SEND – Reading Books: How to meet additional needs
All children should be able to access the same learning opportunities. However, for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) some activities may not be as interesting or appealing. Practitioners should adapt their teaching approaches and modify activities to cater for the additional needs of children, rather than expecting all to learn from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Depending on the additional needs of some children, different alterations can be made.
Let’s explore how reading activities can be modified to entice a wider range of children with varying abilities, likes and dislikes. Children with SEND can have a diverse scope of conditions and needs to consider. In the interest of this article, we will be looking at a general overview of learning difficulties involving focus and attention, sensory, emotional, language and physical disorders.
Focus and Attention
Some children with SEND may have shorter attention spans are not able to hold their focus for as long as other children. When reading to children with SEND practitioners should consider which books will be most suitable. Shorter books with larger pages and more colourful pictures might be more suitable for some children or reading only a few pages at a time might be best for others.
Practitioners need to consider how they read to some children. While louder, expressive voices will grab the attention of most children, for some, the louder volume may be too unsettling so using a softer voice can be more appropriate.
For some stories using props for the children to interactive with at certain parts of the story (such as puppets) can be helpful. This may encourage some children to focus for longer, but for others it may be a bigger distraction and disrupt their learning experience. By really getting to know their children, trying a few different techniques, and talking to parents and carers, practitioners will know how best to read to the children.
Some children are opposed to activities that over-stimulate their senses, while others enjoy exploring a variety of textures and sensory experiences. There are a number of ‘touch and feel’ books, with fabrics inside that will encourage some children to explore books. These books can be given to children independently or can be used in one-to-one activities with practitioners.
Another sensory way to explore books is to use audio books. Many stories are available in CD or online audio formats for all children to enjoy. Most of them include additional music and songs which makes the stories more interesting for children. These can be used alongside practitioners holding up the story for a more immersive experience.
Children with emotional needs can feel overwhelmed in the slightest instance. During story time they may feel frustrated that it is not the book they wanted, that they don’t want to sit down, or perhaps they can’t see the book clearly. It is essential that practitioners listen to the children’s concerns in good time, reducing the chance of emotions running high.
Some children feel upset when they do not want to do a certain activity. While all children should be supported to try new things, they should never be forced. Using encouraging language, asking relevant questions and offering solutions are all important when working with emotional children.
There may be a genuine issue that is preventing the child from taking part, such as not wanting to sit on the carpet. Staff can then either find an array of cushions for a child to sit on or ask if they would rather sit on a chair. Providing these choices allows children to communicate their emotions and learn to manage them in suitable ways, through conversation.
Children can also get frustrated when they are bored. If a child with SEND doesn’t want to sit down for a whole story, they shouldn’t have to. If they have managed to sit down for a whole minute but then get frustrated and want to play, they should be praised for the time they did spend listening to the story, aiming for slightly longer each time. Coming up with a sign or action to use when they have had enough of story time is a good way to encourage positive communication without disrupting the other children.
Children can have various types of language impairment, they may have limited speech, be non-verbal, have little understanding or all of the above. For children with limited or no speech their language can be supported through stories by practitioners offering meaningful narrations of the story. Describing the pages, characters and events and asking meaningful questions all help to build up children’s vocabulary.
For some children with limited levels of understanding, they may not have any interest in reading stories as they cannot follow what is happening. Alongside trying to build up their levels of understanding and vocabulary, practitioners can encourage children to choose which story they want to look at, as well as assessing the environment.
Children with SEND may be more inclined to listen to stories in a one-to-one situation, away from other children, perhaps in a hallway or in the garden. Children who are not capable of sitting for a story in large groups should not be made to do so and should instead have a separate story time made available for them.
For children with reduced levels of understanding practitioners should demonstrate what the children can do. Setting examples and visually guiding children through their interactions helps to lower frustrations in children who may not yet know what is expected of them. Adults are always advised to physically take part in any activities that the children do, rather than verbally telling them what they are ‘supposed’ to be doing. Children actively look to adults to see what they are doing and will naturally mimic their behaviour, so practitioners should be consistently playing alongside children, being exceptional role models.
Adult-led activities are an important part of learning, but more free-flowing interactions need to be balanced alongside these. Children with less language and understanding should be encouraged to carry out their own interpretations of activities if they do not quite understand the aim. Practitioners can guide them to interact more appropriately, but should remain lenient, patient and empathetic if some children choose to do go and play with cars instead of sitting down for story time, for example.
Physical disabilities can make life exceedingly hard for young children. Practitioners should consider their needs and think of how to change an activity to make it more accessible. Bringing books down to floor level might be best for some, whereas others may benefit from ‘easy to hold’ books such as smaller books with thicker pages.
Some children may have more muscle development in their feet than their hands, so practitioners can support propping up books with feet and toes. Children in wheelchairs might need modified tables to help them get involved with independent book exploration and those who are severely disabled, with little to no movement or physical control might enjoy an adult holding a book up to their eye line if they are unable to do it themselves.
There are many forms of additional needs present in settings, but it is important that all the children are exposed to the same experiences as each other. Practitioners should be motivated to get creative, communicate with families, share ideas with colleagues and seek advice from experts where necessary.