Helping children with their thinking skills across settings

We have been blogging about EPIC over the last few weeks introducing the ideas behind our approach.  

Last time we blogged about two of the central foundations of EPIC –our approach being individualised and taking what is called a ‘transdiagnostic’ apporach. Today we are going to discuss the importance of embedding change across contexts.  

In order for activities to be most effective for children, it is best that they are carried out across the settings they spend time in. Using and practicing the strategies we have described in our Strategy booklet at home and at school can help to make them routine and a child’s go to.

An example is encouraging children to practice planning. Most children as they develop begin to naturally use methods to help them plan out tasks or activities. Some children with developmental difficulties forget to do this and it makes starting, staying on, and completing a task or activity difficult. In our ‘understanding’ booklets, we describe how parents and teachers caring for children with developmental difficulties can be aware of this thinking difficulty so they know they must encourage the child to put steps in place to help them complete tasks. They can also use external strategies like planners, diaries and mind-maps to help them think about and practice planning.

In the home, everyday toys like Lego and craft activities are excellent ways to promote planning. In our strategy booklet (e.g. page 38) we describe steps that can be taken to promote the use of planning like drawing out what you plan to make with Lego pieces and working out what pieces you will need before you start. Games like ‘Connect 4’ and ‘Guess Who’ can be used to remind children about the importance of planning by chatting through about how you plan your moves before you make them. Many craft activities are also useful. Children can be encouraged to think about the final goal, plan out their use of materials before starting, and break the tasks into steps or stages to help them stay on task and complete the goal. Baking, and cooking in general, with children is also an excellent way to model planning – ‘what are all the ingredients we need before we start?’. When we bake we can engage the child in breaking the task into steps and encourage them to work towards an end goal – the cupcakes coming out of the oven!

In school, there are many routine activities that lend themselves to planning. Doing a book or chapter review is a great way to encourage children to reflect and to break a story into parts.  Mind-maps are a visual way to organise thoughts and ideas. They have a focus in the middle with ideas or themes branching out from it. The branches can be used to represent relationships between ideas.  A mind-map can be used to plan out the writing of a story – in the middle could be ‘my story’ with the branches indicating ideas for the beginning, middle and end and of course this could be words or it could be pictures depending on the age and ability of the child.      

The knowledge and strategies children gain from these activities can upskill them in new scenarios they encounter where planning skills and aids can be beneficial. Although our posts are often especially useful for children with developmental difficulties these skills are important for all children and we encourage a whole class or family approach when using them at school or at home.

In the next few weeks, we are going to blog about research evidence on children with developmental difficulties starting with a piece on ‘myths around ADHD’ and then a post about stimulant medication and ADHD. Academics write about their research in journals that are often not accessible to the very people who would gain most from hearing about the research. Over the next few weeks we will blog about some of this research in a style that is suitable for all people. It is very important to us that parents, teachers and all those caring and working for children with developmental difficulties have information to hand that can help them understand a child’s condition or difficulties but also that helps them to offer opportunities and strategies for the children they care for.  

We hope you find our booklets useful. Do please contact us with any feedback you have! 

Visual credit: Image by photographer damircudic via Getty Images

Author: Sinead Rhodes

Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences, University of Edinburgh Founder and Chair of Research the Headlines RSE Young Academy of Scotland

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