I recently heard about a school system in New Jersey that has decided to develop a convenience store within their school to help teach special needs students in a real-life circumstance about job skills. It’s about time!
For years I have been advising teachers, parents and other therapists that working in isolated contexts is only good to a point. We MUST help our kids apply the skills in real world contexts if we’re going to serve them in the long run.
I think of all the times I used the other people in my offices for “practice.” Taking my clients to their offices, learning to knock on doors, ask questions, have a conversation, request something, learn to greet or say ‘goodbye” and the list goes on. I have also had office locations that were in shopping centers that allowed me to take kids out in the real world and deal with spontaneous everyday experiences at grocery stores, drug stores, and the ever popular bakery and frozen yogurt shops for treats!
When you are isolated in an office or classroom, it is easy to forget all the natural and unplanned things that happen in real life. Therapists and teachers are used to having goals or curriculums to follow, but the real world doesn’t work like that.
Parents are dealing with their kids in the real world and they are expecting that the skills kids are learning in school and therapy will help their children in the real world. So often, that is not the case because we’re not teaching kids how to apply the skills. Real world experiences are the best teachable moments.
The number of skills that can be taught in the real world are endless: social skills, language skills, math skills, life skills, behavioral and emotional regulation, problem solving skills, and the list goes on and on and on.
Too often I would hear from teachers and therapists that they can’t take their students or clients outside of the classroom or therapy room. By having a store in a school the opportunities for many of the same teachable moments are now brought to the kids. The only unfortunate thing I see is that this is being offered at a school for special needs children instead of being part of a mainstream school. By having special needs and non-special needs individuals working together, you simulate a much more natural real world environment.
The non-special needs students get to know and understand how to listen to, help and appreciate the needs of those with special issues. It was always so disheartening to me when I would take a child into the grocery store and a worker was obviously unfamiliar with the awkward or unusual language or behavior manifested by my client. By teaching neurotypical kids how to work with individuals in the real world that may have special needs is a skill sorely missing in our educational system.
Photo by hoyasmeg, available under a Creative Commons attribution non-commercial license.