Sports Day – How can we help everyone feel included?

In the last of our seven part series we look at sports day and how you can involve everyone. Take a look at our other blogs on Sensory Stories – Why are they so awesome?, PECs – The six steps and how to make it funSCERTS approach made easy!, Attention Autism – Are we offering an irresistible invitation to learn? and Fun with Food programme for more great SEN teaching ideas, tips and best practice!

Sports day

Ah good old sports day, it should be a day where everyone can join in. Unfortunately for many children with SEN sports day can be completely overwhelming, but here I have some top tips to spring life back into the day for all.

The most important thing is practice! Sports day can be full of unpredictability, it is noisy and the students may suddenly be being asked to take part in activities they do not know how to do. To minimise this, make sure to build the activities into your everyday routines months before the big day, use the relevant equipment and give the students a chance to become familiar with them.

Here are some tried and tested activities:

Car race

For younger children the plastic red and yellow little tikes cars are fab! It is an object that most students will be familiar with. All you need is 3 or 4 cars (I used to borrow them from parents). For students with physical impairments it is a great way for the staff to get involved and join in the race by pushing the students along. On your marks, get set, go!

Dress up course

Try something new and instead of bean bags or spoons, have four-five items of clothing laid out one after another, from hats and glasses to shoes and scarves. At each stage have a mirror, so the student can see themselves. I used to practice this in music group, allowing each student to pick one item at a time and look at themselves in the mirror. It was a great race that everyone enjoyed.

Parachute game

There are many ways to use the parachute that are lots of fun. Here are a few ideas that worked well for me:

The wave parachute

  • While holding the parachute tightly, the students move their arms up and down to make small and large waves. This can include a song using key terms such as ‘high’, ‘low’ and ‘shake’.

The ball parachute

  • My students used to love this one as it is so visual! For example you might pop loads of small balls (the kind you find in a ball pit) on the parachute and shake it until there are none left. Or you could use just one big ball and the aim of the game would be to keep the ball on the parachute

Under the sea

  • Place a variety of ‘treasures’ (anything you want) into a treasure box under the parachute. Make waves (above) as if in a sea storm. Call out items one by one from the box and send divers to retrieve them.

Boccia Ball

Boccia is an attack and defend game between two teams. The aim is to score as many points as possible by placing your set of coloured balls closest to the white jack ball.

  • A ball can be propelled by rolling, throwing or kicking.
  • If a player is unable to throw or kick it, they can use a ramp (assistive device).
  • If they are unable to release the ball with their hands, players can use a head pointer.
  • All players must be seated during the game.
  • Singles and pair matches are four ends and team matches are six ends.
  • An end consists of all 13 balls being played onto court (the jack, 6 red and 6 blue).
  • Each side can have 1, 2 or 3 players (singles, pairs or team match).
  • Team colours are decided using a coin toss, the winning player/captain chooses to be red or blue.
  • Both sides must occupy a designated box on the court from where balls are thrown.
  • The red side always begins the first end by tossing the jack into court.
  • In a pair or team match, each player propels the jack onto court in turn.
  • In a singles match, both players will alternate twice.
  • The player who plays the jack ball also plays their team’s first coloured ball.
  • A player from the opposite side then propels their first coloured ball.
  • The side not closest to the jack plays until they get closer, or run out of balls.
  • The end is complete when all balls from both sides have been used.
  • One point is awarded for every ball of the same colour, which is closest to the jack.

You can find the full set of rules on the official Boccia website here

Body painting

We used to cover our hall in tarpaulin and have paddling pools full of paint and large rolls of paper. This is a space where the student can be creative and go at their own pace. Some students may need time as it can be a sensory overload, whilst others will go straight in and start sliding around in the paint. Allow the students to see what patterns they can make with their hands and feet on the paper. This is great for students in wheelchairs too as they can make wheel marks or get out into the pools. Someone could judge the art work at the end to decide on a winner. Just be warned this one gets messy!


This is best done with a very large goal and an inflatable ball. Aim of game, get the ball into the net. You can have teams or just let each student have a turn.

School Sports Day for SEN children doesn’t mean you can’t hold a traditional race or activity. With some planning and thinking outside the box, there are some great classic sports day games that SEN students will love:

  • Hurdles become leap frogs! Use stepping stones for children to leap over or – if you are feeling brave, and with parental consent – even each other. SEN students will find this far less daunting and fun!
  • Sprint race – a sprint race is a classic and although there is not a great deal you can change here, you can make it more comfortable for SEN students to take part in. Having an adult running beside them has often helped my students in the past. Also a rewarding item at the end of the race works wonders, as cheering alone may not be enough! Although remember to make it fair for all, all students should receive something – stickers are fantastic for this.
  • Wheelbarrow race – although children using other children as their wheelbarrow is often a wonderful and amusing Sports Day game for all, for SEN children this could be sensory overload and often physically unmanageable. Use plastic children’s wheelbarrows instead and if you think this will make the race too easy, fill them with water and see who can carry the most water across the finish line.

Top tips

  • Practice, practice and more practice.
  • Take your time, there can slight variations on each game but get the basics ingrained.
  • Practice in the space sports day will happen.
  • Have fun, get involved and take loads of pictures to share with the students’ families!

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