FIELA Curriculum

You may also want to visit the Assessment page to hear a lecture from Patty Obrzut on the FIELA Curriculum.

FIELA Curriculum offers a variety of level appropriate activities for children with multiple special needs. To help plan a daily routine, some activity ideas require use of gross motor skills, others fine motor skills, and still others require both gross and fine motor skills.   

FIELA Curriculum and Manual
FIELA Curriculum and Manual

The FIELA Curriculum is made up of a book (The FIELA Curriculum: 730 Learning Environments), a catalog of activities and a Velcro board which is used to organize the child’s week.   It was developed by Dr. Nielsen to help us determine which environments and experiences are appropriate for an individual at any point in his or her development and how they can be provided in a number of different ways.  The manual, catalog of activities and velcro board may be purchased from LilliWorks.


FIELA is an acronym that stands for: Flexible, Individual, Enriched, Level, Appropriate.

Flexible because it can be adapted to the child’s interest, learning needs and the skill the child prefers to learn at any specific time.

Individual in that it recognizes the impact of the unique combination of disabilities on the way the child goes about acquiring psycho-social and cognitive-motor skills.

Enriched because it maximizes varied neuronal activity.

Level Appropriate because it meets the learning needs of the child at a specific point in time according to his or her assessed level in all of the developmental areas.

Structure of the Day

Dr. Nielsen suggests that activities alternate between fine and gross movement activities throughout the day. Remember being ACTIVE is the key to all learning.  She suggests that the learner have a minimum of 45 minutes of adult-child interaction every day. The child also needs time for independent play and exploration. 

The Manual

A manual comes with a full FIELA Curriculum set or can be ordered as a separate item from Lilli Works. In the manual is a description of the FIELA curriculum and a list of all the activities contained on the individual cards included in the curriculum set.

The Schedule Board

FIELA Curriculum Weekly Schedule Board.
FIELA Curriculum Weekly Schedule Board.

The FIELA Curriculum also includes a schedule board with the days of the week across the top and 6 sessions listed top to bottom on the left.  This flannel board allows for the activity cards to be Velcroed in place. When utilized, this board can show an individual child’s schedule of daily activities and can be set up for the week.

A separate collection of activities are included under Alternative Learning Environments to the right of the board.  These activities are available to replace an activity the child does not want to complete in the daily schedule. This way the child is always given a choice about what he wants to do and demands on the child are minimized.  These also may be a “go-to” place for filler activities if a child does not want to stay in a scheduled activity for the time that has been allotted in the class schedule.

The Cards

Within the large binder that accompanies the curriculum manual small, color-coded cards are provided to organize daily and weekly activities for the student.

These cards are selected based on the child’s functioning level. For example, a card marked F.6+ targets fine motor skills for a student who is at 6 months or higher developmentally. So after the learner’s gross and fine movement skills are determined using the Functional Scheme, you can select activities that are at his developmental level. You would not use an F.6+ activity with a child who is at a 0-3 month level in Fine Movement. You could use this activity with a student who is higher than a 6 month level.  This provides for continued practice with previously learned skills and allows the student to experience success in his ability to accomplish tasks successfully. Slightly changing materials that are used in the activity can provide the novelty necessary to keep the child “curious and active” (Stage 2 of the Dynamic Learning Circle).

Fine Motor cards are color-coded yellow.
Fine Motor cards are color-coded yellow.

Yellow Cards indicate Fine Movement activities. The examples below are focused on using hands and fingers. They can relate to skills such as exploring with hands and fingers (sensory efficiency skill in the expanded core curriculum or ECC) or reaching across mid-line (goal in occupational therapy or OT).  As you can see, these skills are practiced in prone using a Support Bench in the first activity and in sitting in the second activity. Depending on how the student is positioned you might also be working of increasing neck, shoulder and core muscle strength. Since the finger painting activity utilizes pudding the child might incidentally work on finger-feeding skills bringing hand to mouth, exploring different tastes, and experiencing sticky textures, not to mention use of lips and tongue to get the pudding off his hands!

Gross Motor cards are color-coded blue.
Gross Motor cards are color-coded blue.

Blue Cards indicate Gross Movement activities. In the cards below the activities target a child that is at the 9 month or higher level.  Both activities involve the use of movement with legs.  One is related to an undressing activity when the child is expected to kick off her pants after they have been pulled down to her heels, which might take place in a toileting or hygiene routine or preparing to take a swim.  The other activity involves walking in a HOPSA dress on a track in bare feet. It can relate to skills such as learning to shift weight to balance (PT), moving legs and feet for walking (physical therapy – PT and orientation and mobility – O&M), navigating uneven surfaces (O&M), exploring various textures using his feet (sensory efficiency). If objects in the bins are based on a science lesson or a story about plants that is being shared during circle time, the student might be working on goals related to the science general curriculum and concepts related to language development.

Green cards indicate activities that utilize both fine and gross motor movements.
Green cards indicate activities that utilize both fine and gross motor movements.

Green Cards indicate combined Fine and Gross Movement activities. This activity combines use of hands and arms to reach and grasp shoes, putting feet “in” and taking feet “out”, exploring size, weight, smell, texture, and shape, and learning that shoes are for feet. This activity could be done on a Resonance Board while lying down or sitting up. If the child is able to sit or stand and reach, the shoes could be placed in a shoe rack.  The student might also have shoes in boxes and practice opening boxes to find the shoes. Though focused on both fine and gross motor skills (grasping and lifting shoes of various sizes, moving legs and feet to get shoes on or off), it is easy to see how other skills such as concept development (same-different, big-little, soft-hard) or math (pairs, size, weight) might also be learned.

Adult-child interactions are coded with
Adult-child interactions are coded with “a.c.” on the card.

Other codes are included on each card, for example, a.c. indicates this is an adult-child activity. In adult-child activities one of the primary goals is around interaction and communication.  In the goal below, the learner is at the 15 month or higher level in gross motor skills. The child is able to walk to some degree and so it is focused on gross motor.  At the same time the learner might be working on orientation and mobility skills such as trailing a wall or using a pre-cane device as part of this activity. The student might focus on making choices about a juice (communication) or learning to drink from a cup (OT) depending on his abilities and how the activity is structured.

An “S” on the card indicates that some sight is required for this activity.

S. indicates that this activity requires some sight. In the card below, switched on “torches” (flashlights) could be placed around the child on a Resonance Board or inside a bin for the child to reach, grasp and explore (OT goals). If the child also has cerebral/cortical visual impairment it might provide practice in using vision to notice an object (Sensory Efficiency).

Activities not Goals

Remember, these cards are activities not goals.  Think of each activity as a lesson you are offering. They are much like lessons on addition, reading circle to practice reading aloud, or learning how to play a game in PE. You must be clear about the goal you want to achieve when using any activity.

They do not tell you specifically how to structure the activity. You must individualize this lesson for your student based on his or her IEP, including any accommodations or modifications, supplementary aids and services, or related services. This includes things like the use of specified perceptualizing aids, one-on-one instruction, support from a PT, and other items.

As we mentioned above, any number of goals could be the focus of an individual activity.  This is good because it means that there are opportunities for the student to work on multiple goals within a single activity. Remember repetition is very important in Active Learning.  If you are unsure that your activities are focused on the child’s specific goals you can evaluate them using a goals-activities matrix or you can simply ask yourself, “What goals can be worked on in this activity?” Make sure the activities you select allow you to touch on each goal multiple times during the day.

Care-giving Activities

There will be, of course, a need to include some care-giving activities each day such as toileting, undressing and dressing, personal hygiene and eating. It is important to select the appropriate approach (Five Phases of Educational Treatment) to use with the child during these activities. Some children may need a slower pace and time to explore the sensory qualities of the items used in these activities, and so the adult uses the Phase 1 strategy of offering. Other children may be able imitate some action of the adult, such as patting or rubbing lotion or taking a turn to scoop a bite of pudding.  Still other learners may be able to “Share the Work” by helping to feed themselves a bite or two, opening containers, pulling down pants and other simple steps.  Some students may be able to do the activity almost independently and the adult uses the technique of “Consequences”.

It is easier than you might think to incorporate Active Learning strategies in all activities throughout the child’s day. But it does take planning and teamwork. It also requires that everyone is clear about the goal(s) for each activity. The FIELA curriculum is an excellent tool to help in planning the day.

Adding in Calendar Systems

Some students may be able to include the use of an Anticipation level calendar or even a Daily calendar.  If you are unfamiliar with the use of these calendar systems, we encourage you to read Calendars for Students with Multiple Impairments Including Deafblindness by Robbie Blaha. This book includes a great tool to determine the appropriate level of calendar for your student.

Use of this calendar system can be a way to have a short discussion with the student to share what he/she is about to do or what he/she has just done. It might also be a time when the student “rejects” an activity that is on the schedule and chooses another activity from the Alternative Learning Environments section of the scheduler. Calendars can become one of the ways a focus on communication and interaction skills can be part of every activity throughout the day.

Note: The scheduler provided in the Curriculum is for the adult.  The student may need a calendar as well, but it should be the type of calendar described in Calendars for Students with Multiple Impairments Including Deafblindness.

The FIELA Curriculum  is a starting point; and encourages you to  create other developmentally appropriate activities.

    • All developmental needs are addressed through these learning environments, however most learners will use some form of movement to participate.  It is important to vary the type of movement required throughout the day.
    • Adults spend time alone, or with others.  Children spend time alone, with other children and with adults.  There is a developmental progression to interaction with others.  First children engage in solitary play, then parallel play, then group play.
    • The FIELA Curriculum should also reflect a balance of time spent alone during activity, time, with other children during activity, and time with adults during activity.  As many children under the developmental level of 2 years of age engage in solitary play  – most activities under the two year age of development reflect activities with only adult interaction.
    • The FIELA Curriculum  recommends a minimum of at  least one 30-45 minute period of adult-child interaction daily.
    • All development leads to growth in all areas; you cannot separate out a specific area for instruction.
    • A simple place to begin in designing a curriculum is to look  at the Gross and Fine Movement assessment fields; start at the level near where student is functioning in these two areas.
    • You can also expand search for activities at level either slightly above or below.
    • Activities must be motivating.
    • Plus (+) labeled activities indicate activities that are appropriate for that level and above, but not levels below (e.g. G2+ for gross motor development of gross motor skills 2 months  and above).
    • The adult analyzes and adapts activity to meet learner’s needs in all areas related to his/her development (e.g. vision, mouth movement, spatial perception, etc.).
    • If the student’s emotional level is very different from gross or fine motor levels, the child should be offered activities that reflect the emotional level of the child so that trust can be built between the child and the adult.  Offer  activities that are easy for him/her to feel success during adult-child activities.
    • The focus for the adult is about supporting the student to learn to relate with others during these activities; it is highly related to emotional and social development.
    • Use activities that are highly motivating during adult-child interactions; MOTIVATION is a critical factor.

The FIELA Curriculum 730 Learning Environments by Dr. Lilli Nielsen Active Learning ideas for students with significant multiple disabilities pin for Pinterest. Shows the set of materials that make up this curriculum.