Hands-on learning is such an incredibly important component of a special education classroom. We all know that our students need to be active in their learning in order to succeed. The struggle right now is, how do we give them the opportunities to be hands-on learners with all of the safety regulations in place due to COVID-19. Here are 5 ways that I have found that will allow you to do hands-on activities with your students while still following all of the safety guidelines:
Students are socially distanced in the classroom, with desks spaced far apart from each other, often with large dividers blocking their areas off from other students’ areas…. the challenges are real! Due to these distancing mandates, we cannot run groups at tables or be close together like we usually are. We must also limit sharing materials as much as possible or we need to disinfect between students. It can seem overwhelming, but there are ways to do it. Try these 5 ideas…
Store student’s hands on materials
Assign each student a large drawer (or bin that closes) to prevent getting germs on their materials. I would also have a closed bin to prevent it from being knocked over. Everything that goes in a student’s drawer will only be used by that student. We also put sets of manipulatives each student might need throughout the day. In our student bins we have…
- Counting bears for math
- Colored blocks for concepts, word work, etc.
- Visuals for yoga
- Coins for life skills and math
- A dry erase clock for math & life skills
- All of the school supplies the student brought in
Click the photo to grab the same set (affiliate link):
Anytime a student might need an item during the school day, they each know to get it from their drawer/bin. This cuts down on the chance of them using materials that another student may have used & still get to do hands on tasks.
System to disinfect
Put any item in that is waiting to be sanitized in a bin designated “dirty”. Some items just can’t go in a student’s drawer/bin. For example, we have certain sensory tools that we only have one of. If a student uses it, and there isn’t time to disinfect it right away, it would go in the “dirty bin”. Whenever an adult in the classroom has a free moment, they can disinfect the items in the bin and put them away. No need to guess or interrupt to ask if something has been cleaned. This is also a time saver when there isn’t time to clean something right away.
Laminating materials is also a great way to allow the students to have hands on tasks while being able to follow the safety protocols. You can easily wipe down or spray laminated items to disinfect them. We have laminated several interactive activities (interactive books, sorts, task cards, visuals for morning meeting, etc.) that can be quickly cleaned in between students, or put in the “dirty bin” to be disinfected later. All of the prep you have been doing for years will pay off big time!
independent Work Task bins
Having individual task bins and pre-vocational bins allows each student to work on hands-on activities in their own spaces. Instead of having a center or group to practice skills, each student gets their bin and goes to their desk to work. Choose mostly laminated or materials that can be cleaned. This allows each student to still be able to practice skills in a hands-on manner & gives us the ability to sanitize the materials at the end of the day when we switch out the activities in the bins for the next school day.
individual sets of materials
Another trick I have found that has worked in my classroom this year is making individual bags or sets for each student for certain hands-on activities. For example, my speech therapist runs a cooking group once a week. In the past, this would have been a group at a table and the students would have been working together to cook or make some kind of recipe. This year, each student gets a bag or a plate that has all of the necessary ingredients and materials for them to complete their own recipe. So, instead of making a big bowl of trail mix together at a table, they each have their own ingredients to make a small batch at their desk. This allows all of the students to get hands on during cooking and be safe.
Hands-on learning is so important for our students. Expecting them to sit and just watch and listen is simply not fair, and will not allow them to be successful. Even during these difficult times with all of the COVID-19 protocols in place, we have to find ways for them to be active learners. I know it can be tricky, and can mean extra work, but I think you will find that it’s well worth it in the end.