In the United States, 12.8 percent of children under age 18 have special needs.
As a parent, teacher, or therapist, do you struggle to come up with great activities for your special needs students? Do you need fun and educational ideas that will actually keep your student engaged?
Keep reading to learn about 7 activities for children with special needs that you can do at home or in the classroom.
A Word About Learning Styles
A great way to prepare for planning your activities for special needs children is to determine what learning style they have. Every child retains information in different ways, generally boiling down to the following three learning styles.
Color-coding, flashcards, lists, and diagrams are all good for visual learners. For the preschool level, this may look like using lots of pictures or colored toys for the children to sort.
Auditory learners will do best when you verbally explain a concept to them. At a preschool level, try learning animal sounds and matching them with the picture of the animals. Music is also a great way to use auditory learning.
This just means a learner that likes to be hands-on and move their bodies while they are learning new things. Most, if not all, preschoolers fall under this category simply because that is the developmental stage they are in.
Now that you know the types of activities to look for, here are a few ideas.
7 Fun Activities for Children with Special Needs
One of the most important things to look for when working with special needs children is activities that can appeal to the senses. The following activity ideas will help you engage multiple senses such as hearing, smell, and touch.
Some children with special needs have higher levels of muscle tension than other children. Yoga is a great way to increase flexibility.
Yoga also has benefits as an alternative coping skill. It teaches breathing techniques that children can use when their emotions feel out of control and they need to stay calm. Doing the poses can help relax and de-stress both children and adults.
Try teaching your students simple poses such as mountain pose, or child's pose. Or, you could teach them all the animal-themed poses as you pretend to be animals. This will engage them on an imaginative level as well.
Great for auditory learners, music can be a wonderful tool for non-verbal children to learn to express themselves. Music education can help with brain development, language skills, and helps children improve in other subjects.
Music for preschoolers can be as simple as giving each child an instrument, such as a shaker, and playing music for them to dance along to. You can periodically stop the music and have everyone freeze and stop shaking their instruments before starting the music again.
This turns it into a fun game for the children but it is also teaching them to listen carefully and react to what they hear.
3. Water Table
A water table makes a great sensory play tool for kids who need sensory stimulation. This can be as simple as a tray with water in it where the kids can splash around. You can also add other sensory elements to make the water table more engaging.
Try putting sand and seashells in the water for the kids to find and feel. This adds a textural element, and you can make a game out of hunting for the seashells. You can also give them containers or cups to pour water into, improving their hand-eye coordination.
Another fun activity is to get colored bath drops and let them dissolve in the water. The children can see how a yellow dye and a blue dye mix in the middle to become green, for example.
4. Letter Writing Tray
This is a great kinesthetic activity for learning letters. Fill a shallow tray with sprinkles, sand, rice, or another small substance. Then use flash cards of each letter and let the child trace the shape of the letter in the tray.
This allows them to try as many times as they want to get the shape right, and they can reuse the tray for each letter. It's also an easier way to practice letters without worrying about learning how to properly hold a pencil at the same time.
5. Pretend Play
All children benefit from pretend play. This can be particularly important for children with special needs that make it difficult to learn social skills. Pretend situations can allow them to practice normal interactions with others in a low-stress environment.
Pretend play can also be beneficial for familiarizing children with situations that may be uncomfortable to them, such as visiting the doctor. If they are allowed to pretend to be the doctor, use a stethoscope, and check their patients' temperature, they may not be as frightened by their own visit to the doctor.
Pretend play is actually vital to child development, so including plenty of pretend time in the classroom will help every student succeed.
6. Scent Game
Sensory play can use all the senses, scent included. A good way to play with scent is to put cotton balls into small jars or containers and put a few drops of essential oil or scented oil onto them. The children can take turns smelling the jar and trying to guess which scent is which.
This game works best if the scents are ones the children would already be familiar with, such as vanilla, cotton candy, orange, etc. Food scents are your best bet for recognition.
7. Tactile play
One of the simplest activities you can do with your special needs children is to set up a game that allows them to physically manipulate small objects. Try using task bins that have different touch-based activities.
These include things such as coin counting, cardboard shoes that they can practice lacing up, or cutting and pasting activities for fine motor skill development.
You can also just get a jar of counting objects such as colored plastic animals, and let the children sort them by color or by animal type. The physical manipulation of the toys will add to the sensory experience and help them concentrate on learning to sort and count.
The most important thing to remember when working with preschool children is to retain a sense of fun in everything you do!
These activities for children with special needs can be used in any classroom, and have benefits for all children. Hopefully, this list gives you a place to start on your journey to find the best activities for your child.
Keep browsing to find more helpful information for parents and teachers of special needs children!