The COVID-19 crisis has resulted in over two million Ontario students being in self isolation at home. Students have lost the daily routine of going to school, seeing their friends and learning in the classroom. In response to the situation, the Ministry of Education and school boards are developing plans to support learning at home. Learning at home can include important academic skills such as reading, writing and math, and is also an opportunity to work on communication skills, independence, responsibility and self advocacy. In this article, there are a number of ideas and resources for parents to help students adapt to and make the most of learning at home.
Reading and Writing
Many children and youth will spend lots of times reading at home, old favourites from their own bookshelves or more likely books available on line through the local library and websites. However, other children, especially those that struggle with reading want to avoid reading and have no interest in books. Parents may have to “sneak” reading activities into the daily activities: Here are some ideas for how parents can help students work on their reading and writing while skills at home.
Help Choose Appropriate and Appealing Reading Material
You can support your child by helping them to find reading materials that are at their reading level and that reflect their interests. Graphic novels and magazines, for example, can be more appealing to some children as there is less reading required and the topic may be of greater interest to them. Research in promotion of boys’ literacy has found that boys may be more willing to read instruction manuals, sports stories, non-fiction, joke books or research on the internet. Whether it is books, comics or short articles, successful reading programs need the active participation of adults.
Monitor Reading Comprehension
In addition to helping the child select the reading material, you can help your child boost their literacy skills by monitoring their comprehension. Ask questions and have your child describe what they are reading in their own words. If you are reading a book together, stop and ask your child to predict what will happen next, or how the character might be feeling. If there are new words or topic specific vocabulary talk about the meaning of the words, or look them up in the dictionary. Making sure your child understands what they are reading will boost their literacy skills.
Incorporate Reading into Daily Activities
Cooking is a great activity to work on literacy, math and teamwork skills. Reading a recipe, finding and measuring the ingredients and following the cooking directions will all help to boost literacy skills. Word games, such as I-Spy, rhyming games, songs with repetitive refrains, or spelling contests can help to build oral language skills that support literacy as well.
The computer can also be a good source of games that promote language skills, and there are many downloadable APPs and games that will help your child maintain and boost reading skills.
Suggest Creative Writing Activities
At home there may be fewer opportunities for children to practice writing or develop their creative writing skills. Encourage your child to write a story or make a book. Suggest they keep a journal, or write a blog, describing life at home or their special interest. Creating a scrapbook or a family newsletter will encourage their creativity and promote writing skills.
Incorporate Writing into Daily Activities
There are lots of everyday activities to write words and practice spelling, including making shopping lists, copying recipes to share, taking a phone message, or using a calendar to record appointments or special outings. A computer or a cell phone can also be used for many of these activities.
Test score results for students in Ontario have shown that many children are struggling in math. Math scores from the Education Quality and Accountability Office testing of students in Grade 3, 6 and 9 are not improving and there is serious concern about the math skills of children and youth. Here are some ideas for helping students improve their math skills while at home.
Play Games that Include Math
For students with special needs it is important that there are lots of opportunities to practice and use their math skills. One of the easiest and fun ways to include math at home is by playing games. Many board games require counting skills, matching skills or simple calculations. Popular games include Snakes and Ladders, Bingo, Connect Four and Monopoly. For students with fine motor skill challenges, the games can provide an opportunity to build their skills, or many games come in different formats. For example, Snakes and Ladders can be played on large floor mats, with a three dimensional board or on the computer.
Cook or Bake Together
Cooking together to make supper or baking a special treat requires math skills including measuring, counting, timing and calculations for doubling or halving recipes.
Calculate and Compare Sports Statistics
For the sports fan, statistics are an important part of the game. In the absence of professional sports children can do research on a favourite player or team and calculate the chances they would have of winning trophies this season, or compare this season’s statistics with last year.
Count Coins and Calculate Values
Money skills are an important for children to learn. Depending on the age of the child, you can work on:
- Identifying coins and their value
- Pretend shopping and paying with cash
- Counting coins and working out the value of coins in your purse
Remember to wash all coins and disinfect paper money before letting your child touch them.
You could also make a shopping list and have your child search the weekly flyers (paper or on-line) to calculate what the groceries would cost. For older children following the stock market and calculating the increase or decrease in the value of 100 shares requires a number of skills.
Some children with special needs have difficulty with communication. They may have difficulty projecting their voice, or take a long time to complete their words and sentences. A few may require Augmentative or Alternative Communication (AAC) devices. Many AAC users are reluctant to use their devices in public and rely on family members or other people to speak for them. The extra time at home can provide many opportunities to practice communication skills or to try communicating in new situations.
Change the Dynamic
To help your child become more independent in their communication you may need to change the dynamic. . This means giving the child much longer to speak or communicate before providing help. If you become impatient, and start filling in the words or speaking on their behalf, the child may give up. In order to successfully change the dynamic you need to slow down and stop, or delay your response. Ask friends and family to change their responses as well.
Communicate with New Methods and People
The child also needs opportunities to practice communicating with other people. Communication with family and friends is crucial for everyone stuck at home and using the phone, Facetime or Skype provides a safe opportunity for a child with speech challenges to practice their communication skills. Providing the opportunities, and encouraging communication, will lead to improvements and increased self confidence.
Independence and Responsibility
One of the primary goals of parents is to raise children to be independent adults. For children with special needs there may be additional challenges or limitations on independence, but each person needs to be as independent as possible. The process of developing independence takes many years and starts with small steps.
Focus on Specific Areas or Skills
While at home consider one or two areas where your child can become more independent. It could be a simple task related to dressing or self care, or a bigger challenge like helping in the kitchen. Start by thinking about the things you do for your child and consider whether it is something they could do for themselves.
Depending on the child, they could prepare their own breakfast, or clear the table. Teens and young adults could work on activities that prepare them for the future like using a washing machine, or directing their own care.
Practice Personal Safety
Personal safety and safety in the home are important skills to develop. Develop a plan of what the child will do in different situations and then provide the opportunity to practice. Maybe it is learning their address or phone number, or using a cell phone to call home. If you have teen who will be home alone, practice what to do if there is a knock at the door, an alarm goes off or if the power goes out.
As the parent of a child with special needs we begin advocating for their needs soon after they are born or diagnosed. Over the years we become very knowledgeable about our child and what they need to be successful. We also learn about the health care and education system and about our rights in advocating for accessibility, equipment and support services.
Many of our children will need these same skills as adults. One of our jobs is to teach them how to advocate for themselves and allow them lots of opportunities to practice their skills. The young adult needs to know about their own disability and their needs. Talk to your child about their disability and accessibility needs and help them practice sharing information about themselves. The more times they share information about themselves the more comfortable they will become at sharing the information.
ConnectABILITY a website with resources for individuals with developmental disabilities, and other special needs, that includes:
- Visual Engine, for using pictures to create visual schedules or stories
- Workshops on Math, Money and customer Service Skills
- Communicating for Fun Calendars, Parent and Child Activity Calendars
- Everyday Opportunities to Develop Communication Skills
- Supporting Children in their Steps to Independence
- APPS for people with special needs
Learn at Home – a Ministry of Education website with activities that are curriculum linked to do at home.
List of websites that have made their resources available during the current Covid 19 crisis