Thursday, January 11, 2018

WHAT IS KAMI PLAYGROUP?

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It's wonderful when parents and children are engrossed in an activity together

About KAMI
Hi everyone! If you've visited before, welcome back to my blog. And if you're new here, I'm so glad you could join me. Today, I'm pleased to tell you about KAMI Playgroup, a special playgroup that I started with a friend and fellow autism mum a few months ago.

KAMI, which is an abbreviation for Kumpulan Anak Autism Masjid (Roughly translated to "The Mosque's Children with Autism Group") is a non-profit playgroup catering to children with autism and their families. Our playgroup sessions are held every Saturday at Masjid Kg Tunku, Petaling Jaya.

Our group consists of children aged between 3 to 9 years, most with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their neurotypical siblings. They have different levels of ability and areas of concern. In order to cater to all, and due to our limited resources, we try to keep our activities as simple as possible. Parents are encouraged to modify the activities where necessary to suit their child's specific needs. 

Alhamdulillah, last weekend on 6th January, we held our 6th KAMI Playgroup meet and the first for 2018. In this session, we welcomed 7 parents, 8 kids and 3 volunteers, two of whom are from a new student volunteer group called Diffable.


How we begin
We usually start our playgroup session by sitting in a circle on the floor. This week, after I introduced Adilah and Hanan from Diffable, we exchanged Salam, recited doa Alfatihah, as well as simple zikir for children. Usually, we say "Alhamdulillah, thank you Allah." The purpose of beginning our session in this way, is to seek blessings from Allah SWT and hopefully calm  the children. It also signals to the children that the playgroup session has begun.

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Here's how we start our day at KAMI Playgroup, with salam, doa and zikir.

Music and movement
After the opening, we all get up on our feet for Music & Movement. The purpose of this activity is to warm up the children's bodies. It is also a visual and auditory motor activity that encourages the children to learn how to mimic others' movements and move to the music. At KAMI, we support all levels of participation. If a child isn't comfortable enough to join in the activity, we provide an understanding environment where he or she is encouraged to join in next time. In this week's session. the volunteers and I showed the families how to move to two action songs - "If you're happy and you know it" and "Head, shoulders, knees and toes."

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When it's time for Music and Movement, everyone starts grooving to encourage the kids to let loose.

Gross motor activity
After we move about, we usually engage in an Indoor Play session. Each activity we do has a purpose, and our Indoor Play aims to develop the children's gross motor, fine motor, turn-taking, socialising and joint attention skills. For this week's indoor play session, we did two activities.

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The children navigated the obstacle course with a little help from their parents.

The first activity involved an obstacle course. The children needed to balance a plastic ball on a cardboard tube, then walked in a zig zag pattern around cones, balance themselves on folded exercise mats and then a bench, before dropping the ball into a container at the end. This was repeated several times to music.

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The children patiently waited their turn.

The aim of this activity is to provide the children with vestibular and proprioceptive input, as well as to encourage their balance and focus. All our kids usually love this sort of  activity. But if we don't do obstacle courses, we will do exercises instead to mix things up. We do stretching and bouncing exercises on gym balls, as well as play games with bean bags, balloons, balls and so on. As explained by several occupational therapists whom I've trained with, gross motor activity is a 'sensory break' that helps the children to feel more settled down. This in turn enables them to better engage in the table tasks that are coming up next. In short, we activate the body before we activate the brain.

You can learn more about sensory breaks here.

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Arif dropping his ball into the container at the end of the course, which was held by Adilah.

Fine motor activity
For our second Indoor Play activity that day, the children did some fine motor play. They were given a mix of macaroni and beans, which they had to separate with tweezers. This proved to be a bit tricky for some of the younger children, like my son Arif, because he was a bit distracted. However, he still liked to play with the macaroni and beans to feel their texture.

Click here to learn more about the benefits of fine motor play.

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Arif didn't want to use tweezers and occupied himself with disturbing his friend Fateh instead. Fateh was very patient with Arif.

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Separating beans and macaroni with tweezers is a good visual and fine motor activity. 

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Hanan helping to demonstrate how to separate the beans and macaroni.

Sensory play or arts and crafts
The last activity of the day was a Sensory Play session, instead of our usual arts and crafts. The purpose of this tactile activity is to stimulate the senses, encourage focus and seated behaviour, as well as help with tactile defensiveness. For this week's sensory play, we gave the kids shaving foam and water beads. It was good, messy fun! For most of the kids and families, this was the first time they had ever played with shaving foam. We like to introduce new activity ideas to parents through our playgroup, so they can do them at home.

You can learn more about the importance of sensory play here.

If we don't do sensory play, we will do arts and crafts instead. Besides being a good sensory and fine motor activity, arts and crafts also encourages creativity, thinking, exploration and joint attention. In each activity that we do, parents engage with their children and encourage them. This is especially crucial, because parents sometimes struggle to engage with their ASD child. It also offers some parents the golden opportunity to bond with their child over a new activity. I always remind the parents to focus not on the final product, but the process. We must take the chance to enjoy the process with our children, no matter what the outcome.

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Why shaving foam and water beads? It provides the children with a chance to explore their senses. 

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Arif loved squishing the water beads :) Good exercise for the fingers.

Clean up and goodbye
To wrap up our session, we all pitched in to clean up little hands, the bins and the space. Then we sang the Goodbye song as we normally do. It's important to have the same structure of activities each week, so that the children know what to expect and when the session is over. So far, this structure of activities has worked well for our group of children.

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Even goodbye is a happy time at KAMI Playgroup.

Another fruitful session
Alhamdulillah, everything went well in this session. Overall, the children were able to follow the flow of activities well as usual, now that they have warmed up to the place and all the new faces. If the children weren't interested or able to engage in an activity, we encourage the parents to try the activity again at home.

The volunteers, Puan Salina, Adilah and Hannan did a great job in the set up of materials, engaging with the children and parents, as well as helping me clean up the classroom and organise the materials. After the session, Adilah and Hannan sat in a meeting with Puan Hajjah Salmah and I to discuss about 2018 plans for KAMI and future contributions by Diffable. It was a full and rewarding morning, and we certainly crammed a lot into an hour of play!

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Puan Hajjah Salmah, The Head of the Education Bureau of Kg Tunku Mosque talking to Adilah and Hanan from Diffable.


KAMI PLAYGROUP NEEDS YOU!

KAMI Playgroup is a non-profit, community-run playgroup. Currently, we are operating as a 6-month pilot project (Nov 2017 to April 2018) under the auspices of Masjid Kg Tunku. If we succeed in this six-month period, we will be able to continue and work on securing funding. Now that we've gotten into the swing of things, we'd like to make further improvements in 2018. But we need YOUR help to achieve this!

We are currently looking for:

1. Volunteer teachers and teaching assistants: Must have a passion for helping special needs children and families. No experience is necessary, training will be provided.

2. Special needs specialists: Therapists (occupational, speech, physio etc), special needs educators,  and experts who can share their knowledge and expertise (give talks or training to our teachers & parents).

3. Funds: We require funds to purchase play equipment and supplies for our weekly activities. We also wish to hire and train full-time teachers.

Currently, there are only two of us running the show (Hasniyati - Administration and Adline - Programmes and activites) with Puan Hajjah Salmah as our advisor. In order to grow and accommodate more children and families, we need more teachers and volunteers.

If you're keen on lending us a helping hand or making a monetary contribution to our playgroup (for materials, supplies and training), do get in touch with me at adline76@yahoo.co.uk. Thanks!

To learn more about KAMI Playgroup's launch, click here.
To see what we've done in our previous playgroup sessions, click here.
To locate Masjid Kg Tunku (Ar-Rahman), click here.

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