How to Help Children of All Abilities Access Programs

Sep 10, 2021
Pathways has over 30 after-school programs per week that service children of all abilities. Our classes teach multiple diverse topics and we service children from ages 3 – 21. Over the 19 years we have been running programs, we have learned that there are as many abilities and ways of learning as there are kids. We understand the tremendous challenges in trying to meet all the diverse needs. Below are the basic strategies we use most frequently to differentiate our after-school programs so that children of all abilities can enjoy the programs.
Build Layers that increase Depth In Your Curriculum
For the child that is progressing quickly through the classwork, we build in plenty of layers of curriculum. Instead of moving that student forward with new skill sets, we encourage that student to dig deeper and develop a stronger foundation and depth. For example, in Pathways robotics program, the children have to build a tadpole with Legos. It is a simple robot that may take a more advanced child 20 minutes to complete. Once a student finishes we have a video of a tadpole transforming into a frog.
The child has to problem solve and re-engineer the tadpole who uses its legs to waddle back and forth into a frog that uses its back legs to push down and move forward. As soon as the other children finish their tadpoles we have them join that child or begin to problem solve at their own level. Coming prepared with with layers to your curriculum helps to adjust the challenge quickly. The kids are super motivated to move quickly through the basic skills sets toward solving the weekly challenge. The challenge is not meant to frustrate but to teach children to be inquisitive, creative, and solution oriented. It is not to create a negative competition, but to share ideas and learn together.
Sometimes Less is Better
Paring curriculum down for students can work in many ways.  We may have a child that is older that wants to try computer programming, but they are afraid they will  fail. This child may spend a few weeks at our first level of programming which uses block coding. We pare the entry curriculum down to reinforce their self-esteem for a several weeks and then move them to the next level of programming. Their academics are not the issue.  Their anxiety might be more the barrier. Start small and work up. We have no hard fast rules. We always encourage people to break the rules when it is best for the child.
Paring down can also be used for the child where the basic curriculum is overwhelming.   We look at the curriculum and remove everything that is not essential. Instead of teaching two ways to do the same thing, we teach the one that is best for the child.  We avoid any busy work and focus on essentials. For this child less is better. How can you pare down concepts to bite sized pieces that are smaller but not more numerous? The challenge is not to lower expectations for the child but to become smarter in the way we teach them.
Decrease the Load:
Pathways has sports programs and classes that place physical demands on the body . Children with physical issues can always participate, but how? Many children are excluded because of people refusing to modify the rules of the game. For example, with soccer the fields are huge and children using a walker my not be able to move as fast or the full length of the field. You may see them on the sideline and excluded from play or gym time. It doesn’t have to be this way!
Put a small pug goal in the middle of the field and  a cone about five feet away from the goal where the child stands. The child only has to move five feet within their smaller field to make a goal. The remaining children play the entire field. As soon as a teammate passes the ball to the child using the walker, the coach counts to five slowly and the child gets a head start toward the goal. Once the coach hits five, one child on the opposing field can intercede as a goalie to block the child using the walker from making a goal. Investigate the barriers to a child’s success and have the entire team work together to remove it. Lessening the load when things are physically too hard such as decreasing the distance, increasing the time given, and filtering out excess distractions and overloads on the sensory system are great places to start.
There is nothing that says we cannot give every child the opportunity to play and succeed in their own way. Some of the biggest barriers are old mindsets or engrained ways of thinking. Take a fresh and closer look at the rules you have created in your mind. Keep asking , “Why can’t this child gain access?” Some of the most common adaptations we have used are in this blog such as building in additional layers, paring down curriculum, or decreasing the physical load can help. 
Please share what you have used to help children gain greater access and be more included. The more we unite with sharing our ideas or creating magic within our children, the more they can be gain success and find where they belong.
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