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How to use (and get the most from) your outdoor sensory play equipment.

How to use (and get the most from) your outdoor sensory play equipment.

Outdoor sensory play equipment is an invaluable piece of kit for mainstream and special schools. Helping children to build social skills, emotionally regulate and offering sensory input. So, how can you make the most of your outdoor sensory play equipment? Read on to find out.

How does outdoor play equipment help SEND children?

Sensory playground equipment is versatile. It can be enjoyed by all children, regardless of any SEND diagnosis. Covering all 4 broad areas of need, outdoor sensory play equipment can be used to provide sensory feedback, develop frustration tolerance, and actually keep children inside the classroom.

So, how does outdoor equipment for schools keep children inside learning? By allowing children to emotionally regulate and meet their sensory needs, they can quickly recover to a green space of learning. Meaning they can fully participate in their learning tasks inside the classroom.

To see sensory outdoor play equipment’s real-life benefits on pupil outcomes, check out our latest projects to find similar case studies to your setting.

How to use outdoor sensory play equipment.

You want to make the most of your outdoor sensory play equipment; to do that, you need to know all the creative ways your playground equipment can be used. When choosing to design and install some fabulous new play equipment for the pupils in your school, you will be mindful of budgets, longevity, and accessibility for all.

Many of your current outdoor sensory play equipment (or products you have in mind) can be flexible to meet a huge variety of SEND needs. We share how to use (and get the most from) your outdoor sensory play equipment.

To get the very most from your play equipment, it can be useful to break it down into different areas of need. For example, you may use pickup sticks differently when aiming to secure the win with SEMH children than building coordination confidence for a child with Dyspraxia.

The SEND areas covered in this article are:

Social emotional mental health (SEMH)

Language development

Physical development and coordination confidence

Communication and interaction (social skills)

Outdoor sensory play equipment for SEMH children.

The physical play benefits for children with an SEMH diagnosis are invaluable. Often experiencing sleep difficulties, SEMH children can engage with ‘heavy work’ when playing on outdoor play equipment. This ‘heavy work’ helps to offer sensory input and can help children regulate their emotions, allowing them to move into a green space for learning.

Let’s get to the ideas of how you can use outdoor sensory play equipment for SEMH children.

We’ll use one of our essential agility trim trails as an example. The stages (or modules) chosen in this tailored trim trail can build intensity for balance, coordination, core strength and challenge.


Including the sensory input options of the moving equipment and numerous opportunities for body-weight sensory pressure. This trim trail can be used for:

  • Individual timed challenges
  • Paired relay race (building friendships)
  • Creating the win and completing one module
  • Self-challenge to not touch the floor for the duration of the trail
  • Energy release
  • Heavy work through upper body strength activities
  • Emotional regulation
  • Safe and sensory stimulation

Outdoor sensory play equipment and language development.

Language development is a prime area of learning for all EYFS settings; it is also an area mainstream and SEND schools find intertwined with many complex SEND needs. Poor communication and language development can stop children from interacting with their peers, expressing their thoughts and feelings, and understandably causing frustration, often leading to frustration-led behaviours like physical violence and ‘unkind’ behaviours.

There are lots of different ways outdoor sensory play equipment can be used to promote language development. We use our favoured garden planters as a prime example of boosting communication and discussion with children ages 2 and 3.

Planters can be used perfectly for children to enjoy. There are a number of sensory benefits to using planters and gardening equipment during playtimes and lunchtimes. They can offer tactile feedback for children who like the feeling of the soil and mud. Many plants can be soft (Lamb’s Ear), spikey (Aloe Vera) or make noises in the wind (like a Willow tree).

You can use planters to boost language development by:

  • Discussing the types of plants
  • Setting simple instructions
  • Building leadership skills
  • Encouraging responsibility
  • Learning about the world around us (EYFS-specific learning area)
  • Help children to emotionally regulate
  • Build discussions about the descriptions of the plants
  • Help to share an interest with another child
  • Build relationships with children in different year groups
  • Introduce a child new to the school to small groups in an unintimidating manner

Outdoor sensory play equipment for physical development.

Physical development is one of the EYFS prime areas for learning and development; it can often be left to PE lessons when it comes to key stage 2 and beyond. Several SEND children may be reluctant to join in with class PE sessions due to excessive sensory demand, social skill limitations and the unpredictability of the lesson structure.

Helping SEND children to develop physical strength (including fine and gross motor skills) in other creative avenues can help SEND children achieve their outcomes.

Let’s unpick how this can boost strength and confidence with physical activity by using our Cayman treehouse as an example of outdoor sensory play equipment for physical development growth.Having equipment where children are inspired to create games involving physical activity can remove the chore from strength development for a number of children. Dyspraxia is a life-long condition; building confidence with equipment requiring coordination and foot placement accuracy is important for children with this diagnosis.

Supporting those who have a diagnosis (or display traits of) Dyspraxia and other co-ordinational difficulties, play equipment that is designed to be sturdy can build strength by:

  • Having secure stairs to climb
  • Cross wobbly bridges with handrails on either side
  • Include rock climbing handholds
  • Give children with Dyspraxia the confidence to engage in physical activity

Outdoor sensory play equipment and social skill development.

You can use your outdoor play equipment to boost social skill application for all children, including those diagnosed with SEND. Often mentioned in children’s EHCP outcomes, promoting children’s social skills and interactions with others is a necessary life skill some children find easier than others.


There are many different ways to improve social skill application using sensory play equipment:

  • Use equipment with a simple structure (like our noughts and crosses game)
  • Take turns when playing a game
  • Learn to develop frustration tolerance when a game is not won
  • Encourage creative thinking to expand on a simple game
  • Help other children to play the game
  • Take a leadership approach to ensuring fair rules are used

Take a look at our latest brochure for some SEND inspiration, or contact one of our SEND experts for advice and support via our sales team.

Other articles you may like:

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

Sensory circuit ideas for schools: Outdoor edition