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Working with children with additional needs and disabilities

Ruth Thompson of Sylvan Skills can offer willow weaving activities to improve the learning outcomes and opportunities of children and young people with special educational needs and disability, through fulfilling objectives on their education and health care plans.

I teach a range of activities from basic to more complex activities. These could vary with the seasons with summer activities Christmas activities Easter activities etcetera.

I suggest six or so basic activities, making small willow items, mainly 2D, and six or so more complex activities.


There are many benefits of using willow weaving activities to support the education and development of children with additional needs and disabilities including working in small groups to increase sociability and an opportunity to solve problems.

Making things (especially when doing so outdoors) have proven mental health benefits, problem-solving, increased spatial awareness, increased fine motor skills, better motor planning and bilateral coordination and reduced vestibular problems.

Additional benefits and skills acquired through working with willow include better speech and language skills also help with maths. Also, the children get a sense of achievement when they produce the finished object. The program can help inform occupational therapy reports and psychology reports.

The produce of the more complex activities can be used to enhance the school grounds/growing areas.

Six basic activities could include learning to make small woven panels, willow fish, willow stars, willow wands, willow flowers and willow garlic holders.

The more complex activities could include making woven plant trainers (obelisks), birdfeeders, woven panels, sculptures for example sheep, and possibly even living willow structures such as igloos, arbours, tunnels and screens.

Sylvan Skills workshopping with school children

Willow-weaving can help meet the following goal areas:

Motor Skills:

  • Motor coordination
  • Manual dexterity
  • Upper limb strength
  • Upper limb range of movement
  • Bilateral coordination/integration
  • Sequencing
  • In-hand manipulation
  • Spatial awareness – also integrated with language concepts e.g. behind, in front, next to etc

Visual perception:

  • Visual discrimination (shape, size, colour)
  • Spatial awareness and depth perception

Sensory Processing

which benefits both motor skills and self-regulation (impacting behaviour and emotional regulation):

  • Tactile input including pressure, texture, temperature
  • Proprioceptive input, especially to the hands, helps with body awareness which aids skill development.  Proprioception also helps self-regulation.
  • Visual input: people with ASC often find slow-paced visual input calming.  Pattern is also a feature of basketry which can also be calming and of interest to people with ASC and therefore motivating.
  • The tactile and proprioceptive input over time can help promote upper limb function and fine motor skills which can help improve handwriting ability (e.g. when hand, arm and shoulder strength and tactile processing are improved this can benefit handwriting and other manual skills).
  • Taste and smell: while taste is not used/contraindicated (!) in basketry, the raw materials i.e. willow has a natural smell which can be alerting/calming depending on the person

Attention and Concentration – depending on the child’s level or needs:

  • Sustained attention e.g. concentrating on a particular task for an appropriate time e.g. 3 minutes; selective attention: e.g. focusing on the thing you want to focus on for a time; alternating attention: shifting your focus of attention and moving tasks; divided attention: processing two or more demands simultaneously

Speech and Language Skills

  • Receptive Language: e.g. following instructions e.g. 1 step, 2 step
  • Expressive Language: e.g. asking for help, helping others verbally
  • Prepositions e.g. behind, in front of
  • Communicating within a group e.g. negotiating to use a tool, share materials etc


  • Emotional needs e.g. frustration tolerance while learning a skill; self-esteem connected to achieving a goal/ producing a finished product
  • Functioning within a group e.g. parallel working, collaborative working, turn-taking.
  • Attention and concentration
  • Educational goals e.g. language, maths
  • Problem-solving

Educational goals


  • Number – e.g. in counting the number of strands of willow required
  • Size: selecting the appropriate thickness or length of willow strands


  • Learning new vocabulary
  • Using prepositions
  • Asking questions and following instructions
  • Working within a group

Science and Sustainability:

  • Using a natural product, learning about the properties of willow e.g. bends easily, can be woven, helps absorb carbon, is recyclable, grows quickly
  • Basket-making is a world-wide practice; cannot be factory produced; every culture has its own type of basket-making

Get In Touch

If you like what you have seen and have a project in mind for Northumberland, North East England or further afield please drop us a line by email, facebook or complete the website form