Active Participation

It is critical that the individual initiates some actions without prompting (verbal or physical) from the adult. Through self-initiated activity the learner is developing neural connections and memories that may not be established by having an adult manipulate his/her body.

Let the learner determine when and how to act on an object or make contact and engage with the adult. In whatever ways possible, allow the learner to be an active participant in the world around him/her. Use the natural movements or responses of the the learner, and turn them into purposeful movement. For example, if a child is moving her head continuously, place an object like the Shanti Chime near her head that will make some noise when she bumps it If the learner is not actively participating, change something. Remember in the Dynamic Learning Circle this might indicate that the learner is not aware or interested in the materials you have provided.

You may need to move the object closer or tie it in place so the object will return to its original position after the child interacts with it. If the child has been playing with an object(s) and then seems to stop playing with it or appears to have stopped learning with the object, it may be time to add some bit of novelty. For example, adding a ping pong ball inside a wire whisk that the child has previously enjoyed.

Expectations of Activity

A toddler plays in a Little Room while sitting.
A toddler plays in a Little Room while sitting.

Perhaps one of the most important things educators and parents must have if they want their child to be actively engaged in learning is simply the expectation that the child can and will be active. Too often we perceive the lack of active engagement in the environment as an inability or lack of interest to move.

If we expect activity from the child and engineer the environment so he or she can access it, typically the child WILL move.

Rylan Before & After

Let’s take a look at Rylan in two different environments. Note the difference in his activity level when the environment is properly created to encourage activity.

Description:  Two clips illustrate how important adult expectations are and what a difference the environment makes in encouraging learning and active engagement.

In the first clip a young boy lies on a swing in a supine position. His lower body is covered with a blanket.  In the second clip, just a few minutes later, the blanket has been removed and Active Learning materials have been placed all around the boy.  A bead clamp is suspended above his legs, an elastic board under his right arm, and a door stop board under his left arm. There is silver metallic crinkle paper under his head. It is important that the environment is designed for the individual child’s abilities and needs.

A young boy, covered in a blanket, rests in a swing.
A young boy, covered in a blanket, rests in a swing.

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RJ and the Chimes

In this next video you will see RJ, a child with severe cerebral palsy that causes contractures and difficulty moving his hands. RJ can move his head and some other parts of his body. You will see that the environment is set up so that Shanti Chimes are hung over his head and near his hands so that any movement he makes causes the chimes to sound. The adults do not ring the chimes to get his attention, but instead wait for him to make something happen on his own. The point is that HIS actions, and not the ADULT’S actions, cause the effect and he has control over how frequently he makes them chime. He will have to figure out how to get the chimes to ring, but if we locate them properly based on his skills, he can make it happen. The objects are fairly stationary, that is they will return to their original placement after they are moved. This allows RJ to find the chimes on his own and explore them as much as he chooses.

RJ lies on a drum with Shanti Chimes hanging above his head and near his hands. His feet touch the wall that has various textures on it. He moves the chimes primarily with his head and mouth, but also at times with his hands.

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Ayanna Vocalizing

In this next video, you will see Ayanna, a young girl who is reluctant to use her hands, but she does move her head and vocalize. In this video her Music Therapist uses her own voice to imitate the sounds that Iona makes. This helps Ayanna learn that others are aware of what she does and can do the same thing. This also is a nice turn-taking activity; the type that develops a serve-and-return situation which is  the basis for communication.

Ayanna and her music therapist face each other as they sit on the floor. They take turns vocalizing to each other as they both move their heads back and forth.

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Katy on the Swing

In order to to create successful environments for a child to be active, you have to think about what the child likes to do and where the child likes to be. In this video Katy, a young girl with autism, enjoys gross motor movements, and dislikes sitting at a table. She will sit on a mat, the couch or a swing typically.  In this video the activity travels to Katy while she is on a swing. One of her preferred exploration schemes is mouthing objects, so objects have been tied together so she can interact with multiple objects. Hopefully while she is mouthing one of the objects, she might interact in some other way with one of the objects tied to it.

Katy sits on a swing and explores objects from a bucket that Patty Obrzut brings to her. The objects are tied together so there is always more than one available to her while she mouths one.

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