University of Edinburgh

Involving Children with Visual Impairments in Outdoor Learning Sessions

Funded by the RS Macdonald Charitable Trust


  • Children spend an average of 1500 hours in their school playground.
  • Playgrounds are incorporated within the inclusion strategies of just over a quarter of surveyed schools.
  • 97% of teachers recognise the developmental importance of playground activity.
  • 82% of teachers consider their schools are not doing enough and their playgrounds are inadequately designed.

1. Benefits of Outdoor Play

  • Intrinsic enjoyment
  • Cultivation of social awareness and capacity for mutual support
  • Provision of non-competitive environment for achievement
  • Opportunity to overcome fears and reservations
  • Opportunity for hands-on experience not afforded by passive classroom learning
  • Inclusion of young people with visual impairment within a wider anti-obesity drive
  • More attentive learning through improved play opportunities at brake time
  • Sense of ownership of play space

2. Challenges

    Environmental challenges:

  • Stimulation
  • Motivation
  • Demand value
  • Points of reference
  • Social challenges:

  • Children with visual impairment rarely initiate social interactions
  • Limited social feedback (eg; facial expressions)
  • Spent more time closer to teachers than closer to their sighted peers

3. Approaches to Risk


4. Perspectives of Scottish Teachers

I think you do need an element of risk it is through taking risk that you learn and develop ... I think it is a natural reaction for people who do not work with blind children, children with visual impairment to over protect and we do need to build in safe risk.

The way you teach them to get to a-b is all right angles – square off and tracking – feel that life is learned in right angles, wouldn't it be lovely if they had a track that they could walk right across the middle?

My goodness they are hardly outside and exploring at all – they walk round and play tag with their pals – my goodness there is a whole world out there waiting to be explored and discovered out there. It makes you think.

(consultation with VIS and Grounds for Learning)

5. Overprotection

  • Good childhood inquiry (2007): Children becoming 'hostages' to parental fears
  • ICM playday survey (2008): 'overcautious parents are spoiling children's playtime'
  • Green spaces (2009): 'Child protection' flag is hoisted – but in the false colours of adult protection
  • Impact on appetite for challenge

VIScotland and Grounds for Learning Project

  • Selection of mainstream schools in East Kilbride, Greater Glasgow and East Dunbartonshire Exploring ways to optimize the value of outdoor environments in the education of visually impaired children.
  • Awareness raising.
  • Addressing parental concerns.
  • Teaching elements of the curriculum outside.
  • Exploring the interface between the senses and the language environment within an educational context.
  • Ideas of how to motivate pupils with visual impairment.
  • Using the outdoors to illustrate the active/passive distinction.
  • Instilling a sense of self-determination.

rock climbing canoeing

Risk benefit and experiential understanding

Common Sense?

normal view blurred view


Does the discrepancy between how the play environment is perceived by the child with visual impairment and the play facilitator impact on the applicability of a ‘common sense’ approach?

Applications to risk  management processes



Intrinsic enjoyment

Minor injuries

Development of confidence and self-esteem

Bone fractures

Engagement with surroundings

Psychological impact of fall

Hands-on experience

Social impact of failure to complete play-related tasks

Social interaction


Cultivate appetite for challenge


Participating Schools

  • Knowetop Primary, Knowetop Avenue, Motherwell M21 2AG
  • St Hilary's Primary, High Common Rd., East Kilbride, Glasgow G74 2AX
  • St Andrew's Primary, Dunochter Rd., Bearsden, East Dunbartonshire G61 4QL
  • St Joseph's Primary, North Campbell Rd, Milngavie, Glasgow G62 7AA
  • Uddingston Grammar, Old Glasgow Rd., Uddingston, Glasgow G71 7BS


Dr David Feeney, Manager, Visual Impairment Scotland

Caroline Standring, Training & Development Officer, Grounds for Learning