It’s March 2020. As I write this, the coronavirus is affecting the entire globe. Schools in the UK are poised to close to all children, except those who are the most vulnerable, or who have parents who are key workers.
Many families are self-isolating already. Nearly every single family in the UK is facing the prospect of educating their children at home as of this week.
When I am at the school gates waiting to pick up my own children, I am hearing so much anxiety from parents and carers. Some people are already off and grappling with getting their children to do their maths work. They say that it is… a challenge.
Parents and carers of children with speech, language and communication needs may find this challenge is even greater. So here are some top tips on how to support your child’s engagement in learning activities.
Find out what motivates your child
Some children are naturally motivated by wanting to complete a learning activity, or by getting verbal praise from an adult. Some are not. This is okay.
For those children who really are not motivated by school work, find out what motivates them and use it. We wouldn’t do our jobs for free, right? Try to think of school work as a job for our children – we have to find the right way to ‘pay’ them.
To do this, collaborate with your child and agree a reward. Something small and quick is great – such as a biscuit or 10 minutes of screen time. This way you can implement quick rewards throughout the day, and then quickly get back to work.
Make sure your reward is timely. If your child is good at delayed gratification, first of all, lucky you! You can increase the length of time your child has to wait before they get the reward.
If your child struggles with delayed gratification, don’t expect them to wait until the end of the day for their reward – ‘the end of the day’ is the same as ‘never’ for some children. You could try steps towards a bigger reward, such as marbles in a jar. If this doesn’t work, keep your rewards super quick.
Which leads me on to…
Use visual support
My favourite visual support tool is a ‘working towards’ board.
A ‘working towards’ board provides much-needed structure to a learning activity. It also enables parents and carers to reduce the verbal load on children. Most children with speech, language and communication needs will process visual information more readily than verbal information, so using visual support can mean less nagging for parents. Amazing!
Other visual supports that can work really well are visual timetables or ‘now and next‘ boards. Twinkl are kindly offering free access to their materials during the coronavirus crisis. Just go to www.twinkl.co.uk/offer and enter the code UKTWINKLHELPS
Have the work that the child has to do set up on one side of their area. Have a box, file or organiser on the other side of the area. Allow the child to physically file the completed work when it is done. This is great for encouraging task satisfaction and really helps children who have difficulties with attention and listening or organisation.
I know this is easier said than done and we all experience homework-related rage! Children are often reluctant to do work when they find it hard. Encourage your child to ask questions and identify when they find things tricky. Try to work together to find your way through problems. Model positive behaviour – for example, “Hmmm, I don’t know the answer to that question. Let’s e-mail the teacher and ask for help.”
Allow movement breaks
This is true for all children, but particularly those who have difficulties with attention and listening. The more opportunities your child has to be active, the more they will be able to sit when it’s learning time.
Think about sensory supports
Does your child struggle to sit on a chair? Make sure it’s the right height and his or her feet are firmly on the ground. Do they fidget a lot? Give them a piece of blu tack to hold to give their fingers something to fiddle with
(Check that it’s not too distracting. If it is, you might need to try something else.)
Weighted blankets are great if you have any. Hot-water bottles and beanbags are worth a try – sitting on these provides children with more sensory feedback than a regular chair.
Have you minimised background noise? I have yet to figure out how I’m going to manage background noise levels while teaching a Year 2 and Year 4 child at the same time. I will keep you posted!
I hope these tips are helpful. This is general advice aimed at helping as broad a range of children as possible. If you have a specific query about a child who has speech and language therapy with us at SBT, please get in touch with your child’s regular therapist. You can find their contact details on any document you have received from us, such as reports or targets.