Ideas for Older Learners

There is no single right way to set up Active Learning activities for older learners.  Their individual preferences and developmental level should be taken into consideration, as well as the family’s priorities.  As an individual enters his or her teen years, families typically begin to think about what’s next.  Where will their child live?  How will he or she spend the day?  We hope you’ll explore some of the ideas for transition services when thinking about this stage of life.

Building a life takes some thought as most adults know.  We have a need to be engaged in meaningful activities, interact with others (especially those we love), and to have time for rest and relaxation.  Once an individual leaves school it usually falls upon the family to help that individual build a life that is rich and satisfying. Active Learning can (and we think should) continue long after school is finished.  If you want to get some new ideas listen to this interview with Joe Gibson who runs an outdoor activity program in Norway. 

Using Materials Found Around the House

It’s good to remind yourself that Active Learning is an APPROACH and not a specific piece of equipment.  You already have plenty of household items that can be interesting for your child to explore.  Present items that have interesting properties (i.e. not all plastic) and invite your child to explore the items, with their different weights, textures, and sizes. 

Parent Sarah Lundgren shared the photos below of items in her house that she set up for her teenage son to explore.  In the image below on the left, metal items are presented on a tray, including C-clamps, a metal basket of jar lids, metal chains, metal padlock.  In the middle photo paper towel rolls are in a bucket and small items are presented in muffin tins.  In the image on the right, Dean sits in the garden exploring a hose.

APH Tray with padlock, bicycle chain, c-clamps, gears, bottle caps, and other items.
APH Tray with padlock, bicycle chain, c-clamps, gears, bottle caps, and other items.
A metal bowl with cardboard tubes inside and a muffin tine with various small objects in each cup.
A metal bowl with cardboard tubes inside and a muffin tine with various small objects in each cup.
Dean sits in a community garden and explores the water hose.
Dean sits in a community garden and explores the water hose.

Allowing Time for Independent Exploration

The videos below show an older learner who is ambulatory.  He enjoys opening and closing different types of doors, and also loves to swim.  In a number of the videos, you will see him exploring different types of doors:  metal and wooden gates, a refrigerator door and a car door.  He is learning an enormous amount through his exploration.  Concepts such as open and close, in front/in back of, up/down, heavy/light are some of the comparisons he is able to make through his experimentation.  These are foundational cognitive concepts, which form the basis for spatial awareness (a critical component of orientation and mobility), mathematics, and science.  In addition, he is developing communication skills, saying “open” and “close” and by requesting certain items in the refrigerator.  These skills also promote independence and the development of functional skills in the natural context.

Functional Activities

A young man uses a salad spinner to help prepare a meal.
A young man uses a salad spinner to help prepare a meal.

As a learner gets older, there is typically an increasing focus on functional activities.  This may include self-care, recreational skills, as well as independent living skills.  Inviting the young person to do chores around the house and participate in cooking activities, when possible.  Making popcorn, operating a microwave, spinning lettuce, and grinding coffee are some things that could be incorporated into the home.  Helping to wash dishes, put laundry in the washing machine, help to recycle, water plants, and care for pets are other ideas of functional activities for older leaners.  See our page on transition services for ideas that might appeal to older students.

The two swimming videos present an interesting comparison between adult-child interaction and independent exploration.

Thinking About The Future

Image of page 1 of Dean's Transition Plan.
Image of page 1 of Dean’s Transition Plan.

It is important to begin early when planning for the future.  Once your child leaves school, where will he or she go?   How will he or she spend the day?  How can you help to build an Active Learning approach into adult life?

Parent Sarah Lundgren shares her plan for her son’s life after the age of 22.

Download PDF of Dean’s Life After 22.


Below are videos Sarah shared showing how Dean spends his day in part.

Dean Riding a Trike

Description: A teenage boy rides a large tricycle on a driveway. He pedals backwards and forwards.

Dean Opening a Wooden Gate

Description: By repeatedly opening and closing the gate, a teenage boy is learning the concepts of “open” and “closed” and is beginning to say these words.  He is also practicing motor planning skills, such as reaching over, pushing the gate away from himself, and pulling it towards himself.  Walking through the gate and planning how to move through the gate safely is also an orientation and mobility skill that promotes independence. This video is open captioned.


Dean Opening a Refrigerator Door

Description: In this video a teenage boy experiments with opening and closing the refrigerator door.  He is learning about concepts, such as open/close and cold/warm, as well as positional concepts, such as high/low, up/down, in back of/in front of, above/below.  He is learning about the different ways that doors open (away from/towards), as well as about different types of handles.  With the refrigerator, there are two doors (one on the right and one on the left) which have a kind of suction on them to keep them closed.  Experimenting with these offers a comparison to the experience of opening and closing other kinds of doors or gates, which helps to lay the foundation for understanding of the wider concept “door”.

In addition to developing these conceptual understandings, opening and closing the doors offers an opportunity to practice motor skills and motor planning, and moving his body in relation to the door, which is related to the development of orientation and mobility concepts.  He is also working on spoken languages and the word “open”. This video is open captioned.


Dean Opening a Metal Gate

Description: A teenage boy opens and closes a metal gate in a public park.  This 2-minute clip is part of a much longer segment (about 45 minutes) in which he repeatedly opens and closes the gate.  This practice and repetition helps him to learn critical concepts about how to move his body in space (for example, backing up as the gate swings towards him).  The understanding of positional concepts and the ability to plan one’s movement in relation to items in the environment is essential to the development of orientation and mobility skills, and independent movement.  The fact that this activity is happening at the public park also offers an opportunity for inclusion in the community setting, with others around with whom he may interact as he participates in community experiences. This video is open captioned.

Dean Opening a Car Door

Description:  Opening and closing a car door offers yet another opportunity to compare different ways to open and close.  A sliding van door is different from a metal gate or a wooden gate or a refrigerator door.   Learning what makes all doors the same and various doors different helps to develop an understanding of “door-ness”.  Comparisons are the foundation of math skills, and this series of door videos offers repeated examples, e.g. comparing materials (wood, metal, plastic); weight (heavy/light); size (bigger than self or smaller than self);  positional concepts (in front of/behind, left/right, next to/across from, above/below).  Learning the motor skills necessary for opening different types of doors provides practice with arm, hand, and finger strength, bi-manual coordination, wrist rotation, and more.  Motor planning (e.g. moving oneself in relation to a door) is a basic part of orientation and mobility. This video is open captioned.

Dean Rolling a Gathering Drum

In the video clip below, Dean uses problem solving skills to roll a gathering drum on its side, and to roll a heavy ball.


Dean with Swimming Instructor

Description:  This video shows a teenage boy in an individual swimming lesson with an instructor.  They interact with simple games and routines, such as singing “Row, Row, Row your boat”, which helps him to develop trust and bonding with an adult, while also practicing turn taking skills and communication.  He is also learning swimming skills, such as putting his face in the water, floating, and kicking his legs.

This video is open captioned.

Dean in the Pool Swimming Pool

Description:  This video clip of a teenage boy in a pool is part of a much longer session (approximately 45 minutes) in which he experiments with moving himself in and out of the pool.  No one is interacting with him or speaking to him while he does this, although his mother is watching him throughout.  The fact that no one is speaking or interacting with him offers him an opportunity to explore and practice through repetition.  He practices blowing bubbles with his face in the water, getting in and out of the pool independently, and moving his arms and legs in the water.  His explorations are teaching him about concepts such as wet and dry, hot and cold, up and down, in and out.  Having this time to explore by himself allows him to develop confidence and to practice skills he has been learning during swimming lessons with an instructor. This video is open captioned.

Dean Using a Coffee Grinder

Description:  In this video a young man stands in his family’s kitchen and presses the lid on an electric coffee grinder to grind the beans.  This activity offers an opportunity to practice cause and effect, finger strength, and communication skills, while also developing independent living skills and participation in family life. This video is open captioned.

By Suzanne Becker, TSBVI

A TVI and classroom teacher describes how she serves her secondary-level students who are visually and multiply impaired using Lilli Nielsen’s Active Learning approach along with other strategies.

See also Classroom Centers and Activities for Older Students for more ideas.