Crafts, Concepts, and Critical Elements

Arts and crafts projects are about far more the cutting, pasting, and bedazzling until your fingers are sore — they’re also a great way to work on critical elements and basic concepts (see explanations of these terms below).

 These activities can be customized to meet the needs of children of a variety of developmental levels and stages of listening, enhance fine motor skills and creativity, and can fit with a variety of unit plans or seasonal themes.  By combining creativity and fun with language and listening skills, craft projects are a hit for both therapy sessions and at-home carryover.

Critical elements are pieces of information, presented auditorally, that the child must hold in her working (short term) memory.  The child is given a set of materials (small or large, based on the child’s abilities), and asked to listen for which piece(s) to choose.  For example, for a new listener, I might put out a heart sticker and a flower sticker, and give the direction, “Put on the flower.”  That represents one critical element from a set of two choices.  For a more advanced listener, I might have a set of hearts, flowers, and stars of all different colors and sizes.  For this child, I would ask, “Put on the large purple star,” which represents three critical elements (size, color, shape) from a large set.

Basic concepts include, but are not limited to (in rough order of difficulty):

  • Color (be sure to expand beyond primary and secondary colors to include new vocabulary like lavender, teal, magenta, etc.)

  • Size (again, use giant, tiny, large instead of just big vs. small)

  • Shape (yet again, an opportunity to expand to more complex shape-related vocabulary)

  • Prepositions (ask the child to put the pieces over, under, beside, between, below, etc.)

  • Conditional (directions like, “If you are a boy, put on the blue heart.  If you are a girl, put on the yellow heart”)

  • Ordinal/Temporal (giving multi-part directions using words like first, second, last or before/after)

Start with very small sets and directions of 1-2 critical elements, and progress through increasing set sizes, critical elements per direction, and concepts to stretch the child’s auditory memory and language skills.  These activities work well in one-on-one practice as well as in groups where all children are working on their own versions of the same craft project.  Parents and professionals can use commercially-available craft kits, or make their own from basic materials.  These activities can also be done with printable coloring pages, many of which can be accessed for free on the Internet — adults can give directions about what to color or where to draw certain things (“Draw a red heart between the dogs”).  Craft and critical elements exercises also work well as barrier games, where the adult and child both make the same thing following auditory-only directions without seeing each other, and compare results at the end.

Happy crafting!

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