Monday, September 7, 2009

Leisure Skills

Michie commented and asked if I would explain more about what I mean by teaching leisure skills to my students. There are lots of schools of thought on that. Do we focus on "age appropriate" or "developmentally appropriate" ? How much time should we spend? Active or passive? Group or individual? I think these are decisions teachers have to make based on the individual needs of their students and their families.

For my families, having their kids develop a variety of interests is important. So is being able to engage in leisure activities independently (in other words, being able to play without adult involvement for short periods of time so mom or dad can fix dinner, take a shower, or just get a short sit-down break). I have kids who come to me with very few, if any, obvious interests; kids who are stuck in interests way below their chronological age (Bareny is for 3 year olds not 13 year olds); or who constantly demand attention and cannot spend even a second "alone." We spend a lot of time introducing our students to new experiences, developing more age typical interests, and encouraging independent play. Some activities are active (games; cause effect activities on the computer; using an adapted remote control, or in our case a voice output device since we can't find a remote to work with our TV, to change TV channels; using an adapted CD player on the computer; interacting with sensory devices and toys) and some are more passive (watching a DVD; listening to music or an audio book with an mp3 player). It is all dependent upon the needs and interests of the student.

We are fortunate to have a large library of audio books on mp3 that are written for a mid to late elementary level all the way to adult. Sometimes students listen to them independently and sometimes we put them on the surround sound system and listen as a whole class. Our mp3 players are probably the most popular piece of technology in classroom.

We are "aging up" some of our students' interests. I still have SpongeBob lovers but have learned that a number of middle schoolers are still avid fans of the show. We also expose the kids to the plethora of preteen and teen oriented shows (Wizards of Waverly Place seems to be a current favorite) as well as game shows, the History Channel, science shows, etc. Now, don't let that lead you to believe that we watch TV all the time, because we don't. It is just one of the options available to the students in between other activities. When it comes to choosing "age appropriate" or "age typical" activities, I usually bow to my peer experts. If they say it's OK, then it is. And you'd be amazed what the average 7th grader gets a kick out of!

Sensory toys and devices are another favorite activity. My 16 year old has an extensive "sensory diet" and requires frequent access to a variety of sensory activities in order to regulate his system. He is now fairly independent in choosing how to meet his own needs and moves between our swing, watching blinking lights, "squishing" in a bean bag chair, listening to music, and "sensory deprivation" in our bathroom with the lights off and a flashlight on (I know, I know, but it's his choice and he makes it VERY clear that's what he needs--he has even problem solved to drag his bean bag chair in there, around equipment, people, etc., and has to come to us to request his flashlight be turned on; we're mean and put dying batteries in it to increase interactions). I have other kids who use a Powerlink and a switch to interact with various light toys. And we use Active Learning with a lot of the kids which gives them choices of toys, positions, and equipment (we have a resonance board, a positioning bench, an ESSEFF board, and a HOPSA dress along with a huge inventory of sensory toys). I credit Active Learning with fostering independent play skills in several of my students who didn't have them before using these techniques.

For group leisure skills we play a lot of games. Uno is a top favorite as it is easily adaptable to the needs of each child and lets us apply our number, color, and matching skills. We also like the Scene It series of games, Sorry, Yahtzee, card games (Texas Hold 'Em is great!), and "noisy" games like Jenga. We go out into the community to participate in bowling and every quarter we meet up with our buddies from another special needs class to do a project or have a party together.

We also do lots of art projects, although I don't think most of my students view these as "leisure" opportunities. They sound more like "work" to them. :-) I have a couple of students who have started collecting key chains. They like to play with toys that make noise and key chains meet that need in addition to being age appropriate, a conversation starter, and available everywhere. They make nice reminders of trips and special events too.

We strive to make all the leisure activities we do as active as possible. Even watching TV or a video can be made more active by programming communication devices (we often use step-by-steps) with crazy comments and questions that promote interaction. Even when staff is too busy to be "hands on" available for every student, we can respond to communication attempts. I know my kids' parents are appreciative of the fact that they can step away from their child for a few minutes or that they are no longer stuck listening to endless replays of Barney or Blues Clues. And they love that there are ways to include their children in activities such as "family game night."

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