COVID 19 has created an educational challenge for providing a home school education program for non verbal students. Many educators, teaching virtually, are trying to provide lessons using materials available in a student’s home environment. I have decided to highlight some of the lessons I have used in the past that would meet that need. If the student is participating by virtual means, you may need the help of a caretaker to prepare materials, model responses, and help the student. Most of the materials are common objects available to students at home.
The original posts for these activities can be found by searching in the archives of past posts under the tag Therapy Activities from Scratch and Communication Boards. The search tools can be found in the right column.
Does your student have goals such as maintaining focus, taking turns, increasing vocabulary and increasing sentence length? Many play activities only need visuals such as communication boards and props to make them into structured learning activities to address these goals. If a student has physical difficulties and is not able to manipulate objects, they can still participate by directing and making requests with a partner using a communication board or system.
There are a number of reasons to use communication boards and systems. They lead to more natural social communication with mutual turn taking. They can add structure and provide cues for repeating key phrases. They also provide visual support for children who have limited oral speech and understanding.
Educators can easily adapt to a students learning level and needs with the use of a communication board. An educator begins by providing full verbal models and pointing to the icons while providing a verbal model. They can then use the icons as prompts by pointing to the icons and waiting for the student to provide the verbal output. Eventually the student will prompt themselves by pointing to the icon and providing the verbal output independently. Finally they will no longer need the communication board during the activity and participate verbally without it. If a student’s intelligibility is poor, you will still know what he is attempting to say because the student can use icons as a visual cues. Hopefully you will avoid interactions such as “Say what I say” or ” I don’t understand, say it again.” Many students become frustrated when they find themselves in this type of communication exchange and then refuse to participate.
I have posted pictures of boards I have made in the past, for examples. You will need to adapt the icons for the materials and objects available to your student. There are a number of sources of pictures for making communication boards. Some of my sources include Open clip art, clip art from Teachers Pay Teachers (some are free samples) and Pictoselector which is a free program for Windows users. It can be found at https://www.picto-selector.eu/about/freeware/. Pictoselector allows you to use grid templates for icon placement and a number of icons. Boardmaker is another program that many schools have subscriptions too.
A grab bag with toys is an easy item that can be made in the home environment. This one was made by cutting the sleeve off a sweater and sewing or gluing the bottom seam shut. You can put a number of different toys in the bag. Wind up toys are one of my favorite tools. They are always a high interest item.
The bag allows control of the objects from indiscriminate grabbing and hoarding, and facilitates turn taking. If the child is unable to wind or pull to activate a toy, all the better. That means they will need to request an action.
The Dollar store, Target Bargain bin, and Happy Meals are good places to find wind up toys. Mine have lasted a number of years. The student may also have favorite objects at home such as tops, balls, buttons, old switches, and tools.
Many students have a collection of stuffed animals matchbox cars or other objects. Add a fancy box and these can be put to good use. Hide an item in the box and have a student answer questions to find out its identity. The communication board is helpful for cuing a student for appropriate descriptive questions. Begin by modeling the questions while pointing to the pictures.
Matchbox vehicles are a favorite activity. Students often acquire a stash of different ones because they are a cheap item to get on a shopping trip. I was lucky to be gifted a pack by parents and I collected more over the years. you can use them in the grab bag also.
I’ve used this map with students to work with prepositions and descriptive vocabulary. The picture is an example of a simple map that can made by students to review the prepositions across, over, through, and between. It can be used with dice or a spinner as a simple board game, but students also like just driving along and telling where they are. You can have multiple trials by having them request different vehicles for making the trip.
The race game is another opportunity to use the same cars. Students choose cars and then make comparisons and prediction on which vehicles will be first or last. It is another activity that provides opportunities to use adjectives and verbs.
Caregivers may want to venture out on their own with materials. However, I recommend that you consult with your student’s Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP) for constructing communication boards, and visuals to meet your student’s specific needs and goals. Although communication boards are presented here as examples, your student’s SLP will know the best vocabulary and language level for your student. An Occupational Therapist (OT) can help with setting up access to a communication board and tools so a student with a physical disability can manipulate objects. These professionals play important roles in an student’s education program and I can not guarantee results when their input is not included with a students education program.
I hope these examples give you some ideas. I would love to hear from fellow educators if you have other examples or ideas to share. If you are willing to share, I can add them to this blog post. You can comment by clicking on the comment cloud located at the top of the post by the heading. I monitor comments for spam so you will not see it posted immediately. You can also tell me if you would prefer to be incognito. Good Luck and stay healthy.