This is a post out of the 31 Days of Morning Circles. You can find the main page for this series here.
In this series, you have already decided where you’ll hold the morning circle, the equipment or adaptations needed for proper positioning, and you have gathered some basic materials to carry out the activities.
In this post, I guide you through additional adaptations you can make to better accommodate a neurodivergent or disabled child in the morning circle.
Adaptations to accommodate neurodivergent and disabled children in the morning circle
- Starting time. Even though the circle is typically held in the morning, there are many things that can happen before the gathering. Will the child be better able to focus after breakfast? After a walk? After bouncing on a ball or trampoline? Don’t feel compelled to begin the morning circle upon rising or as a first activity. Unless the child demands it, I recommend warming up to the gathering first.
- Pace. What pace does the child need to learn, practice, and master a skill? Will you speak slowly? Move slowly? Repeat often?
- Time within the circle. Don’t expect the child to sit through an entire routine the first day. Don’t even expect it the first week or so. Build stamina by gradually increasing the amount of time in the morning circle. In the first week, introduce and complete the opening activities. The following week (or later), do opening activities and tack on one main skill activity. Only once the child is ready, start with the opening, a few main skill activities and then closing activities. (Note: Specifics on the structure of the morning circle can be found on day 7).
- Time with one activity. How much time to absorb the rhythm and skills does the child need? Several days? Several weeks? Several months? You don’t need to change activities daily. Sometimes, you can work on mastering the same skill over a span of several weeks. Other times, moving on to something else and returning to the concept makes a world of a difference.
- Type of activity. Always work at the child’s developmental level. Even if you find a nifty activity online, be sure that the child can have success with it; otherwise, the circle might become a square. (Pardon that bad joke. I couldn’t resist!)
- Follow the child’s lead. You read the child best. If they’re not in the mood for movement, don’t force it. Don’t include it in that particular morning routine. If the child isn’t up to listening to a story, change the activity up to something more physical. You are the best person to gauge the child’s temperament on any given day. Plan/restructure the circle accordingly, even if it means cancelling it.
- Follow the child around. Even though I mentioned different types of positions in this series, don’t feel locked to that spot once you begin the circle. If the child moves around, follow them with your board/activity. My son sometimes plays in his play area while I read a story. I know he’s listening because he looks up in anticipation at specific parts. Sometimes, that’s how he listens. He needs to move and keep his hands busy. He also stops what he’s doing when I transition to the next activity and spontaneously joins me. Even if you think the child isn’t listening, keep on with the activity/song. Doing it daily will help the child internalize the patterns, and they will eventually join you in their own way.
- Consistency. Maintain a consistent rhythm and routine from the beginning. The child will begin to anticipate what comes next. Some children require predictability in order to decrease stress and anxiety.
- Learning style/dominant intelligence. While you want to round out the child with each of the learning styles, you might want to begin and build on their main learning style/dominant intelligence. Find more on learning styles/dominant intelligence here.
- Day of the week. If you’re a homeschooler or after-schooler, consider holding at least one circle on the weekend. Having the other parent around changes the dynamics of the circle (and it also lets your partner in on what the child does during the week while appreciating their progress). Since morning circle is a non-threatening and enjoyable way to learn, everyone begins the weekend with a delightful connection.
- Communication system. It goes without saying, but I will add it to this list regardless: use the system of communication the child uses best. If it’s ASL or AAC or any other form, have the materials ready.
What types of adaptations do you predict you’ll make? If you already run a morning circle, what is in place for the neurodivergent/disabled child?