My Early Childhood Special Ed. classroom is largely an activity-based classroom. What I mean by that is that we try to meet the student’s IEP goals in a naturalistic, preschool setting, as opposed to setting the students down at table to complete tasks that don’t really fit in a regular preschool day.
Or, at least, I’m trying to have my classroom be this way. Most of my guidance in this area I am getting from the book An Activity-Based Approach to Early Intervention, by Diane Bricker, Ph.D.
As a result, I find myself trying to find ways to make “regular” classroom projects platforms to help students practice the skills that they need accomplish. This is not always easy, but it can be a very rewarding way to approach these skills.
One problem that I find with this method is that occasionally a “fun”, child-directed activity will not produce enough activity to really practice the skill, or to gauge a child’s skill level. For example, you may be wanting the child to string beads to work on fine motor skills. However, if Suzy is in charge of the bead-stringing, she might be done after two beads.
To offset this, I try to offer projects that are fun for the Little People, but also have some set parameters that enable me to get enough work out of them to accomplish my goals with the project.
For example, take this beaded pumpkin:
We made these a week or two ago for Halloween. I wanted each Little Person to put on enough beads to actually put some real effort into their fine motor practice, but also enough to actually make a pumpkin.
I prepped the activity by stringing one bead on one end of the pipe cleaner to prevent the beads from falling off during the stringing. (Believe me, there is no deterrent to sufficient stringing like having all your beads come off in the middle of the effort.)
I then used a Sharpie to mark the spot that the Little People to fills the beads up to. Of course, I could have just said that they needed to put on 30 beads, but since most of my Little People can’t count that high, the black mark made more sense.
Another alternative to make a single black mark would be to color the entire section of pipe cleaner that you want covered by beads. This would be more appropriate for students who need to see the whole “Put Beads Here” section more clearly.
By doing this, you establish an minimum expectation for the task with a visual marking, enabling the students to do the amount of fine motor work that you need to see.
At the same time, the students get to make a bead pumpkin – so it’s a win-win for everyone.