Recently,  I wrote an article for a website about preparing young children with special needs for mainstream kindergarten.  Needless to say, this had me thinking about the skills I would hope all children entering kindergarten would have.  Before entering kindergarten, most 4-5 year olds should have the ability to speak in sentences, understand the sequence of story, process a story told by another person, and the ability to relate a familiar story to someone else.

The activity below can be done with children younger than 4 as well.  Toddlers love having photographs to remind them of the important people in their lives and the activities they’ve done.  2s and 3s can answer specific questions about events, people and materials.  Many 3 year olds love telling stories and seeing their words written on paper.  Though most can not tell a story in a linear (events in the right order) fashion.  This is also a terrific activity for children with special needs.  Caregivers and therapists can concentrate on eye contact, answering and asking questions about specific events, and picking up on visual cues in photographs.  Give it a try!

What You’ll Need:

-Camera

-paper and a pen

-crayons

-tape or glue

The Plan:

In the morning, make a plan for the day.  Take pictures at each of the activities.  The next day, print the pictures and make a book.  Your child should tell the story while you write it.  Have them try to do this without looking at the photos.  If they are having difficulty, let them look at the photographs you’ve take.  For children who still find this challenging, try making the book at the end of the same day you’ve done the activities.  If they are able, have your child help write some of the words.  Children who like drawing can make pictures to go along with the story.  Let your child “read” the story to others.  Try it again on another day.

 

For most children, farm animals are a standard toy chest item.  Two of my favorites are Soft Touch Baby Farm Animals and Aurora My Barnyard Friends Carrier with Sounds.  For a barn and animal set, the Fisher Price Little People Animal Sounds Farm is a favorite!  The problem is, one can only play with animals on the farm for so long.  Today’s “Plan to Play,” shakes up the routine.  As children are learning animals and animal sounds and expanding their dramatic play skills, why not give the animals a ride on a bus or in a car.  This is a great game for children with special needs who play repetitively with the same materials in the same way.

What You’ll Need:

-Farm animals

-Car, bus, or other vehicle with room for the animals

The Plan:

Children who have not yet played with animals on the farm should be supported as they explore that scenario first.  Those who are familiar with the animals that live on the farm can begin this “plan to play” by investigating the animals.  Remember that children should be encouraged to lead the play whenever possible, but modeling new ways to play with familiar materials expands your children’s creativity and skills.  You might start by saying to your child “I wonder what would happen if the animals left the farm.  Do you think they could go for a ride on the bus/in the car/on the train?”  Many children will take the lead at this point and respond both verbally and by manipulating the animals to reflect your suggestions.  For children who don’t, you could follow up with “My horse is going to have a turn riding the bus.”  To the tune of “The Wheels on the Bus” try singing:  The horse on the bus says neigh, neigh, neigh.  Neigh, neigh, neigh.  Neigh, neigh, neigh.  The horse on the bus says neigh, neigh, neigh.  Al through the town.  Continue this with the other animals and see what your child does.  Math and problem solving skills can be incorporated by asking your child how many animals he or she thinks might fit in the vehicle.  Have fun with it!  Let other figurines take their turns as well.  Young children will understand and enjoy the humor in animals going for rides in vehicles meant for people. 

(Note: You can extend this play with children 3 and older by asking where the animals might be going and what they are going to do there.)

 

As far as I am concerned, all young children (yes, even boys) should have a baby doll.  Feeding a baby doll is a great way to introduce young children to pretend play.

What You’ll Need:

-Baby Doll

-Real or pretend spoon, bowl, saucepan, bottle, napkin, and any other items you might use to prepare a meal

-Pretend food or real, empty containers (baby food, cereal box, etc)

The Plan:

While sitting on the floor with your child, you might pretend to make the baby cry.  You can say, “Wahh, wahh.  The baby is crying.  I think she is hungry.”  For a two or three year old you might ask “What can we do?”  For a younger child, model what to do.  “Let’s make the baby some breakfast.”  Ask your child to pour or place something in the bowl or saucepan and “stir it up!”  If you have a pretend stove, you can encourage your child to heat up the food on the stove.  Add other ingredients and stir it up again.  You can ask “what are you making?”  Encourage your child to give it a taste.  Is it hot?  She can blow on it!  Is it ready?  Pour some in to the bowl for the baby.  Ask your child, “Can the baby feed herself or does she need your help?”  Encourage your child to feed the baby doll with the spoon.   Ask, “Does the baby like the food you made for her?”  Uh oh, the baby is getting dirty, maybe your child needs to wipe her face with the napkin.  Is she thirsty?  Perhaps she wants a drink from her bottle.  What’s in the bottle?  Juice?  Milk?  You can ask older children what you should do.

For younger children, when you first start this “plan to play,” you might need to model how to feed the baby.  But be sure you also give your child room to lead the play.  Even children as young as 18 months (some even younger) can have their own plan for feeding or caring for the baby doll.  You can prompt children to take the lead by saying “now what?”  Have fun with it!  The more you “pretend,” the more your child will.  Watch and listen to your child.  Notice which parts of the play seem to get them excited and talking.  Use those parts to expand the play.  Remember that some young children, and those who have not engaged in this type of play before, will start slowly.  Playing for just a few minutes is a great start.  Over time the play will expand and you’ll have engaged in a quality experience that is both fun and supports your child’s development.

Dana’s Kids

empowered parents, happy families.

After sitting down with another parent who felt self-conscious and unsure of how to play with her child, I had a thought:  Playing doesn’t come naturally to every grown up and that’s okay.  Why not use the Dana’s Kids blog to give parents a “Plan to Play?”  I want to be clear that feeling “unable” to play is a concern I hear from both parents with typically-developing children and parents of children with special needs.  Everyone can benefit from a “plan to play!”

The “Plan to Play” series of posts will give you play scenarios, storylines, and ideas, to use with your child.  You’ll read about materials and modifications for different age groups, and ways to help your child take his or her play to the next level.  These ideas can be shared with family members and caregivers, as well.  Imaginative play supports all areas of a child’s development.  Dramatic play will enhance your child’s vocabulary and language skills, enrich gross and fine motor development, expand their understanding of cognitive, math, and science concepts,  and improve their social skills and emotional awareness.  I hope you’ll find the information in these posts empowering and that you’ll “plan to play” with your child!

Dana’s Kids

empowered parents, happy families.