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Understanding Modifications and Adaptations

Modifications and adaptations can be thought of as all of the supports that can be put in place to help a child be successful. The types of modifications and adaptations are limitless and should be based on the individual child's needs. Common educational adaptations might include preferential seating in the front of the classroom, use of a calculator, use of a communication device, extra time for tasks, support from a paraprofessional, or other specific ways classroom activities can be altered to enhance a child's experience.

As a parent, you probably naturally make modifications during your daily activities to adapt to your child's needs. Such things might include giving a child a ten minute warning before changing activities, using when-then communication to gain compliance (when you finish brushing your teeth, then we'll read a story), making direct eye contact when giving instructions, etc. Being able to recognize and share these types of interaction strategies with your child's teachers is important when considering appropriate modifications and adaptations. For example, knowing your child prefers a routine and is bothered by spur of the moment activities might indicate a daily schedule of activities would be an appropriate modification for your child.

When thinking about how to modify or adapt an activity to make it appropriate for your child, remember to use the least amount of modification necessary for your child to be successful. "Learned helplessness" through too many supports is not a goal. Providing sufficient challenge without making a child discouraged is the key to successful modifications.

There are many ways to modify an activity. Some common ones include:

  • Reduce the amount of work
    • Parent / Teacher cuts out half of the project, child cuts out half
    • Parent reads a page, child reads a page
  • Increase the amount of time the child is allowed to work on an activity
  • Pair up the child with another child or sibling to complete the activity together
    • Two children work together to complete a project making sure both children are actively engaged and that one child does not become an observer only. Each child can be assigned specific tasks or the more independent child can be encouraged to "teach" the other child how to do the activity.
  • Simplify the activity
    • Instead of independently writing a response, have the child trace a prewritten record of a verbal response
    • Have a child choose a response from picture cues
    • Pre-complete some steps of a multi-step project

Also remember that every group activity can have multiple goals associated with it. So think about the activity goals in terms of creating an equal amount of challenge for each child participating in the activity. For example, while creating a rock garden, one child might be encouraged to sort the rocks by type, another child might be examining the various colors of the rocks, another child might be counting the rocks and another child might be working on fine motor skills by picking up and manipulating the rocks from hand to hand. While each child has a different goal, each goal is designed to be similarly challenging for each child.

Parents can support their child by understanding how to modify activities and then sharing with teachers and professionals what strategies work best for their child. Providing a written summary of the types of modifications used at home as well as what has worked in previous school and childcare settings can be helpful to the professionals who will be working with your child next.

Contact Us

Johnna Darragh-Ernst

Professor Early Childhood Education

1500 W Raab Road
Normal, IL 61761
Phone: 309-268-8746

Email: johnna.darragh@heartland.edu