Supporting Your Child At Home
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Six Tips for Vacations and Weekend Trips
Family vacations create memories, teach children about new places, and provide an often much needed break. Unfortunately, some children have a difficult time with new situations, people, and schedules. This article includes ideas for making vacations and weekend trips less stressful and more enjoyable before, during, and after the trip.
1. Prepare Kids - Unfamiliar places and situations can be very stressful for some children. Prepare children for a trip by showing them websites, brochures, or guidebooks. Pictures of lodging, activities, people going on the trip, and transportation are helpful for setting expectations. If you are flying, discuss the security process and etiquette for sitting on the plane (using an inside voice, keeping on a seatbelt, having feet off the seat in front of them).
2. Involve Kids in Planning – If you are debating where to go, involve children in the decision. Research different trips and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each place. Consider children’s interests in the decision. Because you loved the beach as a child does not mean your child who does not swim, sunburns easily, and finds the feel of sand upsetting will like the beach. Before a trip, let children help pack their suitcases so they know what they will have with them. Use this as an opportunity to discuss the weather and appropriate clothes for activities. Pack and have readily available a small bag of toys and books for car rides, unexpected waiting periods, and downtimes.
3. Create a Sense of Familiarity - Consider children’s routines and familiar possessions when planning trips. Sleep schedules may be difficult to follow, but keep wake up and bedtime as close to the child’s usual schedule as possible. Familiar objects also help children with consistency. If a child reads a favorite story before bed, carries personal items in a backpack, or uses a stress ball, be sure to pack these items.
4. Keep Children Aware of the Schedule – Many children benefit from very structured schedules and the lack of a familiar schedule on a vacation can be upsetting. If children use written or picture schedules, create one for the trip. Some children just need a verbal reminder of what to expect next or when to change activities. Many times consistently keeping children notified of the schedule and schedule changes helps them relax and transition through the day.
5. Remember Downtime is Important – Families often over plan vacations. Spending time with friends and family, going from one location to another, or doing a number of things at one place can exhaust children. Plan rest periods so children can read, play a game, or nap.
6. Create Memories – Trips are fun and exciting, but children often forget some of it when they return home. Buy a travel diary before the trip. Every evening discuss the day’s events. Have children write in the journal. They can add pictures, tickets, and brochures from the day. Read the book during the year to remember the experience, encourage communication, and plan future trips.
Six Tips for Preparing Children for Camp
Going to camp is a way for children to learn new things, create memories, and relax. Although a fun experience in many ways, some children have a difficult time with new situations, people, and schedules. This article includes ideas for preparing children for day or overnight camp.
1. Visit – Unfamiliar places and situations can be very stressful for some children. Visit the camp in advance to prepare your child for what to expect. Try to meet the child’s counselor and other staff members. Use this as an opportunity to answer any questions you may have about the camp schedule, policies, and activities. For overnight camp, ask about sending care packages, policies about calls, and other important information that might make it easier for your child (and you) to be separated! If there is an open house this is a great way to introduce your child to other campers. Take a camera and get pictures of different areas including a picture of the schedule if it is posted. These pictures can be used to create a story about what to expect.
2. Visually Prepare Children - Although it’s nice to create a book about camp with pictures from a trip there, additional resources also can be helpful. Prepare children for camp by showing them websites, brochures, or any other available information. Pictures of lodging, dining areas, activities, and children having fun at camp are helpful for setting expectations and giving children a feel for how camp looks when everyone is there.
3. Involve Kids in Planning – Let children help pack their backpack for day camp or suitcase for overnight camp so they know what they will have with them. Use this as an opportunity to discuss the weather and appropriate clothes for activities. If there are choices for activities on camp enrollment forms (e.g. swimming, horseback riding), include your child in decisions about activities when completing the forms. Be sure they are interested in the activities provided and will enjoy the experience. Sometimes a ‘new’ activity sounds fun, but signing up a child who has never seen a horse in person for horseback riding may create a stressful situation rather than an enjoyable one.
4. Create a Sense of Familiarity - Remember children’s familiar possessions when packing for camp. If a child reads a favorite story before bed, carries personal items in a backpack, or uses a stress ball, be sure to pack these items and let staff know when your child likes to use them. A family picture or pictures of family members and pets can be nice for children to have while at camp.
5. Set Expectations – Be sure children know what to expect from you. When will you pick them up at day camp? What day does overnight camp end? Will you be calling, writing, or sending packages? Where will you pick them up and how will you be dropping them off? If you create a schedule or story for them, this information should be included to reduce their anxiety.
6. Create Memories – Camp is fun and exciting, but children often forget the details of what they did while there. Camps often take pictures of children and email them to parents. These pictures are a great resource for creating a memory book to enjoy or a story to remind children about camp for next year.
How to Help Children Retain Skills over the Summer Break
Children often have a hard time retaining skills during the summer break. Many parents enroll children in summer school or extended school year, but this often is an abbreviated and less structured version of the school day. Even when children are educated at home, summer often involves routine changes. Since many children rely on consistent instruction, these changes can result in regression. This article includes strategies for preventing regression and teaching new skills.
1. Know What Skills to Work On - To prevent regression know what skills your child is working on and their current functioning level. Be sure to review their school progress reports, IEP (if applicable), and information from their teacher on summer reading and work. For children working on self-care, independence, or behavior skills, take data on their current progress. Be sure to ask their teachers and therapists what skills they are working on and exactly where they stand.
2. Find Opportunities to Practice Skills - Many skills can be integrated into a daily routine. Dressing, self-care, and behavior naturally occur during the day. Take time to use these natural occurrences as learning opportunities. For example, help your child as needed to put on their shoes rather than doing it for them. It may take longer for them to do the skill on their own, but it teaches them the steps they need to be more independent. Academic skills also can be integrated into a daily routine. Have children help with any math related problems and involve them in reading. For example, if you have a family picnic and 4 cousins, 3 aunts, 3 uncles, and 2 grandparents will be there, have your child help you count the number of cupcakes you need to bring. If you are baking the cupcakes, work on literacy skills by having your child read the recipe to you. Counting and fractions can be developed by gathering and measuring the ingredients. Children can work on motor skills by cutting butter, stirring ingredients, and pouring the batter into the tin. For children who need direct instruction, schedule a time during the day specifically to work on skills.
3. Build on Existing Skills - When children master a skill continue to review it, but also expand on skills. For example, if your child is mastering their current list of sight words, be sure to add additional words and phrases to their skill set. If they are able to count all the spoons the family has when helping to empty the dishwasher, add a serving spoon or two and teach them to count a little higher. Build on skills one step at a time so they are successful, enjoy learning, and do not become frustrated.
4. Appreciate Small Steps – It can be very frustrating for parents and professionals when children learn slowly or take a step backwards. Try to remember some skills take awhile for children to acquire. Sometimes children need additional examples of the skill or a new approach for instruction. Recognize that children become frustrated as well and teach them to be persistent and patient.
5. Realize It Is Summer – When children have different educational programs, therapies, and activities, it can be easy to forget summer break is also for relaxing. Although working on skills is important, be sure to enjoy the fun things summer has to offer. Enroll kids in swimming lessons, summer camp, tennis class, or just let them play outside. These kinds of activities are a way to stay healthy, learn new skills, and make new friends.
Helping Children Develop Friendships
Parents and professionals often struggle with helping children learn to be good friends or to understand the complexities of social interactions. Below are a number of strategies that can help children develop friendships.
1. Get Involved – Participate in community sports teams, art programs, and special events. These are wonderful opportunities for children to engage in structured activities with peers. For children with special needs, communities increasingly are offering camps and activities geared towards their specific needs. Ask professionals and support groups for information on these programs or check your community newspapers, centers, and websites. Another great activity, for children who benefit from very direct instruction, is social skills groups. These groups, which are offered in many communities, are a great way for children to develop their social skills in a fun yet structured environment.
2. Leverage the Child’s Interests – If the goal of enrolling a child in a program is to provide opportunities for making friends, look for activities the child enjoys. Some children like the arts while others enjoy sports. If a child is particularly shy, look for activities that initially have less direct contact. Tumbling and swimming are examples of individual sports while soccer and basketball involve more contact with peers. If children start in activities they enjoy, they are more likely to join other programs.
3. Role Play Difficult Skills – Practicing social skills is a way to work on specific aspects of social interactions. For example, if you notice your child stands too close to peers or repeatedly asks the same questions, help them learn about personal space or conversational skills through role play. By practicing these skills in the home, children can learn to improve their social skills and apply them outside the home.
4. Provide Examples – While reading books or watching television, explain social situations to children. Point out how helping others, using kind words, and listening when friends talk are ways to be a good friend. When characters are being hurtful or invading someone’s personal space, point these actions out and ask the child what the character could do differently to be a better friend.
5. Model Being Good to Others – Part of being well liked and being a good friend is being kind. Demonstrate kindness by saying nice things about and to others whether they are the grocery store employee or your neighbor. Point out when a co-worker does something thoughtful and how this makes you feel about them. If your child is sympathetic or says something complimentary, tell them their actions made you happy.
6. Do Not Force Friendships – Just like adults, children get along better with some peers than others. Teaching children to be kind and to include everyone in activities is important, but they do not have to be best friends with everyone.
Getting Ready for Summer Break
1. Prepare Kids – Prepare children for the summer break while they are still in school. Classrooms often have a countdown to summer, but including one in the home also is helpful. Discuss summer break with children including when they will return to school and what they will do over the break. Read books about vacation, summer, and school breaks.
2. Make Cards – If children are concerned about not seeing their friends and teacher, have them create cards for everyone. The cards can have memories from the school year or a simple message, “Have a nice summer. See you in August.” Cards are a great way for children to share their feelings and learn about giving.
3. Don’t Forget School – Arrange summer play dates with classmates before school ends so children know they will see their friends soon. Use the class picture as a way to discuss and remember classmates, or make a book about the past year, “Bobby’s Year in First Grade.”
From the book, School Breaks
4. Maintain Structure – The school day provides a significant amount of structure for children. A transition from a full day of planned activities to one with little structure can be very difficult for children. Have a routine so children have consistency in their lives. Set times for waking up, going to bed, eating, and other activities so children know what to expect during the day. If children have a routine with different activities on different days of the week such as swimming lessons Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and library time on Tuesdays, make a calendar showing these activities with words or pictures so children see the day’s activities. Some children may benefit from a very structured schedule. If children use a picture schedule at school, ask their teacher how to implement it at home. Besides including structured activities, remember a schedule can include periods of choice and free play while still providing support and structure.
5. Keep Activities Handy – Keep materials for art activities (paper, paints, buttons, glue, magazines) handy. Art activities develop fine motor skills and encourage creativity. Cooking lunch or snacks is a fun activity for children and it encourages reading, basic math (fractions, counting), and turn taking.
6. Start Summer-Long Responsibilities – Give children activities for the summer. Gardening activities such as a small plot in the family garden or an indoor herb garden are a great opportunity for children to watch plants grow, care for them, and see the fruits of their labor. If children are not interested in gardening, give them responsibilities with the family pet (brushing, feeding, walking) or another household activity. These activities can be expanded upon by reading about the topic or attending events involving the topic such as a local flower show or dog show.
7. Ask the Teacher – If you have concerns about a child’s transition from school to summer, ask their teacher for suggestions. The teacher may have specific ideas for your child’s needs or they may know about community activities your child would enjoy. They also can provide ways to help your son or daughter prepare for the next school year.
Schedules create a sense of consistency and security for children. When children know what activities are part of their day, transitions and activities can be easier and less stressful. Schedules are useful at school, home, and in the community. This article discusses key elements of creating a useful schedule.
1. Account for All Time - First, establish how much time will be included in the schedule. For example, 7:45 to 3:15 for a school schedule or 4:00 to 7:30 for a home schedule.
2. List Activities - Once the timeframe is established, make a list of the activities you would like the child to accomplish during the timeframe and the approximate time to complete each activity. Total the time. Add or remove activities to make the activity time and total schedule time approximately equal. When accounting for activities be sure to stagger breaks or fun activities into the day.
3. Establish a Schedule Format - Choose a format that best suits a child. Many children respond well to visuals. A visual schedule in the form of small objects (e.g. a spoon representing lunch time) often is usefulfor children who need more concrete representations. Pictures or drawings can be helpful for children who aren't reading yet. Text is useful for children who are reading.
4. Determine a Location - Put the schedule in a place that is easily viewable and accessible for the child. Placing it on a wall, at a desk, or on a device they carry is a way for children to reference the schedule as needed.
5. Create a Way to 'Use' the Schedule - Some classrooms have overall schedules visible to all of the children. For some children this is effective but many children need their own schedules to view and use. Individual schedules can be a row of velcroed pictures or words that are removed as children complete the task. Written schedules can be printed and activities crossed off as they are completed. When a schedule is created, teach children how to use it and provide reinforcement and support for children independently managing their schedule.
6. Build Choices into the Schedule - Everyone likes opportunities to be 'in charge.' Children are no different. Find opportunities for children to choose what they want to do in the schedule. For example, a choice board of activities during break times or picking what to do first, second, then third during math. Choice doesn't remove work or responsibility, it gives children autonomy and teaches decision-making skills.
7. Account for Inaccuracies in Time Estimates - Planning is never perfect. When designing schedules include flexible time activities before inflexible ones. For example, if the class has physical education at 10:15 put a break before physical education rather than an academic activity that may take more or less time than expected each day.
8. Practice Change - Sometimes schedules change unexpectedly. If you know in advance of a change, add it into the schedule. If not, practice activities like fire drills or unexpectedly leaving the house to pick up a sibling. Some people use a question mark card or other visual to represent a schedule change.
Ways to Increase Communication and Language
There are a variety of ways to increase communication depending on a child’s age and ability level. Below are some ideas for increasing language and communication throughout the day.
1. Expand Sentence Length – When children answer a question or request an item using one or two words, increase their sentence length by repeating their answer with an expanded phrase. For example, if you ask a child, “Would you like orange juice?” and they answer “Yes,” model a longer response. “Yes, I would like orange juice.” Then have the child repeat the phrase.
2. Use Books for Language - Reading stories is an excellent way to incorporate language into a fun activity. Ask questions about the pictures, the story, and the characters. Even very young children can identify colors, gender, words, or concepts (e.g. the boy that is the tallest/shortest) by pointing to pictures. Have children predict what is going to happen next throughout the story. After finishing the book, review what happened in the story.
3. Create Situations that Promote Language - Favorite toys, clothes, and foods can motivate young children to use language. Store favorite items in eye sight, but out of reach, so children have to use their words to request the items.
4. Provide Choices – Give children choices in activities, stories, toys, and foods so they communicate their preferences. You can create an opportunity for communication even if you know a child is going to select a favorite story or game.
5. Find Time to Communicate – Many children like being entertained by technology, but opportunities for communication are lost when families spend a good deal of time watching television and playing video games. Turn off the television during meals and refrain from using portable video games in the car. Time spent together at the dinner table and in the car are wonderful opportunities for learning about a child’s day and increasing communication and language skills.
Trying New Foods
6. Be Supportive – Children are more likely to communicate if they feel valued. Encourage language by listening attentively to children and asking them questions. If children answer questions incorrectly, teach them the correct answers using kind, supportive words. Repeatedly asking a question a child does not know how to answer or condescendingly correcting them can hurt their feelings and decreases the chance they will answer questions in the future. Instead, encourage them to say, “I don’t know,” and use the situation as a learning opportunity.
7. Be a Role Model – Children learn from the adults around them. When adults speak in full sentences, use correct grammar, and articulate well, children hear and are reminded of how words and sentences should sound.
Attending During Large Group Events
Learning to sit, listen, and follow rules in large group settings such as assemblies, places of worship, or movies can be challenging for children. Some events such as places of worship provide frequent opportunities for practice while others may occur every few months. Regardless of how often a child attends a large group event, learning skills for these settings is important for participating in fun school and community activities.
1. Set Clear Expectations: Before the event, provide children with a short list of expectations with pictures or written cues. Examples of common expectations are sit, eyes on speaker, and quiet mouth. Depending on the activity additional expectations could include sing with the group, clap when other people clap, or raise hand to ask a question. Use a calendar to show when the activity is happening and discuss the expectations every day for a few days preceding the event. Some children also will benefit from a printed copy of the expectations during the event.
2. Video Self-Modeling: Have children practice the expectations and videotape them correctly demonstrating skills. Edit the video to show only correct behaviors and point them out using voiceovers and, if appropriate, text. For example, go to the auditorium and have the child enter, sit, pretend they are watching a presentation, and walk out. Edit the video and focus on one behavior at a time such as a voiceover saying, 'I keep my hands to myself' while the video shows the child with their hands in their lap. Have the child watch it a few times before each assembly. Using videos of other children correctly showing skills is also a way to use video, but many children love seeing themselves as the 'stars' and are reinforced by images of themselves.
3. Practice before an Event: Practice the steps of going to, attending, and leaving an event before the event. This can be done at the actual venue or at home or school. For example, if a child has a difficult time at a place of worship, practice getting dressed, going to the location, walking in, sitting down, listening, and leaving when it is not in use so children can learn the basic principles without crowds of people.
4. Plan Based on the Child: Think about timing and seating when planning the activity. Will the child be more successful if they are closer to the front of the assembly so they can see and hear well or will they do better near the back? Will they be more successful if they have time to get settled or will the child have too much downtime and arriving just before the activity begins be better? These simple things can make a big difference for a child.
5. Be Realistic: Sometimes events are simply too loud, slow paced, or long for some children. Choose activities of interest or attend only part of an activity then gradually add time so the event is successful. When children, families, or professionals have realistic goals and build on them, events are more pleasant for everyone.
6. Reinforce Good Behavior: Provide positive reinforcement during the activity for children attending and following rules. Use what is truly motivating for a child and reward them for a job well done. Let children know in advance what they will receive and provide reinforcement frequently enough so children stay motivated.
Strategies for Encouraging Communication
There are countless opportunities to work on communication during the day. This article discusses a few simple strategies parents, teachers, and other care providers can use to help encourage language development.
1. Use High Interest Materials - Children can be motivated to communicate while getting dressed, bathing, eating, doing work, playing, reading a story, and during virtually any other activity. A key element of communication is having a reason to communicate. Use materials and activities that are interesting and motivating so children are engaged in the activity and want to talk about it and their environment. For example, when working on communication during snack time, be sure the snack is something the child likes to eat. When playing, let children lead the activity by selecting toys or activities they enjoy.
2. Pause - Adults naturally want to help children. One of the most difficult things to do for a parent or teacher is to wait for a child who is struggling to come up with an answer. If a child doesn't respond to a question or doesn't imitate immediately, wait a few seconds then either clarify the question, give a clue, or say what you would like them to imitate again.
3. Model - Model language for children during play or other daily activities so they learn new vocabulary, hear correct sentence structure, and listen to examples of appropriate conversation. For example, if you are playing with toys in a dollhouse have one doll interrupt another doll's activities with a polite, 'Excuse me, can I sit beside you on the couch.' This phrase used manners, a preposition, and simple vocabulary. An example for a younger child or a child with language delays is modeling sounds for toy cars, dogs, or robots to demonstrate play skills.
From: Playing Together
4. Expand - Whether children are just saying part of a word or are saying full sentences, there are always opportunities to expand on what a child is saying to encourage more language. For example, if a child just says 'Coo' when requesting a cookie, be sure to say 'Cookie' when you give them a cookie. When an older child says 'My car,' say 'Your red car.'
5. Position Materials - Provide reasons for children to communicate by positioning desirable materials out of reach or in locations that require children to use their words to get them. For example, give a child only a few goldfish crackers and have them ask for more. Put a favorite toy up high to encourage language or specifically work on words like please and thank you. When playing with a train set, have a part of the train in your hand so the child has to ask you for it.
Teaching Children Health Skills
Parents and professionals are integral in teaching children to prevent illness and promote health. Children can learn the basics of caring for themselves at a young age. Skills such as washing hands, putting on a coat, using a tissue, and eating healthy foods should be encouraged consistently and in a variety of ways. This article includes ideas for teaching health skills.
Explain Healthy Behavior – If children understand germs cause illness and eating different foods gives them energy to play, they are more likely to follow healthy practices. Explain in simple language why children should wear coats, wash their hands, and exercise. This can be done through books, class activities, or conversations while teaching children a skill.
Use Visuals – Use a reminder in the form of pictures, drawings, or words to help children remember to flush, wash hands, get a coat, or throw tissues away. Visuals can be used to remind children of sequences such as hand washing or individual steps such as flushing the toilet. In addition to using paper visuals, use real world examples. For example, show children their dirty hands as a concrete visual indicating it is time to wash their hands or show them the snow outside a window as a way to demonstrate it is cold and coats should be worn.
From Using the Bathroom
Make Health Memorable and Fun – Teach children to enjoy health by making it fun. Have children sing Happy Birthday while rubbing soap on their hands. This is a way for children to judge the appropriate amount of time for hand washing. When encouraging children to try new foods, have them participate in making meals and snacks. If they are involved in creating the meals, they are more likely to try new things.
Plan a Variety of Health Related Activities – Children learn the importance of health skills by seeing them in a variety of formats. Conversations, books, art activities, games, and literacy projects on wellness are examples of fun ways to promote health. Keep health books in the literacy center and hang health focused posters in the classroom, cafeteria, and other school locations.
Provide Reinforcement – Verbally reinforce children for being healthy. Comments such as, “I like how Johnny got a tissue and threw it away after he used it,” tell children exactly what they did correctly and reminder them about healthy behavior. Teachers can give Healthy Student awards when they see students trying new foods, remembering their coats, washing their hands when they are dirty, and following other healthy practices.
Be a Role Model – By modeling healthy behavior, adults provide multiple opportunities for children to see skills performed. Point out what is being done and why. For example, “I am going to get a snack ready. I better wash my hands before I touch the food so I do not pass germs to other people.”
Prepare Children for New Experiences – Going to the doctor or dentist can be a very scary experience for children. Prepare children for these experiences by reading books, showing doctor’s/dentist’s equipment (in their toys or in a dramatic play area), or having guest speakers visit the classroom. When children know what to expect (e.g. opening their mouth, testing their reflexes) they will be more comfortable with the situation
Using Community Activities to Develop Social Skills
Community activities are diverse, fun, and provide a wide range of opportunities for social skill development. Meeting people, maintaining conversations, collaborating with peers, following directions, and problem solving are a few social skills to practice in a community setting. Below are a few ideas on incorporating social skill development into your community activities.
1. Story Times and Plays – Community libraries, bookstores, and theatres often have book readings or short plays for children. These events are opportunities to practice attending, following directions, maintaining personal space, and asking and responding to questions in a group setting. For children working on attending, find out how long the event lasts, if there are frequent breaks, and if the event is interactive. Attend shorter, more interactive events then gradually increase the length of time so children are successful and are engaged in the event.
2. Playground - Although primarily thought of as a place for exercise, playgrounds are a wonderful place to learn conflict resolution, problem solving, and communication skills. Children can practice asking to join an activity, helping peers, and working with friends to create and resolve game rules. Patience can be practiced waiting for a swing or the slide. Playgrounds in fast food restaurants are a way to get out of the hot summer or cold winter weather and help children interact with peers.
3. People of Authority in the Community - The ability to socialize with people of authority is important for school, community, and future work environments. Doctors, dentists, and religious leaders are examples of people who should be addressed more formally. Use these interactions as opportunities to practice formal introductions, greetings, conversations, and good-byes. Prepare children by letting them know who they will be seeing and practicing short conversations.
From Playing Together
4. Frequent Interactions – Addressing people at a store or in the neighborhood involves less formal interactions. These meetings are an opportunity for greeting someone by name, asking questions about their interests, and ending the conversation appropriately. Practice at home in advance and remind children, if necessary, how to respond when they see the person. For example, ‘Alex, you remember Mrs. Smith who lives across the street and has the dog, Skipper.’
5. Community Parks and Recreation Centers - Community parks and recreation centers frequently have summer baseball, soccer, or basketball teams. These teams are opportunities for children to learn good sportsmanship, meet with children their age, and learn to follow rules and regulations associated with an activity. Other activities offered at community centers include art and science camps which teach fun skills while providing social interactions. Children learn to work collaboratively with children their age on projects or share materials for completing activities.
Strategies for Staying Focused
During certain times of the year such as before summer or holiday breaks, excitement, routine changes, and thoughts of future events can make focusing on school work and remembering rules and routines a challenge. This article includes strategies for staying on track during an exciting time of the year.
1. Keep as Consistent a Schedule as Possible – Many children depend on a consistent schedule for staying on task. Schools often have events before breaks such as assemblies, field days, or exams, and many children find these schedule changes difficult. Minimize stress and anxiety by altering the schedule as little as possible. Continue with scheduled lessons and regular individual and group instruction so children understand that expectations for learning and behavior are still in place.
2. Use Exciting Events for Educational Activities – Trips, activities, and new visitors are exciting events in children’s lives. These experiences are opportunities for literacy, communication, and art activities. Have children write about, draw, or discuss their upcoming plans. Sharing these events is a way to think about them, communicate their experiences with peers, and practice writing skills.
3. Develop Positive Strategies for Using Excess Energy – Schedule changes and special events can be exciting for children. Provide opportunities for using physical energy such as stress balls, trampolines, or walks so children can positively focus their energy. Let children know energy is a natural response and provide them with good ways to focus their energy.
4. Plan – Prepare for downtime before breaks. Although new concepts and skills often are not introduced before breaks, continuing instruction is critical. Schools frequently have assemblies and other activities planned that are fun, but involve short downtimes and breaks in the school schedule. Have a number of literacy activities, art lessons, and games with academic concepts accessible for unexpected downtimes.
5. Use Visuals as Reminders – Use visual reminders such as pictures or words to reinforce school and classroom rules. Reviewing the rules reminds children the rules are in place for the duration of the year. If the daily schedule changes, highlight events such as a big test, therapy schedule changes, or art, music, or physical education class ending. For classrooms that discuss the calendar and daily schedule in the morning, be sure to discuss changes and expectations for schedule changes at this time, then remind children as the schedule change approaches.
From School Rules
6. Keep the Physical Environment as Consistent as Possible – Professionals often move materials and furniture before breaks. Although this is efficient for school staff, changes to the environment may indicate to children that learning time is over. Be sure to minimize changes especially when rules and instructional concepts are posted or when the physical environment is something children depend on for knowing where to be during certain activities.
Teaching Children Manners
Manners encompass appropriate words and behaviors for treating other people with respect. They can be demonstrated in virtually any setting and should be used with everyone. Basic manners can be taught at a very young age and expanded upon as children mature. This article includes a variety of ideas for teaching manners. These ideas can be adapted to fit a child’s age and ability levels and can be used at home, school, or in the community.
1. Be a Role Model – Children model adult behavior. Use please, thank you, and excuse me when speaking with children and adults. Model manners by offering to help other people, holding the door, and picking up dropped items. Teach children to respect all people by treating everyone including neighbors, waitresses, and co-workers with respect. Explain your actions so children learn from you. For example, let children know it is polite to give your seat to an elderly person or someone who needs additional assistance on a crowded bus.
2. Set Expectations – When children are prepared for events they are more likely to respond appropriately. Discuss manners before situations arise. For example, before a birthday party tell the child to thank the host. For unexpected situations teach children appropriate behavior during the event. For example, when a child sneezes, remind them to cover their mouth to prevent germs from spreading. When children forget their manners, politely remind them. It is important to do this in a respectful way that does not embarrass them.
From the story, Sharing
3. Role Play – Role play new situations or recent experiences to set expectations or review behavior. Role play is a fun way to prepare children for a variety of situations and settings. Include different opportunities for using manners such as a peer or adult falling down, dropping an item, having their hands full, or needing assistance with the door. If a child forgets to use their manners in a specific situation, reenact the scene. Discuss how people feel when situations are handled with and without manners.
4. Be Consistent – Mixed messages about settings and people can be confusing. Remind children to use polite words consistently and to treat all people with respect. Children are less likely to forget to be polite if their manners are repeatedly and consistently practiced.
5. Use Visuals – Have posters showing sharing, turn taking, or holding doors for other people in the classroom and throughout the school. Discuss the posters and use them as reminders for treating other people with respect. Children can create posters as an art activity. They can draw scenes depicting manners or create collages of photographs with people sharing and helping each other as a fun art activity and visual reminder.
6. Praise Children - When children use manners be sure to praise them. Be clear about what they did and why it was good. For example, “Sean, I like how you held the door for Mr. James. His hands were full and you made it much easier for him to enter the classroom.”
From pictures reminding children to wash their hands to day planners listing meetings for adults, people of all ages befit from visual reminders. Often simple illustrations or words hung in critical areas can reduce the need to remind children to wash their hands, put away their coat, or finish their work. Below are six steps for helping kids become more organized and independent through visuals.
1. Select a level: Objects, photographs, colored drawings, line drawings, or words are different ways to present information visually. The more concrete the visual (a photo or an object), the more likely younger and delayed children are to understand the meaning. If you are working with children of varying ability levels, pair visuals so all children can understand the directions.
Examples of visuals:
Drawing and Writing
Take shoes off
From: Using the Bathroom
2. Select one image or a sequence: Sometimes one image is all a child needs for a reminder. Other times, a sequence of visuals is helpful for remembering all of the steps in a task. A sequence of visuals also can be used as a schedule to help children transition from one activity to the next through out the day.
Putting dishes in the dishwasher activity sequence:
3. Place visuals appropriately and teach children where to find them: Place visuals at the child’s level and close to the area where they will be used. If children have a schedule with multiple activities on it, put the schedule in an easy to access area. To use the visuals effectively, point out their presence. Show the child the picture of washing their hands or putting away the dishes. Explain that the visual is a reminder of what to do in the area or during the day.
4. Reinforce using the visuals: When children remember to use the visuals, reinforce their behavior. Let the child know, “I like how you looked at your homework list and did all of your work. You can play outside.” Be clear about what you liked and the consequence for completing the task.
5. Involve the child: If possible, have the child write his/her homework list, select images to represent chores, or help create pictures for the visuals. If children are involved, they feel more ownership in the activities. This also helps children learn organizational strategies they can use later in life.
6. Modify the visuals: Examine the visuals on a regular basis to determine if they are appropriate for the child’s level. If a child once needed a picture of washing hands but has learned to read be sure to support reading by using a visual with only words (i.e. “Wash hands”).
Teaching Children Greetings and Good-byes
Conversational skills are the foundation for making friends and interacting with adults. Greetings and good-byes are very important aspects of a conversation since greetings set the tone for the conversation and good-byes leave a final impression. This article focuses on the critical components of greetings and good-byes and provides ways to practice these skills.
Tricky Components of Greetings and Good-byes
1. Wording – Many different words and phrases are used in introductions and greetings. The variations can be confusing for children who have a hard time generalizing skills. For example, “Hello” and “How are you?” for greetings or “Good-bye” and “Bye” for endings. Additionally, less common phrases or more subtle cues can be very difficult to recognize. For example, “I heard the bell,” or “It is getting late.”
2. Context – Children need to understand greetings and good-byes with regards to context. Two main determinates of context are the person being addressed and the setting of the encounter. For example, “Good morning.” and “Hey there!” are both greetings, but they are appropriate for different people. The same can be said for “Have a nice day.” and “See you later!” In addition to judging context with regards to the individual, children must also understand context with regards to settings. For example, a soccer coach may be greeted in a less formal manner than a teacher or an older person in the community.
3. Body Language – A glance from a familiar person, an outstretched hand to shake, and an approaching person are ways people engage conversations. These ‘pre-greeting’ behaviors may be understood naturally by some children but other children may need direct instruction in this area.
Strategies for Teaching Components of Greetings and Good-byes
Include variety- Activities addressing greetings and good-byes should include a variety of wording as well as people and situations. Variety helps children generalize the skills to new settings and people.
Discussions – Prepare children for an upcoming greeting by letting them know what will occur and reminding them how to respond. For example, “I am going to introduce you to our new neighbor. Please remember to say, ‘Hello, nice to meet you.” If a conversation has occurred that a child had difficulty with, review the situation. For example, “Bobby, I think when Todd picked up his bag he was starting to end the conversation. Next time, ask him if he has to leave.” Additionally, praise children to encourage correct behavior and be sure to say what they did correctly. For example, “Jane, you did a nice job of saying ‘Good morning’ to Mr. Allen.”
Role plays – Have children role play situations with a variety of wording and body language. Be sure to role play with peers and adults and use different words and settings for the role play. Role play is a fun way to teach new phrases, body language cues, and appropriate responses in a comfortable environment.
Games – Use photographs or drawings of people talking to promote group discussions about introductions, body language, appropriate phrases for the person’s age and role, and conversation endings. Take before and after shots or correct and incorrect shots of starting and ending conversations to create a matching game.
Literacy activities – Use drawings of people talking to each other with speech bubbles. Include one person’s greeting or good-bye and have the child complete the other person’s response. Have children write a short story about people meeting for the first time, seeing someone familiar at a store, or leaving for a trip.
Making the Most of Technology
Technology is constantly around us in smart phones, tablets, gaming devices, and computers. Children are given more information and in a variety of ways, but how can you make the most of technology?
1. Choose the Right Mode – Children often are very motivated by the sights and sounds of technology devices. There is an abundance of technology and something for every age and ability. Some children have the motor skills and attention to find and click icons on smartphones while other children need larger interfaces. Some children will instantly catch on to be the most complex form of technology while other children need additional tools and instruction. If you aren’t sure if a child has experience with a technology, ‘Ask then try’. First, ask their parents, teacher or therapists if they have tried or if they are using any technology independently. Some schools have iPads and use them on a regular basis. Some classrooms have adaptive computer equipment such as a screen overlay (e.g. TouchWindow), a switch, or a modified mouse (e.g. single button or large rollerballs). If these aren’t available or haven’t been tried, some area organizations lend equipment. Ask teachers, therapists, or members of local organizations if there are resource or lending libraries in your community. This is a way to try technology and make sure it is a fit before purchasing it. Some children will need instruction and practice with new equipment so be sure to give them time before excluding an item.
2. Find Learning Opportunities – Handing a child an iPhone or letting them play on the computer will entertain them, but working with them is an opportunity for learning. Technology frequently is used purely for entertainment when it actually holds many possibilities for learning. Language, social, and academic skills all can be taught through fun videos or games. Children can have fun while working on a variety of skills.
When watching videos or playing games, ask children questions about what they see or hear or what happened first, second, third. Use this as an opportunity to work on answering questions or to expand sentence length.
Discuss colors, numbers, and prepositions. Choose videos or games that incorporate new concepts. Science, geography, history, and the arts are just a few examples of the many topics that can be found in videos and games. Expose children to new topics through technology to engage and motivate them.
When playing games, interact with children. Take turns and talk about what is happening in the game. This is a great opportunity for interacting, not just entertaining.
3. Combine with Real World Experiences – Modern video and graphics are increasingly life like but should not replace real world experiences. Learn about science, art or history through video games and videos but bring materials into the classroom or go to exhibits to get a comprehensive view of the subjects. Teach daily living skills through technology but provide materials for real world practice. Learn about social interactions from video models but then practice these skills with peers and adults. Use technology to enhance education but not replacement hands on learning.