Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Fishing in the Classroom

Some of you may know that I got started making Autism Games for my daughter, Serene--who is a special education teacher working in an International School overseas. She identified some students who had Autism Spectrum Disorder and wanted me to send her some good activities to do with these kids. In particular, she needed preschool games and activities since she had not worked with children that young before. Teaching children with autism is complicated so I learned to post video clips on You Tube so that I could show her what to do. I also wrote out long descriptions of how to play various games and we were both gratified to discover that this long distance consultation worked. Her preschooler is now participating in circle time, likes coming to school, is talking, and, one-on-one with her, this little guy is developing pretend play. My website does not include much direction in pretend play yet but Serene and I have discussed teaching strategies.
Recently, I suggest that Serene take some pretend play activities into his classroom and involve his peers in pretend play with him. For some reason this has seemed much scarier to Serene than any suggestion that I ever made before. I tried to describe what I had done when I worked in preschool classrooms. I told her that I just gathered up all the kids as my audience, putting them into little chairs to watch a "show." Then, I requested one or two good pretenders to come play with me in a new pretend play theme area that the teacher or I had set up (bakery shop, airplane, mechanic repair shop, Hair Salon.) The chosen pretenders and I would play in the area for a few minutes with me making sure that the play scheme was relatively simple in language and actions. In a bakery, I'd assign the role of baker to bake, the salesclerk to sell, say, a muffin and the customer to buy the muffin. Usually, I'd make it up as I went. After running through this basic play routine, I would send my fellow pretend players to the audience and choose a couple more kids to come play with me. We would then run the same basic script over again. Eventually, I would choose some of the students who were less able pretenders or communicators and we would play together for our kid audience and if need be, a classroom aid would feed lines to kids who needed help from the first batch of kids to the last. After it seemed that all the kids who needed to be pre-taught how to play in the new theme area were somewhat comfortable, I let the kids go on to play independently or with the classroom aid as support.

So this system evolved naturally and did not seem too hard as I remember it, but Serene has been planning her first theme play area for some time and gathering stuff together and thinking it through. She has clearly found the whole process intimidating She chose fishing as her theme and made a boat and got fishing rods and even sent me the script:

Captain: "Let's go fishing."

Boatman: "Okay."

(They climb into the boat.)

Captain: "Start rowing."

(Boatman picks up his oars and starts to row).

Boatman: "I see some fish!"

Captain: "Me too. Let's stop and fish here."

Boatman: "Okay, here's a fishing rod for you."

Captain: "Thanks."

(They start to fish.)

Boatman: "I caught one!!"

Captain: "I caught one!!"

Boatman: "Let's go home and eat them."

Captain: "Okay."

(They row home and get out of the boat.)

The script made me laugh, I guess because I never planned it out in this much detail before. But then Serene cooks from a recipe and I cook creatively--and we are both really good cooks. Apparently the plan and the script worked. She taught her first pretend play section in a classroom today and the kids participated--including the little guy she is hoped would play her carefully orchestrated fishing game. She felt a little foolish setting herself up as actress fisher-person but happy to see her student pretend in his classroom with peers. I need to tell Serene that she will stop feeling foolish after doing enough foolish things in public--which is strangely the truth. I now do foolish looking things on You Tube and have 1000 people watch and it does not bother me at all. I keep my eye on the goal. The kids are playing! That is the the goal and the goal has been won!


S- said...

It's hard to do things the first time, especially in front of other adults. But the kids liked it, so that helps. But now I have to think of what to model next week!

Beverly said...

I have chosen you for the Excellent Blog award. If you'd like to participate, check out my post for Jan. 22, 2008. You can snag the art from me or Project Mommy.

S- said...

Today I got myself all psyched up to go into the class for Pretend Play Modeling #2.

And then I found out that my student was absent today! I have to start the cycle of worry-->dig in-->do it and have a great time all over again tomorrow!