June Smarty

Summer Time!  Preschool ended today and summer is stretching out before us.  What did I do all day with my kids before preschool?!  My first summer priority is lowering my standards and remembering that my daughter does not need me to turn into a preschool teacher for the summer.  She is going to have to entertain herself some of the time.*  I also need to step it up a little bit and provide some structured activities. 

Enter…Pinterest!  If you can weed through the perfection there are some wonderful activities for kids of all ages!  My favorites involve cause and effect (not surprising, coming from a behavior analyst).  From infancy, children learn about their physical and social world through cause and effect. This includes anything from dropping a glass of water on the kitchen floor to balancing a block on top of a block tower or screaming to ask for a popsicle. Exposure to cause and effect teaches children how to interact with, make predictions about, and exert control over their environment.

Cause and effect activities include any opportunity for your child to perform an action, observe the consequence(s), and repeat. Ideally, this should include an opportunity to replicate the action exactly and repeat it with variations, demonstrating how different conditions can change the consequences.  Repetition and variation gives children the opportunity to see how small differences can sometimes have big effects. It also teaches children that sometimes the same exact conditions will not lead to the same consequences.

The unpredictable and open-ended nature of complex cause and effect scenarios can be frustrating for children with autism. Accurate predictions require generalization of previously learned knowledge and an attention to details that may not seem relevant or even noticeable. I’ve found it helpful to start with very concrete activities that consistently have the same consequence before moving on to cause and effect activities with a variety of consequences. Children learn best by doing, so whenever possible, actually perform the cause and effect scenario, and don’t just talk about it.  It is helpful to present cause and effect in the context of play. Science, art, and music activities are all fun ways to introduce cause and effect. For specific cause and effect activities and teaching strategies, check out the Cause and Effect lesson in Skills.

June’s Smarty is a “pin worthy” craft activity. It is an adorable shoe box banjo made with things you probably already have at home.

We’ve product tested this shoe box banjo (my daughter made one at school) and it really works!  It also provides lots of cause and effect opportunities. There are numerous ways to manipulate the instrument to create different sounds. Tightening the rubber bands, changing the box, changing the size of the holes, and moving the crayons are just a few suggestions.

You can continue the music / sound theme with these other cause and effect activities:

–          Balloon drums – Try cutting a balloon and stretching it over different cups and bowls to make drums.  (Un-inflated balloons are a choking hazard, so please supervise your child for this activity).  Different items will make different drum sounds.

–          Make a water xylophone by pouring different amounts of water into identical cups or bottles.  Use a mallet or the eraser end of a large pencil to tap the cups and make different tones. (This is another activity that needs supervision if you choose to use glass cups.) Add food color to the water for extra fun!

–          Have a kitchen rock concert.  There are endless ways to create sounds and make a whole lot of noise by combining kitchen items.

–          Make a spoon bell.  String a piece of ribbon or yarn through a metal spoon with a hole in it and allow it to swing freely with the round part of the spoon hanging down.  Tap the spoon with a pencil or another spoon.  Now hold each end of the string in your ears and have another person tap the string.  How does the sound change?

In ABA we talk about “capturing” teaching opportunities. Cause and effect teaching opportunities are everywhere!  This summer, have fun exploring, “What happens when…”

* Teaching independent play is one of the bigger challenges for families with children with autism. Info and resources for developing independent play skills are coming soon!