Community Living Skills


Learning community living skills is critical for students because such skills will enable them to adapt to and live in the community independently and successfully. The key to learning community living skills is practice in reallife situations. If students are to develop the social and economic competence necessary to function independently, their programs must give them opportunities to integrate into the community.

A key feature of community-living-skills programs is decision making - that is, learning to identify problems, to decide on plans of action, and to accept the consequences of the chosen actions.

Community living skills can be taught in all grades and in a number of program areas. For the younger student, community awareness is emphasized through excursions in the community -excursions that involve, for example, observing community helpers in action or purchasing items for use in the classroom.

For the older student, community living experiences can be provided through consumer studies and personallifemanagement courses. Students require individualized, community-focused programs that include activities such as shopping for goods and services, using public transportation, using financial services, and selecting appropriate support services.

Experiences for students with multiple needs may include opportunities for sensory and social stimulation from sounds and sights in the community.

The Planning Cycle

Assessment and Development

the first two phases of the planning cycle, educators need to:

  • identify students' physical, cognitive, social, and communicative capacities and needs with respect to community involvement;
  • obtain parents' co-operation and consent for their children's participation in community-based programs;
  • identify community agencies and facilities that are used by students' families and by the school;
  • identify priorities for learning (e.g., crossing the street safely, purchasing food, using a hospital);
  • identify opportunities for social interaction with peers;
  • identify safety hazards (e.g., traffic, possibility of exploitation by people in the community);
  • develop policies about such matters as insurance and staff support;
  • plan for the additional costs of community-based programming;
  • identify any logistical problems (e.g., staffing, timetabling).

Implementation and Evaluation

In the last two phases of the planning cycle, educators need to:

  • begin community-based programming in the elementary years and gradually increase the amount of time spent on this area;
  • use an integrative approach, combining language, mathematics, and the social and mobility skills required for functioning in the community;
  • use a variety of techniques in the classroom (e.g., role plays, films, games, discussions) to reinforce community learning;
  • provide opportunities for students to generalize their skills to a range of environments (e.g., to purchase groceries at various supermarkets, to use several banks);
  • provide students with problems to solve in a variety of community environments (e.g., returning an item for a refund, finding their way when lost);
  • monitor students' skills carefully and provide tasks that are challenging;
  • provide community experiences that are ageappropriate.


Falvey, Mary A. Community-based Curriculum: Instructional Strategies for Students With Severe Handicaps. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes, 1986.

Ontario. Ministry of Education. Business Studies, Intermediate and Senior Divisions: Consumer Studies. Curriculum Guideline. Toronto: Ministry of Education, Ontario, 1987.

_____. Community Study. Curriculum Ideas for Teachers. Toronto: Ministry of Education, Ontario, 1977.

_____. Geography, Intermediate and Senior Divisions, Part A: Policy and Program Expectations. Curriculum Guideline. Toronto: Ministry of Education, Ontario, 1988.

_____. Personal Life Management, Intermediate and Senior Divisions. Curriculum Guideline. Toronto: Ministry of Education, Ontario, 1985.

Case Study - Elementary Level

Student Profile Jonathan is a seven-year-old with multiple disabilities. He has a slow, unsteady gait as a result of cerebral palsy; is subject to grand mal seizures, which are usually controlled by medication; and has a severe hearing loss in his left ear. He requires assistance with toileting and has difficulty with the fine-motor skills needed for such dressing tasks as buttoning and zipping clothes. He points and gestures to communicate what he wants. He understands one- and twoword phrases, but it is necessary to get his attention first because he is frequently unaware of his surroundings. He loves watching wrestling on TV and playing with "transformer" toys.

Learning Environment Jonathan attends a Primary class in a special school. An important goal for him is to increase his awareness of the environment around the school and his home. At school he is accompanied by his teacher or an educational assistant. His parents are willing to cooperate with the school in the development of a community-awareness program for Jonathan.

Expected Learning Outcomes Jonathan is expected to:

  • develop skill at walking in the local community with his classmates and going to the store with the educational assistant to purchase wrestling toys;
  • improve his awareness of safety practices, such as stopping at curbs and crossing with lights;
  • improve his ability to interact appropriately with adults and peers when travelling in the community.

Student Program Jonathan is being provided with opportunities to:

  • expand his understanding of the words he needs for safe travel in the community (e.g., stop, wait, sidewalk, curb) by attending to environmental cues such as buildings, colours, and distinctive signs;
  • refine his pointing and gesturing skills to indicate where he wants to go, what he wishes to purchase, and so on;
  • recognize the logos for men's and women's washrooms in the school and the community;
  • develop appropriate ways of interacting with his peers, school staff, and store personnel through verbal prompts, modelling, and praise;
  • develop increasing independence in the use of public washrooms;
  • learn to choose appropriate clothing for outings by practising making choices;
  • take responsibility for wearing his safety helmet when walking;
  • develop an awareness of safety practices in the community (e.g., using the sidewalk, stopping at curbs, looking both ways before crossing streets, recognizing traffic lights);
  • develop a variety of mobility and endurance skills by walking on a variety of surfaces (e.g., sidewalks, grass, slopes, snow, ice) and by stepping up and down curbs or stairs;
  • improve his finemotor skills (e.g., handling money to purchase a wrestling poster).

Case Study - Secondary Level

Student Profile Fifteen-year-old Corinne takes care of her personal needs and communicates effectively. She is very shy, especially when talking to people whom she does not know well. She is able to read important words that she encounters in the community (e.g., STOP, LADIES, DANGER) and to add and subtract to 10. She is well co-ordinated and enjoys participating in a variety of sports.

Learning Environment Corinne attends a special class in her local secondary school.

Expected Learning Outcomes Corinne is expected to: - learn to travel to school on her own by public transit through an extensive program designed specifically for her; - generalize her independent travelling skills to other excursions, such as going bowling.

Student Program Corinne is being provided with opportunities to:

  • develop the language skills she needs to request bus tickets, ask for assistance or directions, and request information about bus routes and times;
  • develop the ability to follow oral directions if lost;
  • read significant information on the bus and in the station, the names of streets en route, the names of community stores and recreational facilities, and a bus timetable;
  • improve her ability to read and write important information on her student identification card, including her parents' workplaces, her telephone number, and the school address;
  • overcome her shyness about asking questions and learn how to interact effectively with transit personnel and other travellers by practising specific dialogue, using confident body language, and role playing possible situations;
  • become responsible for carrying proper identification, caring for her personal belongings en route, making a telephone call from a public booth, and practising street safety;
  • practise problemsolving procedures that she can use in an emergency;
  • develop competence in using money by purchasing tickets, making telephone calls, and paying to use a bowling lane;
  • develop numeracy skills by recognizing the time of arrival of various buses and estimating what time she needs to leave home in order to arrive at school on time.

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