Everyone wants the children in their lives to enjoy the magic of Christmas, but disabilities and special educational or sensory needs can make attending some events tricky, especially when there are queues and busy crowds to navigate and lots of noise or flashing lights to contend with. However, many events are now offering more inclusive versions, so we’ve rounded up a few around the country to give you a few ideas for you and yours to share some festive fun.
There are lots of options to choose from, including many on trains, with The Polar Express Train Ride https://thepolarexpresstrainride.embsayboltonabbeyrailway.org.uk/sensory-sen-coach/ in Skipton and the Santa Special on the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway https://www.rhdr.org.uk/special-events/santa-specials-2023/ in Kent is running a quiet train on Sunday November 26 at 3:20pm this year with elements such as non-flashing Christmas lights, quieter carriages, no tannoy announcements and quieter music played. The East Lancashire railway https://www.eastlancsrailway.org.uk/events-activities/send-family-santa-special/ also has options for SEND families.
Christmas isn’t complete without a visit to Santa, but for many children a quieter experience can stop them being so overstimulated. So the Dobbies Garden Centre’s Quiet Santa’s Grotto is ideal as all music is off, twinkling lights are removed or switched off, you can choose to have your child’s gift wrapped or not and prior to your visit, they will email a photo of your specific grotto to prepare children for what they will see on the day. There are locations across the country so click here for more information. https://events.dobbies.com/event-detail/?e=4256&r=v&v=0
Pretty lights are a big part of Christmas too and at Chester Zoo there will be special 4pm time slots with reduced capacity at their magical Lanterns and Lights event, so families with children who have SEND can still enjoy everything they have to offer, including puppets and light installations that light up the sky, along with festive feasts on the way round. The dates are November 18, 23, 24, 25, 29 and December 6. For more information visit https://www.chesterzoo.org/lanterns-and-light/ or call 01244 380280.
The Luminate Light trails at National Trust sites are another festive light experience billed as a captivating after dark, illuminated trail set to ambient music with a trail to you will follow with stunning lighting elements and light play to guide you along the way. Some of the sites, but not all, offer sensory friendly sessions – visit https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/christmas/christmas-lights-and-winter-illuminations to discover your local site and check their Access information for calmer sessions and wheelchair accessibility.
Although Christmas is on its way, the weather doesn’t always feel particularly Christmassy – which isn’t the case at the Snowdome in Tamworth, Staffordshire, and their Santa’s Winter Wonderland – so if you want to have some snowy festive fun, while avoiding the worst of the crowds, their calmer sessions might be the right ones for your family. These have adjustments to sound levels on the snow trail and adjustments to sound and lighting levels in Santa’s theatre, a relaxed and supportive atmosphere with fewer people on the session, more wheelchair spaces and free carer spaces. These sessions are being run on 9.35am Sunday 19th November 2023, 4.40pm Friday 1st December 2023 and 3.00pm Wednesday 6th December 2023. Click here https://www.snowdome.co.uk/santas-winter-wonderland/relaxed-sessions/ for more information.
Children’s Play Village in Warwick is a unique play environment with an indoor play village created just for children – and is specifically designed for all children to be included in play. They have a range of Christmas play sessions available including Elf Training School from November 23 – 30 and Visits with Santa from December 1 – 23 – with a SEN session available on December 17 at 12.30 -3pm. For more information click here https://www.childrensplayvillage.co.uk/christmas-visits/