In Part 1, we looked at 3 principles that are important for your gymnastics center instructors to apply when working with children who have special needs:
- Interact with the Child
- Observe the Child
- Put Safety (& Comfort) First
Now we’ll look at several more principles that build on those original 3.
Principle 4: Be Flexible Enough To Accommodate
We all know that teaching requires using various methods to help people learn and master new skills. While a child with special needs may learn differently than most other children in your gymnastics classes, your basic teaching skills will still come into play. This will require flexibility on your part. Just because the way you usually present a new skill works for most of your students, doesn’t mean that every child will. You may need to think outside the box a little more than usual. For instance, maybe a child lacks the motor skills necessary to perform an activity the way you usually do it; perhaps you can assign the child a buddy to practice with him or her on the sidelines before re-joining the group. Or maybe a child is too anxious to join the group without a parent present; you could include the parent for a while, until the child becomes comfortable with the new setting.
Principle 5: Offer Consistency and Assistance
Sometimes instructors can be uncomfortable with the way a child with special needs “acts out.” If other children get a warning when they talk out of turn or fail to follow directions, special needs children should receive the same courtesy. If another child who is slower to grasp a new skill receives extra one-on-one instruction, so should a child with special needs.
Principle 6: Appeal to All Learning Styles
Again, this is where general educational principles come into play. Most people have a primary learning style that responds best to information presented in an auditory, visual, or tactile way. For children with disabilities, sometimes receiving a cue in the way that makes the most sense can make the difference between whether they feel comfortable enough to participate. If you’re used to only using verbal instructions, visual cues can include holding up a colored flag or card that shows the movement you’re encouraging. Auditory cues can include whistling, singing, or even clapping. A tactile cue can mean gently touching a person’s shoulder. For some children with special needs who appreciate sensory input, putting a soft piece of fabric or silly putty into their hands can help signal a transition.
Principle 7: Keep the Experience Positive
The main point is not that the child learns a new skill or achieves at a certain level; as any parent of a special needs child will tell you, their main objective is to give the child a positive experience. Instead of focusing on what the child cannot contribute, celebrate even small victories and keep your language and attitude positive. A child’s lack of ability to succeed at a given skill may not reflect your ability as a gymnastics instructor, but the way you treat your students does reflect on your ability to show care for a fellow human.