As a parent, giving your children an excellent sensory learning experience (Gelladuga, 2020) is a fantastic way for them to spend their time. Even if you can get outdoors, they will need something to help occupy their time while they are home. Whilst you can teach them yourself, what can you do that will help facilitate better learning?
You can improve your kids’ knowledge - and grow their social skills - through a variety of fun and educational activities. Check out these ideas, that your kids may enjoy and benefit from:
1) Learn about a new culture
One of the main drivers for a child's curious nature is their interest and desire to know what the world has to offer them.
It is partly why children are so eager to learn and understand things. One way to encourage this habit is by teaching them about a new culture. You might take them to another country, like Thailand for example, to experience a very different way of life. Immersing a child (or adult!) in that alternative cultural environment can enhance their learning experience and understanding of diversity (Creek, 2020).
If travelling is not currently an option for you, your children could first learn about the native people of your own country. Alternatively, you could read with them about cultures and destinations that you would like them to see in the future. Visiting museums, festivals and other cultural events in your city or locality can reinforce their learning at home.
2) Teach them how to cook
Beyond simply preparing food to eat, cooking together can be about teaching kids the importance of healthy eating. As they grow, allowing them to play a greater role in meal preparation will also foster independence, via a sense of ownership and increased responsibility.
They will also learn to appreciate the wider value of a well-prepared meal! As they get older, you can grade up the complexity or breadth of tasks, such as by completing a grocery list or adding the task of setting the table.
'As an OT, I have expertise and knowledge in promoting skills development and supporting people to engage in meaningful occupations, through adaptation and equipment. For example, by tailoring a cooking task to meet the client’s needs, such as using a recipe plan, visual imagery and sequencing.' (Matthews, 2019)
For some of these activities, greater support or assistance may be necessary. From a safety perspective, you might invite them to help with less dangerous elements of the meal preparation process. For example, washing vegetables and cleaning up peels... This would also be an ideal opportunity to teach them about food hygiene; the importance of washing hands before food handling can be instilled.
3) Learn art at home
Alongside producing an end product and learning new skills, arts and crafts have mental and psychological benefits - for children and adults alike. For example, they can:
stimulate the senses
promote relaxation and stress reduction
encourage creativity and self-expression
help to see the world in a different light
enable the participant to reach a state of 'flow' (Csikszentmihályi, 1975; in Festa, 2020) - often referred to as 'being in the zone'
Art and craft activities can be done together - boosting social interaction - or your child may benefit from the improved focus of doing them on their own. If appropriate, you could invite them to paint their bedroom walls, or up-cycle some furniture with you. A smaller-scale project could be to make a collage out of their old magazines.
Aside from drawing or colouring in, artistic endeavours might include enrolling a child in a painting, music or dance class. It can make them appreciate their creative hobby in a different way, developing skills and building confidence. If you are a parent who values art, why not let your children explore it?
4) Spend more time reading
Primarily of course, reading is an excellent tool for language learning, exposing a child to countless words and phrases. This not only teaches pronunciation, but also develops comprehension, attention and focus. If you want a child to read, it should be as convenient as possible and set at the right level for their age and abilities. Provide them with the right material and then watch them read, explore, discover and learn new things!
But language aside - for lovers of fiction or non-fiction - there’s no better way to pass leisure time than by reading a good book! Whether you have children yourself, or care for/support them in your work role, you can help them discover new worlds and adventures through reading. Beyond the entertainment factor, it can offer new perspectives on life, broaden understanding of the world around them and potentially foster empathy towards others.
5) Teach topics through photos
Nowadays, access to photographs is easier than ever. They can be found on social media, phones, computers, books and in other forms of print. You can show children photos of your family, friends and places you have visited (or would like them to visit in future!) Photos might be the main way a child learns about family members or friends that they are unable to see face-to-face.
Aside from introducing important people, photos can be a tool to introduce a range of topics. This is especially helpful for visual learners, or those with learning difficulties.
Sharing images can be a way to introduce new hobbies, such as playing a musical instrument. For example, a photo of a guitar might pique a child's interest and make them want to learn more about it.
Activities for children with learning disabilities or sensory needs
A child's disability need not preclude them from a breadth of activities and experiences that they want to engage in. With the right level of help or guidance, they can do anything if they put their mind to it!
There are adapted toys and tools designed to help kids with a range of disabilities. For example, for someone with dyslexia, they aid the ability to process words and sounds. Audio-visual systems are also great tools for parents and educators. Engaging a child in activities such as art, dancing or soft play, allows them to access and process a range of multi-sensory inputs...
N.B. If you are interested in sensory-based activity and intervention, why not listen to the All Things Sensory' podcast - right here in the Hub's Podcast Portal? 'Rachel Harrington and Jessica Hill are two passionate Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants, who answer your questions related to all things sensory, occupational therapy, parenting, self-care, nutrition, and health, from a therapist’s perspective. Great for those who work with children with sensory processing disorder, special needs, autism and ADHD' (Harrington and Hill, 2022).
The bottom line
Parents want nothing but what’s best for their children. As they grow, their needs also change - including the methods that they learn best.
To cater to this, a parent, educator or therapist must constantly explore how to keep their thirst for knowledge and new experiences alive.
The ideas above are just a few ways to spend quality time with little ones. These activities can be simple enough for them to do independently, or enjoy socially. Whilst they encourage and develop new skills, they are also a lot of fun!
References and further reading
Creek, J. (2020) In Praise of Diversity. The Occupational Therapy Hub: Therapy Articles. Available from: https://www.theothub.com/article/in-praise-of-diversity. Accessed 30 July 2022.
Csikszentmihályi, M. (1975), in Festa, L. (2020) Innovative and evidence-based wellness articles, to improve client outcomes. The Occupational Therapy Hub: Therapy Articles. Available from: https://www.theothub.com/article/innovative-and-evidence-based-wellness-articles-to-improve-client-outcomes. Accessed 30 July 2022.
Gelladuga, E. (2020) Must-have Sensory Toys for the Pediatric Therapist. The Occupational Therapy Hub: Therapy Articles. Available from: https://www.theothub.com/article/must-have-sensory-toys-for-the-pediatric-therapist. Accessed 30 July 2022.
Harrington, R. and Hill, J. (2022) All Things Sensory by Harkla. The Occupational Therapy Hub: Podcast Portal. Available from: https://www.theothub.com/podcasts-all-things-sensory. Accessed 30 July 2022.
Matthews, A. (2019) What is a Mental Health Practitioner? The Occupational Therapy Hub: Therapy Articles. Available from: https://www.theothub.com/article/what-is-a-mental-health-practitioner. Accessed 30 July 2022.