Claire Campbell is a Thanet mum-of-three and SEN teacher working in a specialist school in Broadstairs where all children are autistic with complex learning needs.
She teaches in KS1, lead on sensory integration, and is also PA for Beau, a child in the class, taking him out at weekends or in school holidays to support his mum getting respite and the youngster accessing activities.
Her monthly column aims to raise awareness and cultivate change:
I would like to begin my July column about the difficulties families with children with SEND have in accessing their local community by reinforcing how vitally important I feel it is that these families do access their community. That they brave the difficulties, overcome the barriers and provide the much-needed visibility.
It is only with this visibility that people can grow their empathy and understanding and basic accommodations that benefit all families can be made. This column not only marks the end of July but it also marks the beginning of the summer holidays and so it is an ideal time to attempt this.
The dread and terror experienced at the mention of six weeks of schools being closed is not exclusive to SEND parents (trust me!). There are all kinds of reasons that the summer holidays are stressful for parents. But as this column focuses on discussions around community access, which is of course something ideally families will be doing as much as possible in this time, we know that there are copious unique and increased difficulties relating to this for families with children with SEND. Not enough secure boundaries or changing spaces, having children that need to touch everything or put things in their mouths, different communication styles or play styles not being accommodated, members of the public holding misconceptions about your child’s behaviour. These are just a few things that may cause difficulties.
BUT it only gets better if we do it! I use the word ‘we’ loosely because I am not a SEND parent and I can never truly paint an accurate picture of how being one feels. However, I do access my community with SEND children in both my jobs (as an SEN teacher and as a PA for Beau) and so I can do my bit for increasing visibility.
So with all of this in mind, I will list some places that I have found easy to visit or have managed to have successful days out. But my experience is limited and what I would love to do this month is to encourage some discussion from the experts – the families with children with SEND living in Thanet.
Kathy shares these columns on The Isle of Thanet News Facebook page and I always go back to visit this page to engage with any comments made. So please do comment! Share your experiences – successes and challenges. Reveal the best places to visit that feel safe and stress free. Let’s talk to each other. There is safety and strength in numbers.
You may feel really unsure about being out with your children in a public place with lots of other children around for any amount of time. But what if you were there at a time where you knew a family who understood your challenges were also going to be there? What if you were there when you knew I would also be visiting with Beau? Please do comment and share your wisdom along with your fears. Accessing your community after all is not only a physical thing. It is about accessing people, relationships and conversations too. So let’s start some of those.
My favourite places to take Beau:
Northdown Park – free, adjacent parking, a good variety of play equipment and lots of easy access items. Play park has a fence around it.
Reculver Towers – adjacent parking (not free), a large varied play park with some good accessible options, toilets, a good cafe, some good workshops and activities going on, lovely beach space to explore and tower ruins for a quick dart around and a game of hide and seek. Please note that many of these attractions are close to roads or cliff edges so you know your children best as to whether they will understand these boundaries.
Littlebourne recreation ground – (not technically in Thanet but if your children like a car journey it is a good pick). Free, adjacent parking. Large, varied play park. Good selection of gym equipment. Play park has a fence around it. Lovely big open green space next to the park. At one side of the green there is a gate to a community orchard. There are picnic benches and other benches, a stream (very small and shallow) and bridges for poo sticks, as well as climbable trees and nature to explore.
West Bay – this is next to St Mildred’s Bay and it’s a fab bay. We always park on the road where there is always lots of free parking. We then go straight down the steps to a big open promenade where there are toilets. The beach is lovely with a variety of shells and some raised areas to sit on and seek shade. Beware of high tide though as the bay will disappear!
Garden centres – with an aquarium, cake and a soft play, Ramsgate garden centre is a great pit stop for Beau.
Pegwell Bay Nature Reserve – lots of parking (not free but fairly cheap (you can park by the Viking ship and walk down if you have children up for the walk)), lots of nature to explore and easy walking, a good and varied play park with good accessible options. Play park is surrounded by a fence BUT there are picnic benches inside this area. Some families that were picnicking here when we visited were very understanding of me having to rush over to divert Beau before he ate half their picnic! Lots of good spaces for whizzing up and down on a bike or scooter.
Swimming pools – we go to Upton Swimming Pool at Upton Junior School. It is perfect for us as it is just a short walk from home but we also like it as it is small and relaxed. One of the poolside assistants was very understanding when I struggled to get Beau into the pool (He takes a while to go in but loves it once he is!). They offered different toys and resources that might help and were calm and kind. It made all the difference to our experience.
I hope some of these suggestions may be helpful to you and I cannot wait to hear yours!