Last week’s blog post focused on Donna’s history in special needs education. This week’s post will focus on tips she has learned though the years and incorporated into our classes at The Messy Artist. Though many of these originated for the unique circumstances of a special needs class, they are very effective in classes with typical children as well.
One of the most important things that I have learned over the years about teaching is to use the students as your guide. If the students are not understanding your lesson or if they are not focusing, then you, the teacher needs to alter your lesson. It is not the children’s “fault”. Children are naturally curious and are eager to learn and grow; it’s just a matter of finding the right approach for each situation.
Often times in a special needs class, one will be dealing with a unique and distinct set of challenges for each student. A class with 10 children could mean 10 different abilities and learning styles. Here are some simple ways that I have found to engage young children, both special needs and typical.
1. Vary your voice. Simply altering your usual speaking voice can be very effective in capturing kids attention.
- Volume: Using both loud and soft voices can be very effective to grab children’s attention. A sudden LOUD voice (not screaming) then moving quickly to a soft voice can be very effective. Whispering can also be a great way to get kids to settle and quiet themselves to hear you.
- Speed: I especially like to pause to give children a chance to process and chime in with a response. For example: if we are beading and discussing patterns I may say, “I’m going do blue, yellow, blue, yellow, blue … (then the kids all yell out ‘yellow’)
- Intonation: above is a great example for intonation as well.
- Act out your words. Just yesterday our teacher Viviana, was doing a lesson on warm, cool, angry and sad colors. As she was talking about how colors can make you feel, she was expressing those feelings with her face, voice and body. She incorporated a multi-sensory approach to get her message across. It was truly amazing to watch!
- Don’t be afraid to sing something! Breaking into a bit of song can add a bit of levity or interest to the class; the kids will are always intrigued to hear a familiar song with different words. (I.e, “Row, row, row your boat” tune used for “Time, time, time for snack.”
2. Supply distribution
Since we encounter delivering art supplies to children in almost every class, it is something I have thought a lot about. I generally do not like to pass out the supplies myself. I find that when the teacher passes out the supplies the kids are just sitting and waiting. They often start calling out or grabbing from their neighbors. Instead, I like to vary the ways they get them. Here are some of my favorite methods of getting supplies to everyone:
- The Supply Table. In our art classes we regularly have a supply table, a separate table with the tools or materials laid out for students to walk over to and select what they need. After a short lesson, I then direct them to get their supplies from the table. I (or often, the assistant teacher will do this while I am instructing) put out exactly what they need so that they can be successful following directions. However, I always have a few extra items so that even the last child to go to the table has a choice. Depending upon their age and the project, I may have them go get two items. Often I may give them instructions to go back to the supply table several times throughout the lesson. I love this approach for so many reasons.
- The take one and pass one method: I give the first child a bin of pencils and ask him to take one and pass the bin to Jonny, then Jonny takes one and passes the bin to Sophie etc. This encourages patience and waiting and teaches them to follow simple directions. I find this works really well with the 4-6 year group and they sit nicely and wait their turn.
- The name recognition method: I will often write the children’s names on the back of the their paper before we start. Then when I am ready to give them their paper, I hold one up at a time and have them identify their paper when they see their name. This works nicely for children as young as 2 ½. I think about the fine details such as the first paper to hold up is one of a child that I know will be able to identify their name. That way the children quickly get the hang of what they need to do. I also try to have the papers for the children that can’t wait too long towards the beginning. Lastly, make sure you write the children’s name large and clearly enough so that they can read it easily.
3. Have a bag of tricks. Be prepared to change and alter your lesson at any time. Kids are unpredictable and a lesson that may have worked very well in the past may fall flat with a different group of kids. If they are not interested, change it up at the last minute to grab their interest. Here are some wacky things we have done at The Messy Artist.
- One day I walked into the classroom to find the teacher had all the children drawing under the table! How fun is that!
- Another day the teacher started the class with the lights out and the tv on with a slideshow presentation of the lesson. Since our classroom does not have windows it was dark and exciting. It immediately got all the kids’ attention.
- When I use the supply table I will often tell the children to crawl, slither or jump to the supply table to get their things. It’s great to incorporate gross motor activity into your lesson.
Do you have any special tips to to add to our list of ways to keep kids engaged? Please let us know!