Easter is a great time to get family and friends together, and there’s nothing more fun than an Easter egg hunt! It can sometimes be difficult for children with disabilities to participate in these events, however, for a number of reasons, from being uncomfortable in crowds to difficulty in finding the hidden eggs. Here at Toys R Us, we think that every child has the right to enjoy play, so we’ve put our heads together with some experts who work with children with special educational needs and disabilities on a daily basis, to come up with this guide to an inclusive Easter egg hunt.
Our experts are:
• Jo Chaney, Children’s Services Manager for Barnardo’s Indigo Service, which provides after school and holiday day care for children with SEN
• Heidi Lyon, Service Delivery Manager for children and young people at Blind Children UK. Heidi is also a qualified habilitation specialist. Blind Children UK is the leading charity for children and young people with sight loss.
• Annie Murphy, Health Play Specialist at The Children’s Trust, which works with children with brain injury to provide rehabilitation, education, therapy and care.
• Jackie Hagan, Outreach Worker for Scope, a charity working to make sure disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else.
Benefits of Easter egg hunts
Easter egg hunts are great fun for kids with all levels of ability – a well-organised Easter egg hunt a great opportunity to get kids of all abilities together for a day out. Jo Chaney says that “including other children is a really good idea, because children learn from each other. It’s a really good opportunity to help them develop their social skills.”
It’s really important that everyone can participate in your Easter egg hunt, with inclusive events like Easter egg hunts encouraging kids to develop social and developmental skills. Jo says that “it’s really helpful for young people who might have developmental delay to watch other young people because they learn from watching others, and aspire to do some of the things that they’re doing.” Heidi Lyon agrees, saying that “we want children to feel like their peers as much as possible… They want to do things with their friends and their siblings – to be included.”
As well as helping children feel included and developing social skills, there are plenty more benefits to holding an inclusive Easter egg hunt:
• Sensory benefits
Everyone enjoys a visual, tactile experience, and an Easter egg hunt is a great way to encourage that – particularly if it’s held outside. Jo says that children with SEN and disabilities “like being outside – they enjoy feeling the grass and putting their fingers through the grass because it’s a really nice sensory experience.”
As well as tactile experiences, kids also enjoy an auditory experience – again, something that will come naturally if the Easter egg hunt is held outside. As they hear the swaying of trees in the breeze and birds tweeting, they’ll learn about the different noises made by things in the natural world.
• Importance of play
Jackie Hagan, Early Years outreach worker for Scope, strongly believes in the benefits of inclusive activities like Easter Egg Hunts. They are essential to the development of children’s wellbeing, as well as learning to share and interact with others it also allows children to explore their imagination, creativity and explore the world around them.
• Concept development
Heidi notes that Easter egg hunts and treasure hunts are great ways to teach concept development to visually impaired children. Concepts like ‘up’, ‘down’ and ‘behind’ are quite visual concepts, which can be difficult to understand without experiencing them through sight. To develop their understanding of directional language, you could use very descriptive clues which include directions like “walk two paces forward” or “take two side steps to the right”.
Tips for organising Easter egg hunts
Our experts have come up with some top tips to keep in mind when organising your inclusive Easter egg hunt, to ensure that everything goes smoothly on the day.
Jackie Hagan recommends beginning your event with circle time if possible, where everyone sits in a circle to say hello and introduce themselves. This should include parents as it’s a really good to get down at the children’s level with eye to eye contact. She also suggests passing around a visual and tactile toy, like a fluffy egg, chick or ball with a bell in, whilst doing the introductions. This can promote familiarity within the group and promotes children’s social skills. It will also give children an opportunity to gain an understanding of what is going to happen during the event.
• Set the scene
For Jo, the most important factor for a successful Easter egg hunt is to make sure all participants understand what the activity will entail before it begins. She says: “it’s really important that you set the scene for the egg hunt at the beginning”. Explain clearly and in a way that all those taking part can understand what the egg hunt will involve. It might also be useful to show them images before you begin or demonstrating where and how you might hide an egg.
Think in advance about how long your Easter egg hunt should last. Jackie suggests that around an hour is the perfect length of time, or if your event is quite big, an hour and a half.
• Group work
Our experts were keen on putting the children into groups to find the Easter eggs. This is a great way of encouraging the kids to work together, and removes the competitive aspect of it. Jo suggests buddying up children of different abilities in either pairs or groups, so they have to work together to solve the clues and find the eggs, rather than competing against each other. Some children might worry that they’ll find less eggs than others, so you might want to set a rule that however many eggs each group or child collects, they’ll all be shared equally between everyone.
• Keep it organised
You should make sure that your egg hunt is well-organised. Particularly with visually impaired children, you don’t want it to be a free-for-all. Jackie agrees, saying that children with SEN can find very busy situations very daunting, meaning free-for-alls can be too much for them. You might want to think about how you manage this, whether by having staggered starts for the teams, having each team hunt in a different zone, or just having a smaller event where all participants will feel comfortable.
Practical ideas for Easter egg hunts
So, how do you go about actually planning and enjoying an accessible Easter egg hunt? Our experts have lots of great advice, including where to hold your egg hunt, and what types of eggs to use.
Annie Murphy suggests that whilst holding your Easter egg hunt outside is a great idea, it’s a good plan to make it adaptable so you can hold it indoors in case of bad weather! Jo also recommends holding it outside, as long as you use a contained area – she suggests a big garden or a park with set boundaries in which the hunt is being held.
In order to maximise everyone’s enjoyment of the Easter egg hunt, make sure you’re well prepared. Jo recommends making a small map of the area in which the hunt is to take place, so everyone knows the potential areas the eggs could be. This will just make the activity more manageable, particularly if it’s a large area.
Jackie also recommends getting the kids ready for the event. If she were doing a similar session, her team would prepare the kids in the run-up to get them into the spirit of the event, by reading books about Easter and doing Easter arts and crafts.
All of our experts were in agreement that keeping the kids motivated is key to an enjoyable Easter egg hunt for all. Jo advises having some adults on hand to supervise the hunt, who can tell the kids whether they’re getting warmer and simply to “give them a lot of encouragement at all times”. Annie agrees, saying that there should be an adult there to help when needed, who should give the children as much or as little assistance as they need. And Heidi has a few words of wisdom for those who are worried about keeping the kids motivated: “If it’s fun, if there’s a treat at the end of it, and if it’s inclusive, they’ll stay engaged!”
• Materials to use
Jo recommends that you equip each child or group with a map of the zones used, so that they know they need to go to each one to collect an egg – this can be useful in keeping them motivated, too, as they’ll want to make sure they’ve been to every area on the map. She also recommends having whistles, flags, or anything they can use to signal they’ve found an egg.
Heidi has some great tips for setting up an egg hunt for visually impaired children. She suggests using audible or talking eggs, brilliant egg-shaped toys, which talk to you when you press a button, making it easier for visually impaired kids to find them. She suggests hiding a mini chocolate in the middle of the egg, or just collecting all the eggs as they’re found, and giving the kids a prize from the bounty of eggs at the end. To make the hunt easier for the kids, she suggests setting up a tactile path on the ground to direct them, or using a rope trail to find the eggs. To make it inclusive, sighted kids could be blindfolded.
Annie suggests making the egg hunt multisensory, by using picture cards and photos, as well as sensory buckets for children to put their hands in and fish out the clue. These could be filled with rice, water, shaving foam, sand, pasta, marbles or jelly, to name but a few ideas! Sensory buckets are great for stimulating the senses, and will add a whole new element to the Easter egg hunt.
Jackie also suggests trays to hide some of the eggs and she suggests adapting the activity and using different sized eggs so that it is easier for all of the children to participate. She also recommends having other activities available for children who may want to dip in and out of the event throughout the session. This could include a sensory activity on one table, colouring activities, a reading area and art and crafts. This gives children the option of focusing on quieter activities and a chance to calm down if they need to and the structure will help to keep the children engaged.
• Where to hide the eggs
Make sure that the eggs are accessible to all. If you have children with mobility issues or who are in wheelchairs participating, you’ll need to make sure that the eggs are within easy reach. Instead of hiding all eggs at ground level, put some at arm’s height and within reach.
An ideal accessible Easter egg hunt
1. Spend some time at the beginning to bring them all together to make it clear what they’re doing and what they’re looking for. Have everyone sit in a circle (including parents!) to introduce themselves.
2. Split the children into groups and hand out a map to each.
2. Each group should go round the different zones, and when they find an egg they should signal this by waving a flag or whistling. If there are a large number of kids, you might want to have the groups set off at different times, or begin in different zones.
3. Have people around to give them lots of praise and encouragement and keep them on track.
4. Take pictures of them so they can have a record of what they’re doing, as a memory of this fun activity.
5. Have different activities set up so kids can destress and have a quiet moment with a sensory activity if they’re feeling overwhelmed.
6. Have another circle time at the end of the Easter egg hunt, where everyone can share what they learned and found. If you have a number of different activities going on, you can also have circle time between each activity, to keep everyone engaged and focused.
Avoiding potential issues
With any event involving children, there’s always a risk of someone getting upset or things not quite going to plan. Avoid any potential issues with your Easter egg hunt by planning ahead with these tips from Jo, Heidi, Annie and Jackie.
• Some young people with autism can find big groups difficult. Avoid this by dividing the children up into smaller groups.
• Some children can also be very shy in busy situations, so planning ahead for this with smaller groups and chill-out areas where they can focus on different activities is important.
• It’s important to avoid anyone feeling like they’re being left out. The best way to avoid this is by giving all kids a lot of encouragement, at all times, and by pairing children15 of different abilities together.
• Kids will get frustrated if they don’t understand what’s expected of them, so it’s important to make sure that everyone understands what they have to do from the beginning.
• It’ll be frustrating for children if they feel like they can’t find they can’t find any eggs. To avoid meltdowns, just make sure there’s adults on hand to let them know whether they’re on the right track.
• Sharing can be difficult for some children – giving them lots of encouragement will really help with that.
• Don’t force them too much to keep with it if they don’t have the attention span, as that can result in meltdowns.