If your high school class is anything like mine, I’m sure you’re wondering, “How and when am I supposed to incorporate real world life skills into my lessons?” My class consists of students ages 14 – 21, who have been diagnosed with moderate to severe disabilities. I have such a wide range of ages and ability levels in my class that it requires constant creativity on my part to ensure that every one of my kiddos is getting exposed to the life skills they need. Even though the majority of my students won’t be able to live on their own, without some type of assistance, my goal is to make sure that they acquire as many skills as they can to live as independently as possible.
Teaching & Encouraging Self Care Skills
A lot of time hygiene comes to mind when teachers think about incorporating self-care skills into their classroom. While we definitely want our students to have good hygiene skills, those aren’t the only areas that we can focus on when teaching our students about self-care. Self-care is also about creating and fostering independence for our students. Below are some ways that you can incorporate self-care skills in your classroom.
• Taking off/putting on jackets and hanging them up
• Putting on shoes independently, and in some cases, even tying them.
• Placing students in charge of cleaning up after themselves after eating or any during activities that may have made a mess. This could include throwing all garbage and wiping down their area.
• Teaching students to blow their own nose with a tissue and wipe their own mouths.
• Having students who need to change clothes dress themselves, or at least assist to the best of their ability.
• Being in charge of unpacking and packing their own book bags.
Of course, not every student is going to be able to do all of these things independently, but you know your students and you know what they can and can’t do. Don’t let them fool you, either. I’ve been guilty of doing things for students that I found out later they were completely capable of executing for themselves.
If you have a student who may not be able to independently complete any of the above tasks, special education teachers are the kings and queens of accommodating and modifying. Come up with a way that your students can at least assist you in certain areas of the job. And don’t forget, visuals work wonders!
Real Life Practice
This is 100% my absolute favorite way of teaching life skills. If you’re able to take your students into the community, do it! During our pre-covid days, we would schedule one outing a week for our class. We went on shopping trips, out to eat, rode around on our local transit system, visited farms and science labs, and just tried to participate in as many community activities as possible. Now, you’re probably reading this and saying, “But all of that requires money!” You’re right, and I’ll touch on it later, but it’s not as difficult as you may think to get some cash flow in your classroom.
Bring the Community to You
In many instances, leaving the classroom and going out in the community is just not possible. That’s when you bring the community to you! Have you ever thought about inviting special guests into your classroom? A city bus driver can come in to teach your kids how to read a bus schedule. A grocery store cashier can teach them how to find the best deals when shopping. A waitress can talk to them about restaurant etiquette. I’ve even had a guest from our local laboratory come in and teach my students how to plant sea grass. We were then able to grow it in our classroom and send it back to them to plant in the marshes here.
Can’t have outside guests in your classroom? How about inviting teachers from other areas of your school to come in and talk to your students? I’m talking about your elective teachers who may have a wealth of knowledge in a specialty area that can help your students. Your Culinary Arts teacher can talk to them about cleanliness when cooking, your Ag teacher can talk about being responsible for pets or how to plant a garden. How about talking to your theater arts teacher about allowing your students to watch a rehearsal? Think about who you have in your school and how they can help introduce your students to life skills. Remember, creativity is key when it comes to bringing the “real world” to your students.
Put it in Writing
One method that has helped me stay consistent on incorporating life skills into my classroom is how I write my students’ IEP goals. When I’m working on my students’ IEPs, I try to make their goals contain both an academic and functional piece. For instance, instead of writing a math goal saying that my student will be able to skip count by 2, 5, 10, and 25, up to 100, I would make it more functional. I would write a goal saying that my student will be able to skip count up to $1.00 using nickels, dimes, and quarters when engaged in a real-world shopping scenario. Not only is my student learning how to skip count, but they area also learning about money, grocery shopping and appropriate interactions with others.
Also, notice how I said “scenario?” That means that I can set up my own 1-1 shopping experience with that student to be led by myself or one of my teacher assistant’s. I don’t actually have to take that student on a shopping trip if it’s not feasible. By the time my students are in 11th grade, I try to write all of their goals with both a functional and academic piece. Before that, all of their goals may be solely academic in order to prepare those students for the extra functional piece I’d like them to achieve as they get older.
Taking it Further
Are you feeling extra motivated? When I first started teaching at my current school, I had a principal who was very involved in my classroom. He was so encouraging and presented ideas to me that I would have never even thought about asking permission to do. With his support, we were able to start a school garden. Our school had a neglected and run-down courtyard that had been off limits to students for years. We were able to clean it up (w/ the help of our ag teacher and his classes) and have maintained it for over 4 years now.
Do you know how many life skills you can teach with just a garden? Planning, maintenance, planting, counting, cleaning, cutting and preparing food are just the tip of the iceberg. That doesn’t even include all of the science lessons, social skills, and gross and fine motor skill practice these kids get. Gardens are amazing!!
Show Me The Money
The number one way I’ve been able to help keep our class financially able to partake in all of these activities is through grants. There are so many national grants that you can find if you just google. A couple of my favorite are School Grants for Healthy Kids and Limeades for Learning.
Additionally, many people don’t think about looking into their own community, but it’s something I strongly recommend. Our local electric co-op has been one of our top supporters. Every year they donate money to schools all over the state, and every year I apply. We also have many local clubs in our community that give back to the community on a yearly basis. Look up the websites of local community clubs in your area, and you may be surprised to find applications for local grants.
Plus, once you get your name out there, and people see what you are trying to do for your class, doors start to open up. I would say that on average we get about $3,000 every year from grants to help support our classroom. When you get a chance, spend some time researching local grants in the area.
I’ve been teaching life skills for 16 years, so please don’t read this and think, “There’s no way I can do any of this.” Some years I’ve been a go-getter and other years all my energy was spent barely getting by in the classroom. Start small and go from there. If you have any questions, I’m here for you.
Tell me, what ways do you incorporate life skills into your classroom?