Teaching Functional Life Skills in Special Education

In my very first self-contained classroom, I was lucky enough to have an instructional kitchen attached to my classroom. Instead of only utilizing that space on “Fun Fridays” for cooking, we decided to use the space to teach our students some basic functional life skills.

Daily Living Skills

It can never be too early to begin teaching your students daily living skills. In the instructional kitchen – our students went through a work system of daily living tasks. We numbered the tasks so they knew which order to go in, or we would just hand younger students an object to move onto the next task (i.e. a spoon for sorting silverware). A lot of the tasks incorporated functional skills they will use daily for the entirety of their lives – putting away groceries, sorting silverware, packing snacks, recycling, and more! Below are pictures of all the different tasks we had. A lot of the materials were donated or purchased at secondhand stores, so minimal cost to the teacher.

Sorting Groceries

Students unpacked groceries from bags and put them away on shelves. To create this center, I just recycled lots of different cereal/snack boxes and brought in some expired canned goods from my own pantry. This is a very basic level of just sorting the boxes with the canned goods. To make this more difficult, I could have had students match the box to an identical picture, or even sort by size or by type.

Shelving Books

Again, this was a very simple center since my students were all at this level. They just picked up old books and placed them on the shelf. We used this as one our “heavy work” stations throughout the day as well. Read more about What heavy work is and why your students need it here. To increase the difficult on this, you could have students organize books into labeled book bins by genre or do alphabetical order.

Recycling Center

At this center, students sorted cardboard and plastic into two different recycling containers. For this center, you could increase the difficulty by increasing the different types of materials for sorting.

Loading and Unloading Items

At this “heavy work” station, students picked up rice filled containers and placed them on the cart. When all the containers were on the cart, the students pushed it up and back the hallway a few times. This was by far my favorite center and my students! Pushing heavy weight helped calm a lot of my kiddos and they loved getting to walk around the halls and greet other students and teachers.

Packing Snacks

At this station, we added some academics into the task by having students count a specific number of chips per bag. For beginner students, we just did a few chips per bag so they were still doing the center independently.

Folding Dishtowels

For this station, I bought a ton of old dishtowels from Goodwill and we worked on teaching the students how to fold them correctly. We had visual pictures showing the steps (much like the visual steps in my Easy Art packs).

Sorting Silverware

Another easy life skills center! I grabbed a multi-pack of plastic silverware at the Dollar Tree and this organizer. Glue down one utensil in each slot where they need to go or you could print and tape down visuals.

Sorting/Stacking Plates and Cups

For this center, we had students sort paper plates and plastic cups as one might stack them in cabinets. Very simple, but perfect for breaking down that skill for little ones!

More Life Skills Ideas

Here are more ideas you could definitely incorporate into your school day!

-handwashing routine

-sorting laundry

-washing dishes

-changing empty toilet paper/paper towel rolls

-sorting freezer/fridge items



-setting the table

-wiping down tables

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life skills instruction special education

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