Zvezdelina Atanasova – speech therapist and special teacher, director of Karin Dom Center for Vocational Training
Andreas Andreou – physical therapist at Karin Dom
We are in a new, emergency situation, the routines of children have been broken and new routines are being built, with new challenges in front of us. We hope that with the suggestions we share, we will give ideas to parents for restructuring the home environment so that it can support, protect and develop the potential of their children. Home-based activities can be fun, playful, informative and child-friendly. The safety of the environment is extremely important for children to enjoy their play and for adults not to worry about accidents. Usually parents take measures to secure the edges, contacts, doors. It is important to secure any sharp objects within child’s reach, as well as small pieces of toys that the child may swallow or inhale.
Separate areas for different daily routines such as sleeping, eating, playing, allow the children to distinguish the main points of the daily routine. In order to be able to concentrate better when they are assigned some educational tasks, they need to have a workplace. In the workplace at home, children should feel safe and secure. Provide them with everything they need to work on tasks and avoid unnecessary, distracting items. In order to use the natural light, it is appropriate to arrange the workplace near the window. Depending on whether the child is distracted by the outside view, the workplace may be wall oriented or a visual barrier may be placed. As a preventative measure to avoid spinal deformities, child’s table and chair need to be adjusted to his or her age and height so that the child steps firmly on the ground while sitting. If necessary, books, boxes can be placed under the child’s feet so that there is a support. Good positioning also implies better concentration.
Here is the place to hang a visual timetable for upcoming activities. If your child is accustomed to working with a visual timetable, this will help a lot, it will be clear what is ahead. What are the visual timetables or programs? In short, these are usually a series of symbolic pictures, photos, pictograms that are arranged on a cardboard or sheet in the sequence of upcoming activities. Visual timetables can be for a separate activity, game, or part of a daily routine. Together with the child, we go through all the pictures and activities in a certain order. When the child has completed an activity, help him / her to remove the corresponding picture from the visual timetable and put it in the “end” box, indicate and name as far as possible which is the next picture and an upcoming activity. If you do not have symbolic pictures for a visual timetable at home but still want to try, you can do so by arranging the sketched pictures. Visual timetables or programs provide structure, frameworks, determine the beginning and end of activities, they show what will happen, facilitate changes in the schedule, make the passage of time understandable for the child. Using them increases security, reduces anxiety, improves child’s motivation to work and communicate. Visual timetables are extremely useful for children from the autistic spectrum, as they think mostly in pictures, not words. But in general, visual timetables are appropriate for all children and all ages. If for younger ones we arrange a sequence of symbolic pictures or photos, for older ones this can be done with numbered task sheets, the first letters of the alphabet or words. Whenever possible, arrange the visual timetable with the child, give him or her a choice when arranging the sequence or choosing some of the activities themselves. Communicating with the child at this point reinforces mutual trust, so it is important that you also adhere to the same “agreed upon” program. The support you provide while using the visual program opens up new opportunities for interaction and communication between both of you. Even if the child has a good understanding and communicates freely verbally, the visual timetable gives him/her a more complete picture and peace of mind for the upcoming activities and activities. This will gradually lead to greater self-confidence in the child, greater independence and autonomy, and initiation of communication on his or her behalf.
Toys and materials used by children need to be sorted by type, arranged in boxes, containers, whatever you have at home, and then arranged on a shelf or on top of each other in a suitable area at home. It is important that toys are not put away remixed as this would complicate the orientation and choice of the child. If you have a certain number of boxes and you do not have enough for all the toys, you can change the contents of the boxes periodically. This will create diversity and provoke the interest of your child. For fitting, you can use empty metal coffee boxes by cutting different openings according to the shape and size of the fitting objects. These can be balls, cubes, big buttons and more. Playing with them develops fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination. Playing cards or pictures whose packaging is torn, as often happens, can be sorted into smaller boxes or sachets. In this way, children will be able to easily and conveniently put them away after they finish their activities. Great fun for kids are the treasure hunt games. These are the so-called “touch” boxes, trays, or cups of different contents that you have in your household. For example: raw lentils, beans, chickpeas, macaroni, couscous, cornflour or semolina, coffee beans, jelly liquids – for example, juice from compote or colored with harmless water paint, in which small toys or objects of interest to the child are hidden. As he searches for them, digging his hands into the “treasures”, the child receives the tactile stimuli he needs to become aware of his various sensations of touch. This type of activity enhances concentration and attention. For safety, always offer these activities under adult supervision. Through games and toys, we can teach children many cognitive skills, such as matching objects, determining sizes, shapes, colors, letters, numbers, and more. An important part of the lesson material are books – from single object pictures to those with scientific information for kids- pay special attention to them and have them in your home. They are a valuable source of knowledge for children of any age. If older children can find the book they need on their own in the library, then for the younger ones it is necessary that the books suitable for the child’s age are accessible, arranged on a shelf, in a box or container, so that the child can easily see the cover and make a choice. It is appropriate to place the bookcase near a quiet seating area. This will create a quiet place for books and reading, i.e. examining where the child will be able to concentrate on this activity alone or with the parent.
Play stimulates communication. During play, children spontaneously initiate communication and it is important that we always respond to it and reinforce it. When they are very motivated to play with a particular toy and have difficulty reaching the toy, children often give up because they do not know how to ask for help. It is important to support them at such times. You can even provoke such situations several times a day, creating some small challenges – putting favorite object out of the reach of the child so that he or she can see it but cannot reach it. By teaching the child to ask for help, they will become more and more confident in their own abilities.
Encourage verbal and non-verbal communication by using gestures or symbolic pictures. If your child uses PECS communication dictionary, follow the instructions given by the therapists and consult them if necessary. It is important that this method of communication is properly applied at home in order to have sustainable success. Remember to designate an accessible area in the room where your child will find his or her dictionary to use as needed. It is important that children are understood. This will reduce their anxiety and challenging behaviors. And more importantly, there will be more children’s smiles!
Take the time to organize your home environment so that it is as supportive as possible for your children. Remember that each child needs time and space. A well-structured environment will teach children tidiness, reduce the scattering of toys, books, materials. When you introduce new rules and get the whole family involved, you will be guaranteed success. Try it!
More ideas for organizing the environment, materials and toys can be borrowed from the book “Organizing and enriching the supportive environment in kindergarten. Appendix to a Kindergarten Teacher’s Guide”, which can be found at https://karindom.org/priobshtavashto-obrazovanie/.
Physical activity at home
Through physical activity we learn about our own movements and our interaction with the environment, adapt better and faster to new environments and situations. Proper physical activity makes us more confident, calm and quicker to respond to various situations, including those that are extreme and dangerous to our health. Those who actively practice sports have a better concentration and make a faster connection between different activities, achieve good health and psycho-physiological balance.
All this applies to our children as well. Younger children, up to the age of 5-6, develop their basic motor skills that they will need for life. They then refine these basic motor skills, some become athletes, and some of them even become professional athletes pursuing high athletic achievement. It is important that all children are educated to love sports and physical activity throughout their lives.
Turning children’s activity into purposeful and dosed exercises
In the absence of enough movement, walking and playing outside, children become restless and agitated. When they are locked up for long periods at home, they start jumping on beds, climbing furniture, etc. You should not stop these movements, but you must redirect their energy to activities that are dosed with meaning, with a clear start and end, to set limits on what is allowed and what is not, to be done at the right time and in the right place at home. Or, to put it another way, to turn their inevitable activity and movements into exercises, to make them dosed, to be allowed and given on time. In this way children will move and have fun with you. In cooperative games, you will build a strong bond and spend fun and rewarding time at home. In addition to exercise, it is advisable to involve children in some of the chores: cooking, laundry collecting, cleaning, tidying up, fixing something, etc.
However, with physical activity, “The more, the better” rule does not apply. Often this scheme has many opposite effects. Proper, dosed and timely rest is as important as the activity itself.
The environment and the room. What do we need to do to make them fit?
What can you do at home?
Daily motor routine:
Any daily activity or movement may become an exercise if:
Dosing of motor activity is as important as any other educational activity. A good dosage of motor activity will improve the child’s concentration and attention to next activities.
At home, use furniture and objects from the environment if you have balls, ropes, ladders, hoops, straps, sports equipment, if specialized equipment is available – walking path, ergometer and more.
A well-made motor program is one that is in tune with your knowledge as a parent, but also with your child’s interests, skills and desires. He needs to like, be intrigued and keep interest for a long time.`
It is a good idea for parents of children with special needs to hear from their child’s therapists who have made their programs to adapt to the home environment. Parents should try to describe their successes, concerns, and difficulties at home when implementing the program, to be responsive to its adjustments and to receive additional advice on specific situations. Follow the instructions of the therapists you work with. Don’t worry about giving feedback.
For older children, you can contact your physical education and sports teachers. They have good ideas for mobile games and know the motor development of your children. It is important that they help you set up a daily home-based or outdoor exercise program, if possible with you.
Despite the complex emergency situation, it is important to keep our children
Let’s do it together!
You can watch the video from this lecture HERE