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How to use outdoor play to support children with SLCN

How to use outdoor play to support children with SLCN

Children and young people with SLCN (speech, language and communication needs) experience difficulty with communication. There can be varying levels of difficulty with communication and interaction, making identifying SLCN as the primary area of need challenging for teaching staff.

Supporting children with SLCN to reduce the communication and interaction barriers they face is important to promote inclusion across the school. This blog is designed to help you identify signs of SLCN in children and young people and how best to support them in enhancing their communication and interaction skills. 


What is SLCN?

SLCN is a broad term that covers a range of speech, language, and communication needs. SLCN does not just affect children and young people and can be a life-long challenge some individuals live with.

Children may have SLCN identified as their primary area of need, meaning their challenges with communication and interaction stem from a speech, language or communication difficulty (like language disorder). Or it may be found that SLCN results from another primary condition, like a hearing impairment that impacts the ability to communicate and interact at the same rate as their peers.

SLCN is the most common SEN support need found across primary and secondary schools (and that is for those who have been identified and assessed!) Challenging behaviours can mask a lack of communication and interaction understanding, and frustration due to the inability to express emotions and thoughts effectively.

SLCN in children: What are the difficulties?

Communication and interaction needs can be presented differently with each child. It is beneficial to note that children with SLCN may experience the following challenges:

  • Processing language and requiring more thinking time.
  • Following spoken conversations.
  • Expression of thoughts and emotions through language.
  • Maintaining and making friendships.
  • Misunderstanding conversations and actions of others.
  • Feeling as if others are being unfair and unkind to them.
  • Recognising speech sounds (phonic-related activities).
  • Limited social skills with others.
  • Understanding receptive language.
  • ‘Reading’ non-verbal communication and cues.

How to help children with SLCN in school

Suppose a child has been identified as needing communication and interaction support within school, or there are signs that SLCN may be impacting their progress academically or socially. In that case, there are several strategies and activities you may want to try.

Teacher workload is high, and planning time is precious; we share ideas to help children with SLCN inside and outside the classroom. Promoting inclusive play across your playground will help all children to progress socially, taking their needs into consideration when designing your playground areas.


Indoor strategies to help children with SLCN

The classroom environment is key to including children with SLCN in every aspect of learning. Classroom seating structure can make a big difference in hearing, joining in with and starting conversations in the classroom.

Consider looking at your

  • Seating plan.
  • Peer support system.
  • Accessibility for volume and visual of learning resources.

Regularly reinforce learning or interaction skills they have learnt before revisiting them. For example, when waiting in line to enter the dining hall, you may remind children how they stand and interact with others in the line. When learning an academic concept, like column addition, you can recap the method and equipment used to support it before trying the concept again.

Visual supports around the classroom can be beneficial for children with SLCN. Ranging from sentence stems to help them begin a Literacy task to a visual timetable displaying the structure of their day.

Recognition around the need for additional thinking time can help children with communication and interaction difficulties still join in with the lesson. By removing the expectation of an immediate answer, pupil anxiety can be reduced, encouraging active participation in classroom discussions. Highlighting to a child with SLCN difficulties, ‘I’d love to know your thoughts on this in a little while’, can prompt answer generation without panic.

Multi-sensory learning opportunities can help to remove the language barriers needed to understand learning experiences fully. For example, listening to an extract about how cold seaweed feels against your skin is much less impactful for a child with speech, language and communication needs than experiencing the feeling of seaweed in a bucket of water for yourself.

Outdoor activities to help children with SLCN

Getting outdoors and creating opportunities for SLCN development can help boost child-adult relationships (perhaps with a new 1:1 or class teaching assistant). There are endless activities involving outdoor play that can help children to develop their communication and interaction skills. If your school already has access to play equipment or have your eye on a few ideas, it is important to get the most from your outdoor sensory play equipment. We share some ideas to help boost SLCN development using your outdoor space.

Using verbal directions with others or for their own use of equipment can help boost simple command understanding with children. Outdoor sensory play equipment can be used as the vehicle to encourage direction use. When enjoying time on the Birds Net Swing, children can direct others using simple terms like  fast, slow, higher, and stop.

Breaking out the bubbles can aid with strengthening mouth control and even encourage speech production. An activity enjoyed from EYFS to adulthood, bubbles can be incorporated into many different activities. Combine bubble play with a partner to develop turn-taking and sharing skills at the same time.

Following instructions can be challenging for children and young people with SLCN, especially when they are lengthy and include more than two simple tasks. Build memory skills with visual prompts by asking the children to follow simple commands using their favourite trim trail. “Balance across the moving log beam carefully and then pause when you reach the end of the swinging plank walkway,” a simple set of instructions that can be followed easily.


SLCN can often be combined with other difficulties, like cognition and learning. Removing learning barriers with simple outdoor curriculum activities and equipment can increase pupil engagement.


Social skill development for communication and interaction difficulties can limit children’s ability to make and maintain friendships at school. Support children to engage socially with their peers by creating a sensory garden or organising activities that reduce the social demand required to participate. For example, joining in with a large game of Tag requires understanding a number of unwritten social rules. 

Whereas de-weeding during a gardening club limits the amount of guesswork children with Autism or communication difficulties may experience when interacting with others towards a shared goal.

How can Playtime by Fawns help children with SLCN?

Our SEND-trained support team is on hand to suggest and advise how to create the most inclusive playground possible for your children. Catering for mainstream and SEND specialist settings, Fawns has over 30 years of outdoor play equipment experience and has designed and installed thousands of school playgrounds; check out our testimonials for more information.

Contact one of our expert team for a quick chat today.

Other articles you may like: 

Sensory circuit ideas for schools: Outdoor edition.

Inclusive playground audit for schools: How do you measure up?