School and home are two very different types of settings, both in physical structure and in function, but sometimes circumstances dictate we must merge the two. How can we help families build a strong foundation of systems that will support behavior and learning at home? We can start by looking at the systems we have in place in our classrooms and providing families with strategies and resources to modify them for use at home.
Structure and Routine
When building a strong foundation to support behavior and learning, it is important to establish structure and routine. Let’s take a look at a few things that will help with establishing and maintaining a consistent structure and routine at home.
Setting Up a Learning Space
Just like in the classroom, when students are learning at home, they need a learning space that can meet their needs by minimizing distractions, allowing for flexibility, and establishing clear expectations for what occurs in that space. Having a clearly defined space for specific tasks helps children understand the expectations for that time and place. Here are a few ideas that teachers can share with families on establishing a structured, yet flexible, learning space at home :
- If you have the space, create a learning corner in a room of your home.
- If space is limited, use a learning box, placemat, chair, etc. that can become a symbol for learning time anywhere in the home!
- Keep materials nearby for easy access.
- Declutter the space and be aware of distractions such as the TV or favorite toys, games, and activities in view.
- Make the space inviting! We all prefer a work space that is comfortable, allows for some movement if we need it, and incorporates things that we like!
- Read this article from Waterford.org for more insight How to Create an At-Home Learning Space for Your Child
Establishing and Maintaining a Routine
The need for a consistent routine is a prevalent characteristic for individuals with ASD. While the routine at home will be very different than the routine in the classroom, the strategies used to maintain consistency and to provide a routine can be used during home learning. Here are a few ideas for teachers to share with families on helping to establish and maintain structure and routine at home:
- Create a “school time” schedule to be followed daily. Depending on the age and needs of the child, it could be set with exact times or could just be blocks of time with a set sequence.
- Use visual schedules. Chances are, you use some type of visual method to keep you on track, whether it is a wall calendar, the calendar on your phone, or a running to-do list. Providing a visual representation of the day’s schedule helps children understand what needs to be done now and what will be happening next. Download this Home-Learning Visual Schedule Example Packet.
- This video, from the ATN/AIR-P Network, may be helpful in providing families with additional information on visual schedules.
- Balance the routine with active and quiet activities. It is important to allow for movement and to allow for some quiet time, as well.
- Consider the needs of the families when creating a routine. Create a routine that the family can stick to!
- Have and teach clear expectations. What are the rules? What can I do during break time? How much time do I have on my iPad? What do I earn for completing tasks and following rules?
- Keep rules brief and concrete. Rules used in the classroom such as “follow directions”, “keep hands and feet to myself”, and “stay in my area” are rules that can easily be transferred into the home for use.
Communication Rich Environment
Modeling and providing opportunities for communication is essential for building a strong foundation that supports behavior and learning at home.
Whether students communicate through vocalizing, gesturing, or using AAC, it is vital that they are given many opportunities to communicate throughout the day and that they can communicate for a variety of purposes. Modeling communication is an very important part of helping students build their skills. It is vital that students see their mode of communication being used effectively. Here are a few ideas and resources for working on communication at home that teachers can share with families:
- Encourage families to work on a wide variety of purposes for communication. This may include things like commenting, requesting, protesting, labeling, and answering questions.
- Remind families that communication is a great skill to work on in the natural environment. This means that opportunities for communication are present on walks through the neighborhood, while reading a book together, at the dinner table, and even while playing video games together!
- This informational handout, Communication TATS Talks with Families provides many tips for families on communicating and interacting with their children.
- Kaylan Long, BCBA provides quick tips on How to Build Communication Skills and How to Teach Your Child to Request in these downloadable handouts.
- AssistiveWare provides ideas for ways to build language opportunities at home using AAC in this blog post.
Using and Modeling AAC
- Teachers, speech pathologists, assistive technology service providers, and family members collaboratively working together is key for assisting families with the use of AAC at home.
- Provide families with resources on their child’s specific mode of communication. Most companies that supply devices have video tutorials, how-to packets, etc. that may be beneficial to families.
- This AAC for Caregivers Manual from the Specialized Assistive Technology Centre provides information on aided language stimulation (modeling AAC), prompting, core vocabulary, and more!
- Share this video on aided language stimulation with families to help them understand the importance of modeling language in their child’s mode of communication.
Stay tuned for Helping Families Build Strong Foundations for Home Learning Part II where the topics of prompting and reinforcement will be covered.