Children are naturally sensory beings experiencing the world through their sensory systems. These include their movement (vestibular), body (proprioception), tactile (touch), visual (sight) and auditory (hearing) system. These are the “big 5” systems enabling us to take part in our daily lives. Sensory-rich experiences are great learning tools to actively involve children through fun and engaging activities. This develops connections in the brain, which is why sensory play should be valued in its own right for the sensory education which it provides.
School can be a scary place, because children are bombarded with sensory information from every direction. Where the senses do not act together, children can struggle to thrive in the multi-sensory world, making even the simplest tasks difficult to master. At our school we use our knowledge and guidance given by the child’s therapists, to understand his/her sensory needs to offer him/her a wealth of different and repeated experiences to optimize the environment and prepare him/her for learning. For some children using a “diet” of sensory-rich play and learning opportunities throughout the day can help them achieve a “just right state”, for others a visual chart / or daily structure might be beneficial, but others might require some quiet time to help regulate their systems to ensure they are calm and alert when learning takes place. Understanding ourselves through our sensory systems is a prerequisite for action and behaviour.
Gross motor Development
At our school motor development forms an integral part of our daily program as this is the basis for the development of further academic learning. We therefore focus on proprioception, muscle strength and endurance, balance, hand-eye coordination, eye-foot coordination, planning and sequencing of motor patterns as well as coordination between the two sides of the body.
The gross motor principles are carried through into the classroom where we use a variety of working positions when doing fine motor or perceptual work. This includes lying on our tummies, work against the wall or slanted surface or kneeling at the table.
Fine Motor Development
Fine motor skills are the small movements produced by the body. The effective use of our forearms, wrists and hands are important for academic success as these are vital to transfer information onto paper.
Fine motor activities are done daily and we do this in a fun way. We follow a graded child-specific approach to develop the prerequisites for functional fine motor skills such as writing and self- help tasks. This includes playing with clay, tearing and pasting, threading, colouring and many more. Our Occupational therapy team is closely involved in adapting the equipment and providing specifically developed age appropriate activities to enhance motor control, finger movement, pre-writing skills and dominance. Furthermore, we ensure that correct size crayons, training scissors are used for the little hands.
The development of language skills are a complex multi-step process. First, children hear the words repeatedly and become familiar with these particular sounds. Then they must make an association between these words and what they represent. Finally, once they are able to recognize the sounds and the people or objects they represent, children can begin to experiment with trying to say those words. The development of language skills is a process that starts at birth and continues for several years but is most concentrated during the first five years of a child’s life.
At our school we strive to provide a language rich environment. Every week there is a theme and the vocabulary associated with each theme is discussed on a daily basis. Activities done at school are planned with the specific theme in mind. A visual schedule is also used daily to show the flow of the day and this also enables them to learn the scholastic language used daily.
Some children tend to gravitate naturally towards healthy social interactions, while for others it may not be so easy. We believe that children need to learn through experience how to interact with others. They also need to have the change to practice these skills. Pre-school social skills depend on 4 abilities: Self-control, empathy, co-operation and verbal communication.
In our daily routine each child gets the opportunity to greet one another and express (with emotion cards) how they feel. We read children’s books about feelings and how they relate to thoughts and behaviour. Pretend play is also used to encourage sharing, self-control and practicing good manners.
Children can be emotional and lash out physically with aggression or frustration. They need to learn how to calm and control themselves, and then how to find words to express how they feel. We as a team (teachers and therapists) establish what each child needs to calm down. It can be that he needs to be held, to be left alone for a while or listen to music. We see “bad social interaction” as an opportunity to teach a child a better way to communicate and to problem solve. We strive to help our learners become socially aware and well adjusted.
Cognitive development is characterized by the way a child learns, acquires knowledge and interact with his environment. We strive to accommodate different learning styles and create ample opportunities to acquire knowledge. Cognitive development in children involves the progressive building of learning skills such as attention, memory and thinking.
We believe that a child learns concepts and gains knowledge by doing everyday routine things like eating, dressing and playing. Structured activities as well as everyday routine tasks are used to develop cognitive skills such as counting, classifying objects by size, likeness, shapes and spatial concepts. We encourage our learners to use everyday objects during pretend play to develop their thinking skills. Custom made therapeutic boxes, containing specific activities, are used to develop memory, counting, matching and reasoning. Our children are motivated to explore and acquire knowledge through all their senses, therefore creating a rich learning environment.