Hello: we hope you've had a nice weekend and are having a good Monday! As the school closure looks to be an ongoing situation, we are going to provide information about how best to support learning at home. An email has been sent around regarding the use of Google classrooms to assign work. We realise that everybody's situation is different and that we are all facing different challenges and pressures during these times so we want to work with you on what's realistic for you to accomplish with your child at home. It would be great if you can give us feedback about what is possible for you. We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
In the meantime, we will be sharing information on the blog as normal as well as using online platforms such as Google Classroom.
Continuing schoolwork at home:
We recognise that during the current school closure, many of you are under pressure in trying to maintain consistent schoolwork at home with your children. The safety and health of you and your children, including your mental health, should be your top priority and you should not feel anxious about trying to recreating the school experience at home if it is causing an undue burden. We also recognise that for some children with a diagnosis of autism, the distinction between “home” and “school” can be very firm, and attempting to transform the home space into an environment where you are completing schoolwork can be difficult. Having said that, there are a few ideas that might be helpful to you in trying to establish an environment that supports your child’s learning. If nothing else, establishing a routine that is similar to the school routine might be reassuring for your child.
If at all possible, it is ideal to create a physical space that is dedicated to schoolwork. A small desk, or even an area of the kitchen table, would be great. This might make it easier to create a distinction between “work-time” and “play-time”. If space permits, it would be ideal to reserve this space for work and only work – whenever the child is at their work station they are doing work and only work. This may not be possible if you need to use the same table for mealtimes, etc. but if you can manage to keep a space that is dedicated for work, it will be very useful. If you have the opportunity, it would be great if this space were free from visual and auditory distractions. A quiet part of the house would be ideal and it might even be a good idea to set up the desk or learning space away from windows to eliminate distractions. Using visuals can also help to create a learning environment (more on this soon).
It probably goes without saying that routine is going to be incredibly important. Having a consistent time for work is a really good idea as it maintains as much of the structure of school time as possible. It’s better to do 30 minutes per day, every day (or 20 minutes or 10 if that’s all you can manage!) at a consistent, predictable time if you can manage it. There are lots of things you are probably doing already, such as physical activity, play and meal times, that can be incorporated into the routine. This makes much more predictable for your child and can make them less anxious. It also maintains that great routine they’ve had in school that has helped them become such good learners. Make it easy on yourselves by easing into the routine! Start with PE: this can be a few minutes of dance, movement, OT and/or animal walks.
You and your child might find it tricky to settle into a work routine at first so pick tasks that your child knows really well and for which you can guarantee success. The emphasis at first is on creating a new learning environment in the home, not on getting through the whole curriculum! Even if your child has previously done home-program work at home or with a tutor, they might find home-based schooling challenging at the present time due to the disruption to routine, etc. so pick small, manageable goals at first and give yourselves a win!
We would recommend programming your child’s work time so that they spend no more than 15 minutes at work before changing the activity to something different. You can alternate between the 1:1 table-top work and less demanding work every 15 minutes for as long as you have time. Breaking work into smaller chunks will help keep your child engaged. For example, in class we might spend 15 minutes at the work table doing the intense 1:1 work that relates to your child’s individual literacy, numeracy and writing targets. Then we would transition to a separate area where we would work on fine motor, play and social targets. This has a number of benefits: it keeps the child engaged by having multiple transitions, it alternates high-demand with lower-demand work and it has a built in movement break every 15 minutes. So, in the home setting, you could do 15 minutes work on numeracy, literacy, etc. and then spend 15 minutes working on fine motor tasks (some suggestions will be coming along before too long!). Even if you work on these different skills in the same physical space it’s a good idea to get up and stretch the legs before changing activities – going to check the visual schedule is a good idea here. We can send more details about what to work on in the various settings (high-demand table-top work and lower-demand fine motor, play, etc. work) in future but for now the main idea is to build in a change every 15 minutes, ideally with a little walking break in between.
More details of specific work tasks you can try out at home will come in the future. For now, you can work on the packs that were sent home for your child. Having said that, the single most important skill to work on is communication which, for your child, means them requesting items. Obviously your child can ask for things they want in the home using natural opportunities. During school, we spend time creating artificial scenarios where they have to request items as much as possible in a short period of time to really accelerate their communication skills. We can send more details of how to do this later but for now it’s good to think of communication as a “work” task that is at least as important as literacy, numeracy, etc. When your child is colouring, for example, hold on to all the pencils and encourage them to request each colour one-by-one rather than getting them all. The same goes for toys with multiple parts such as Lego or connect 4. And always expect the best quality of communication your child is capable of. If they are really fluent in full sentences, then do not accept single word requests. If your child requests using single words then accept their best possible approximation of the word.
Thanks for all the photos you've sent! Keep them coming! Everybody gets such a lift from seeing all the familiar faces!