Games for Children with Special Needs

By AASLMarch 4, 2019

As parents of children with special needs, many of us have seen our children left on the periphery when other kids play games that they can’t quite keep up with. Our kids often have fewer opportunities for play interactions with peers, which make these chances so much more important for skill learning and building. All children benefit from play with peers; sometimes we may just need to rethink the games being played so that all children, whether they have special needs or not, can participate successfully. Have no fear because there are plenty of games that our children can play that can still be fun for everyone involved! Some of the best games for children with special needs are cooperative games that emphasize fun play, communication, critical thinking, and teamwork over competition.  When a whole group of children work together to win, the game is fun for everyone and nobody is left losing.  Here are some of our favorite activities and games that promote cooperation.

Examples of Cooperative Games

Parachute Games

Don’t worry. We’re not encouraging your child to take up skydiving. There are plenty of parachute games that he/she can play with both feet firmly on the ground! Parachute games encourage communication, cooperation, social interaction, and best of all, lots of laughs! You just have to make sure you have enough kids playing the game to hold the parachute all the way around. An adult can fill in with an extra set of hands if needed!

Here are a few creative ideas of games to try with a parachute.

  • For the sea-loving kids: Making waves is a great way to use a parachute. As children hold the sides of the parachute, you can tell a story that has to do with the ocean. It can be a calm ocean, rough seas or somewhere in between. Have the children make waves to mimic the ones that you tell them about in their story.
  • Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’! Put a ball in the middle of the parachute. If your parachute has different patches of color, tell the kids to roll the ball to a certain section of the parachute (e.g. “Roll the ball to the blue section, kids!”). Then, switch and tell them to roll it to a different section. Play music and have them move the ball faster and faster. If your child has a competitive nature, time the kids to see how fast they can work together to roll the ball from one color to another. Each time they finish, have them try to beat their last recorded time.
  • Pop it like popcorn! Put either beanbags or very lightweight balls in the center of the parachute and have the kids shake the parachute in unison to see how high they can make the balls or beanbags, aka “popcorn”, fly!

Obstacle Courses

Have two children team up. Set up a safe obstacle course using items like pillows, a collapsible tunnel, hula hoop, etc. Then, have one child blindfolded while the other slowly leads the blindfolded child through the obstacle course with verbal instructions. Switch the obstacles around and have the children switch roles so each person gets a turn tackling the course! Be sure to discuss the important lesson that working together is what makes completing the course possible!

Hot Potato…or Balloon

Organize a group of children to stand in a circle and hold hands. Toss a balloon above the group and instruct them to hit the balloon to keep it off the ground. This is a challenge because children aren’t allowed to use their feet, and they have to continue holding hands at all times. They’ll have to find creative ways to keep the balloon off the ground: hitting it with knees, head, chest, etc., while also being mindful of their peer’s space bubbles. Time each challenge to see how long the group can keep the balloon off the ground.

Loop de’ Loop

Make a loop with a rope and have the children start by sitting inside the loop. Then with each new challenge, make the loop smaller and smaller, and have the group come up with creative ways to have each child’s body represented inside the loop as the circle size gets smaller. Perhaps they first sit, then stand, then half of their bodies inside, then 1 arm/hand in, down to fingers/toes. It will be fun to see what they come up with and how the group works together to problem solve!

Giant Floor Puzzles

Giant floor puzzles are just what they sound like: puzzles with many pieces that are made for children to put together while sitting on the floor. Have two to six children put the pieces together and complete the puzzle. This activity can be relaxed and slow or it can be fast-paced, with a timer and fun music.

Band-Aid Tag

Choose the first person to be “it” by random selection, such as drawing straws or names out of a hat. Then, let the kids run around and chase each other. Each child can start with 5 “bandaids” (or 5 strips of masking tape) in their possession; any time a child tags another child, the tagger has to put a bandaid on the tagee. When someone runs out of bandaids or their tape strips, that person is frozen until other kids come and “operate” on her (aka pass off a bandaid someone stuck on them). Once operated on, the child will have more band-aids and will be un-frozen. This game will emphasize team work and thinking of others to keep the game continually in motion. Switch the person who is “it” every few minutes, so the child who’s “it” doesn’t feel stuck if he/she has a hard time tagging others.

Board Games that focus on Collaboration

  • “Operation”—If your child has the fine motor skills to play Operation, you can turn this game into a cooperative game by setting a timer and giving your child and one or two friends a certain time limit to work together and remove all of the items from the body of the “patient.”
  • Feed the Woozle—What’s a Woozle? It’s a friendly orange monster who is very, very hungry! Children work together to get 12 snacks into the woozle’s mouth and everyone wins! Check out more of Peaceable Kingdom’s collaborative board games including Race to the Treasure, and Stone Soup! These are some of our favorite group games that always keep our friends excited and focused on working together as a team. Check out these board games and more that you can buy on Amazon.

Loads of Fun

These games are a great way to create situations in which your child will feel included, level the playing field among peers so the focus is on collaboration instead of competition, and most importantly, to have fun! The great thing about these cooperative games is that they’re very social. While your child is playing with peers in a group, he or she can develop communication skills, critical thinking, conflict management, and cooperation skills, too! Depending on your child’s age and interests, whether he or she likes balloons, parachutes, obstacle courses, or woozles, you have a variety of activities to choose from. These also make great birthday party games, too!

Written by All About Speech & Language


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