What if instead of learning everything on a piece of paper we brought it to life?

Nathan was a six years old boy. He was autistic yet very high functioning and very verbal. He liked to interact with other people and getting to know each new person he met. He loved science, astronomy, and was always asking questions about how things worked. He was very clever. He loved to go explore the woods, running with a toy sword in his hands. One day we talked about the sky and the atmosphere, he wanted to learn more about it.

Instead of him learning the layers of the atmosphere on a piece of paper, he learned it through movement.This is how he could have learned the layers of the atmosphere through a text book illustration like this one:


                            Diagram of the layers of the atmosphere

But we know learning while moving leads to long term learning. So this is how you could put it into movement: (see diagram for set up)


           Diagram showing the set up in the woods along the trails  





All the signs were made out of cardboard (see materials).

If you have access to a park with some trails, you could hang the signs in the trees. But if not you could use your backyard or you could even set it up in your house or somewhere else the child likes to be.

First hang the diagram representing the atmosphere’s layers, and then hang the directional signs indicating the ways we could follow to find out about the different layers of the atmosphere. ( [troposphere->], [stratosphere ->], [mesosphere->], [thermosphere->], [exosphere->])

Then on each trail, hang what we could find in each layer. (E.g. after the directional sign [troposphere ->], we could find a cloud and an airplane hanging in the trees.)

With Nathan, the goal was to learn everything we could about the atmosphere by exploring the woods.

First we found the diagram of the atmosphere, it was a way of “dropping” the information about the layers of the atmosphere into his consciousness, to get a first idea of what we were going to learn and find in the woods.

And then we could follow and explore each path to find out about each new layer.

We could either look at the diagram of the atmosphere that we found at the beginning, to see what we were going to find in each layer or we could find out where we had to go if we wanted to find something in particular in one of the layers of the atmosphere (e.g. if we wanted to find the rocket, we had to follow the directional sign [thermosphere ->])

We were “learning by doing” through movement by visiting the different layers after choosing the direction we wanted to go. And if we used the textbook illustration we used it as a kind of key or legend, not just as something to sit and look at.


Nathan was like an adventurer exploring the woods, riding with a sword in his hands.

We collected all the items in each layer of the atmosphere by following the directional signs. And then we put each item back in the layer where it belonged to. At the end of the game, Nathan knew the names of each layer.

It’s all about following the way the child moves: How does the child move in his environment? :

Nathan was an explorer, and this “treasure hunt” type of set up worked well for him.But this type of set up might not work for every child. Each child is different and what may work for one child, might not work for another.

Indeed some children are explorers more than others, and some children don’t want to explore at all.

Adapt the game to the child’s movement!: if the child doesn’t want to explore a large area, do it in a more “stationary” way: if the child likes to play in the sand, it could be drawing in the sand the layers of the atmosphere and jumping from one layer to the other,it could be a matching game in a circle drawn in chalk on asphalt or concrete.

It’s also about following the child’s interests. What is the child interested in? :

Nathan was interested in science and astronomy so he was directly interested in the subject. But if you wanted a child, who is not so interested in the atmosphere’s layers, to learn about it, you could adapt the game to his interests. Involve for example one of his favourite cartoon’s character in the game, make a story about “Woody” (character from Toy Story) flying into the different layers of the atmosphere, look for Woody hiding in each layer..

Be creative, move and learn!