Nature benefits for children with additional needs
We work with children with disabilities and their families to create sensory, nature-based adventures such as stories, games and creative activities. The benefits of contact with nature for young people’s wellbeing are well evidenced by research and include reduced anxiety, stress and depression – three of the most significant mental health issues experienced by young people today. Young people with additional needs are disproportionately impacted and this has been magnified during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Building resilience is key to young people with additional needs responding to and dealing with challenge. Our activities are designed to help children with disabilities build confidence and improve communication and social skills in their quest to explore the outdoor world. Families are encouraged to play and explore together in organised activity day and by enjoying our resources at home.
Our activities and resources have three critical ingredients: sensory engagement, nature-based and accessible to all abilities. They are easy to replicate at home on a small budget and require minimal pre-planning. They are designed to support learning outcomes and can be used as part of the curriculum.
We use sensory stories as a tool to engage the whole family with nature. Sensory stories are short stories of seven to ten sentences designed to engage the senses. Each sentence is matched with a sensory input to animate it. These stories have proven to be especially effective with children with profound and multiple learning difficulties. They can be used as an impromptu activity by responding to existing sensory stimuli in nature or as a more organised activity using external props.
Our work in action
Ben and his sister Rosie both have a diagnosis of Autism and ADHD. Their parents have been struggling to provide them with enough opportunities to play outdoors in a safe space and be adequately stimulated to focus on one activity. They don’t feel comfortable to take part in most activity clubs or play groups and as a consequence can feel very isolated. When they came along to their first Sensory Trust activity day as a family, they were nervous as to how Ben and his sister Rosie would react in a new environment and with new people. The open space and freedom to dip in and out of activities provided the perfect setting for the family and as the parents relaxed so did the children. Activities such as a nature treasure hunt and making birds nests provided structure to the day and engaged the children on a multi-sensory level. The family enjoyed working and playing together as a team.
“I’ve never seen Ben concentrate for this long on one activity and Rosie, who finds it hard to communicate with other children waved at a girl when we left”.
Mr and Mrs Smith
The Smith family have been regulars at our activity days and have found the peer support of other parents invaluable.
Giving young people a great day out
Bright lights, loud noises and swathes of people can prevent many families of children with special needs from enjoying a day out. By facilitating a dedicated relaxed or autism friendly session, families of disabled children and young people are able to access the same visitor destinations as everyone else.
Relaxed sessions are a smaller scale, calmer and more sensory version of a main programme. Staff are trained in disability awareness and Makaton, there is an additional emphasis on sensory experiences, and lighting and sound levels are adjusted. Everyone is made to feel comfortable.
Our work with Eden Project and The Lost Garden of Heligan has allowed hundreds of families to access events and spaces that they would otherwise have struggled with.
“As a parent of a non verbal autistic son, day trips are very stressful and organised with military style approaches; to be able to simply relax at a venue like the Eden project is amazing and seeing Dylan being given the space and support to experience something so special was amazing”.
How we work
Most of our activities are run as projects and supported through grant funding. Our project SNAP (Sensory Nature Adventures & Play) is an example of a successful multi-year project funded by the National Lottery Charities Board. This has brought the benefits of everyday contact with nature to children with disabilities and their families in some of the most disadvantaged areas of Devon and Cornwall and many of the sensory, nature-based resources are available free to download from our online resource library.
Our role as delivery partner in the national Nature Friendly Schools consortium project, funded by Department of Education and DEFRA, is taking our approach into special schools across South West England. Read about how this work is bringing nature into special schools.