Continuing with the mini-series on creating learning opportunities, today I thought I would focus on creating opportunities for incidental teaching during recess or playground. These might also work well at P.E. depending on how your PE time is set up. The important thing to remember is that these times are often thought of as “noninstructional,” however they are often the best instructional time for some of our students. In order for that to take place there are some elements we need to think about.
Like all instruction for our students, we have to choose which activities are the ones that make sense for that student. Some students will be so overwhelmed by recess or PE that it is not a good instructional time. For those students we may want to pull aside a smaller group of kids to work on skills. Indoor recess in the winter months (in some areas) might be helpful for this as well. Instead of including the student with autism with the full class, think about pulling peers into your classroom or a small part of the field or playground to do instruction for those students.
Also, if we want to use this time as instructional time (not that it’s the only consideration but think about whether it is included in instructional time in the IEP), we need to make sure that someone is there to provide that instruction. This might mean staff or volunteers. It could also mean peer mentors, buddies or supports who are trained to support them. For beginning instruction staff might make the most sense. Including and training peers make it possible that the instruction can generalize outside of the staff time and those peers can become the instructional support over time.
When you have the time set up with the supports and structure for instruction, the following are 5 skills that lend themselves for targeting for incidental teaching within recess / playground or PE.
Increasing Time Playing or Varying Activities
You can teach the student to use playground equipment and materials, but usually this requires some more explicit instruction than just creating incidental teaching because until the student is familiar with the activity, he probably won’t be motivated to engage with it. However, it’s easy to create opportunities to increase the time or types of activities the student plays with. Let’s take an example that you want him to play with a ball and he really likes to play on the swing. You can set up a first-then schedule (you can get a free one here) so that you essentially set it up so that he can play on the swing after he plays ball. Using a timer might be helpful as well to let him know how long he needs to play ball before he gets the swing. Essentially you create the opportunity by making the reinforcer dependent upon the behavior you want to increase.
Asking Friends to Play
Recess is a great opportunity to work on peer-to-peer communication. You can use the same type of first-then system as you do for increasing time engaged in activities. It can be helpful to support opportunities with visual supports like scripts. You can see more about how to use scripts in this post and you can get a free set of playground scripts here.
Commenting on Play / Requesting
Any type of play activity is a good time to create opportunities for practicing commenting. You can hold off pushing on the swing until a child asks for more. You can block the stairs on the slide to encourage asking for a turn. However, going beyond requesting is both important and possible on the playground. Try using scripts or modeling commenting on the child’s play. “I’m swinging high!” “I’m going fast.” “I threw the ball!” You can hold back on pushing on the swing, stop them at the end of the swing before they get up, or hold the ball before you throw it to see if they comment. Give a model if you don’t get a response. You can also have peers model commenting when they do any of the activities.
During playground/recess and during PE, it’s easy to create opportunities to take turns, asking for turns, and waiting for a turn. Games on the playground are a great opportunity to do this. Balls being passed or thrown are good visual cues that show whose turn is up next. Similarly, lines for playground equipment are good visual cues for whose turn it is. In order to use incidental teaching for it and make it motivating, find something that he/she likes to do. Then set it up so you can start with a staff member and the student to take turns with the equipment or activity. Make the adult’s turn very short and the child’s turn longer. Give a warning before the turn is up and then interrupt the student’s turn for your short turn. Over time you can increase the amount of time that the adult’s turn takes and then later add in peers to the interaction.
Following Directions From Peers
Is your recess pretty open-ended with no structure? Consider creating games that the child might find engaging, like Red Rover, Red Rover or Follow the Leader, in which another child is giving the directions. It’s best to practice these games with adults and/or peer’s trained to encourage and wait for responses. If the student you are teaching really likes to be in charge, consider having him take a turn being the follower before he gets to be the leader. Again you are setting up a natural opportunity for reinforcement for following the directions of a peer and participating in the game.
As you can see the key to all these opportunities, like all incidental teaching, is creating tempting opportunities with natural reinforcers that follow the skill you are trying to target. What skills do you like to target at playground or recess?
Until next time,