General Guidelines

The following are some suggestions for working with children and adolescents. Children with physical and emotional disabilities have activities that are identified as appropriate. It is imperative that you discuss all activities with parents and get approval from them before you start the activity.
While providing respite care to a child, your main goal is to keep the child safe and happy.  You may choose activities that have therapeutic or educational value, or you may choose to simply have fun!  Remember, the program is designed to give the parent or care-giver a break to relax and recharge. A parent or caregiver will be relaxed if he or she knows that their child is safe, happy, and doing something worthwhile. Consider the following goals:

Provide activities which:
  • are age-appropriate (see Age Appropriate Activities section below);
  • are parent/guardian approved and meet their desires;
  • focus on ability rather than disability;
  • are fun and enjoyable for the child;
  • build on the child's skills, and,
  • give necessary direction and assistance.

Facilitate leisure, play, and recreation by:
  • providing opportunities for creativity and discovery;
  • allowing the child freedom to initiate activities and make choices;
  • sharing in the experience/activity with the child;
  • giving the child time to explore, create, learn at their own pace;
  • providing encouragement and positive reinforcement (e.g. verbal praise).

Do not take play or recreational activities away from a child as punishment. You may offer an activity as incentive for desired behavior (as soon as you..., we can...). See the Module on Positive Behavior Supports for more information on this. Do not try to force an interest in play. Focus on doing the activity rather than achieving an end product.

  • a balanced, healthy leisure lifestyle;
  • active and passive activities;
  • indoor and outdoor activities;
  • time alone and with others;
  • activities that promote fitness.

Children of all ages respond best to:
  • an enthusiastic approach and a playful attitude;
  • patience;
  • structure;
  • a mix of active and passive activity, and
  • allowing time to process learning.

Be Safe, Always:
  • Use non-toxic materials (e.g., glue, paints, markers, plants); consult label.
  • Be sure equipment/supplies are in good working condition  
  • Be sure equipment and supplies fit the child's size (e.g. height/weight) and functioning (emotional, cognitive, physical, social).
  • Use equipment/supplies as designed.
  • Wear appropriate clothing and protective gear.
  • Use sun protection when outdoors - sunscreen, hat.
  • Be sure that the child is well supervised and does not get into any cupboards with detergents, oils, paints, etc.
  • Be aware of the potential for accidents involving crawlers. Child proof your home and remove potentially dangerous objects.

NEVER: Give a baby or toddler anything smaller than his/her fist size to prevent swallowing or choking. Use the "toilet tube" method (use the inside of a toilet paper role to judge the size of an object. It is too small if it fits into the tube). NEVER: Take your eyes from a child who is in or near water or using an appliance.

Find out what interests the child.
Listen carefully to what the parent or caregiver tells you about his/her child.  If the parent or caregiver does not offer the information, please feel free to ask questions about what the child enjoys.  Plan your time together based on your knowledge of what the child enjoys, in addition to what is necessary to meet the child's needs (meals, naps, etc.)  For example, if the child enjoys sports, plan some time to play tee-ball in the backyard.  If the child loves to color, have a craft activity ready for after lunch.  Routines may be important for some children, so be sure to find out from the parent or caregiver what the child's normal routine looks like, and try to follow their schedule. Consult with the child's parent/guardian about the child's interests and the parent or guardian's desires.

Have parent/guardian identify:
  • 10 things "My child loves to do for play/leisure/recreation/fun."
  • The child's favorite activities during the time you will be with him/her. (e.g., Right before bed the child likes to have a book read to him/her, the child likes to go outdoors in the late morning.)
  • Child's dislikes (e.g., TV shows, toys, textures, noise, people, animals).
  • Dominant hand (i.e., which hand primarily uses to write, throw ball, or manipulate objects);
  • Positioning and/or movement for different activities (e.g., crawls to play tag, sits in beanbag chair when reading, uses two hands to hold paint brush);
  • Endurance (e.g., can only walk 1/2 block before needs to sit down, active play time 10 minutes).
  • Ability level (e.g., can swim laps in the pool, can't figure money although likes to pay for self when goes out);
  • Behavior when bored, tired, excited, scared, etc.
  • What the child is not allowed to do (e.g, ride bicycle off property, paint, use the computer, be up after certain time, go outside without having eaten full lunch).
  • What leisure/play/recreation equipment/supplies do the child and family have that you and the child can use?

Ask the child:
  • 10 things "I'd like to do for fun."
  • 10 things "I'd like to do with you."
  • 10 things "I'd love to try doing for fun."

Observe the child in play and leisure and try a variety of activities with him/her.

Watch for:

  • attention span (How long does he play/stay with an activity or toy?)
  • what s/he seems to enjoy/not enjoy
  • how enjoyment is indicated
  • physical skills (e.g., sitting balance, standing balance, mobility, endurance, strength, use of different body parts), and
  • social and communication skills.

Share your interests with the child.

You may also incorporate your own interests and skills when building a relationship with a child. For example, if you love to garden, have the child help you choose flowers and teach him or her to plant a garden.  If you love cars, bring books about cars with you to share with the child, or bring the child to an auto show.  Your enthusiasm may inspire a new interest for the child and make your time together more enjoyable for both of you.  Be sure to share your ideas and plans with the child's parent or caregiver first.

Go on outings.

Outings are often a wonderful way to spend a day of respite.  To find local activities, try looking in the "What's Going On" sections of local newspapers and magazines.  Schools are often a good resource for local kid's activities.  Some ideas of community outings that are appropriate for children are:
  • Parks (Picnics)
  • Playgrounds
  • Beaches
  • Museums
  • YMCA
  • Community Centers
  • Zoos
  • Planetariums
  • Movie theaters
  • Libraries
  • Bowling alleys

Be sure to discuss the specifics of the outing with the parent or caregiver before you bring the child on an outing. Parent and caregivers may have specific instructions regarding water safety, appropriate movies, etc.  

Also be sure to discuss in advance how outings will be paid for. You may offer to pay for admission and mileage, or the parent may offer to pay. You may decide to split the costs of activities.  

Stay in. Can't go out?  Whether it's because of the cost of activities or the weather outside, sometimes outings are not an option.  Some ideas of ways to spend the day indoors with a child are:

  • Craft activities (coloring, scrapbooking, etc.)
  • Baking
  • Reading together
  • Renting movies
  • Acting in your own play (pretend play)
  • Listen to music (dance!)
  • Board games
  • Card games
  • Write journals or cards
  • Help with homework

Again, be sure to discuss your ideas and plans with parent or caregiver first.  Some parents may have specific instructions about what foods you can bake, what books the child likes to read, etc.


Funding for this program provided by the Department of Health and Human Services