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Special educators and their students both benefit from using choice time in the classroom. Find out how it can help your students become more independent!

5 Reasons to Use Choice Time in Your Classroom

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The other day we were working on classroom schedules in the community of the Special Educator Academy.  And someone commented that my schedule examples almost always have a choice time scheduled into the day.  They asked why and what they looked like. And I realized I hadn’t talked about why I like choice time and why I think it’s important.

So let me start with a story.

 Special educators and their students both benefit from using choice time in the classroom. Find out how it can help your students become more independent!

When I was doing my internship, one of my assignments was counseling with adults with developmental disabilities.  It was an interesting challenge given that most of my clients had difficulties with communication, so talk therapy (which I didn’t like much anyway) was not the way to go.  I met my first client at camp and scheduled our first visit to start in the hospital cafeteria. I chose it because I thought eating would give us something to do.

But, once we got there,  I thought we would never get to eat. All he could do was stand in the middle of the room and look at all the choices.  He just couldn’t decide.

This guy loved going out and about in the community.  He would walk for miles in our university town and stop in at local businesses.  But I discovered in the cafeteria that when asked what he wanted, he didn’t know how to make a choice.

So, we spent the counseling sessions working on making choices.  We started small with vending machines. Did you know that you can pretty much divide snack machines into two sections? Sweet stuff goes on top; salty stuff goes on the bottom.  So you can start small by deciding between those 2 choices and go from there.

By the end of the semester, our final session was to go to Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shop.  Now, I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time making a decision there. My client was able to make a decision from all the flavors with only one person having to go ahead of us in line.  That was a huge step for him.

So why is this important?

It’s important because we make thousands of decisions every day.  Imagine if every decision required minutes to hours of deliberation.  It would be debilitating and you would never move to the next thing. That’s kind of how it was for him.

So today I thought I would share some reason why I think including a choice time in your day is important.  And I’ll be back next week to share how I implement them in the classroom.

5 Reasons Why Choice Time is Important

1. As you can tell from the story, being able to make a choice is a skill. And it’s a skill that many of our students don’t have.  Sometimes they have difficulty knowing what the choices are. Other times, they are afraid of making a choice that someone will think is wrong.  But for many choices, like about what you want to do, there obviously is not a wrong choice. So students need to be taught to make choices of what they like to do, eat, etc.

We need to be teaching choice time in special education to increase leisure skills and ability to advocate for themselves. Check out 5 reasons it's important in your classroom.

2. Students need to try new leisure activities to learn what other things they might like.  For instance, some kids would choose computers everyday and never try anything else. So they would have no other interests if the computer was broken.

3. Students need to understand that some choices they want aren’t available. For instance, if they want the computer and there is a student on each computer, it may no longer be an option.  Choice time gives us a controlled situation to teach them to tolerate this disappointment.

4. Students need to learn to advocate for themselves.  So learning to make choices is the first step in telling people what you want or need.

5. Choice time typically takes less staff supervision.  And this has 2 components. One, the students get a type of break from staff being on top of them instructing.  And two, it allows you to give your staff breaks during the day. For instance, I often schedule choice time during the middle of the day after lunch.  This allows the zoning plan to fit in at least one lunch break for the staff.

So those are some reasons why I think choice time is worthwhile in the classroom.  In the next post I’ll talk about how I implement it in the classroom and what it might look like.

In the meantime, if you found this to be a useful topic of discussion, you may enjoy our discussions in the community of the Special Educator Academy.

Until next time,

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