September 21, 2013

Check Out Our Sensory Break Space!

I'm doing my happy special ed teacher dance! You know....the one that goes like this?

Elaine Dance photo ElaineDance.gif
Yes, I'm a Seinfeld fan. I mean, seriously, how many moments in our lives are identified with Seinfeld references?! Low talkers, close talkers, fat free yogurt, "No soup for you!", Mulva, puffy shirt, Festivus for the rest of us, Junior Mints. In fact, when I searched for this image I started laughing so hard my TA thought I had lost my mind! I know, I know...Topic Twister invaded my brain for a minute. Sorry about that! Back to the topic ~ Our New Sensory Break Room!

This year our school had a classroom that was being used for other purposes. My brilliant and fantastic principal gave us permission to expand our sensory break space into this room since our space was so limited in our tiny little classroom. I'm counting my lucky stars to have it for as long as I get it. I know it is HIGHLY unlikely we will have it next year. So, we are enjoying it while we do!

Check out our Gross Motor Center (complete with racetrack!)....

Our Fine Motor Center....

And our Calm Body Center...

I change out the activity offerings in each center (except the gross motor center which remains the same) on a weekly basis so it can stay interesting to the kids.

The kids check in at the Learning Zone poster when they enter the room.

They then choose a center that will help get their bodies into the green learning zone.

We are also working with Leah Kuyper's Zones of Regulation curriculum to help us identify "tools" for our ready to learn toolbox.

This week, we will be working to identify the effect various "tools" have on our emotions. Each child will have his own "toolbox" available.  Click here to download a copy of the toolbox.

This space has been such a blessing! We are able to start our days feeling good, conduct periodic sensory breaks as needed (or as scheduled!) during the day, and end our day in the room while we wait out the noisy chaos of dismissal. This has helped us start and end our days feeling calm!

I know that it is unlikely that we will have this space every year, but even if we don't I can use the same centers model with smaller and easier to store activities.

Thanks for checking our our Sensory Break Space!

September 4, 2013

Wow Us Wednesday ~ Lesson Plan Link Party!

We have a brilliant idea if we do say so ourselves....

Well, it will only be brilliant if YOU join in! There are so may smart therapists and teachers out there that work so hard to create purposeful and engaging lesson plans for students. I know I am guilty of re-inventing the wheel too many times instead of reaching out to ask for and share ideas with my fellow teachers.

So, let's change that!

On the first Wednesday of each month, we will open up our Wow Us Wednesday Lesson Plan Link Party. We will keep the links open from Wednesday-Tuesday, so check back several times over the course of the week to catch all the great ideas. Feel free to link up any great lesson plans that you would like to share and make sure to "like" the ideas that you really enjoy. We will feature the top three "liked" lessons in a follow-up post.

What's a link party you say? It is a great way to be linked up to other blogs and share information in one easy stop. But Kelley & Orlanda, what if I want to share and I don't have a blog? Never fear ~ the Dynamic Duo is here! There is a way you can share your idea. Just follow the instructions here.

I'll start the party off with a lesson plan that I find to be incredibly useful with my 5th grade social groups. I think it would be a fantastic lesson to use with middle and high school as well.

One of my tried-and-true activities that I do yearly with my 5th grade social group students is designing our own vision boards. A vision board is a tool that helps students identify what they want various aspects of their life to "look like" in the future.

If we already have rapport established in a group that has been together for a while, then we do this activity at the beginning of the school year. If the group is composed of students who do not know each other well, then we do this activity after we've had time to do some team building.

The first step is to create a web that describes the important components of a balanced life. Here is an example of our web.

The kids then cut out pictures of magazines or find images on the computer to represent their short term and long term goals for each of the areas on the web. This really opens up a lot of discussion and even helps some members find commonalities between each other.

They create their own vision boards and present it to the group. Here are a couple of examples of finished vision boards by 5th graders.

We use these vision boards all year as anchors for discussions about how our social behavioral choices either support or harm our ability to reach our goals.

I hope this activity will be good to add for your beginning of the year planning!   ~Kelley

Here are the friendly guidelines for our get-together:
  • When you link up, please grab our button and include it somewhere in your post. You can find it on the sidebar. Or you can simply link to this post on your blog. Thanks!
  • Please visit the other great bloggers that link up to check out their ideas and leave some comment love.
  • Please consider joining the Dynamic Duo as a blog friend. Follow us by email (on the sidebar) or through your blog reader. That way you can make sure to get the most up-to-date posts.
So, get an awesome lesson plan ready to post and join the party!

August 28, 2013

Wow Us Wednesday ~ Classroom Organization Link Party!

It's that time of year! We're recharged from summer break and ready to get our classrooms and therapy rooms set up and organized for the new year. I'm always tweaking my organizational and storage systems to try to make the best use I can of my small space and it is so much easier to do when unpacking after summer break.

I love cruising Pinterest and blog hopping to check out classroom organizational ideas. Here are a few of my recent faves.

I took a couple of weekends last spring and converted all my files to binders. Totally worth the time!

Space Saving Game Storage

Using photos to cue clean-up.
This blog has tons of great ideas!

Orlanda and I want to see YOUR space! We thought it would be great to start a Classroom Tour Linky Party right here at the Dynamic Duo so that we can have a one-stop bounty of classroom tour goodness.

So, snap some pics of your classroom or therapy room and post them here. The link party will be open from now until Wednesday, September 4. If you don't have a blog to link to and still want to share your photos, follow the directions here. And make sure to "like" your faves. We will feature the top 3 "liked" entries in a follow-up post.

We will start the party off with a quick tour of our rooms.

Here's Kelley's SCORES (Social Communication & Resource Program) room. My room was designed to be a physical therapy/occupational therapy room. It is divided into two parts with a glass wall in the center. I have placed the sensory area on the larger half of the room and the academic area on the smaller half. It is definitely cozy, so we have to be very diligent about keeping it clutter-free and using space wisely. For storage, I have brought in a few bookshelves and melamine cabinets from home and am able to stash them in a little alcove right outside of my classroom. I'm so lucky that my administration lets me do this. Otherwise, I would be a crazy person!

My room is set off down a short hallway right off the front entrance from our school. 

We have a welcome sign to let folks know where to find me and my TA (Mrs. McBride ~ who is BRILLIANT and I couldn't live without her!)

My make-it-work-in-the-hallway storage system for social thinking/behavior tools and all the literacy materials...

Shelves for math materials...

Our awesome Playmobil school for role playing and wire drawers with stress balls, puppets, & carpet spots. Under the blue tablecloth is our makeshift kitchen (mini fridge, microwave, and rubbermaid drawers full of snacks).

Our sensory area.... we LOVE the cocoon swing from IKEA - it is so much cheaper than specialty catalogs and so great for those calm down moments we all need sometimes! I do need to pump the seat back up - a student told me yesterday that it was hurting his "leg pits". So funny! The shelves contain books, fine motor activities, visual and auditory activities, and a "cloud sand" tray.

Our yummy calm down tent & hippity hop ball. The tent is filled with a blanket, pillow, beanbag chair, and a handful of stuffed animals. The big stuffed animals are filled with beans to serve as a calming weighted item.

A computer for my Teaching Assistant and the students to share. You can see through the little doorway our academic learning area.

On the academic side of the room I have my work nook. I try hard to keep down the clutter and visual noise, but it is hard! A big goal of mine this year is to TRY to keep my desk clean. It's day 3 of school and I'm not being very successful thus far. :(

As you can see, we keep our florescent lights off and have lamps scattered around both sides of the room. It is so much more calming! Here is the work area and storage for currently-being-used materials for academics and social thinking groups. On the side of the cabinet we are trying a stamp card this year instead of a sticker chart for showing whole body listening during groups.

Here's Orlanda's Speech/Language Therapy room...

Here are the friendly guidelines for our get-together:

·  When you link up, please grab our button and include it somewhere in your post. You can find it on the sidebar. Thanks!
·  Please check out other great bloggers and leave them some comment love!
·  Please make sure that your link is directly related to a classroom tour, organizational tip, or organizational product.
·  Please join the Dynamic Duo as a blog friend. Follow us by email (on the sidebar) or through your blog reader. That way you can make sure to get the most up-to-date posts.
So, get your classroom tour ready and join the party!

May 20, 2013

End of Year Transition Issues for Kids on the Autism Spectrum

We are all counting down the days until summer break begins. Even though time off sounds exciting to both students and teachers, it can be a minefield of challenges for our kids on the Autism Spectrum. All too often those "fun" activities can create extra stress and anxiety in our students with ASD. I have a simple suggestion that makes a world of difference!

Start NOW while things are relatively sane and help your student create their own calendar for the last 3-4 weeks of school. Note all the days where there will be unusual events such as assemblies, track & field day, class parties, field trips, etc. You can also make note of all the days that are "regular" schedule days. Consider color coding the regular days. Your student will then be able to preview and plan ahead for the changes that will occur.

I usually use this calendar because it is simple and non-distracting:
 Click here to download

The week before school gets out, I send the following calendar home with students and ask their parents to help them fill it out. I know that the kids seem really excited to get out of school, but going from structured to unstructured days can create significant anxiety. I explain to parents that it is helpful to help their child structure their first week of summer and that they will likely experience a more peaceful start to their vacation.

Click here to download
I hope you find these tools quick and easy to use with your students with ASD.  ~Kelley

May 13, 2013

Fun Ways To Develop Keyboarding Skills This Summer!

I have several families who have asked about increasing their child's familiarity with letter location on a computer keyboard. Typically before having a child do more of their writing on the classroom computer or considering assistive technology options for fine motor/handwriting difficulties, it is important for students to be familiar with the keyboard and be able to quickly locate keys. Hunting and pecking is fine, but needs to be able to be done pretty quickly in order for it to be a help and not a hindrance for students.

I've encouraged the families for whom I would like to consider assistive technology for their child next year to have their child practice keyboarding using fun, free online games this summer and to practice keyboarding by emailing a friend or relative this summer.

If you have students who need keyboarding practice, here is a list of great (free!) online resources for keyboarding games:

 This site has excellent instruction as well as games. The section under "courses" is unfortunately dull, but good to do if you can get your child to work on it for 5 minutes or so. The section under "games" is fun and good practice. 

I hope this will save you some research time if you have students who need keyboarding practice. Here's to counting down the days 'til summer! ~ Kelley

May 3, 2013

Hands-on Lesson on Using Your Filter by Kelley

Here's a quick hands-on lesson to illustrate the concept of using your verbal filter to keep the group feeling calm.

We define what a thought is...

We use thought bubbles and various pictures to identify main topics group members like to think about.

We then discuss the idea of "smooth" vs "prickly" thoughts and comments. Smooth thoughts and comments are those that keep the group feeling calm and keep the interaction moving forward. Prickly thoughts and comments are those that make others feel uncomfortable and stop the interaction. Here's the visual that we use for prickly and smooth interactions. You can download it here.

We pass around a smooth ball and a prickly ball to further reinforce the concept of which was more comfortable.

After reviewing the smooth vs prickly concept, we define what a filter is and why we use filters in our communities (coffee, cleaning water, etc). We then introduce the idea of a brain filter that keeps prickly thoughts in our heads and allows smooth thoughts to be verbalized.

You'll need a container, a pitcher of water, a strainer, food coloring, a bag of small sticks/rocks/mulch, and small strips of laminated paper with a sharpie marker.

We ask the group to decide on a color that will represent smooth thoughts. This was a minefield of negotiation and group decision making in itself! Finally, they came to the decision that they would use blue food coloring to represent smooth thoughts.

We mix up the blue water in the pitcher and then identify various prickly comments that could disrupt an interaction and cause prickly thoughts in others. We write them down with a sharpie on laminated strips of paper and added them along with the sticks (which represented other prickly comments or behaviors such as turning away when a peer is talking or interrupting) to the water pitcher.

We then pour the contents through the strainer (representing our brain filter) to model keeping the prickly comments in our heads and letting the smooth comments be expressed.

I hope that you'll find this activity to be helpful in your social and speech groups!