Skip to main content

How to Turn Chores Into Learning Opportunities for a Child With Special Needs

Susin has been a Special Educator for over 20 years. She currently teaches and mentors student teachers and learning support educators.

6 Everyday Chores to Use as Excellent Learning Opportunities for a Child

While some children pick up skills quickly and automatically, one might need to purposefully plan and create opportunities for children with special needs to learn and retain skills and expertise.

There is no doubt that self-care skills are essential skills that enable our children to grow up as independently as possible. In getting our children to help with routine chores, we can also teach them counting, reading, communication, and even problem-solving skills, to name a few.

With intentional facilitation, our children with special needs can pick up and practise new skills alongside self-help ones. Here's how to turn everyday chores into learning opportunities.

1. Meal Preparation

Meal preparation can be learning time for your child.

Many children enjoy hands-on activities, and meal preparation is definitely one of them. On top of sensory experiences, your child gets to enjoy what he or she has created—that is to eat!

Plan a meal. Make sure though that the meal is simple and something that your child likes. Examples of simple meals to prepare are burgers, sandwiches, salads, or pancakes.

Write down the steps. Break down the entire meal preparation task into smaller steps and create a visual task card or checklist of the steps it will take to prepare the meal. If you child is not able to complete all the steps to prepare the intended meal, set aside some manageable tasks for your child to be involved in and assist with. The visual task card prepared beforehand serves as visual cue and reference for the actual materials to gather and steps to carry out.

Maximize learning. Cooking allows your child to learn about. . .

  • counting the quantities of ingredients, and even measuring them.
  • to make choices and to identify and name the ingredients and equipment needed: embed choice-making skills such as providing options for certain dressings, toppings or even substitute ingredients: "Do you want peanut butter or jam?"
  • Teach verbs and perform actions such as stir, cut, beat, mix, etc.

Support your child along the way. Demonstrate each step after having referred to it on the visual task card, and get your child to follow. Refer to the visual cue on what to do if your child needs help. Repeat demonstration or follow up with prompts if needed. This helps to foster independence in your child rather than having to rely on verbal reminders all the time, which not only can be distracting, and can be a form of annoyance as well.

2. Setting the Dining Table

Tasks that involve getting ready to eat can be motivating for your child as they lead to a pleasant natural consequence.

While setting the table for meals may seem a relatively easy and straightforward task, there are many learning opportunities involved.

Lessons a Child Can Learn From Setting the Table

  • Counting the number of placemats needed, number of plates, glasses, bowls, spoons, and forks is an important and functional skill for your child.
  • Reasoning. You can also get your child to count the number of sets of crockery needed to match the number of diners for that particular meal hence teaching numeracy skills as well as logical reasoning.
  • Sets and sequences. There is learning of one-to-one correspondence and matching of items to a set. For example: first, place the placemats; next, set a plate or bowl onto it; finally, place a fork and spoon next to the plate or bowl.
  • Social awareness. Your child may also need to identify usual or preferred seats of family members, in this way inculcating social awareness.
  • Implements and spatial considerations. Another skill that can be embedded is the identification of sizes of crockery, as well as the cognitive process of whether a plate is big enough to serve a particular dish for example, a roasted chicken.

3. Sorting & Storing Cleaned Utensils and Plates

While your child may or may not be ready to help with cleaning dishes after meals, putting the utensils and crockery in their respective places is a simple activity where learning can take place.

Other than organizational skills, your child learns to differentiate and sort the various utensils and crockery according to sizes, shapes, and uses, and problem-solves if one item can fit on top of another or into which compartment of the cabinet.

Use organisers to help your child with sorting, matching and differentiating

Use organisers to help your child with sorting, matching and differentiating

4. Washing Laundry

Another chore that you can get your child to be involved in is to help with line drying of washed laundry. You can also involve the use of hangers. Washed laundry can be sorted into respective types and sizes to be line-dried effectively. In addition, the actions of arranging and adjusting the clothing on the line, pegging, and fitting shirts onto hangers are all good motor-skill practices.

5. Folding Clean Laundry

After the laundry is washed and dried, it is time to fold, sort and keep them away into the wardrobe. Responsibility-learning and self-organizational skills aside, your child will get to practise his or her fine motor skills.

You can get your child to first sort the laundry: towels, T-shirts, pants, shorts, items to be ironed, etc. If certain articles are deemed too difficult your child to fold, choose easier, smaller items for your child to take charge of. Face and bath towels, socks, shorts, and even pants are relatively easy to fold and keep away. Consider alternative of folding if your child has trouble the conventional way. For example, instead of folding socks in a particular way, they can be rolled into balls.

Get your child to practise hanging clothing onto hangers as well, and thereafter hanging them onto the wardrobe bars. This task targets the use of other muscles as well as promote coordination and cognitive skills.

Hanging laundry to dry involves many skills

Hanging laundry to dry involves many skills

6. Grocery Shopping

An activity that is likely a favourite among children, shopping can be used as a "reward" for your child for completing a task or behaving well. Prepare a shopping list for your child to go shopping and get them to help locate groceries on the aisles!

If the shopping list (preferably with photos or pictures) is too long for your child to manage, prepare a simpler version. This is dependent on your child's level of reading and literacy, as well as cognitive ability, Other factors to consider include the structure and layout of your local shops, supermarkets or stores.

Lessons a Child Can Learn Grocery Shopping

  • Skills such as reading, identification of items, following signs, locating sections, and comparison and differentiation will be involved.
  • Checking off items on the list when they are found and put into the shopping basket helps your child to be more organized.
  • Other skills to be worked on include problem-solving and flexibility when desired items are out of stock, not found and another replacement item has to be thought of.
  • An extension of the learning process would be to get your child help with checking out the items. Locating the cashier, queuing for payment, communication and etiquette, money skills, etc are all essential skills to pick up and practise.

A prelude to the actual task can be conducted. That is to plan the shopping list together. Needless to say, this entire learning experience can be a fun bonding time for the entire family that in turn, creates a sense of accomplishment in your child!

Natural Occurring Settings for Effective Learning

The above six chores serve as natural occurring settings and situations for learning to take place for your child. When a child practises skills in a natural and meaningful learning environment, it not only translates to more authentic learning, but helps with the retention and the understanding of how certain skills are applied to achieve corresponding outcomes. This is especially important for a child with special needs.

With this, the child is more likely to transfer and maintain skills learnt into various environments for more independence.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Susin Lim