What in the world is accidental learning? Well this is a term I like to use for the learning that occurs during play and highly motivating activities. As I just recently wrote a two part series on incidental teaching, I thought I'd also tackle one of my favorite types of learning that occurs naturally and without much planning.
Accidental learning is just that, it's unplanned. It occurs spontaneously, most often in play and more often than not as a response to the interest of a student/client. It happens when I am NOT currently targeting that particular skill, but with a simple model I can see it will benefit the student at hand. Accidental learning may occur at any time and in any place. Often times, I must illustrate to parents how they have fostered accidental learning as they feel they are only teaching their child in a structured environment. Yet, learning is a way of life. It occurs away from the desks and tables and out of sight of the chalkboards or dry erase boards.
So here are some of my favorite ways to facilitate some "accidental learning":
1. Grocery Store Shopping: The produce aisle is one of my FAVORITE places to facilitate accidental learning. You can talk about so many great cognitive concepts such as colors, shapes, sizes, vegetables vs. fruits, counting and one to one correspondence, number identification on price tags, etc. So many great concepts can be introduced and over time learned!
2. Playground: How great is the playground for accidental learning? Our children can learn social skills such as taking turns, waiting our turn, waiting in lines (climbing up and down slides), introducing self and asking to join in play, etc. When watching children play, we can see they are learning how to play cooperatively, follow each other's leads and directions, develop pretend play skills, etc. Oh what a wonderful place the playground is! Be sure to help your students or own children if you know they struggle with social skills. Actually teach them the things to say in real time so they have a memory on which to base the use of particular social skills.
3. Library: Oh my goodness, what a TREASURE the public library is! So many libraries now have children's rooms with developmental toys as well as puppets and books. They offer great free programs such as story times, STEM educational events, puzzles, writing contests, super hero days, free movies (of which you can always find a book version within the library somewhere), etc. Some libraries offer free tutoring, e-readers, access to other technology. Don't discount your library! You can find information on thousands of topics for your students and own children. With simple book reading and re-reading your child's vocabulary can grow exponentially!
4. Busy Bags and Waiting Rooms: How often do we ask our children to wait?! In doctors offices, post office lines, restaurants, in traffic, etc. Sometimes our days are just spent waiting to complete the next errand. So why not use this time for some great accidental learning? Have you seen the busy bags ideas that are all over the internet? If you haven't, here is a link to my pinterest board with several of these great ideas some brilliant mothers and professionals have created. There are numerous ways to address early cognitive concepts as well as fine motor skills, sensory needs, language concepts, etc. So MUCH accidental learning can take place simply by making some of these busy bags with objects around your house (and head on over to the dollar store near you b/c you will find some great items to use)!
5. Family Reading Time: I know a fellow teacher who has "reading parties" with her own children. It's a great way to share a book together and is a wonderful way to learn new vocabulary, learn how to retell a story, and also see how much your children are understanding of what they are hearing by simply asking them questions. Depending on your children's ages, you can have them either write or draw a synopsis of the book after chapters or at the end of each book. It's a great way to prepare you children for book reports that will eventually be coming at school! It is a great activity that can easily be modified to use for middle and high school speech therapy sessions as well for our students who are really struggling with reading comprehension. What a great way to use academic curriculum!
6. Pretend play: Pretend play with your students or own children is a MUST! What great learning occurs here! Skills such as communication, social skills, development of narratives, cooperative play, problem solving, etc. will easily develop with little help. Simply have fun and you will see the learning without much help from you!!!!
Ok, so there you have it! These are my six (b/c five was too few) favorite ways to facilitate accidental learning! Feel free to share with parents as you counsel them or find ways to incorporate some of these activities with simple modifications into your therapy sessions.
Do you have a favorite way to facilitate "accidental learning"? If so, please share below!