Mary Poppins had her magic bag and you will need yours too to increase your child’s motivation to learn! Select the right materials for your special needs child to encourage increased motivation, learning and program success.
(I have included Amazon affiliate links for your convenience.)
In order to have a well-rounded home program in place for your child, you will need to have a variety of materials available.
When children start their programs at my learning house, they are typically not speaking yet. They often communicate by pulling on mom’s arm or getting toys or food themselves, rather than using vocal communication in the form of sounds or words to get their needs met).
By the time families book an evaluation with me, their frustration is usually pretty high.
Communication is always high on the list of priorities that each family has for their child.
Goals usually include :
- Better, more functional communication.
- Fewer difficult behaviors (screaming, throwing toys, hitting, biting, etc.)
- More, joyous interaction
- Better quality family interaction
- A happy child who can play independently, with other kids & with family members
Learning to speak
Our first step on the learning road together, is putting in place some kind of functional communication system.
Depending on the child, and his or her skills when we first start working together, I will put in place adapted sign lanuage or real photo exchange (similar to PECS – but with real photos that are emotionally-relevant for the child).
Often, the best option is a combination of both sign language and photo exchange.
Spoken language is always the ultimate goal. I never assume that a child cannot learn to speak. Adapted sign language and real photo exchange are steps on the way to verbal language. If for whatever reason, the child cannot develop spoken language later on – we would move into full sign language. (I have never had this experience up until now – ALL the kids with autism with whom I have worked have learned to speak.)
The first step towards speech, and towards reducing difficult behavior, is motivation. How do we increase our kids’ motivation? How do we get them to want to be with us? To want to learn from us?
When I meet a child for the first time, sometimes he or she can’t wait to play with me. He or she is itching to discover what toys or new materials I will offer. Recently, I had a little girl arrive for her evaluation. She was so excited to “meet Alix” (my photo had already been in her visual schedule for a week at that point and her family had talked.me.up.)! That is awesome. I love when children arrive here excited and ready to learn! However, sometimes kids arrive here wanting to run away. They aren’t excited to meet me, they were better off sleeping in the car/hanging out at home/eating lunch with mom and have only one idea : getting out of here!
What do I do then? How do I show them that I am fun, that learning with me will be fun and make them want to come back again?
We need the right materials to help motivate our kids and help them learn.
This is where my MAGIC BAG comes in……..!
I started referring to my MAGIC BAG a looong time ago – about 14 years ago – when I first started doing home therapy sessions. At that time, I was a young student who had just moved to Paris from NYC. I had a small list of families I worked with – in their home – helping moms extend ABA therapy hours by doing some extra hours with their little ones. I was learning about ABA, home programs and all of the awesomeness you can create in your very own home to help your little one THRIVE.
Working with different kids gave me the chance to test different kinds of materials. I learned simultaneously in my classes how to do a (potential) reinforcer assessment, how to know if an item has the potential to be used as a reinforcer in a home program and how to continue peaking a child’s motivation for a certain item over time. (All important info + all planned for another post!)
I loved doing home sessions. I loved curating and creating learning experiences for my kiddos in their homes and I loved seeing their transformation – over the months and years that I worked with them.
I realized how important it was to arrive for a session equiped. The material I had with me was crucial. It could make or break a session if I arrived with the right materials to peak interest and increase motivation to stay close to me and interact with me in the activities I had prepared. No matter how great your curriculum is, your child is not going to learn what you propose if you spend the whole session chasing him around the house to come and sit down with you. (Anyway, you should never chase him around – unless this is a planned activity – and more on that soon, too!)
“No matter how great your curriculum is, your child is not going to learn what you propose if you spend the whole session chasing him around the house to come and sit down with you.”
The kids who loved me as soon as I arrived kept being excited when I arrived in their homes. The kids who had tried to escape me at first started to greet me at the door! *PROGRESS* 🙂
So what is the MAGIC BAG anyway?
My MAGIC BAG refers, in all simplicity, to a collection of items that are potential reinforcers for the little one in front of me when I sit down to do an activity.
Definition of a REINFORCER :
Any item that is presented after a behavior / activity that increases the likelihood that the child will engage in that behavior / activity again. (BAM! – this is important. Save info. for later.)
(Basically, you present it once and your child loves it so much he or she wants to play with it again. It’s that simple. I show you the Baby Einstein musical toy, you listen to the music, I take it away in a silly way, you’re so motivated to play with this toy, that you sign/exchange a photo/say “music” so that I’ll give it back to you again. This makes for a great learning oppportunity. I want to teach you the word “music” and the Baby Einstein musical toy will help me do that.)
At first, I have the same goal for each and every one of the items in my MAGIC BAG : to show the child that I am fun, that doing an activity with me is great and that it makes sense to stay close to me and look at the items I propose! It’s that simple. (Once the child believes this, I have opened up a WORLD OF LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES!) Selecting the right materials for your special needs child is a huge part of creating a relationship with them and creating opportunities to teach!
What is inside MY MAGIC BAG?
As a general rule, I organize items by type of toy or therapeutic material and then select 1 – 2 toys from each category to carry in my MAGIC BAG at any given time. (Yes, this does get heavy, but I promise, it is worth it!)
Drawing materials – markers, paper, colored pencils, stickers and stamps.
Interesting books – I love these Montessori-friendly books!
When I was doing home sessions every day, and all over Paris, I always had my MAGIC BAG with me for my sessions. Now that I do the majority of my evaluations and sessions in my center in Paris, I have various versions of my MAGIC BAG in my therapy rooms and office. You can see how I organize materials in my therapy rooms in these past articles : Organize your child’s educational materials and Organize children’s books. You can also see the materials I recommend to start a home program here : Materials you need to start your home program.
Have you tried these materials? Do your children like them? How do you motivate your child to learn? What are your recommendations for selecting the right materials for your special needs child to increase their motivation and teach them new skills? I would LOVE to hear from you! Your comments make my day every time! ♥
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