Supporting learning for children with disability: tuning into interests
All children are more likely to feel motivated and willing to learn when they’re interested in what they’re doing. This includes children with disability. So when you want your child with disability to learn something new, building on your child’s interests is a great way to start.
You can use your child’s interests as the basis for:
- building on language
- boosting social skills
- increasing confidence to use skills in other environments
- learning to follow instructions and take part in groups
- learning to solve problems
- learning to take turns, play and have fun with others.
Spotting your child’s interests
You can work out what interests your child by spending time watching your child and playing together. What makes your child smile or laugh? What does your child naturally like to do? For example, building with blocks, Lego, dress-ups, cars, trains, outdoor play, animals, water play, bugs, drawing materials or crafts?
If your child has a favourite television program, you could also use this for learning. For example, if your child likes Thomas the Tank Engine, you could try a drawing game or activity involving Thomas.
If your child has limited language or play skills, what does your child point to or look at? What gets your child’s attention? What excites or calms your child?
If your child doesn’t seem to have any particular interests, you might try out some different play activities, toys and experiences, like listening to music or watching bubbles. This can help you see what catches your child’s interest.
Using your child’s interests to spark learning
Once you’ve worked out what your child likes, your next step is making time to play and have fun. Play is central to your child’s learning and development.
You might make it a goal to spend time playing with your child every day, perhaps starting with five minutes twice a day, at times when you can give your child your full attention. It’s great if you can get down on your child’s level and join in.
You can use these fun times and activities to work on developing your child’s skills in many areas. For example:
- Language skills: you could hold a toy that your child likes and ask your child to say its name and ask for it.
- Social skills: you could use your child’s favourite toy figure or television character to act out social situations that might happen in the playground.
- Motor skills: if your child likes building with Lego and blocks, you could do this activity together to develop your child’s fine motor skills and gross motor skills.
- Play skills: you could develop turn-taking and cooperating skills by playing a board or card game that features things your child likes, like cars, frogs or football players.
Using everyday routines for learning
Everyday events and routines can be great opportunities for your child to develop interests and learn new things.
For example, if you’re sorting the laundry, you could ask your child to help you by collecting all the socks. Or your child could name all the clothes. Or you could talk about the colours and count the clothes.
At mealtimes you could ask your child to set the table – a placemat that shows where to put the cutlery, cups and plates might help. While you’re eating you could practise naming different foods or take turns telling stories or jokes.
You can also create interesting opportunities for learning by fitting activities that your child likes into your day. For example, if your child likes animals you could stop at the local pet shop while you’re out and talk about the animals – what colour are they? Are they soft or spiky? Or you could count the number of dogs you see on your way to school.
Getting other people involved in your child’s learning
When your child is learning new skills, it’s good for your child to have a lot of opportunities to practise, and to practise their skills in consistent ways. Involving other people in your child’s learning can help with this. These people might be your child’s grandparents, child care workers and your extended family.
For example, your child might be learning to name foods during mealtimes. Let your child’s grandparents know, so that they can help your child practise this skill when your child is with them. Or if your child is doing really well at counting cuddly toys, let the child care centre know so they can use cuddly toys for counting games too.
You could also talk to your child’s preschool or school teachers about strategies they find helpful, so you can use the same strategies at home to develop your child’s confidence and skills.