A shared desire to give Better Rehab’s young participants more opportunities to put the social skills they were learning in therapy sessions into practice with their peers inspired our Penrith-based clinicians, Occupational Therapist Victoria ‘Tori’ Vlahadamis and Speech Pathologist Anna Gray, to create the first school holiday social group, consisting of three one-hour sessions across three days.
“I saw a need for children to practice the social skills they were learning with other children their age. It makes such a huge difference to actually put the skills you learn in therapy into practice,” says Anna.
Tori also recognised the added benefits of combining learnings and skills from both speech pathology and occupational therapy. “I thought that the creation of a group with a multidisciplinary approach would be of great benefit to the participants, as I was involved in social groups in my previous role and found that there was something missing.”
Planning play to meet goals
As the school holiday social group would be Better Rehab’s first, Anna and Tori had to start from scratch. And their ‘homework’ involved plenty of planning and decision-making.
“The planning phase involved setting meaningful social skills goals, developing activities and getting a clear idea of our vision for the group. We tried to incorporate our social skills goals into games that the children would find fun,” explains Anna.
The clinicians also planned how they would convey the main messages and chose activities that would apply the concept into practice. “We chose activities that were appropriate to their age group, accommodating to their sensory needs, and fun for all,” says Tori.
Within a few weeks, the pair had an outline for the sessions, with each of the three days targeting a new social skill through fun group activities.
Then it was just a case of getting word out to the parents …
To find suitable young participants, Tori and Anna turned to their fellow Penrith office clinicians for assistance.
“We put the notion out to our team of clinicians, who recommended suitable participants and we reached out to them. We were so happy to have parents interested in the program!” says Tori.
Anna was equally thrilled with the positive response from parents: “We received a lot of excited responses when we offered the social skills groups to the parents. The resounding theme was that parents are really looking for social groups for their children and that there just aren’t enough out there at the moment.”
And so Better Rehab’s first school holiday social group program kicked off with three children between the ages of six and eight.
All fun and games, the best way to learn
Throughout the week, Anna and Tori found some activities were bigger hits than others. “A successful example included our egg and spoon race, supporting the children to work in teams, and encountering tricky challenges whilst still being encouraging towards their peers!” says Tori.
Other fun activities that the clinicians chose to incorporate their social skills goals included obstacle courses, puzzles, board games, and a rainbow parachute game. “The children loved practising their turn-taking skills in the parachute game,” says Anna.
Lessons learned for everyone
While the young participants enjoyed plenty of opportunities to practice the social skills they were learning in their sessions with peers, Anna and Tori had their own learnings, which come hand-in-hand with any new program.
“It was a good learning experience for both Tori and myself and gave us insights into how we might simplify teaching of concepts in the future. Some of the tasks were unexpectedly difficult for the children, so Tori and I were able to modify them for the participants to ensure they experienced success,” says Anna.
They also discovered the activities the participants enjoyed the most: “Movement-based activities were a clear winner for the children, particularly the parachute activity!” says Anna.
And while movement-based activities were the most popular, Anna and Tori built in breaks throughout the sessions to ensure the children could recharge, meet their sensory needs, and remain on task. And it turned out that, sometimes, the clinicians needed a break too: “The children were very active and loved moving around – I recall being very tired after an intense game of Duck Duck Goose!” says Anna.
Based on the success of their first social group, Anna and Tori are hoping it will become a regular school holiday program. “We had so much positive feedback from the parents, and they were extremely keen to have their children involved in the future,” says Tori.
And for Anna and Tori, seeing the children having fun and making new friends while putting their new social skills into practice (and even hearing one young participant exclaim “I want to come to social group every day!”) was the best feedback they could have hoped for.
“This was so nice to hear from a child and reminded me of why I love what I do!” says Tori.
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