LJ loves animals. OK, to be more accurate he is obsessed! He has always shown a deep connection to and interest in animals. Using that interest, we have been able to encourage a desire to learn to read, spell, and gain other academic skills. Animals are also a frequent gateway to social-emotional learning activities.
They are his perfect motivator.
Over the years as a therapist, I have seen the unique interests and passions of children with autism provide a bridge to learning. I have seen Thomas the Tank engine used to potty train, the movie Cars used to help a child learn to communicate, and Monsters INC used to help form peer friendships.
Point being: I am a big believer in following a child’s interest!
So, a few weeks ago I was scrolling Instagram and saw a cute post about making “Superhero Profiles” as a way to generate conversations about strengths, weaknesses, and responsibilities.
I was hooked! The problem is, LJ doesn’t have a super strong interest or knowledge of superheroes. So I was eager to come up with an activity that would allow us to have a similar conversation, but better match his passions.
*Note: At 4, LJ’s writing skills are still emerging. Since the purpose of this activity was not academic, I didn’t require him to do the writing. I wanted him to be able to focus on the content and not be concerned with the added demand of writing.
I set up the activity by first talking about his favorite animals. He was excited to help me fill out the profiles. We talked about how each animal has special skills (or ‘creature powers’ if you are a fellow Wild Kratts fan) and even the most fierce animals still have weaknesses or things they aren’t good at. Finally, we considered what “needs” each animal has, what they like, what makes them comfortable, etc.
Then I told him we were going to talk about a new creature: an LJ! We talked about the things that make him unique, what he is good at, what things are tough for him, and what things help make him feel safe and happy.
HIs answers blew. me. away! My goal for this activity was to gauge his self-awareness and try to understand how he sees himself. The best part of the conversation came when we were talking about weaknesses. I could tell he was feeling a bit self-conscious discussing his own, so when we finished we compared him to the wolf. I pointed out that he listed the wolf’s weaknesses as not being good at climbing or flying and the reason was that a wolf’s body was not made for those things. No matter how long a wolf lives he won’t become a good climber or flyer. But the weaknesses he listed for himself are all things humans can do with help and practice. We talked about the fact that many 4 year olds have a hard time listening or focusing sometimes and that even some grown ups find those skills hard. So, when it came time to talk about “needs”, we zeroed in on things to help him focus or listen.
We are going to add a few more pages and turn it into a little book. I hope reading through it will lead to a few more elaborate conversations about strengths, weaknesses, and needs.
LJ’s interest in animals has opened the door for so many learning opportunities! Academics, play, social-emotional skills...we have found a way to incorporate animals.
Here are a few more examples:
Animal Movements: “I need you to move as fast as a cheetah.” or “Move slowly and carefully like a sloth.”
Animal Skills: “Let’s walk as quiet as an owl flying in the night.” or “Listen like a bat.”
Literacy: LJ loves reading about animals and has quickly learned to read and spell the names of his favorite animals! We also use this motivation to practice his writing skills.
Math: When it comes to animal facts, numbers are a natural element.
Geography: Thanks to Wild Kratts, LJ has grown very interested in where animals live-which has led to learning about the continents. In fact, we used the extra stickers from the above activity and added them to the world map in is bedroom.
What are your kiddos interested in? How do you use their interests for learning?