Teaching Group Responding: Squad School

Teaching group responding skills is super important. It’s a set of skills that most children don’t need to be taught intensively. But when they do, it can be tough! It’s really important for a person to be able to respond to group demands in order to be an independent learner in the classroom.

 

If you really think about it, it’s pretty difficult to think about the skills needed to respond as part of a group. I think most people would assume that if you can answer questions and respond on a 1-1 basis, then you can answer as part of a group. Pre ABA I definitely would have seen that as pretty much the same thing. This is definitely not my experience when working with children with learning difficulties and/or autism. 

 

If you don’t break down skills the way that ABA does, it can be difficult to know what’s ‘missing’. The VB MAPP and ABLLS-R break down skills in this area well. I generally use these assessments to guide which skills need to be taught, especially as the VB MAPP is developmentally sequenced (lists the skills needed in the correct order). 

 

It can be tough to teach these skills in schools. Children often go from 1-1 learning in to a class of 15 or more children, and that jump can be too high. It can sometimes be the case that the learners sit appropriately as part of a group, but sitting with the absence of problem behaviour, and learning as part of a group, are not the same thing, and it’s not enough. Another common observation is that teachers may ask the learner several questions during group time (which is great, we want to encourage active student responding), but they are presented using the learners name, with direct eye contact (so again, essentially a 1-1 response, when sitting as part of a group). It must be presented non specifically such as ‘everybody go and get your pencil case’, or ‘can you all show me clapping’, not ‘Joey, go and get your pencil case’.

 

If group skills need to be taught, it usually needs to start in a small group (maybe even 3 participants to start). Reinforcers should be delivered from the person running the group. It’s important that 1-1’s don’t simply repeat what the teacher says, because even if the learner is sitting in a group and responding, it’s still a 1-1 demand, not a group one. Instead, stand behind the learner, and if they need prompting use physical prompts where possible and fade (no talking). Remember, that when starting out and establishing group responses, it’s good to start with skills that are already fluent on a 1-1 basis, teaching new skills and group responding at same time can increase the effort on the learners part. Provide lots of opportunities to respond in the group, the more responses, the more opportunity for reinforcement; we only learn if we behave. 

 

It’s not always easy for teachers to cater for this within the school day. It may be due to time restraints, lack of staff, or the fact that it’s not necessarily fair to other children to participate in a group that is too easy for them, just to benefit the learner you’re working with; all fair points. It has worked in the past by collaborating closely with teachers, and taking any given chance to squeeze some group time in. You can start out teaching group responses during fun games (like Simon Says, or Befuzzled), so it could be done in golden time, or a break time/free play. The most important thing is working with the teacher to see what can be realistically done. Providing some data can also be useful, showing a simple tally of how many opportunities there were to respond over a given time, and if they were 1-1 or group, prompted or independent. Further down the line, there is some good research for hand raising.

Anyway, I could go on forever about this. All of the above has motivated a colleague and I  (Holly Cowlam, previous guest blogger, check out her website here) to start a group teaching group skills. The group is called Squad School, and will be run out of The Children’s Place clinic in London. If you’re interested in signing up, or finding out more, check out the flyer below. There’s a free drop in day to meet Holly and I at 9am on Wednesday 23rd August, at The Children’s Place Marylebone clinic. Or just comment on the blog/email the address on the flyer if you want to ask any questions! Thanks!

Squad School 2017

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Guest Blog – What You Need to Know About Teaching Independent Living Skills

Guest blog, boom! This is written by Holly Cowlam, an awesome BCBA in the making who has (almost) finished studying her MSc in ABA at the Tizard Centre. She has recently done a lot of work around self help skills, so it seemed fitting to tag her in! 

Many skills that we come across in our daily lives involve complex sequences of behaviours that are completed fluently and in a specific order to achieve an outcome. Think about your morning routine; every morning you get in the shower, get dressed, make breakfast, eat breakfast and so on. Often we complete these tasks without thinking, unaware even of the steps we are completing to achieve the outcome. Take a minute to break down just one of the components of your shower routine and you will be surprised at just how many skills you need to be able to complete before achieving the outcome. You might first collect each item of clothing from your drawers that you need for the day, then find your towel and head to the bathroom. Before you have even entered the shower you have emitted many different complex behaviours such as opening the correct drawer and selecting your underwear, opening the drawer to get your socks, opening your wardrobe and selecting a shirt and so on… Many children struggle to learn these skills during natural routines, and need extra help and practice to learn to complete the tasks on their own.

 

Behavioural chains

Behaviour analysts describe complex sequences of behaviours as behavioural chains. When you want to have a shower, the completion of each step that leads to the consequence becomes reinforcing due to its instrumental role in reaching the ultimate goal, and the completion of a given step acts as the antecedent or trigger for the you to complete the next behaviour in the sequence until you reach your ultimate goal.

 

                                                                                      Task analysis

task analysisIn order to teach behavioural chains we design task analyses to facilitate teaching, which involves writing a comprehensive list of the steps to achieve the desired outcome. The steps are written with enough detail that someone who doesn’t know how to complete the skill would be able to follow it. We can then systematically teach the steps and take data on performance.

 

Chaining         

One of the most important things to remember when teaching behavioural chains is that we teach individuals the steps in the sequence they occur, without breaks in between each. We want our learners to be fluent in the tasks and be able to complete the skills without any help.

You can teach behavioural chains in a few different ways:

  • Forward chaining: you prompt the first step in the chain and reinforce immediately before completing the rest of the steps yourself (sometimes the learner might be fully guided through the rest of the steps, however this is not a necessity, they may just watch as you complete the rest of the steps for them). Once the individual is reliably completing the target step you will start teaching the next step in the chain and reinforce after the new target step. You continue this process until all the steps have been learnt and are completed in sequence.
  • Backward chaining: you complete the sequence for the learner (or fully guide them through the steps) until you get to the last step which you prompt and then deliver reinforcement for. Once the last step is mastered you can begin to teach the prior step in the chain. You repeat this until all steps are mastered.
  • Total task chaining: you prompt all steps in the chain, by delivering support as and when it is needed for each step. This method may not be appropriate for more difficult or longer tasks. It may also not be appropriate if the learner often displays problem behaviour following demands.
See example of the beginning of a stimulus response data sheet for washing/drying hands (data sheet devised by Carbone Clinic)Wash hands

Prompting

Different prompts can be used to show the learner how to complete each step. Generally prompts are derived from 3 categories:

  • Model: showing the learner what to do and then having them copy
  • Physical: physically guiding the learner to complete steps
  • Gestural and vocal: pointing, tapping, delivering vocal instructions

Generally I would recommend providing a model or physical prompt without any vocal or gestural prompts, as they can be difficult to fade.

Fading prompts

During teaching you should fade your prompts so that the learner can complete the task independently. You can fade the amount of prompt you give e.g. after fully guiding the individual to complete a step you can try only nudging their arm in the direction of the task instead of fully prompting. You could also introduce a time delay to your prompt; so after the learner completes a step a few times with a prompt, on the next attempt you can wait for 5 seconds before delivering your prompt so that they have the chance to complete the step alone. More reinforcement should be delivered for less prompted responses in order to support more independent completion of the task.

Reinforcement

As with any skill or teaching procedure, reinforcement is key. Reinforcement may come in the form of a token, a pat on the back, social praise or in the form of a favoured edible or toy. Be sure that your learner is reinforced for his or her efforts differentially based on less prompted performance of the task. All that means is more tokens, social praise or access to preferred items when the learner completes steps with less prompts.

We only stop teaching and fading our prompts when the learner can complete the skill without anyone else there; this is true independence and will make sure our learners are able to play a valued role in their communities and live independently in the future.

      I love teaching self-help skills; I hope you do too!

Another big thanks for my first guest blogger, Holly Cowlam!

Ind Living Skills References

 

5 Things ABA Professionals Can do to Get a Foot in the Door

For most ABA programmes, the ABA team will be working with other professionals (speech and language, occupational therapists, educational psychologists, schools, nurseries etc) and it’s important to have good relationships with these different fields. These professionals already have an established say in programmes around a child with special educational needs.

In the UK, my experience is that ABA seems to be the least heard voice. In multi disciplinary meetings (EHCP meetings, TAC meetings, IEP meetings etc), the opinion of ABA professionals seems to be the least recognised. I must say, this isn’t always the case, some schools/professionals are more than welcoming. The point is, I believe there are things we can do to help our cause, and make our voice heard more, and our input valued a little more.

Here are 5 things that I have found to be really helpful since going out in to the world as an independent consultant:

1.Pairing

This is literally my favourite thing to do. I love pairing with learners, and finding out exactly what they like; I love the analysis involved. When we train, we learn to pair with our learners, as part of the effective teaching procedures, so we should use this when working with other professionals. What’s the first thing we do? Pair! Get to know other professionals, talk about how you got in to the field, how they got in to the field. Build rapport, and find common ground (even if you’re from different schools of thought). People are much more open to your input if they like you.

2.Network

We must make time to network. I have found that taking time to talk to anyone who will listen about ABA is a seriously valuable tool. Be likeable, pair, and share contact details. Professionals are expected to work together, especially regarding children with additional needs, so why not be the person that other professionals want to work with? Go to different networking occasions, visit different services/provisions, and take a business card. Never underestimate how much of a valuable tool this can be; it’s not what you know…. 

3.Fade in demands

We are keen to get results quickly. However, when we work with learners, and we have paired effectively, we don’t go straight in to teaching new skills, we fade in demands with easy, already mastered skills to build momentum. Then we get on to the hard stuff. Again, why should this be any different with professionals? If the first time you’ve met someone they ask you to do a bunch of things, and change everything you’re doing, you’re not going to be a massive fan. I have seen this happen before, and it’s one way to get people to dread you coming in. It can be frustrating, but as someone once said to me, ‘we can forget what it was like not to know’. Take things slow, fade in your demands, and build on a solid foundation.

 

4.Translate

If you’ve studied ABA, the terminology would have been drilled in to you, and it is useful to know. However, other people don’t talk as we do. We need to master the terminology, and only then can we use everyday language and examples to plainly explain what we mean. Words such as ‘pairing, mand, tact etc’ mean nothing to people outside of the field, or they are known under different terms. I even find terms such as ‘reinforcer’ are used by others, but not in the same way as we know it. We need to translate to others, and market our field in a way that is seductive to others (as Dr Pat Friman explains it).

 

5.Work together

As I mentioned earlier, professionals are often expected to work together. Different professions often have different schools of thought. This doesn’t always have to be a problem. I have found that often speech and language therapists and ABA programmes will share many common goals, we’ll just call them different things. What can happen is that professionals get caught up in which fields’ explanation is right, but is that more about pride than the learner? As long as teaching is good, and the goal is appropriate, then all is well (you can explain an ABA viewpoint the more you get to know the other professionals). If you have input from others, try and think of an ABA perspective of things, for example, if occupational therapists recommend exercises for sensory regulating, and this isn’t something you subscribe to, why not see if you can use these exercises as reinforcers for the learner? Try and work together, expanding each others knowledge, you’ll have to work with each other either way, you may as well get on.

Get used to working with others, and if you’ve followed the above steps, you’ll find yourself in a position to have challenging, but respectful conversations with other professionals, and ask each tough questions, to challenge or understand each others schools of thought. That’ll either expand your knowledge, or make yourself more confident in what you know; win win! Let’s remember the whole reason for this, the benefit of the learner. This is by no means a complete guide to getting ABA on the map more, I’m always finding better ways to achieve this. We should start with the the stuff we already know, use the principles of behaviour that we use with learners everyday, but with adults as well! Getting on with other professionals can open many doors, and you never know how important those doors may be!

High Expectations

Happy New Year everyone!

Back to school in January is a busy time for all.  Getting back in to the routine after the holidays is always tough, for adults and kids! 

The new year is often a time to update targets for a learner, new term, new targets and all that. When setting goals, it’s important to to have high expectations. This doesn’t mean setting goals well above the level of the learner, after all, a key principle of ABA is setting small achievable targets. High expectations are individual to each learner, but it can be expecting them to eat with a knife and fork during meal times, or showering independently, pushing the development of vocalisations, and many other worthy goals, and not juts settling for an non-disruptive student (who may not actually be learning much). It’s continuing to persist with a goal, that may be a particularly difficult area for your learner, but striving to individualise the teaching, and finding better ways to teach it. This isn’t always easy!

When I first started as an ABA therapist, I was always encouraged to use every part of the day as a potential teaching opportunity (queuing for lunch, getting cutlery, washing hands after the toilet, social interactions at break and so on). It can be hard work to do this, and days can be full on, but it’s so worth it. 

Here’s a little video of me rambling on about this at a school training day.

 

So there you go, have high expectations, use every moment of the day, and smash it.

Go on, Get Stuck in – 12 Messy Play ideas

Messy play is a right good laugh.

It can serve many functions, whether it be a good pairing activity, a reinforcer, a good manding session, desensitising learners to textures, encouraging them to eat, and even incorporating goals through NET. It can all be done, and I for one, thoroughly enjoy getting a bit messy. 

Pinterest is awesome for checking out some good ideas. I’ve got a cheeky little ABA board you can check out here for some ideas, amongst other things. 

More often than not, you’ll have things that are lurking in the back of your cupboard that can be used. My favourite activity is so simple, and consists of 2 ingredients; 1 cup cornflour and half cup soap (or shower gel, shampoo etc). Mix them together, and boom, you’ve some lovely putty/dough style substance, which smells lovely!

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Here are other some ideas;

  • Oats
  • Water and cornflour
  • Rice
  • Pasta (cooked or uncooked, and you can use gluten free) 
  • Crazy Soap
  • Paint
  • Sand
  • Water play
  • Jelly
  • Ice
  • Foil
  • Water beads

 

Combining a bunch of these can go to next level sorts of fun.

Before I finish up, here’s a couple of ideas on how you can teach some different goals within messy play. 

  • Mands – teach hands for all resources you use, and actions for them (e.g. water, soap, pour)
  • Tact – labelling different items and actions within the activity (e.g. water, soap, pouring)
  • Imitation – imitate actions within messy play (e.g. imitate sprinkling rice, pouring water, sliding ice)
  • Visual – match different items within messy play (e.g. match red cup to red cup)
  • Listener Responding – ask the learners to carry out actions/find objects within messy play (e.g. can you splash? Pour the water, find the cup)
  • Independent play – increase duration of independent play activities 
  • Intraverbal – whilst playing, saying and filling in different actions (e.g. you splash the ….water)

You can do all of this, whilst having a really good time. So go on, get stuck in.

NET – Where Learning Should be Super Fun

Hey! Apologies for the long silence. As many people reading this may know, September is a mad month! I should be back in the game now.

A large part of most programmes should consist of natural environment teaching (NET). This refers to teaching in typically occurring daily events; basically learning away from the table/clinical setting. For younger learners, this could be through play, for older learners, it could be out in the community.

It’s a good idea to choose (where possible) motivating topics to embed your teaching. This way learning is fun! Make a list of all of your current targets, next to a list of your learners’ favourite topics/games, and see how you can relevantly incorporate the different targets among them. For older learners, targets may lend themselves to a more functionally oriented programme (as opposed to a developmentally sequenced set of targets), so it’s a good idea to set your targets based on the common environments the learner accesses (e.g. setting goals across all of the verbal operants based on going to the shop, local swimming pool, train station etc). A good way to plan all of this is to create a NET lesson plan for yourself. Be sure to include easy tasks also, as we should always strive to follow the teaching procedures outlined in my previous blog.

Here’s an example NET lesson plan for a younger learner (sheet derived from Carbone Clinic)

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The best thing about NET is that you can make it so fun that the learner doesn’t even see it as ‘learning’ (in the boring sense of the word). A big part of ABA is programming responses for generalisation, and NET is a great opportunity for this. Lesley Love, the teacher/BCaBA who hired me originally at Treetops, always said that every part of the day was a teachable moment, not just the time spent in the classroom, and challenged us to take advantage of every moment. This has always stayed with me. It’s also a good opportunity to model lots of appropriate skills, such as play skills/functional skills, and to constantly model appropriate vocal behaviour (you should always be talking, I never shut up!).

It’s been my experience so far that therapists (myself included when I first started!) find table work easier, because it’s structured. It can be more challenging to teach in the natural environment, but we must strive to, it’s really important. I found the best way to get better at NET was planning. The NET lesson plan is a gift, organisation and preparation is key. Saying this, the therapist also needs to be flexible enough to adapt to unplanned for teaching opportunities.

Another point to make is that the child’s VR (schedule of reinforcement (how many responses are required before something good for the learner happens)) can often get overlooked, and as a result more problem behaviour can occur during NET, so be mindful of this.

Plan well, have fun, and use every moment. Get yourself in the natural environment and have a right nice time.

7 Teaching Procedures to Smash ITT

Table work, ITT (intensive table teaching), DTT (discrete trial training), are all ways of talking about working at the table.

 

The following teaching procedures are taken from the excellent Carbone et al (2010) paper. These teaching procedures will make table sessions, and pretty much all teaching, more effective. Most importantly, they get your learner to learn because they want to, not because they have to!

1. Pairing and Manding

When beginning a table session, pairing and manding is your first priority. You should present an array of reinforcing items for ‘free’ (no requesting necessary). Then it’s your job to follow your learner’s motivation, see what they are most motivated for among the items that are presented. To be sure that the item will function as a reinforcer, you should require them to mand for it, if they are willing to ask for it, then is most likely a reinforcer. This process helps you identify effective reinforcement for your table session, which is essential to promote good responses, and also decreasing the likelihood that your child will engage in escape motivated problem behaviour.

 

2. Stimulus Fading

Another method to prevent escape motivated problem behaviour (crying, whining, flopping etc when demands are placed) is to fade in the amount of demands. This will be relative to your child’s VR. A Variable Ratio schedule of reinforcement has been found to be the best schedule to maintain steady rates of responding (sorry got carried away there, but it is a juicy science). A VR is basically how many demands you can place before your learner loses interest. You should start at the lower end of your learners’ VR, for example if your learner has a VR of 2, you should start with 1 demand then reinforce, and increase the amount of demands each time until you reach the higher end of the VR which would be no more than 4. If the learner’s VR is 10, stick between 5 and 20 (half below, double above). It’s not just about the amount of responses; you should also fade in the effort and difficulty of responses (don’t probe acquisition skills (skills you’re teaching) too soon).

 

3. Differential reinforcement

If your learner responds well (not making errors, or getting a ‘yes’ on the probe (the first time you ask them)) then you should reinforce more. You can do this in various ways, either longer duration of an activity (e.g. giving your learner longer on the iPad), more than one reinforcer (e.g. iPad, slinky, and bubbles), or a higher quantity of a reinforcer (e.g. 3 crisps instead of 1). Equivalently, if your learner responds poorly (e.g. errors frequently on mastered targets, or gets a ‘no’ on a probe) then you should deliver less reinforcement. This process is referred to as differential reinforcement. Think of it as ‘performance related pay’.

 

4. Errorless Teaching

Throughout a table session you should minimise errors (your learner responding incorrectly) as much as possible. Frequent errors increase the likelihood of escape-motivated behaviour.

If your child errors this is the error correction procedure you should follow: –

 

Re-state the SD (the demand)

Prompt response

 

Re-state the SD

Fade on your prompt

 

Distracter (between 1 and 3 previously mastered skills)

 

Re-state the SD

Fade again on prompt if needed/let child respond independently

 

Effective prompting will also help minimise errors. You should follow the prompt schedule of most to least (go in with a higher prompt and fade as needed). Your prompts should be the most effective and least intrusive you can do. Remember to prompt as much as necessary to ensure a correct response while not over prompting when not needed. Each trial you run will be different. Don’t fade if you think an error is likely.

 

5. Pace of Instruction

Another teaching procedure to consider when at the table is the pace of instruction. A fast pace of instruction is important as it prevents the likelihood of escape motivated problem behavior. Using short ITI’s (inter trial intervals – the time between the learners last response and your next demand) gives less opportunity for problem behavior to occur, and also provides socially mediated reinforcement for your learner quicker. It is also worth paying attention to your learner’s latency (how long it takes your learner to respond to your demand) to responding, the longest time between a demand and a response should be 2 seconds, and anything longer should be error corrected. Basically, don’t hang about, get it done well and in a timely fashion.

 

6. Intersperse Instructions

When teaching a target at the table, you should be using a master pile; these are skills that have previously been mastered. The mastered targets are regarded as ‘easy’ tasks, and acquisition targets are regarded as ‘difficult’ tasks. Difficult tasks have been found to be associated with a worsening set of conditions due to higher errors, more effort, and less reinforcement (basically new targets are harder). It’s important to intersperse difficult tasks within the easy tasks – 80% easy, 20% difficult to help prevent this. This (hopefully) ensures loads of success.

 

7. Mix and Vary Tasks

This is short and simple. Research has shown if you repeat the same task over and over again, it’s boring! This can lead to an increase in escape-motivated behaviour. So mix demands across different verbal operants; listener responding, imitation, tact, intraverbal, visual etc.

 

I hope this all makes sense. I’m hoping to get a video of this to post it in action.

Smash ITT.

Reflexive MO article – Carbone + Tirri

Leg it to the Table!

So, with some learners, it’s appropriate to be running ‘table sessions’. A table session is an intensive teaching period of many tasks to provide a lot of opportunities to teach targets. As a general rule, I wouldn’t run table sessions with pre school age children, as most of those programmes are based around natural environment teaching and play.

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It’s important to generalise all teaching in to the natural environment, but learners (and therapists) often respond well to table sessions, as it’s very structured, and (should be) reinforcement rich.

 

First things first; set up the table as a fun place to be. You want your learners to run to the table, not run away. If you are working with a learner who has a history of problem behaviour related to table teaching, forget demands, just pair. Build a stronger history of reinforcement at the table than problem behaviour. Just go there for fun! Deliver all of the learners favourite things, and play with their favourite toys, and the only requirement is that they stay at the table. 

 

Once your learner is ready for table sessions (no longer having problem behaviour when asked to sit at the table), make sure you prepare well. Have a range of possible reinforcers ready, all necessary teaching materials (targets on acquisition – being taught, and mastered skills), and probe data sheets needed.

 

For most learners, a 15-minute schedule is appropriate, (15 minutes NET, 15 minutes’ table, 15 minutes NET etc.). For younger learners it may be less, and older learners (particularly secondary age and over) it would be more, but of course this should be totally tailored to the individual learner.

 

Version 2

Master Pile

Version 2

Tact Picture

Version 2

Intraverbal

Version 2

Imitation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next post is going to be on awesome teaching procedures to use at the table, and in general life!

Challenging Behaviour – Part 1

This will be part 1 of 3 on challenging behaviour. There’s a lot that could be covered, so I thought I would spread them across 3 posts to not overwhelm readers!

 

First, the following point should be noted. I’ve heard people say something like, ‘little Jonny had a behaviour in the last session’; well I should hope so, as behaviour is anything a living organism does. Referring to an incident  as a challenging behaviour, or problem behaviour is clearer.

 

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Challenging behaviour is a reality for many of those on the spectrum. Challenging behaviour can present in many different ways, but it’s important to look at why something is happening – the antecedent.

 

For each incident of challenging behaviour, we should strive to look at the ABC (antecedent, behaviour, consequence).

 

A – Antecedent – the ‘trigger’, why did it happen, the function

B – Behaviour – what the learner did, the challenging behaviour

C – Consequence – what consequence was achieved

 

Rather than adopting a blanket consequence for a challenging behaviour, we should use the consequence appropriate to the antecedent. For example, a child may hit regularly, but each incident may occur for a different reason. What we do should be dictated on why the problem behaviour occurred.

 

There’s no such thing as ‘out of the blue’. It may seem that way as the antecedent isn’t clear, but there is always a reason. When it’s difficult to see the antecedent, it may be worth taking some video, and if you catch any challenging behaviour, watch it back and see if you notice anything. Try looking at what happened immediately before the onset of the incident.

                                                                                       

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Here is a 0-50 graph used to plot data

Taking constant accurate data is vital. It’s the data, and graphing the data that informs us whether we are making good decisions, and whether the improvement is because of our interventions. It’s a good idea to take data on the following; total frequency of problem behaviour, total duration of problem behaviour, and frequency of problem behaviour for each antecedent (I’ll discuss common antecedents in Part 2).

 

14 Reinforcers for Older Learners

This list is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully gives some ideas for more age appropriate reinforcers for older learners. 

We should always try and keep things age appropriate, but not at the cost of losing reinforcers altogether!

  • Fruit Ninja
  • Temple Run
  • Flick Kick Football
  • Top Trumps
  • Lego
  • Puzzles
  • Books
  • Music
  • DVD
  • Mini Basketball Hoop
  • Scalectric
  • Nerf Vortex Howler
  • Flying Glider Planes
  • Remote Control Car

 

I’d love some more ideas, so please feel free to comment and add some!