Working with children who have learning disabilities can be a challenge for child care providers. Children with learning disabilities generally go the same developmental stages as typically-developing children, but they may learn certain skills much more slowly. Creating a learning program that is sensitive to the learning needs of all children is the best way to ensure that children with learning disabilities have opportunities to learn.
The first step in helping children with learning disabilities is to know the children in your care well. Spend time each day observing each child. Make notes about what she can do well, and what she is just about ready to learn next. Pay attention to learning styles -- what does each child enjoy? How does she act when frustrated? How well does she focus on a task that's challenging? What problems does she encounter during play? The information you get from observing will give you good ideas about how to adapt the curriculum for each child's strengths and challenges.
Specific Adaptations for Children with Learning Disabilities
If you are working with children who have learning disabilities, here are some ways to ensure that your child care curriculum helps all children learn at their own rates.
Keep things simple.
- Choose activities that children with different abilities can do at different levels. You might set up a puzzle area that includes small puzzles, large puzzles, puzzles with only a few pieces, and puzzles with more complex designs. Materials such as play dough or blocks can be used by children of all ages and abilities.
- Include activities that match the age and ability of children with learning disabilities. Shorten activities to match the child’s attention span.
- Break activities into small steps. Children with learning disabilities may need to see or hear one step at a time, instead of a long list of instructions.
- Provide opportunities for children to practice activities over and over. All children enjoy doing familiar activities sometimes, and children with learning disabilities may need more practice to master a new skill.
Demonstrate how to do things.
- Show and tell children how to do something. If needed, guide hands and body through the motions of an activity. As children become more competent, encourage them to do more and more of the activity themselves.
- Provide opportunities to play near a child who is doing a similar activity. This can give a child with learning disabilities ideas on how to use and explore the same materials.
Adapt learning activities.
- Make sure there are obvious differences in size, shape and color when sorting or classifying objects. Subtle differences between red and maroon or circles and ovals can be confusing.
- Limit the number of materials or toys to avoid overwhelming the child with choices.
- Announce ahead of time when an activity is about to change or end. Children with learning disabilities may need more time to make transitions between activities.
- Give simple instructions before a transition to make moving to the next activity easier.
For More Information
For more information on supporting children with learning disabilities in a child care program, check out the eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care section on Child Care for Children with Special Needs, or take a look at the following articles: