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.
In order to have a well-rounded home program in place for your special needs child, you will need to have a variety of materials available.
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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 special needs 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……..!
First a little background…
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 special needs child 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!)
The Baby Einstein Musical Toy is a beloved toy at my learning center. I have actually purchased several of these over the years since all of the kids love them so much and we play with them so much we wear them out! (They are durable however lots of children play with them at my center. I tend to change them every 2-3 years!)
I love these Vintage Tin Music Boxes! The kids love the unusual sound they make and as an added bonus, we work on building fine motor skills by turning the handle (which is quite precise and a little tricky).
These Colorful Light Up Ducks are a favorite toy at my autism center. They are a fabulous sensory toy and work as a reinforcer in many cases.
I use many different types of light up toys during my sessions, including this Multicolor Light Up Snowflake Wand. It is captivating and can be used as a reinforcer and/or during sensory breaks with your child or in your autism classroom.
These Glow Sticks provide hours of sensory, learning fun!
Children with autism tend to be visual learners and are often attracted to toys with a strong visual component. This Rainmaker Toy is a very popular toy at my center!
We have so much fun daily with this Disco Light Ball! It creates a fun and colorful ambiance, perfect for dance party and sensory breaks!
Sensory (tactile) toys and materials
We use Kinetic Sand in various colors pretty much daily in my programs. It is a fun sensory activity that can be use to build communication, pretend play and turn taking skills. One of the best tools for teaching a special needs child. (We love the shimmering purple!)
Who doesn’t love Playdoh?! It is such a valuable tool in teaching a special needs Childs and can be used to motivate, inspire and teach in conjunction with playdoh mats and more.
I love this 8 Tones Colorful Wooden Xylophone for working on imitation skills with a special needs child in a fun, sensory way!
This Junior Accordion is such a fun musical tool too! Use it to build imitation skills, turn taking, communication skills and more in a fun, sensory way.
So many skills can also be taught with this Set of 8 Schylling Musical Hand Bells.
Cause and effect toys
This Wooden Pound-A-Peg Toy with Hammer is one of the best toys for teaching imitation skills. Cause and effect toys are often calming and reassuring for children with autism because there is a clear goal and clear end. Use the hammer to tap the shape and it goes in the hole. It is clear, rather than abstract. This is such a valuable tool to have as part of your Magic Bag!
I always have markers, paper, colored pencils, stickers and stamps available during my sessions with a special needs child.
A way to keep track of (and teach) time
Teaching time to autistic learners can be tricky because it is such an abstract concept. Waiting and delayed reinforcement can also be hard to grasp for kids with autism. These tools can help!
You can use these Liquid Sensory Timers to show your child how long he or she has to complete an activity or with a reinforcer before starting a “work” activity again.
The Time Timer is a fantastic visual tool that shows the passage of time and can be used as part of a home or school program to teach new skills and help manage behavior (particularly waiting, delayed reinforcement and transitions).
I love these Montessori-friendly books!
Tobar Twist and Lock Blocks work fabulously as a fidget toy for the special needs child.
Tangle Jr. Fuzzies are a fun sensory fidget toy that help kids with autism calm down, stay seated and concentrate more easily. They can also be incorporated into sensory breaks and used while waiting and during transitions.
A Mini Basketball Set is such a fun learning tool. You can use it to teach movement and build gross motor skills, create a fun sensory break and enjoy a fun and interactive activity with your child or student.
I love to incorporate Dazzler Ribbons into gross motor, dance and movement activities with a special needs child!
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.
Teach your child with special needs with the toys and tools in your MAGIC BAG
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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