Activities for an exceptional child?
August 8, 2010 4:45 PM   Subscribe

How to entertain/socialize a 5 year old with Down Syndrome?

I work for a non profit that provides services for the mentally disabled and I've recently been placed with the cutest 5 year old in the world to do One on One Community Involvement. I take him out and about 4 hours a day 5 days a week to get him used to being around people and to help teach him about social interactions. This has the potential to be a lot of fun but all the training I've received as been geared towards working with older teens/adults with special needs so I have no idea what to do.

I don't know what a typically developing 5 year old would do because I don't have any children of my own, so any ideas would be appreciated.

So far we have been to the library, gone to the park and gone to various play places (think McD's) on days when it is too hot to play outside. He only stays focused on one activity for about 30 minutes. I'll keep checking back if you need any more information.

Also, I'm located in Fayetteville, NC.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle to Human Relations (7 answers total)
It so varies with the child. You might try some Signing Time, which will help in all manner of ways. You might try to find a creative movement class.

My daughter loves and loved reading. She handled Green Eggs and Ham at that age.

She loved playgrounds and swings especially.

She was very into people and music. Fairs were great for both.

She did therapeutic horse riding and learned to help care for the horse. She also learned to be gentle with petting zoo animals.

This is a great age to just try things and see what sticks.
posted by plinth at 5:03 PM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Maybe the Fayetteville Area Down Syndrome Network will have some ideas. My niece is 7 w/Down syndrome and socially is very like a typical child --- loves seeing her friends, gets excited about outings and special occasions, sometimes stubborn about not wanting to go back home if she's having a good time, etc. (30 minutes is a long time for a 5-year-old to stay focused, that's impressive!) Enrichment takes the form of play at that age, so baking, counting, reading, etc. are all good things to do together. On rainy days my niece also loves playing with the Wii.
posted by headnsouth at 5:04 PM on August 8, 2010

I don't know Fayetteville at all so these are general suggestions of things I do with my preschooler.

The library is good. Check to see if they have story hours or other programs for kids.

Riding a bus or a street car or train is always exciting and fun. Doesn't matter where you go .. the journey is the adventure.

Malls are good .. you can walk around, look in the store windows and talk about what you see. Some malls have little indoor play areas so that's good for hot or rainy days.

Barnes & Noble bookstores usually have train tables in the kids section and that's a nice place to go for a bit.

Chances are that there are some nature preserves there, with visitor centers. Often there are free programs for kids, or nice rangers who will talk with you and show you around.

Also .. botanical gardens or just a large nursery. Walk around and identify the flowers and plants.

Parks. Lots of parks. Keep your eyes out for good playgrounds.

Water. My kid loves anything that involves water. Fountains, creeks, faucets .. just, water. I don't mind if he gets wet.

Pet stores. Go visit the puppies and kittens. Animal shelters are good for this too. There's one near us that encourages you to play with the animals. Everyone wins! (Of course you'll need to clear this one with the child's parents first).

Anything at all with music .. band practice at the middle school, noontime concerts, or maybe a visit to a music store. Or just sit together and sing some songs, or listen to the radio. Music always soothes and entertains my son.

Remember that most everything is new and interesting to a kid that age so try to see things from his point of view. Even ants building a hill can be fun to watch for a few minutes.
posted by Kangaroo at 5:16 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Library reading/play times
Plays put on specifically for very young children/children who aren't great at sitting still.
Riding the bus/public transit to a "special" meal or outing can be very fun (one or two stops)
Retirement homes/communities or senior centers with programs for bringing children in to visit
In the kitchen, to bake something or cook something simple
Fountains in public areas
Art museums with special children's programs/activities
Children's museums
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 5:54 PM on August 8, 2010

OH! Some farms have tours or open houses. Just make sure the tours aren't too long or physically arduous, and mention Down's syndrome to the people there beforehand to see how they react. Generally, a little surprised but calm and laid back is the response you want (this is from my experience with a child with autism.)
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 5:56 PM on August 8, 2010

Five year olds in general? Anyplace where you can ask them questions about what they think about what they're seeing, because the explanations that kids that age devise are utterly brilliant. Gardens, museums, and aquariums are all good bets for a special outing.
posted by desuetude at 9:29 PM on August 8, 2010

5-year-olds love to go to a big toy store. Your challenges would be to make sure he is not destructive and to make sure he understands the difference between buying toys and looking at toys. And to watch out for sensory overload. If you wanted to make a big lesson, you could see if there was one small toy that he was really fond of and start a project to save up for it. Maybe give him a quarter every week (or talk to the parents about an allowance) and watch it add up.

Is there someplace you could do a little bit of community service - put on gloves and pick up trash at the park, or sweep an elderly neighbor's porch? It makes kids feel proud to be helping other people.

If your outings involve transactions or interactions (buying an ice cream, getting on a bus, etc) can you arrange it so there is time for the little guy to be the leader in the transaction? You give the prompts: Ask the man for a water bottle, say "please", now give the man the money, now say "thank you", etc.

See if your park will let you draw on the sidewalks with chalk. You can do it as an art project with just the two of you, but he can also share the chalk with other kids who come up to watch, and that can be a social action. Tip: it's ok if the kids don't work on the SAME drawing, but create separate drawings near each other. Or give them a theme: let's all draw flowers or clowns or whatever.
posted by CathyG at 7:14 AM on August 9, 2010

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