1. Disability
  2. Play & learning
  3. Learning & behaviour

Helping children with disability learn

0-8 years

Everyday play and communication with you can help your child with disability explore her world, learn new things and increase her confidence and ability. You can spark your child’s motivation to learn by building on her interests.

In This Article

Supporting learning for children with disability: tuning into interests

When you want to support your child with disability to learn, his everyday interests are a great place to start. When your child is doing something that interests him, he’s more likely to feel motivated and willing to learn.

You can use your child’s interests as the basis for:

  • building on her language
  • boosting her social skills
  • increasing her confidence to use her skills in other environments
  • developing her ability to follow instructions and take part in groups
  • learning to solve problems
  • learning to take turns, play and have fun with others.

Spotting your child’s interests

You can work out what interests your child by spending time watching your child and playing with him. What makes him smile or laugh? What does he naturally like to do? For example, does he choose building activities, Lego, dress-ups, cars, trains, outdoor play, animals, water play, bugs, drawing materials or crafts?

If your child has a favourite television program, you could also use this for learning. For example, if your child likes Thomas the Tank Engine, you could try a drawing game or activity involving Thomas.

If your child has limited language or play skills, what does she point to or look at? What gets her attention? What excites her or calms her down?

If your child doesn’t seem to have any particular interests, you might try out some different play activities, toys and experiences, like listening to music or watching bubbles. This can help you see what catches his interest.

Using your child’s interests to spark learning

Once you’ve worked out what your child likes, your next step is making time to play and have fun with her.

You might make it a goal to spend time playing with your child every day, perhaps starting with five minutes twice a day, at times when you can give your child your full attention. It’s great if you can get down on his level and join in his play.

You can use these fun times and activities to work on developing your child’s language and motor skills. For example, you could:

  • hold a toy that your child likes and ask her to say its name and ask for it
  • use your child’s interest in a toy figure or character from a television program to act out social situations that might happen in the playground
  • use your child’s interest in building things to develop fine motor skills and gross motor skills by building with Lego and blocks.

Using everyday routines for learning

Everyday events and routines can be great opportunities for your child to develop interests and learn new things.

For example, if you’re sorting the laundry, you could ask your child to help you by collecting all the socks. Or he could name all the clothes. Or you could talk about the colours and count the clothes.

At mealtimes you could ask your child to set the table – a placemat that shows where to put the cutlery, cups and plates might help. While you’re eating you could practise naming different foods or take turns telling stories or jokes.

You can also create interesting opportunities for learning by fitting activities that your child likes into your day. For example, if your child likes animals you could stop at the local pet shop while you’re out and talk about the animals – what colour they are, whether they’re soft or spiky – or count how many dogs you see on your way to school.

Getting other people involved in your child’s learning

It’s good to involve other people in your child’s learning – these people might be your child’s grandparents, child care workers and your extended family. This will help create consistency while your child is learning new skills.

You might tell your child’s grandparents that your child is learning to name foods during mealtimes, so that they can also do that when she’s with them, or you might want to let the child care centre know that your child is doing really well at counting cuddly toys.

You could also talk to your child’s preschool or school teachers about strategies they find helpful, so you can use the same strategies at home to develop your child’s confidence and skills.

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Last updated or reviewed
15-07-2016

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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