Learning from home can be challenging alone, without the curveballs that might creep in for families with children that are differently abled. When children have special needs or challenges; it can be very frustrating and present an entirely new and unique journey that tests our family, routines and supports. Sometimes we might need a little bit more than the basic tips. Parents, you are not alone, you’ve got this! If your toolbox of tips and tricks are running low, we’ve gathered a few tips from parents and teachers to help.
Do you feel like you’re on an amusement park ride and can’t get off? You aren’t alone. Be open to trying new things and techniques, even if they feel unusual or uncomfortable. Sometimes we need to fill our toolbox up to the top, even when we might think, “my child would never try”, “they would react this way”. Challenge yourself to try new things and reuse and recycle old ideas. Sometimes something that works one day successfully may not work the next and vice versa. Take a breath and move on and try something else. Reach out to other parents or special needs groups on social media, ask teachers, therapists and professionals for ideas.
Routines or schedules help a child build healthy habits, manage stress levels, encourage good mental health, healthy sleep patterns and add a level of consistency and security, which help kids feel ready to learn. Have a daily/weekly schedule, but remember to also be flexible if other things come up. Schedules allow your children to know what to expect. Sometimes just knowing helps curb meltdowns, even when it may not be a preferred subject. Work with your kids to generate some goals and set expectations. Visual schedules may be helpful as well. Take pictures with your camera or phone of brushing teeth, photos that might represent a certain subject and photos of preferred items for breaks. You can laminate, or pin them on a cork board for the day for your child. Have your child build their daily schedule with you, empowering them to make choices about their day and learning.
We are living in an amazing time with so many sensory products available. And let’s face it, fidgets are just good for all kids (and adults). Have a basket of fidgets nearby your child's learning space to help keep focused on learning. Some of our favorite fidgets are:Globby, Thinking Putty, Magnetic Finger Fidgets, Specks and so many more. Tie an exercise band between the two legs of a chair for fidgeting feet, or use an exercise ball instead of a chair. A weighted blanket orstuffed animalon a child’s lap can help keep them regulated as well. Try putting a sensory mat in their learning space like these Liquid Floor Tiles. Have gum or small pieces of chewy candy available to children with tendencies to chew on objects like paper or pencils.
Setting a timer can help curb resistance to both starting or stopping preferred and non-preferred activities. Let’s do math for 10 minutes, set timer, then you get a 2 minute break, set timer again. Parse out the time that works best for the child’s tolerance level. Visual Timers are great as they give children who may have issues understanding the length of time a visual guide.
Would you like to do math or science first? Choices offer children a small amount of control about what they are doing and surroundings. Shower in the morning or at night? Peanut butter and jelly or salad for lunch? I’m sure you will get a “neither” answer too, and maybe often, ask them what their suggestion is and see if you can find a compromise.
Get creative with learning aides. Some children can be overwhelmed just by looking at a page of writing, or hearing read 1-5 pages; let’s break it down to make it seem manageable. If they are finding content answers in a reading assignment, print it out if it’s on the computer to make reading easier. Read a question first and then start at the beginning of the text and have them highlight the possible answer. For math, use a laminated piece of printer paper and a dry erase marker instead of scratch paper or use a Boogie Boardfor a clean slate each time.
Playing games can be an amazing way to teach and use critical thinking skills, memory, pretend play and academic concepts. Often, some children with special needs struggle with turn taking, or winning and losing. How about trying a cooperative game? Cooperative Board Games allow everyone to work as a team towards one or more goals, while still offering independent problem-solving. Cooperative games can be found for all age ranges and abilities.
Take movement breaks! Incorporate a few movement breaks into your learning routine. Movement breaks help break up the day, refresh and re-energize tired brains and bodies. Set an alarm for movement breaks, have your child choose a song and jam to the song until the end, parents make sure you are jamming too. Incorporate themes, like: silly dance, dance like an animal, jump to the song, dance with a partner, etc. Movement builds neuro-pathways and interrupts negative patterns. Have them hop on a Spooner Boardwhen they are reading a book, or a Teeter Popper or Pogo Board or sensory input. When things seem to be taking a turn, it’s okay to take a break.
Of course these are only a few tips of many. We will always be adding more content to our blog, so stay tuned. What are your favorite tips that you would like to share that have worked for your kids?