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These Are a Few of My Favorite Things: Functional Activities for Older Kids

I absolutely love working with older kids!! They can be hilarious, pretty insightful and don't require lots of animation if you're not an extremely animated person. They are my joy and I truly connect with these kiddos! Some things to know first off, recognize that although you may love to see them, they may not be as thrilled to see you....unless you make it meaningful!! (I mean honestly, even then there are no guarantees, but at least it's less painful).

When working with kids in this age group the first thing to understand is that most likely these kids have been in therapy for years and could be, quite honestly, getting a little tired of the whole "speech" thing. Whether it be there is no personal connection with their goals and the significance of attending therapy or they have the awareness that attending therapy is not something that all kids are doing and this makes them feel different. It is important to listen to your kids and allow them to voice these concerns. It is also important to ensure that each kid understands why they are attending speech and what skills they are working toward improving (ex: 'You're working on learning how to express yourself better and how to get those thoughts in your head out so that others understand what you're trying to say a little better"). Just the knowing and understanding holds a lot of weight and can increase motivation.

Some kids are a bit tougher. In this case making a connection of the skills you are working on to things that are relevant to them is necessary (ex: their future preferred career, skills for better success in classes, peer interaction, etc.). This is where getting to know your kids comes into play. Find out what they'd like to do in life. If they don't know, it's ok, general examples of the importance of their goals in real life experiences is a great start.

Once we get our older kids to understand the "why" behind what we are doing, the next thing we need to ensure is that we are engaging them in meaningful and engaging activities. It's important to monitor the following throughout therapy:

1) Is this child engaged or even remotely interested?

2) Is this a meaningful activity for him or her?

The purpose of this post is to give you a few general ideas of meaningful activities for adolescents that are both engaging and functional. Here are some of my favorite functional and meaningful activities for this age group:

The following framework is used in my district and I've adopted it into my therapy approach. I like to consider the following four functional areas when deciding if my activity is meeting the functional needs of my students:

  1. Academic Skills

  2. Social Interaction skills

  3. Management of ADL's

  4. Employability Skills

Here are a few of my favorite things...

Age appropriate non-fiction content such as:

  • Online news and informational articles

  • Job postings and job descriptions

Other Activities:

  • Mock job Interviews

  • Hot Topics- What's relevant right now? Holidays. voting, Super Bowl, natural disasters, local events, school-related events etc.

  • Debates on age appropriate topics

  • Collaborative Engagement Activities or Competitive Activities -ones that require kids to work together to complete a task. (If it's boring they won't want to do it, so make it fun. Minute-To-Win-It activities are great for this!

  • Games- Yes games can be functional! We as adults play games for our adult game nights so why not? It's apart of our lives. With our kiddos we can practice following directions, address expressive language skills, problem solving and a ton of other targets with age appropriate games. No one says you have to follow any particular rules. The key is to think of the needs of your kids and make sure those skills are what drives the activity versus just playing a game. This is what makes for a meaningful activity over a meaningless one. Make it functional and real!! I 'm pretty selective of my games, so games like Heads Up and Taboo are some of my favs.

  • Budgeting for buying Christmas gifts

  • Planning and prioritizing study time for final exams/midterms

  • Conflict resolution

  • Party planning...for a REAL party! Remember we're keeping it real here! The more functional the better! (This is great for a self-contained units)

  • And lastly but probably most importantly....whatever is of interest to the kid! We can create communication activities for anything. Lead with their interests. It makes a world of difference!

I'm all about functional activities for our kids (in case you haven't caught on to that yet!). When working with adolescents it's so important to keep in mind what's needed for these adults in the making to become productive members of society-in their social life, continued learning, job skills and ADL's. What real life skills do they need practice in now? That will always lead to what's truly functional for them!

Let me know how you like to incorporate meaningful and functional activities for your "adults in the making"!

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