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Best friends are some of our greatest teachers.
Children with special needs sometimes struggle with making and keeping friends. Some children need to be explicitly taught social skills and social conventions before participating in partner or group activities. Often, other children need to be taught how to interact with our child. It’s not an easy exchange.
As a mother of a child with special needs, it breaks my heart to see my little guy on the sidelines while neighborhood kids play street hockey. Our son is oblivious to the fact that he’s being excluded, and doesn’t mind cheering them on. As adults, we need to play a role in helping our children make and keep friends.
To honor National Best Friends Day, here are a few activities and products to foster precious memories and valuable lessons that friends can impart. I offer some tips specifically for helping and including your child with special needs.
B is for Bestie
Some of my greatest memories with my best friends happen to be simple things. I love sharing recipes because it’s an intimate exchange of family traditions and cultural flavors.
Great for: all friends
Tip for your child with special needs: Invite one friend over with a parent. Plan to cook/bake one of his favorite foods. Prepare ahead of time by providing photos of each ingredient as well as each step in the cooking/baking process. Next time, have your child visit this same friend to do the same at his house.
Sibling relationships can be some of the most challenging and rewarding — and they are truly lifelong! This New York Times bestselling set follows 6th grade Girl Scout Raina and her little sister Amara as they experience overcoming injury and differences as they welcome a new brother to their world. Growing up isn’t always easy, and nor is friendship and sibling-hood. I like that these stories show real-life challenges and the benefits of sisterhood.
Great for: Developmental ages 3-7, especially sisters!
Tips for child with special needs: Read the stories aloud to your child, or record an audio version of the books and have your child listen as they follow along in the books.
Price: $15.00 USD (down from $21.98 USD) and includes Smiles & Sisters
It’s also for Super Cool! Magformers are colorful, unique magnetic shapes that come together like friends to create something great. The Forest Friends set has the pieces and idea book to make animals like a frog, squirrel, bunny and more. I like this one because it features animals but there are robot, light shows, and other sets to share amongst friends.
Great for: Developmental ages 6-12
Tips for child with special needs: Begin with a few familiar shapes at first so as not to overwhelm your child. Talk about the colors and number of sides. See this post I wrote for more tips.
Price: from $33, and up to 44% off
Photography is one of those contemplative activities that can be solo. But, I love the idea of two or three best friends using this lesson plan to create an album or scrapbook together! Use your phone for pictures and download the lessons, it’s an easy activity to start!
Great for: Developmental ages 8-13, your budding creatives
Tip for child with special needs: Allow your child to use a tablet to begin as it may be easier to manipulate than a camera. Create a simple I-Spy game that builds on vocabulary your child is presently working on.
Price: 84% off at $24.95 USD (down from $119 USD)
Getting outdoors with groups of friends and running around is some of the best food for the soul. I love these fun (even silly!) activities that center around cooperation. The paper Friendship Chain is also really sweet indoor activity for younger children. This round up of 12 activities by The Inspired Treehouse is full of great ideas.
Great for: Developmental ages 3 and up
Respect is so often spurred by a deeper understanding of the person, place, or thing. I love the whole wall sticker selection at Educents, but the Habitat edition teaches kids about our natural world, and the bear is adorable. Since they’re reusable and washable, this is a set that can travel with pals and be shared between houses. Great fun for between camping trips!
Great for: Developmental ages 7-12
Tip for child with special needs: Use the set to tell stories, as props for songs, or to help build vocabulary.
Price: $34.99 USD (down from $39.99 USD)
Some of the liveliest discussions between little ones surround the characters of their literary worlds. This colorful, printable reading log from Balancing Home is a great tool for encouragement of lifelong learning and discussions between best friends of all ages. What’s on everyone’s summer reading list? Add the books and start encouraging each other to succeed with regular check-ins. (Maybe with those chocolate zucchini muffins from the letter B!)
Great for: All readers (and those being read to)
Tip for child with special needs: Write the titles of books your child plans to read. Add a sticker beside the title once it has been read.
There is a reason Arts & Science go together – each inspires the other. Young Scientists Club put together an art and science fusion package to inspire creativity with 6 different activity kits. The topics range from bubbles to crystals to rainbows. It takes all kinds to make our world great – I like the idea that friends with different strengths can lean on each other, and friends with similar strengths can learn and be inspired together.
Great for: Developmental ages 6 and up
Benefit for child with special needs: Kids who are tactile-kinesthetic learners will love these hands-on kits!
Price: $69.99 USD (down from $199.94 USD)
Gardening is such a wonderful activity, and kids nurturing a garden together can be extremely rewarding and fun! Since June is also National Fruits and Vegetables Month, I like this kit as a kick-off to a vegetable garden. It comes with 18 biodegradable pots, green bean, tomato, and sweet pepper seeds. Lots of experiments (and healthy snacks!) to have, and plenty of plants to nurture together.
Great for: Developmental ages 5 and up
Benefits for child with special needs: Hands-on, vocabulary-building, sensory integrating
Price: $29.99 USD
Some of our longest standing and most dependable pals are our furry friends! The I Love You Through and Through Board Book and Teddy Bear illustrate the different emotions a little one can feel and demonstrate unconditional love. This is always important to know but especially for that babies and toddler stage.
The Teddy Bear comes in small-hands-friendly sizes, paving the way for a dependable unconditional friendship.
Good for: Developmental age of 8-36 months
Benefit for child with special needs: Vocabulary-building especially of labels for emotions which is important to learn to express with a friend.
Price: $11 USD (down from $14.99 USD)
Related posts for helping your child with friendship and social skills:
- Using Music to Address Social Skill Development in Children with Special Needs: A Video Course Review
- 3 Book Recommendations for Parents of Children with Social Skill Difficulties
- Easing into Group Activities for the Child with Special Needs
- Every Child Welcome: A Ministry Handbook for Including Kids with Special Needs – A Review