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No one will ever learn any new skills if they do not participate and practice. Sometimes you need to have a go and make mistakes so that you can learn. It is important that children and young people are supported to join in with everyday activities from an early age to give them the best chance of reaching their potential and becoming independent adults.
Some children/young people will be dependent on others for some or all of their occupations and practice will not help them to develop skills. Participation is also important for these children/young people as being involved in their own care to best of their abilities can have a huge impact on their well-being.
There are a number of ways that you can think about making changes to the occupation or task. Occupational therapists call these changes grading and activity analysis.
Think about when you are trying to learn a new skill. If the task is too easy it doesn’t pose a challenge and you get bored quickly. If the task is too challenging then you become frustrated and may give up.
The same is true for children. We need to give each child the ‘just right’ challenge, not too easy or too hard. Both the principles below can help you to get the challenge ‘just right’ for your child. You can also make the activity easier or harder. Occupational therapists call this grading.
When teaching your child a new skill (e.g. using a fork, tying their laces, making a cup of tea, skipping with a rope, using scissors etc.) it helps to break the activity down into manageable chunks. You can then teach one chunk at a time, make up a visual aid using photographs or symbols or make a sequence checklist depending on what suits your child, or use adaptive equipment to help with a specific step. You can also look at each of the steps in turn to identify where things are going wrong for your child/young person.
Think about making a cup of tea, this activity can be broken down into lots of different steps. The steps may vary given the environment, what order you like to do things in (milk first or last?) but generally they remain the same. Once you have learned the key components of a task, you then learn how to do the task in different environments.
Let’s break making a cup of tea down into steps.
Here are some examples of how you can use these steps to help your child to learn a new skills.
Use photos or symbols to aid learning.
Use checklists as reminders of the sequence of steps.
These could be written lists with boxes to tick when steps are completed. Or you could combine the checklist with photos or symbols.
Focus on teaching one step at a time.
Use adaptive/alternative equipment for the different steps.
In the making tea example you could use:
The environment can impact on participation and well-being.
To support participation in occupation we can make changes to the environment. We can think of the environment in a variety of ways: