By setting up a session in a special needs school, Play Rangers in Dundee are helping children with additional support needs get the best from play.
For kids who go to special schools the opportunities to join in with play outside are often limited.
As part of a project with Aberlour and Leisure and Culture Dundee in Dundee, the Play Rangers encouraged children to participate in play sessions operated specifically in the
special needs school in Dundee. With the aim of supporting children who lack the ability to play to start to enjoy, engage and play when on break or lunch at school.
Enabling the children to build their confidence through the enjoyment at their own speed.
Nikki Fildes, Service Manager at Aberlour says the play sessions have proved vitally important to children who have a wide range of additional support needs.
“They get bussed into school and home so they usually spend time travelling and that leaves little chance to then go out and play after school. And for those with a physical disability we often find their parents expect that parks and spaces to play won’t be accessible to them.”
Sessions give children a chance to play that have physical disabilities or who normally struggle with communication and social imagination.
Every week about twenty kids from ages 8 up to 15 attend the sessions for special schools and kids from mainstream schools getting additional support.
Play Rangers go to locations that offer sensory experiences and are completely accessible, including a big country park that has an accessible swing and roundabout as well as lots of open space.
Nikki said, “The kids love the bubble machine. The look of the bubbles, the way they feel to the touch, and catching them with different objects. They lie down and watch them float up to the sky. They also love playing with parachutes, tyres, hula hoops and balls in the sessions. One child had been learning about the parts of the body and he kept shouting ‘feet, feet!’ during a session. The ranger knew that meant he wanted the ball kicked to him.”
Teachers and parents have reported that they can see changes in the children. One girl who used to play alone and growl at other children now plays with others and is getting more confident in her interaction.
The oldest in the group who is on the autism spectrum and gets support in her mainstream school from the ASN base is now helping out as a volunteer.
Nikki said, “In her community she has experienced being perceived as mouthy or a troublemaker because she finds communication difficult.
“Her parents have even been contacted by antisocial behaviour teams. She is just a disabled child who struggles to fit in with her local community.”
The 15-year-old has been supported to volunteer and help the play rangers and she has shown progress in her interaction with others in the sessions.
Nikki said, “She is at a younger stage in development so she has really taken to interacting well with the younger kids. The sessions give her a chance to play and to be a child without fear of stigma.”
Play is hugely important for children with additional support needs and rangers look to the individual child to see what reflects their interests and needs.
Nikki said, “We have to remove some of the pressure to fit into boxes. Play is whatever that means to the child. Play for the girl who has autism can be very repetitive. She gets to demonstrate some skills in how to build guttering so she feels successful and that she has achieved something though she struggles with other more imaginative play.”
In a recent session one of the children summed up the biggest impact for them. Nikki said, “A child told us he was happy coming to the sessions because he could just be himself. We are not making them play football or any set activity. They have fun their way and incidental learning goes along with it. If others join in with them, then that’s another step forward.”