When teaching community or life skills, providing opportunities for frequent practice allows students with special needs the ability to refine and apply learned skills in a practical, hands on way. After all, if you don't use it, you lose it!
The Learning Process in Special Education
In a special education setting, the learning process needs to be carefully understood and managed to ensure that what is taught has been retained by special needs learners and is able to be used in a functional way at a later date. In much the same way that math skills can often be lost if they are not practiced, skills learned in a special needs setting related to community education must be practiced frequently. After all, how many of us can recall why trigonometry was important when we studied it all those years ago at school? Through frequent practice, skills can be retained. Information and practical skills will then move from short-term into long-term memory, and bodies and muscle groups need to repeat actions such as finding money in a purse, putting shopping in a backpack, or checking change in order to be retained and used again later.
Here are some practical life skills that may be used in community education which need frequent practice opportunities:
- writing a shopping list
- reading a recipe
- buying groceries
- paying a bill by phone or in person
- posting a letter
- bringing in the rubbish bins
- watering the garden
- collecting water from a rainwater tank to use on the vegetable patch
Each of these skills can have associated with them a range of learning materials and classroom content. (Think of those literacy and numeracy tasks related to shopping, or the environmental and sustainability awareness of caring for a garden or collecting rainwater). Without frequent practice, it is challenging for the skills themselves to be fully mastered.
Tips for Practing and Building Community Skills
Here are some handy tips you can use when helping students with special needs learn valuable community skills:
- Make community education a regular part of your timetabled activities rather than simply something you do as an 'excursion.'
- See community education as an opportunity to foster some reverse integration which encourages the wider community to relate on a personal, one to one level with your students (as customers, as passersby, as passengers on a bus or train, etc.)
- Take photos while you are out and about so you can help your students make photo display books, write visual reports or keep visual diaries about their experiences on community education.
- Create whole units of work with a particular community based theme such as cooking Italian food - students can plan a menu, research recipes in the local community library, visit a food market, have a meal at an Italian restaurant or buy groceries and prepare a meal back at school.
The focus here is on making links throughout your curriculum so that learning is constantly reinforced and students become aware that their community skills are transferable from one location to another, and that these skills are something that holds importance and value within their own life experiences.
Literacy and Living Skills: About the Author
Anne Vize is an Australian educational writer and the author of 'Literacy for Living Books 1 and 2' published by Phoenix Education. These books provide a link between short stories written for special needs learners and related life skills and daily living activities and learning materials.