Last Friday, my co-workers and I hosted a Christmas dance for our program. Since we don't have a building large enough to hold all of our kids and staff we were fortunate to be able to have use of a large building close to our school. Most of the kids were able to walk there, and the more fragile kids we transported. On the walk back from the dance I overheard an aide from another class telling my aide that the kids in her class didn't really have a good time. They just sat there at the table for the 2 hours looking bored she said. I found this very upsetting to hear. I did see these kids, many of them in fact, sitting at the tables surrounding the dance floor with their support staff sitting among them looking just as bored. Our kids bored? This is OUR fault not theirs.
Let's look at the makeup of my class. I have 11 kids. If I were to take my kids to a dance for the first time and allow them to choose how they would respond to this social event. Here is what I would see.
3 of my kids would be dancing (nonstop).
3 of my kids would be standing in the middle of the dance floor (not moving).
5 of my kids would be standing or sitting on the sidelines (looking bored).
Having fun is a social skill. A very important social skill that needs to be taught especially with our kids. Sometimes I feel like my kids come to me having never learned how to play with one another. Having never been taught how to have a conversation with their peers. We are only half way through the year, and I have seen improvements in the way my kids have started talking to each other instead of just wanting to talk to staff. This is something that we can help them learn to do. I have mentioned before how important I feel these large social events are to our kids. It gives them a great opportunity to socialize with their peers and it gives us an even bigger opportunity to teach them how to socialize with their peers.
So, how do we teach them? I like to prepare my kids in the classroom prior to any event. We talked all week about this dance. We talked about who they might want to dance with and practiced how we could ask them. Even though we dance every single Friday, my kids were totally jazzed about this party. I also have a rule in my room regarding my aides. I do not allow them to sit during any event where I wouldn't want the kids sitting. Now that doesn't mean you shouldn't get a sit break every now and then, but for the most part I want them up. I want them dancing with my kids. I want them guiding my kids into social conversation with their peers. I want them encouraging my kids to get out on the dance floor and even setting up dance dates. My aides are great. They know what I expect from them and I am so proud when I see them among the only aides out there dancing with groups of kids, starting a conga line, or encouraging a dance off among the students.
I myself probably pulled 25 kids from chairs out onto the dance floor during the party. It's amazing how easy you can smuggle a kid into a group of his peers dancing and sneak off without anyone noticing. They need us to teach them how to do this! Out of my 11 kids I don't think I saw one sitting more than 5 minutes. They have come a long way since the beginning of the year. When I see the kids having fun and talking, dancing and laughing with their friends just like any other teenager would, it really makes me proud of who they are becoming. It also makes me appreciated my support staff who believe in me and what I want to achieve, even though I make them work twice as hard as any other aide in our program (I really do, lol).
We have 2 more big dances this school year. The next one being for Valentines Day. This gives us about 5 weeks of school to work on our moves! I look forward to seeing what improvements they make!