Susin has been a Special Educator for over 20 years. She currently teaches and mentors student teachers and learning support educators.
Create More Learning Opportunities for Your Child With Special Needs
While some children pick up skills more quickly and automatically, there may be a need to purposefully plan, and create opportunities for our children with special needs to learn skills and retain them.
There is no doubt that self-care skills are essential skills that enable our children to grow up as independently as possible. In getting our children to help with routine chores, we can also teach them counting, reading, communication and even problem-solving skills, to name a few.
With intentional facilitation, our children with special needs can pick up and practise new skills alongside self-help ones.
1. Meal Preparation
Meal preparation can be learning time for your child.
Many children enjoy hands-on activities, and meal preparation is one of them. On top of sensory experiences, your child gets to enjoy what he or she has created - that is to eat! Make sure though that the food prepared is something that your child likes.
Break down the entire meal preparation task into smaller steps. It will be good to provide your child with a visual task card or check list of the steps to prepare the meal. If you child is not able to complete all the steps to prepare the intended meal, set aside some manageable tasks for your child to be involved in and assist with.
Examples of simple meals to prepare are burgers, sandwiches, salads, pancakes, just to name a few.
In this activity, your child gets to learn counting the quantity of ingredients, even measuring them. Your child also learns to identify and name the ingredients, as well as equipment needed. The visual task card prepared beforehand serves as visual cue and reference for the actual materials to gather and steps to carry out. Embed choice-making skills such as providing options for certain dressings, toppings or even substitute ingredients: "Do you want peanut butter or jam?". Teach verbs such as stir, cut, beat, mix etc.
Demonstrate each step after having referred to it on the visual task card, and get your child to follow. Refer to the visual cue on what to do if your child needs help. Repeat demonstration or follow up with prompts if needed. This helps to foster independence in your child, rather than having to rely on verbal reminders all the time, which not only can be distracting, and can be a form of annoyance as well.
2. Setting The Dining Table
Tasks that involve getting ready to eat can be motivating for your child as it leads to a pleasant natural consequence.
While setting the table for meals may seem a relatively easy and straightforward task, there are many learning opportunities involved, with intentional planning.
Counting the number of placemats needed, the number of plates, glasses, bowls spoons and forks are an important and functional skill for your child. There is learning of one-to-one correspondence, and matching of items to a set. For example: First, place the placemats. Next, set a plate or bowl onto it. And finally, placing a set of fork and spoon next to the plate or bowl.
Your child may also need to identify usual or preferred seats of family members, in this way inculcating social awareness.
You can also get your child to count the number of sets of crockery needed to match the number of diners for that particular meal hence teaching numeracy skills as well as logical reasoning.
Another skill that can be embedded is the identification of sizes of crockery, as well as the cognitive process of whether a plate is big enough to serve a particular dish for example, a roasted chicken.
3. Sorting & Keeping Cleaned Utensils and Crockery
While your child may or may not be ready to learn and help with cleaning of the dishes after meals. Keeping the utensils and crockery back to their respective places is a simple activity for more learning to take place.
Other than organizational skills, your child learns to differentiate and sort the various utensils and crockery according to sizes, shapes, uses and problem-solves if one item can fit on top of the other, or into that compartment of the cabinet.
4. Drying Washed Laundry
Another chore that you can get your child to be involved in is to help with line drying of washed laundry. You can also involve the use of hangers.
Washed laundry can be sorted into respective types and sizes to be line dried effectively. In addition, the actions of arranging and adjusting the clothing on the line; pegging; fitting the shirt onto the hanger, as well as stretching overhead to get the item hung on the line or pole are good examples of motor skills practice.
5. Folding Clean Laundry
After the laundry is washed and dried, it is time to fold, sort and keep them away into the wardrobe.
Responsibility-learning and self-organizational skills aside, your child will get to practise his or her fine motor skills. You can get your child to first sort the laundry: towels, T-shirts, pants, shorts, items to be ironed, etc.
If certain articles are deemed too difficult your child to fold, choose easier, smaller clthing items for your child to take charge. Face and bath towels, socks, shorts and even pants are relatively easy to fold and keep away. Consider alternative ways to fold an article if you find that your child has trouble following the conventional way, or the way you do it. For example, instead of folding socks in a particular way, they can be rolled into balls, and vice versa.
Get your child to practise hanging clothing onto hangers as well, and thereafter hanging them onto the wardrobe bars. This task targets the use of other muscles as well as promote coordination and cognitive skills.
6. Grocery Shopping
An activity that is likely a favourite among children, shopping time can be used as a "reward" for your child for having a task completed or having behaved well. Prepare a shopping list for your child to go shopping and get them to help locate groceries on the aisles!
If the shopping list (preferably with photos or pictures) is too long for your child to manage, prepare his or her version that she is responsible for. This is dependent on your child's level of reading and literacy, as well as cognitive ability, Other factors to consider include the structure and layout of your local shops, supermarkets or stores.
Skills such as reading, identification of items, following signs and locating sections, comparison and differentiation will be involved. Checking off items on the list when they are found and put into the shopping basket helps your child to be more organized. The task also becomes more structured to follow through much more easily.
Other skills to be worked on include problem-solving and flexibility when desired items are out of stock, not found and another replacement item has to be thought of.
An extension of the learning process would be to get your child help with checking out the items. Locating the cashier, queuing for payment, communication and etiquette, money skills, etc are all essential skills to pick up and practise.
A prelude to the actual task can be conducted. That is to plan the shopping list together. Have this done in tandem, or seamlessly with other activities. For example buying ingredients for the food preparation mentioned in point number One above. Or, shopping for items to prepare for a picnic. In this way, your child practises more cognitive processing skills and learns about logical reasoning and problem-solving.
Needless to say, this entire learning experience can be a fun bonding time for the entire family that in turn, creates a sense of accomplishment in your child!
Natural Occurring Settings for Effective Learning
The above six chores serve as natural occurring settings and situations for learning to take place for your child. When a child practises skills in a natural and meaningful learning environment, it not only translates to more authentic learning, but helps with the retention and the understanding of how certain skills are applied to achieve corresponding outcomes. This is especially important for a child with special needs.
With this, the child is more likely to transfer and maintain skills learnt into various environments for more independence.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2022 Susin Lim