Games for Children with Special Needs
Whether you are planning a carnival especially for children with special needs, or just want to make one area of your carnival more accessible, this is the section for you! Of course, not all games will be appropriate for all children, but we've presented a few ideas that may help you get started. We would love to add more to this section, so if you have ideas for this theme, we would love to hear from you.
We've separated out the activities into areas that you may want to focus on:
Hearing & Speaking
Touch & Sensory
Taste & Smell
Vision & Attention
Fine Motor Skills
Gross Motor Skills
A carnival atmosphere can be overwhelming to a child with a disability. Think about setting up a separate tent or area with calming activities to use as a "retreat." Allow plenty of space between activities to prevent crowding. If you have games that offer prizes, give prizes to everyone who plays, not just the "winners."
Many of the games from our Alphabetical List of Games will work fine for children with special needs. You may need to modify them to make them easier to win, which can be as simple as moving the "throwing line" closer to the target.
Activities to Stimulate Hearing & Speaking
You can rent a karaoke machine or someone may have one they would let you borrow. The "performances" can be as simple as stepping up to say your name, or singing a simple song such as "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."
Have an assortment of instruments available to play, such as a tambourine, triangle, and drums.
Activities to Stimulate Touch & Movement
A petting zoo is great as it introduces many interesting textures such as soft bunny fur and prickly porcupines.
Riding a pony has been shown to be therapeutic in many ways, besides being outright fun..
Prizes in Rice
Let your players dig through a large bin of rice to find a hidden prize.
Bounces really get those muscles moving. Try to avoid the more elaborate inflatables such as obstacle courses.
Set up a large crawl-through tube. These are available from party rental operators.
Call carnival ride operators in your area to find a track-less mini train. Here in the Portland, Oregon area, Burgerville has a train that they will bring to your carnival.
Provide sidewalk chalk for sidewalk Tic Tac Toe or let your players create a sidewalk art show.
Tattoo Parlor / Face Painting
Getting a tattoo (the removable kind!) or having your face painted are interesting sensations on the skin.
Spin art machines are available as rentals. They are fascinating to watch and you get to play with goopy paint.
Activities to Stimulate Taste & Smell
Carnival foods like hot dogs and corn dogs may not be nutritionally correct, but they provide a real carnival atmosphere.
Root Beer Floats
Floats have an interesting fizzy texture and they taste wonderful.
Popcorn smells great and has a taste and texture all its own.
Activities to Stimulate Vision/Attention
Magic Show / Puppet Show
Sitting still to watch a show may be a challenge for some children and a treat for others.
Balloons are colorful and interesting to look at. You could rent some giant tethered balloons and give away helium-filled balloons.
Bubble Machine / Bubble Blowing
Many kids can watch a bubble machine for hours. To provide a more hands-on activity, provide an assortment of bubble wands and lots of bubble liquid.
These "fun house" type mirrors provide a visual challenge and are funny to boot.
Activities to Develop Fine Motor Skills
Provide an assortment of rubber stamps, and colorful papers and inks.
Provide large beads and an assortment of colored cords.
Provide paper and pens to let the children write letters to teachers and friends at the carnival and then provide "special delivery" during your carnival.
Activities to Develop Gross Motor Skills
Many traditional carnival games focus on gross motor skills. We've just picked out a few here but there are many more.
You could modify any ring toss game by using larger rings or letting the players stand closer to the target.
Provide an assortment of sizes of basketball set-ups, from the toddler size sets to a full size hoop.
You can use or larger ball, or provide a ramp to roll the ball down towards the pins.
Let your players toss sponges at the "targets" -- their teachers or counselors. The wet sponges offer an interesting texture.
Other Popular Activities
The player puts their line behind a screen where the operator attaches a small prize. The surprise of reeling in a prize is a delight.
Provide children an opportunity to take home a picture of themselves with their friends, family, and teachers.
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