Family Pages

Using an Active Learning Approach at Home

Activity vest
Activity vest

In this section you will find ideas for families to try at home and in the community.   Many families have shared photos, videos and ideas of things they have tried at home.  While it may seem intimidating at first to try to figure out how to make space for special equipment or how to try a new approach with your child, we hope that these ideas will help you get started!  

Do What You Can and Start Where You Are!

You may think that you need to have specialized equipment in order to try using an Active Learning approach.  This is not true!  While there are lots of interesting pieces of equipment and materials that you may want to check out, Active Learning is really an APPROACH and not something you can just buy.  Setting up the environment so that a child can explore independently is one of the first steps.  This may mean hanging interesting items near the child where he or she can easily reach them and interact with them.  The key is for the child to be an active participant in his own learning.

Don’t let cost be an obstacle

Again, Active Learning is an approach, and not a specific piece of equipment.  There are many things you can make to use at home, such as the ideas listed in Things You Can Make.  One idea that many families enjoy making is an activity vest, apron, scarf or belt.  For children with very limited movement, an Activity Vest is a simple idea that can be made by family members, friends, Girl Scout troops, or school groups.

As the photograph on the left shows, you simply sew strips of Velcro onto an old vest, and attach everyday items with interesting properties, such as metal measuring spoons, a wooden brush or toothbrushes.  This allows a child to explore items in their immediate environment.  For a child who may have limited range of movement and have her fists resting on her chest, a vest like this would be a wonderful way to invite active exploration!

Organizing Items in the Environment to Encourage Exploration

Wooden tray with a lip holds a collection of small balls.
Wooden tray with a lip holds a collection of small balls.

Try filling bins with items for the child to explore — all different types of brushes or balls, all different things that are wooden or squishy.  Think about a child’s preferences, as well as their skill level (for example, are they able to grasp and release objects?).  Use our Active Learning Materials and Activities Planning Sheet (PDF Version) to think about what types of materials your child enjoys, and what sensory channels he or she uses best.

This tray of different types of balls (shown on the right) is a good example of a simple way to present the same category of object (balls) that are all a bit different — ping pong balls, spiky balls, plastic balls, metal balls, squishy balls, golf balls.  This allows the child to compare different items, which is an important way for him or her to develop basic cognitive concepts that are the foundation for learning.  Heavy/light, rough/smooth, big/little, soft/scratchy, wet/dry are all different types of attributes that a child can learn about through this type of activity.

Invite Friends and Families to Contribute

If there is a specific piece of equipment that you think your child would enjoy and benefit from at home, there are a number of different ways you might be able to obtain it.  Talk to your child’s therapists and teachers, as well as social workers or assistive technology specialists.  There are sometimes pockets of money to purchase special equipment or there may be some available on loan.

Friends and family members often wonder what a child might like for a birthday or a holiday, such as Christmas or Hanukkah.  Invite them to make a contribution towards a particular item.  This is often helpful to people who aren’t sure what to give, and is a great way to be able to afford more expensive items. To learn about the price of various pieces of equipment available from LilliWorks you can visit their website.  You may also want to visit the Equipment tab on this website to learn which pieces of equipment work on various areas of motor development.  There is also a list of sources of materials, where you can get ideas.

Helping Children to Learn to Entertain Themselves

Pegboard with objects attached on long elastics is mounted to the wall beside a bunkbed so the child can access it during the evening when he can't sleep.
Pegboard with objects attached on long elastics is mounted to the wall beside a bunkbed so the child can access it during the evening when he can’t sleep.

You may think that trying some of these ideas will be more work for you, but it will ultimately help you by ensuring that your child is engaged in something interesting and meaningful. It can be difficult for children and youth with significant multiple disabilities to develop recreation and leisure skills, and to find and interact with materials that they find pleasurable.  Setting up the environment so that they can locate and explore interesting materials will benefit the child, as well as the rest of the family. In the photo on the left, a family has set up an Activity Wall next to the child’s bed, so that he can be engaged while on his bed.  He had been resistant to staying in bed and had problems sleeping, which had become a challenge for his whole family.  After this Activity Wall (which is a piece of pegboard affixed to a wall, with items suspended from the holes) was installed in his bedroom, he enjoyed staying in bed, and his sleep habits quickly changed.

An older child sits inside a den made of pegboard and PVC pipe.
An older child sits inside a den made of pegboard and PVC pipe.

This Den was created for a teenager to use at home.  It is made of pegboard and PVC pipe, with items suspended from the PVC pipes at the top.  Suspended items include metal pizza pan with magnets, plastic bin with holes, a leather work glove, and a baseball cap.

For more ideas about this, see Planning and Supporting a More Active Life at Home.


It can be tricky to create space in many homes for all of the special equipment and materials that many learners with multiple challenges need.  Put a toy box or suitcase with wheels in your child’s bedroom with favorite toys that can be played with on a wooden or hard surface floor or Resonance Board. The suitcase with wheels works nicely so that it can go to the child if they are not playing in their bedroom. A bookcase can hold bins to stock supplies as well.

Girl plays at a free-standing position board on a table.
Girl plays at a free-standing position board on a table.

Position Boards can be attached to walls with hooks. If the child is not very strong, using things like Command Strips might work as well, but be sure that you consider safety issues. Position boards can also be played with on the floor or make a three-side structure using computer cable ties to place on a table top or other surface. 

A Resonance Board can be stored upright against a wall. If there is a space in a bedroom or living room for it to be placed in a normal position this is terrific. So instead of a chair in that space for your child, have the Resonance Board become his/her space.

A swing set might be used to attach a HOPSA dress or as a place to hang an Echo Bucket. The Resonance Board could sit underneath or you might place rubber bathmats below if the child needs to be positioned on back or stomach. If the child is in the HOPSA dress you can use bins with water, sand, bark, and other textures to explore with feet.

In the long run, work with what you have and be creative. Storage is a challenge for everyone, even schools. 

Time for Practice

It takes a very long time for children with multiple disabilities to develop new skills.  When families are invested in providing an opportunity for a child to practice skills, they develop more quickly. Talk to your education team and ask for their support in helping you to create environments at home that will support the learning that takes place at school.

See also:

Activities for Home

Ideas for Younger Learners

Ideas for Older Learners