

Substitute BINGO chips with rocks, twigs, leaves and flowers found on a walk outside.

  • Toy Idea: FlipBINGO by Longstreet Enterprises

FlipBINGO cards are large, laminated and have predetermined BINGO patterns for further accessibility and independent play. The cards are outdoor friendly and can be wiped off after use.

Play in a Natural Setting- Children can use their traditional toys and play products and bring them outside! For example, stacking blocks on the grass will provide a tactilely friendly appeal and tickle the child’s senses during play.

  • Play Idea: Lemonade Stand

Set up a pretend kitchen outside to use as a lemonade stand.

The Learning Tower was designed to nurture a child’s independence and participation alongside parents and siblings to role model. The Learning Tower has added play house accessories to create an imaginary space for lemonade stands, popcorn stands and even arts and crafts.

Outdoor Active Play- Children can be physically active and use ‘locomotive play’ outside by going on a walk or a bike ride to support gross motor skills and engage muscles.

  • Play Idea: Hide-N-Seek

Simple games like Hide-N-Seek or utilizing a hula hoop outside will help incorporate movement and activity into outdoor active play.

Little Tikes offers lots of outdoor products that help kids get out and get movin’! The Learn to Turn Scooter provides kids with extra balance to glide through nature with three wheels and includes a wide base for stability.

Creative Play in Nature- Children can be inspired by the outdoors to create arts and crafts projects. The projects could be inspired by items from nature and the nature can increase self-confidence to conceive, construct and create. This type of play allows a child to explore emotions and express them in healthy and productive ways.

  • Play Idea: Nature Collage

Children can collect items like leaves, twigs, flowers and other items outside to create a natural collage and other arts and crafts projects.

Chalk that glows in the dark! Sidewalk art that is created during the day can light up at night for more fun. Kids can explore their creative side even further by making the glow chalk first with the glow powder and chalk dust molds before they start their art.

Imaginative Play in Nature- Children can use their imaginative skills by pretending an object in nature is something other than what it is. Pretend play is an excellent way to hone negotiation skills, group dynamics and the ability to strive for a team goal.

  • Play Idea: Charades

Children can play a game of Charades by acting, singing, or using parts of nature to have others guess what they are trying to reveal.

Parachutes are best used with others and can inspire imaginations! Kids can make up new games to play with the parachute or play classic games like “Waves” where the parachute is shaken to make a wave effect or “Mushroom” where the parachute is lifted up and when it comes down everyone sits to be enclosed in the parachute mushroom cap.

The Importance of Nature in Play

The great outdoors is an excellent resource for children of all abilities. Free play allows children to explore their surroundings with their senses- sight, smell, touch, sound and sometimes even taste! Outdoor play is important because it is not typically structured play and there is a lack of adult direction- all positive aspects to learning self-confidence, negotiation, spatial relationships and navigating a new environment. Take time to get outside and play!

This article was written by Ahren Hoffman, Manager of Industry Relations and Partnerships for the National Lekotek Center for Friendship Circle blog on July 24, 2013. Lekotek, is a not-for-profit and leading authority on toys and play for children with disabilities. Lekotek is dedicated to providing children of all abilities access to the benefits of play experiences. Visit for a complete listing of toys and find us on Facebook!


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Toys & Play 10 Great Balance Toys for Children with Special Needs

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October 2013


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