Making sports day fun for all children with SEN


Jemma Ive provides tips and ideas to make Sports Day an inclusive and fun event for all.

For many children with SEN, Sports Day isn’t always the fun-filled day we might expect it to be. Children with SEN can feel completely overwhelmed by the noise and being suddenly asked to take part in activities they don’t know. To avoid sensory and emotional overloads, we have pulled together some tried and tested ideas, as well as some new ones that are easily implemented, to help make sure your annual sports day is full of fun for everyone!

Traditional activities with a twist

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 much more 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. Every student 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 SEN children this could be sensory overload and often physically unmanageable. Use plastic children’s wheelbarrows instead, but 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.
  • Basketball slam dunk – put the basketball to one side and use water balloons instead. We used to call this Hoops. You can get different height basketball hoops so it’s versatile for those standing or sitting and with different colour balloons it could be an individual or team game. Although this comes with a warning, if you have any cheeky students then watch out, a stray water balloon may come your way! 

Try Boccia

This may not come to mind as a natural event for your Sports Day, but I’ve always found it has worked well. Promoting teamwork, students have to attack and defend, placing their set of coloured balls as close to the white jack as possible, in order to score points. 

It’s a great game that can include everyone, as players are seated during the game. If a student is unable to throw or kick the ball, they can use an assistive device like a ramp and if they are unable to release a ball with their hands, they can use a head pointer.

A race with a difference

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.

Involve outside organisations

I used to work for a school in London and we worked closely with a local Premier League football team. They used to come in and practice with our students and would lend a hand whenever possible.

Reach out to any sports teams in your area. They may be able to help you, and your school too!

Parachute games

There are many ways to use the parachute, one that works well I call ‘Under the Sea’. Place a variety of ‘treasures’ (anything you want) into a box and place it underneath the parachute in the middle. Create waves by getting some students to lift the parachute up and down, calling out items one-by-one for your divers, aka students, to retrieve. The student with the most items wins!

Another great parachute game is placing small balls, the kind you will find in soft play, on top of the parachute and start making waves. Over a short period of time, see which team can keep the most balls on top of the parachute. 

Anticipate students who may need space

As you know, providing downtime space for SEN students is extremely important, a quiet room where they could comfortably retreat to and/or a different place which allows them to go at their own pace and be creative. 

I used to use the sensory or soft play room if a student felt overwhelmed. A dedicated room with a box of calming items also worked a treat.

If you want to try something different, I used to set aside space with a few paddling pools which I would fill with paint. With some large rolls of paper, students could make patterns with their hands or feet, or even bodies if you’re feeling really brave. Students in wheelchairs enjoyed making patterns with their wheels. It’s a great, relaxing (on their part!) and fun activity which is always a winner with students of all ages. Although this idea isn’t technically a ‘sport’ someone could judge the artwork at the end. 

Practice, practice, practice

It may seem simple but for children with SEN, familiarity is key. I imagine in your forthcoming PE sessions you will be practicing the different skills needed for the different races but try and recreate what sports day will actually look and feel like with your class before sports day takes place. Also, if you have recordings from previous events show footage of their peers participating in races, I’ve always found this really helpful.

Involve your parents

Inform parents of the type of races their child will be taking part in and, as homework, encourage your students to practice with their family members. This is another great way to get your students familiar with the races, in the comfort of their own home.

Make team shirts

Create lots of excitement around Sports Day by letting your students get creative! Form little groups of students and task them with making team shirts. With some plain t-shirts and a little fabric paint and decorations, they can create fantastic tops, covered with positive language, signs and symbols that they or their peers can wear – or even you! Don’t worry if you can’t source t-shirts and paints, they can create eye-catching posters or flags to wave from the sidelines instead.

Encourage staff to take part!

Children will be guided by what they see. If they can see their Teacher, Deputy Headteacher, Headteacher or Teaching Assistant not only taking part but having fun, they might be more inclined to join in. It’s highly likely they will find it really funny too, creating an even more relaxing and enjoyable event.

Whatever races, games and activities your Sports Day may include, just remember as long as all your students can take something positive, however large or small, from the experience, you can definitely class it a sporting success! 

Jemma Ive
Author: Jemma Ive

Jemma Ive
| + posts

Jemma Ive is a former SEN teacher. At Teacher Booker she helps connect SEN schools with teachers and support staff.

Teacher Booker offers a range of services to help schools and teachers through this challenging time providing impartial, confidential advice and practical solutions. For more information visit Follow Teacher Booker on Twitter and Facebook: @teacherbooker or email 



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here