Here are some suggestions for including children with special needs in outdoor play.

Encourage children to participate at their own level and place. Some children with special needs will welcome the challenges of the playground while others may be intimidated. Offer children extra help when they need it, but try not to be overprotective or discourage children from trying new activities.

Modify Equipment for children with motor impairments. You may need to provide bucket seats or straps on swings, tie straps onto tricycle pedals, add rails to climbing equipment, and place ramps over uneven surfaces or barriers. If possible, offer an elevated sandbox for children in wheel-chairs - or provide a shovel with a long handle or small tabletop container with sand.

Help orient children with visual impairments. Lead the child in becoming familiar with the playground by touching the equipment as you describe it. Mark possible danger spots (swings, the bottoms of slides), and help the child identify tactile markers to help him negotiate the area.

Explain safety rules and develop plans for handling outdoor emergencies. Help children with special needs understand the proper use of the equipment and the areas that can be dangerous. It's also a good idea to bring along a cell phone to ensure quick medical assistance - just in case.

This article originally appeared in the April, 1998 issue of Early Childhood Today.