Social Club Extends Inclusion Beyond the Classroom
“ Mainstreaming” was the original thought that brought many students with special needs out of specialized school and into the main stream with everyone else. It was a wonderful new thought to accompany the growing awareness that accepting diversity was necessary and Important. Out of this, inclusive classrooms were born and now have been around for years.
So, how’s it going? Since I have worked exclusively in preschool inclusive classrooms for the last 20 years, I feel I can answer that and the answer is: both great and not so great. The “great” is that typical children are getting exposed to children that are different and accepting that is “just the way Josh is”. They see “Josh’s” behavior or movements in the classroom and it becomes familiar to them. “Josh doesn’t talk much”, a child might explain referring to his friend who is mostly non-verbal. Or, if they see another child at the grocery store with movements or actions that are known to them, such as a child with cerebral palsy, then they feel the comfort of familiarity. No need to stare. The good is also especially for the child who is atypical. It’s a wonderful opportunity to be accepted and feel like part of the group. In the classroom I see a lot of acceptance and love. Inclusion can work.
The “not-as-great” part is when the child, for physical, sensory or emotional reasons, is having difficulty. The others in the class may think faster, are more coordinated or more comfortable socially.
Enter the solution that keeps the kids in an inclusive classroom but goes beyond and extends inclusion. It’s called Social Club. Social club is a small class that meets regularly wherein kids can do things at their own pace in a way that is comfortable and structured. The staff can be aides, therapists or parent volunteers and is lead by a related service professional or teachers. The activities are structured and measured and are designed to meet the needs of the individual child and the group as a whole.
There are 3 parts to the Social Club
Part One: Motor Skills
The room is set up with a changeable obstacle course. There are balance beams, rocker boards, tunnel, trampolines, stools and ladders to climb on and jump from. Children on the autism or sensory processing spectrum and those with physical disabilities all can use time to practice their motor skills. Hyperactive students and sensory seekers love to use their motor skills. So, an obstacle course is perfect. The students start with the first obstacle and have to continue, one by one, to each obstacle. However, to slow the faster ones down and take advantage of the fact that stimulating the body also stimulates the mind, there is a cognitive task (such as sorting or matching) smack dab in the middle of the course that must be completed before the final treat—which is climbing a ladder and jumping onto a trampoline!
Part Two: Sensory-Motor-Social Skills
The equipment is pushed aside for part two and we begin specific games that enhance social, motor or sensory skills and often all three! Examples include: Doing tabletop activities such as spreading paint on paper with ice cubes; making goop in sandwich bags; blowing bubbles all together from a large bowl; waiting for the signal (1-2-3 GO!) And then all hold hands and run to the other side of the room; kicking a ball to each other, etc…With this large variety of experiences, children learn to adjust to new changes, listen to instructions or imitate others action.
Part Three: Circle Songs
We end in the same way. We sit in a circle and sing. We especially like songs that talk about names (their names) and everyone in the circle’s names. There are other games that are just gestures or non-sense sounds that non-verbal children can imitate.
We might also use this time to roll a ball to each other and reinforce awareness of names by having the child say the name or point to the child who gets the ball. We’ve got enough adults to help make it all go smoothly. Early on we used typical children to be role models for the others, but we found that these children went too fast or got antsy if it wasn’t faster so we went back to a more homogenize group.
In Social Club, everyone can snuggle in, fit, and do things in a more measured pace. They also have had a kind of “dress rehearsal” since we bring games from social club into the regular classroom and they already know how to play the games!
GOT GAME? Barbara Sher’s books in eleven foreign languages has a gazillion ideas on ways to play with your child whether you’re a parent of one or an inclusive teacher with many. To see which of Barbara’s books and CD fit your needs, check website: Amazon.com
- Inclusion: Why It Matters?
- Let’s Talk Inclusion: What is Inclusion
- Let’s Talk Inclusion: Inclusive Playgrounds
- Let’s Talk Inclusion: Inclusive Classrooms
- Let’s Talk Inclusion: Peer Buddy Program
- Inclusive Bathrooms: Let’s Start Talking About It
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This post originally appeared on our July/August 2016 Magazine