When we work on transition planning for my students at the high school level, we look at their lives after they leave us. (I know awesome teachers at all grade levels have the same outcomes in their minds as well.) As we plan, we look at the whole person, what they will spend their time doing and what their whole day or week will look like as an adult. Realistically, for any student, that does not look like 100% academic pursuits or work related tasks, no matter if they are headed to college, into the workforce, or a combination of the two. They undoubtedly will have personal time to fill and this is where leisure or “play” comes in. As adults we see it as down time or “self-care” and the trend is to prioritize this time as a way to improve our lives across the board. Our students deserve to have a bank of hobbies to turn to when they have the opportunity for leisure activities or self care.
Because of this planning, I take responsibility for teaching play or leisure activities directly in the classroom. We approach this instruction with the same steps that I approach almost anything. I direct teach the skill, we participate in guided practice opportunities, and then I offer independent practice. To top it off, we add in generalization in the community or in the home setting.
Even though leisure or play may seem like something that can be done easily or without guidance, for our students on the autism spectrum, this is not always the case. Structuring this down time gives our students a sense of direction and can help to guide them towards leisure activities that can last a lifetime. Students often benefit from visuals to explain the activity, a First/Then board, and a timer to let them know how long they get to (or have to) engage in the activity. I have seen with my own eyes activities that were a struggle become a requested activity and then a generalized fun option at home.
After surveying my class, we picked our top ten options for leisure activities in our high school classroom! Let me know if you have ones to add to the list!
1.High Interest Books
Something that my students have really taught me is that they do not have to be able to fluently read the text in a book to really enjoy it. I have a student who frequently picks out books that are beyond his independent reading level, but they are focused on age appropriate subject matter that he really enjoys. He spends time at school and at home looking though these books, reading portions, and enjoying all of the pictures that are included.
Magazines are also a great option for age appropriate content that is cheap and easy to acquire. Magazines are very visually stimulating and can be focused on high interest topics like sports, travel, or nature. In all my years, I don’t think I have ever bought magazines for my students. I’ve always found that magazines are easily donated from families, other teachers, or even local businesses.
Puzzles can be an awesome leisure activity that can take as little or as long as you would like for it to take. I frequently find puzzles at the dollar discount store that have anywhere from 4 to 100 pieces and subject matter that ranges from superheroes, popular movies, to still life. I really believe there is a puzzle for every level! I also love to reinforce academic skills with puzzles. Goodwill and garage sales are a great place to find puzzles, but I always reach out to friends and family as well.
4. Mazes & Dot to Dots
Mazes and Dot to Dots are something that I would not have thought of myself. My occupational therapist suggested both of these activities for something visually stimulating for my sensory seekers who also need practice with fine motor skills. Books of mazes/dot to dots are not hard to find and there are also endless options that are printable online. Academic concepts can also easily be reinforced with these tasks.
Weaving is another suggestion from my OT! (Do you see a trend?… Your OT can be a wealth of ideas!) I have a student that struggles to engage in activities for even a few minutes, but weaving has been a game changer. He enjoys so many of the sensory aspects of this task, from the tactile of the yard to the visual of the constant crossing. He also loves that we are making a gift for his mom in the process. This is also a task for all levels of cognitive functioning, even if you think this is a crazy idea, I dare you to try it.
The trend of coloring for adults has been such a welcome opportunity for the stress relief and enjoyment of easy artistic expression to be brought to a more age appropriate level. Because of this trend, there are so many inexpensive and easily accessible coloring books with beautiful designs for our older students to enjoy. I often give students the option of taking a coloring book and colored pencils to the cafeteria if extended periods of social interaction is challenging or exhausting.
7. Painting By Numbers
Sometimes when we give our students on the autism spectrum the opportunity to express themselves creatively, the open-endedness of the task is daunting. I love the option of using a paint by numbers picture to help guide them. I have found recently that “paint by numbers” can be as complex as we wish to find. You can even find masterpieces to paint by numbers as well!
I admit that I have a slight obsession with Legos because of my own young boys. We go to Legoland and enjoy all of the creations, large and small. There are people across the globe that make a living out of making incredible things from Legos. I take this fact as great proof that people of all ages are able enjoy them. When students are just starting out with Legos, it is helpful to give them a visual to model until they get more comfortable and start creating on their own.
K’Nex is another leisure activity that my students taught me about. When I became their teacher, they already had a set and they created amazing structures with moving parts and incredibly complexity. I have never been able to replicate these structures, but I really appreciate symmetry. For this reason, K’Nex are some of my favorite things to model for my students.
This is an idea that I got directly from Sasha years ago! Find the original post here. I started an annual scrapbook with my students and it has been a hit with students, parents, and staff! We print one picture per week, cut and glue it onto cardstock, write one sentence about the picture, and add stickers. It is a simple and fun activity that highlights our activities across the year. This leisure activity is one that can be continued for the rest of their lives and it has been so easy and fun to accomplish in my secondary classroom.