Activities for Children with Special Needs
By Kimberly Evans
Joining in afterschool activities can be fun, challenging, and meet the needs of all learners. It can build self-esteem and confidence for children who need extra support in the classroom and find academics challenging. Children with special needs, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities, and Asperger’s syndrome, benefit greatly from afterschool activities where they can relax and build on strengths outside the classroom.
There are many ideas that focus on physical fitness. One such option, horseback riding, is therapeutic, active, and available for children of all ages. Organizations such as Maryland Therapeutic Riding and Bridle Paths in Virginia offer specialized programs for students with special needs. As well, many therapeutic riding programs, including Spirit Equestrian, offer volunteer opportunities for those who love horses or desire to work with children of differing abilities. Other activities include team sports where social skills are built and cooperation is the main goal. In sports like karate and swimming, physical activity depends on individual and cooperative goals. Yoga is great for teaching children self-discipline and ways to self-soothe.
Activities in which children can be creative and use their imagination are also excellent possibilities for children with special needs. Art classes, including painting and ceramics, provide ways for children to express themselves freely. Dramatic arts and playing an instrument give kids another way to create and perform in a fun environment
In addition, culinary classes offer an outlet for children to improve their planning skills with a rewarding end result, which is high on every child’s list. These classes help children develop a genuine interest in healthy eating, essential cooking skills, and skills in reading comprehension and math. Tiny Chefs, Young Chefs Academy, and Cooking Up Books Education Studio are places where they specialize in classes for kids.
Clubs build friendships and skills around a common interest, such as chess. Many times afterschool clubs are held at a child’s school. However, they can also be found offsite. The Chess Center (www.chessctr.org/) and People Animals Love (www.peopleanimalslove.org/our_programs.php) both provide afterschool clubs to school sites. Girls on the Run is also a school-based program where girls build self-esteem, friendships, and become more active (gotrdc.org; gotrnova.org; girlsontherunofmoco.org). Kids Run the Nation (www.rrca.org/programs/kids-run-the-nation-program/) provides another school-based club option for both boys and girls in which running to be physically fit is the main goal.
Volunteerism is another possibility where children with special needs can have a fun activity and help others at the same time. Volunteering at local races (check out www.mcrrc.org, www.dccapitalstriders.com, and train4dc.com) for running clubs is a great way to give back to the community and to local or nationwide charities. Another suggestion is to volunteer at the local animal shelter; children get a chance to work with animals and learn responsibility. Volunteering brings out new and enhances current interests children have, which can lead to lifelong hobbies or career decisions. EarthWatch Institute brings US and International volunteer opportunities to teens (http://www.earthwatch.org/expedition/teenteam/?gclid=CNCGjI7e-rYCFcJo4AodrwgALQ). Other ideas for volunteering are found at http://www.parentsconnect.com/parenting-your-kids/kids-with-special-needs/volunteer_disabilities_teen.html
Whatever activity your child chooses, make sure it is something they love and think is fun. An overview of best and worst activities for children with ADHD is found on the Babycenter website (www.babycenter.com/0_best-and-worst-after-school-activities-for-children-with-adh_67358.bc?showAll=true). However, these activities are perfect for children with many different types of special needs.
Kimberly Evans (firstname.lastname@example.org) is founder and owner of KAEvans Consultancy, specializing in data-driven professional development for teachers and administrators. She has been in the field of education for over 15 years, earned an Ed.D. from GWU, and is mom to two-year-old daughter Caroline.