Science is probably one of the subjects where “hands-on” is exemplified the most. Since science is the study of our physical and natural world, it becomes a subject the entire family can enjoy.
However, a child with special needs may not have the words to raise questions of his world. He also might find some scientific experiments difficult to tackle due to fine motor delays or sensory aversions. Does that mean that science is to be forgotten in your home? You know that answer is a resounding ‘No”. Let me show you in this post how to get started with science.
Why science may be a challenge for children with special needs
- Children with cognitive delays may not comprehend scientific facts.
- Children with sensory aversions may not want to engage in experiments that require them to touch a variety of materials.
- Children with fine motor delays may have difficulty with manipulating scientific tools.
- Some items explored may be a danger to children who still mouth objects.
A word about cognitive development and science
As much as you’ll be inspired by what you find on Pinterest, (or elsewhere for that matter), don’t go beyond your child’s developmental level. Remember that, according to Jean Piaget, children without special needs are considered to be self-centered up until age 7. It may take your child past age 7 to begin reasoning in logical ways. Don’t be discouraged. You can work on a variation of the tips below for a long time and make great gains over time.
Suggestions for adaptations/ modifications for science
- Observe. The most natural place to begin is in nature. Take nature walks and talk about what you see. Describe the changes in seasons using signs (COLD, HOT, SNOW) or other communication system your child uses. Listen to the birds and imitate them. Extend observations to the physical world. Look closely at fruits and vegetables as you prepare a meal. Compare them. Watch how an egg goes from (somewhat) liquid to a solid while making scrambled eggs. Exclaim with excitement when flicking the lights on and off. Observe and talk about everything in your child’s world.
- Collect. I like to carry a fabric bag on our walks so that we can collect things that we see that we want to bring into our home. Look for stones, sticks, leaves, bark, etc. Then, create a nature table at home. Be sure that the items you collect are large enough and safe enough for your child. Display the nature table at a height that is safe for him. You might even consider starting a collection of one type of thing in many variations. Does your child show a particular fascination with a certain type of object? Caps? Cars? Dolls? Stickers? Stamps? Balls? Rather than ignoring the interest, start a collection with your child. Display them in a prominent place in the home so that others can ask him about it. Collections help build pride, but also help with sensory discrimination.
- Experiment. Both the kitchen and the bathroom offer places for exploration with science. Cooking is chemistry and bath-play is physics. Let your child observe you as you prepare meals, but also have him participate. If the bath is not possible for play for safety reasons/ equipment used, then fill-up a little tub with water (cover floor with a plastic table cloth and have towels handy) and explore floating/ sinking, ice cubes, snow, pouring, droplets of food coloring, etc. (Always supervise a child with water-play).
- Record. Even if your child doesn’t read or write yet, keep track of things on a large chart paper with graphs and charts using real objects or drawings. Ex: Graph/ paste leaves you collected on this morning’s walk by color. Place it in a prominent location so that you can refer to it often – counting them, labeling the colors, etc. This is a first step to recording scientific data!
What types of activities does your child enjoy in science? Where do you struggle in setting up a science program for your child?
Depending on your child’s cognitive developmental level, your child may be ready for science activities beyond these. I can help you prepare a science program where your child can succeed!