Thursday, January 6, 2011

Including our Children with Special Needs in our Outdoor Experiences

After several blog posts about exploring the great outdoors with the children, I wanted to write a bit about how I have made sure my children with special needs are included in all these activities.  To be quite honest, I have been surprised (and thrilled) with how wonderful the children are doing!  

Previously, we have gone for shorter walks in the neighborhood, but have always brought the wagon and had several children sit in the wagon for the walk.  Expecting all the children who are capable of walking to walk with us on these nature walks has been interesting!  Do we walk slowly?  Yes.  Do we explore our environment in a bit of a different way?  Maybe.  Do we need to hold an adults hand?  For most of us...absolutely!  But, we've done amazingly well! I always keep in mind several things when I'm planning for the children.  

A nature walk is no less exciting or interesting for children who are not
walking!  Riding in a stroller and peeking out at the sights while
on a walk can be very rewarding! 


In general, these are the questions I keep in mind:
  1. What would I like my students to gain from the experience?  This is never the same for all the children.  For one child, I may want him to listen for new sounds while we are on our walk.  For another child I may want him to be alert and attentive to the walk experience.  For a child who is particularly shy and withdrawn, I may want him to hold a partner's hand while on our walk.  And for others I may want them to point to something new that they see.
  2. How will my children participate in the experience?  Again, for one child this may mean that I want him to watch with interest to what the children are doing next to them.  For another, it may mean I want him to independently do one step of the experience.  For still another, it may mean that I would like to see him smile at another child when an interaction is initiated by the other child.
  3. In general, will this be a positive or negative experience for the children. This question is an educated guess.  But, having a high expectation for all children is important.  Sometimes, you're not sure what a child can do or handle unless they are given the chance to experience it! 
  4. What will I need to adapt/How will I adapt the experience?  When I need to adapt parts of the experience, I try to keep the adaptations from interfering with the children's ability to experience and explore their surroundings.  I try to keep them from prohibiting them from interacting with the other children.  Finally, I never remove them from the group.  We offer additional assistance within the group setting so this can be a true integrated experience.
This little guy started the experience of making bird and squirrel feeders
by needing hand over hand assistance to spread the peanut butter.
These additional outdoor experiences have also given us the chance to spend more time learning from our same age peers.  The children still have the support of more adults and more one on one assistance exploring and understanding what we are seeing, hearing, touching and smelling while outside, but, they also have the benefit of the language of the other children and the experiences of the other children.
By the end, he was spreading the peanut butter independently!


We generally do many things with this larger classroom, so the other children do know us very well.  They are always so excited to have us come visit their room, do activities with us and enjoy the company of the children from my classroom.  They really do recognize that each child brings something very unique and special to the group.  As one child once said when describing a little guy from my classroom:  "He gives the BEST hugs!"  Well, what could be better!?  It's important for everyone to feel included in rewarding and challenging experiences and to feel that they offer something important and special to the group!

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