The Sugar Rush Bakery

Teaching Life Skills Through Cooking

Deanne Inkell, DPT | November 2017

Action-packed days are the norm in the Meadowood Program,- a branch of the Red Clay School District that provides Special Education services.  Our goal is to use every opportunity to teach by embedding IEP skills into daily activities. Our student-focused approach supported by our team of therapists, classroom teachers and paraprofessionals follows the Mobility Opportunities Via Education (MOVE™) Curriculum which emphasizes student participation in all areas of life.

A young man uses the Pacer gait trainer in special education to go shopping at the local store.The  transitional program focuses on community and vocational training to simulate the typical experiences of an 18-21 year old.  At the beginning of the day, teachers coordinate transportation for work and community outings.   We use adaptive vans and buses to transport students in wheelchairs, bringing their gait trainers along.  One outing is to the local grocery store to shop for ingredients for the weekly cooking activity.   Staff members make shopping a purposeful activity for academic, social, communication, fine motor and gross motor tasks.

Embedding Life Skills into Shopping

A young woman stands at the checkout counter in her adaptive equipment to check out her items as part of an assignment in the transitional program.At the store, the students receive a shopping list with picture symbols or large font print prepared ahead of time to guide their experience. Some students transfer into gait trainers. We might attach a shopping basket to the gait trainer frame or use elastic cords to secure a shopping cart to the front of the gait trainer. While moving around the store looking for ingredients (this week it was pumpkin puree and apple cider), the student practices ambulation skills, steering, stopping and starting.

A young man in special education rides in a wheelchair and holds a gray shopping basket as he looks for ingredients for a cooking project in his life skills class.Some students remain in their wheelchairs and they practice maneuvering through the store, reaching for items on a shelf, returning to sitting and navigating the checkout. Our ambulatory students work on skills related to their IEP needs, such as directions and aisle numbers.

For all our students we include social skills to ask for help or greet customers either verbally or using assistive technology as developed by the Speech Therapist.

Chefs in the Kitchen

Wednesday is the day we put it all together in the kitchen.  Recipes are selected from the Unique Learning System Curriculum or the current event syllabus and are adapted to large font or picture symbols.

A young woman uses adaptive equipment to stand at the kitchen counter during a life skills class where she is placing baking sheets on trays.In the kitchen we build transfer, standing and walking skills into the activity, using adaptive equipment to support the students in upright positions alongside their peers. We use Rifton TRAM, gait trainers and standers which adjust easily and can be modified as the student progresses in their skills.

Some students measure, mix and bake using switch adapted blenders and mixers. Others pack the finished goods to be presented for sale.   Another activity is assisting with clean up.  Our OT embeds opportunities to work on fine motor skills for grasping, releasing and the use of utensils.

On to the Sugar Rush Bakery

And finally it’s time to take the finished product to the students’ Sugar Rush Bakery. This is a business model in which students travel to various classrooms and district offices (once again in gait trainers and dynamic standers) to sell the baked goods. It’s a great opportunity for our students to practice math skills--adding the total purchase, determining the change and counting the total revenue and remaining goods when they return. The pride and self-worth they experience as they do  the same things their classmates do is invaluable. 

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