For more play ideas and toys for children with special needs, go
to ableplay.org. This website
was created by the National Lekotek Center to encourage children to
experience the benefits of play.
In many ways, teaching a child cooperation skills is as
important as teaching them cognitive or communication skills.
For kids with special needs, parents often focus on
independence, but what about learning interdependence skills? These
social skills need to be honed for children to learn to cooperate
and collaborate within their family, among friends and in society.
Play is a fun way to teach that.
Meal preparation is an opportunity to explore collective
efforts. Start by giving kids some control and allowing them to
decide their contribution. Let your child choose his role in meal
preparation such as planning the menu, making the smoothies or
stirring the pancake batter.
Products that can help:
Learning Tower by Little Partners is a platform that brings a
child up to the countertop level with safety and stability.
PowerLink 4 Control Unit by AbleNet is a switch device that
allows a child with limited dexterity to operate blenders and other
Invite a friend over and have your child learn to share by
easing into a group activity like watching a yoga tape and
imitating the movements. Yoga calms children and stretches their
muscles as well as their minds. Another way is by using puppets,
dolls or plush toys. Kimochis by Plushy Feely
Corp makes an innovative kit of soft characters with "feelings
pillows" promoting a playful way for kids to explore sharing
feelings, expressing emotions and establishing healthy
Music and pretend play are perfect ways for teaching
Music can teach the beginning steps of harmony (on many levels)
and participating in a mutual experience. Start by giving each
child a music-maker as simple as a drum made from an oatmeal carton
or a plastic flute-or move up to a quality musical instrument ideal
for kids like the five-piece drum set or the six-string acoustic
guitar by Schoenhut. Put on
a CD to inspire young talent and let the good times rock `n' roll.
Record the jam session for later laughs.
Pretend play is another way for children to partake in a
cooperative effort. Imaginative play can teach children to act out
a story line with another child and share a vision of the world.
Roles can be switched, giving kids a chance to change their
perspective and participation. Have children create their own
characters with fun hats and accessories or try some of the easy to
wear and washable costumes from Aeromax.
Role & Play by
Thinkfun introduces concepts like turn-taking and acting out
emotions. This colorful cushiony cube and card set is a good first
step towards cooperative play. Even rolling this cube or a ball
back and forth provides a great starting point for shared play.
Dinner offers a lesson on the advantages of an assembly line.
Have each person in the family contribute to making a family pizza.
Whether you add ingredients to a ready-made pizza or build your
own, you can assign tasks like sauce spreading, adding toppings,
chopping or grating.
Throughout the day and before bed, remember to reinforce the
learning with hefty praise for all the cooperative efforts on this
day of play.
Ellen Metrick is a member of Special Parent's advisory board and director of Industry Relations & Partnerships at the National Lekotek Center in Chicago.
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