One way I incorporate play in my classroom is through Special Activity time. The upper grades cluster teacher and I established Special Activity time as a way to target those extra skills we don’t have time to teach everyday in a social setting. We have started it this school year and it’s been pretty successful. Special Activity time is a lot like specials or specialty classes, but within our classrooms. We have a set schedule of types of activities we do each day of the week. Here are ways you can establish a Special Activity time in your classroom…
1. Find a Partner
I lucky enough to find a willing colleague to join classes with mine and implement Special Activity each day. The upper grades cluster teacher and I do Special Activity time each day with both of our classes. You might be able to pair up with another cluster program teacher at your school or even a willing gen ed teacher and class. The benefit to pairing up with another class is that it allows for students to be exposed to more kids their own age. We have a buddy system in which an older student is paired with a younger student. The kids seem to enjoy this and look forward to seeing their buddies each day. The other benefit is that there are two teachers. This is helpful because often these activities are more involved and require more materials and supervision.
2. Set the Schedule
This is the trickiest part of implementing anything in a classroom. We chose to do Special Activity time in the afternoon because we both had a large chunk of time. Plus, afternoons can be difficult for students-they have had a long day and are anticipating going home. Having special activity time at the end of the day helps keep students engaged while still teaching skills that are more fun and less heavy than academic skills. We of course have tweaked the schedule throughout the year to make it work best for our classrooms and students, but we have stayed consistent and the students know what to expect each day and genuinely enjoy this time of the day.
3. Make It Relevant
Making it relevant is key. Later this month, I will write a post about our specific activities within our Special Activity time schedule, but a special activity time in your classroom won’t look like a special activity time in your classroom. Incorporating ABLLS-R goals or special projects your class is working on or activities that are unique to your school. During art, we are able to target ABLLS-R writing and fine motor skills through specific art projects. In our movement time, we practice for upcoming Special Olympics competitions or incoproate gross motor ABBLS-R goals such as catching and throwing a ball, running smoothly and balancing. Incorporating life skills is another way we make Special Activity time relevant to our students’ lives. We have practiced folding clothes, buttoning shirts and washing dishes.
4. Keep It Simple
This was our first year and we had some grand plans, but at the end of the day, it’s best to keep things simple so you can adjust the schedule. We have continuously adjusted the schedule to work for our students all throughout the school year. We also have kept the activities very simple. Often times, we will have the same activities two weeks in a row for leisure skills so students have the opportunity to try things multiple times and so there is some consistency. For leisure skills, we have had students play with Play-Doh and Floam, do board games or have free drawing time. Also, we incorporate a snack twice a week so student have the opportunity to socialize with each other while practicing appropriate manners.
5. Have Fun!
Every class is different and this year for me (and probably you too!). This year, I have a very young class, so I’m setting expectations all day long. While special activity time is highly structured and we are constantly maintaining those behavior expectations throughout, it is a great time to incorporate play and social activities. It’s an opportunity to do more fun activities and let loose (just a bit!). We do so many different things-everything from board games to washing dishes to yoga! Special activity time has been a great way for my students to be exposed to a variety of leisure activities and play activities.
I hope you are inspired to create a special activity time in your classroom! As always, share ways that you incorporate play, functional and leisure skills with your class below. Stay tuned for part 2 about Special Activity time in my classroom later this month!