Not just a parent, but a teacher too: Implementing structure and teaching moments to help your kids

by Amanda Simmons M.S., OTR/L

Self-quarantine and social distancing means lots of unstructured time, which can be tricky for kids with disabilities, such as autism, or kids that generally need structure. A visual schedule can be helpful in organizing your child’s day. This is a tool that you and your Occupational Therapist can work on together during your visit, AND it limits the amount of contact your child has with other people. Your Occupational Therapist can help you prioritize what learning tools are most necessary at this time.  

If your child is school-aged, they may be assigned homework digitally, and that must be incorporated into your routine. If your child is not school-aged, or your child was not sent home work, there are ways that we can TEACH while we perform regular, run of the mill activities. Here are some ways to build in teaching tools!


Give your child’s sibling (or yourself) some candy (or another preferred food). When your child sees the discrepancy, ask them how many candies they would need to get as many as you have (addition and subtraction). Another way to teach some math skills is to put all the candies (or gummies, preferred foods) in the center of the table, and ask them how many gummies each person in the house would get if they were all split evenly (multiplication and division). You can do this all day with food, or even arts and crafts materials (like sparkles, and jewels, if your child is so motivated to use them).


Have your child pick a recipe or a craft, and ask them to write out the steps from dictation. For example, if you choose to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, ask your child to recite the steps and then give them regular paper to write out what they are. If your child cannot yet write sentences, they can draw the steps out. You can pick otherwise ordinary tasks to do this with as well, like brushing your teeth, or putting on a jacket (writing mechanics).


MadLibs are ALWAYS at hit, and many of them you can find online. This teachers parts of speech, but in a funny, creative way. Random blanks are put into a paragraph, and a child will have to name an adjective, noun, or verb without knowing the context. This can be a very silly activity. Younger children can draw a picture about the story, while older children can continue the story or copy it (writing, ideation). Click here for an online madlibs resource.


Every child likes scavenger hunts! Hide some words around your house (in various categories), and encourage your child to find ONLY the words in a specific category. Speech therapists and Occupational Therapists alike can appreciate this task. For example, you can hide your words almost anywhere (a box of sand will provide tactile input, underneath heavy objects will encourage heavy work, anything accessible but up high will encourage body awareness). If you have more than one child, go ahead and ask them to find SEPARATE categories, and see if they can work together to help one another! Some popular categories are: food, animals, colors, modes of transportation, types of trees, famous people or activists, and space.

Social Skills

Charades is one of the most under-rated games. If you have the game “Headbandz”, change the object of the game to “act out” the object on your head. This makes the game more challenging (from a body awareness and theory of mind perspective).

Life Skills

This experiment was widely circulated on the internet. It teaches kids the importance of washing their hands, with pepper flakes standing in for germs. This website has some good visuals to help!