Monday, January 31, 2011

PVC Sensory Station

One of the OTs on our staff works in a classroom for students with significant intellectual disabilities, and she took this photo of a sensory station fabricated by the classroom teacher.  It sits atop a large table and a variety of ever-changing, eye-catching items are hung from the horizontal bar for the students to visually and tactually explore.  Students are always supervised while using the sensory station.

I think it would be fun to include olfactory items--a stuffed animal that has spent the weekend bagged up with a tablespoon of cinnamon, or a piece of textured fabric which has been doused with lemon oil.  One specific smelly treat per day, or change it up every week. 

Use caution--some students are very sensitive to certain scents, even if they're just in the same room.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Pixton comics for social stories

Yesterday, an early childhood special ed teacher shared this website with me:

Pixton comics

She uses it to create social stories to help students she works with in typical preschool settings, children who need help understanding social cues as well as students who are having difficulty with transitions or afraid of different events happening at school (visits by a clown, for example.)

The teacher has a subscription which costs a few dollars a month.

Since I can't draw at all, this looks promising.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Do Write in the Book

It may be hard to see, but the black cut-out shape is supposed to resemble an open book.  The student used a 12", serrated-edge ruler to draw writing lines on the book shape, then we took turns writing vocabulary review words.  Using the chalk made it even more important to closely monitor the writing, since the wide point of the chalk creates thick lines and it's easy for the letters to get too big to fit within the writing lines.
The student remembered that last week we "stared" at the vocabulary words for 5 seconds, then wrote them from memory.  Of course we did it again.
Even though the ruler has a non-slip strip along the bottom, it still does the teeter-totter thing if you only hold it on one end while tracing the line.  This student caught on to the idea of moving his finger to the middle of the ruler to keep it level.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Pine Cone Birdfeeders are a Sensory Smorgasbord

What gloppy fun this is--to make almost all-natural birdfeeders for the birdies who hang around our high school.

Our integrated therapy group session focused on the sensations involved with using the prickly pine cones, gooey peanut butter, sand-like birdseed, rough twine and identifying characteristics of birds from photos.  Most of the six students did not like to hold the pine cones completely in their hands; they tended to hold just the top.  Half of the students were sneaking licks of peanut butter off their fingers.  All seemed okay with the texture of the birdseed.  Two students knew how to tie a half knot to secure the pretzels to the hanging twine.  When prompted by the speech-language pathologist, a few students independently volunteered information about the color of the birds in the photos.  One student seemed to grasp the concept of measuring lengths of twine with a student ruler.

Do birds eat pretzels?  Students sure do.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Ed Emberley's Site

This author/illustrator is a treasure.  When students hate using a pencil these activities will spark interest in drawing and it's a fun way to encourage them to develop greater control with the pencil, marker or crayon.  Might help their visual perception and visual-motor skills a little, too.

Please note that the website is being tweaked, so some activities may not open correctly until a later date.

Ed Emberley Website

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Word Sort Station

After working so hard to color and cut her word sort words, it's nice to have a little non-slip station on the desk to park the words while she sorts them into word families.  This blue "leaf" is an attractive place to secure those slippery words.

Yes, just go to Big Lots or the Dollar Store and buy some inexpensive shelf liner webbing, then cut your own "stations" from stencils or freehand drawing.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Remember to Look Up

When you drive home at the end of the day, remember to look up toward the west and expect something beautiful.

Earning A Smiley Face

Many teachers and related staff folks use smiley faces as visual reinforcers to help students work toward a reward, with the primary goal of improving on-task behaviors.  "X" number of smiley faces on a behavior log and the student can go to the classroom store and purchase "Y" or earn some special time with his teacher or peers.
Sometimes the student needs more details to understand how to earn that smiley face at the end of a 15 minute or 30 minute session with the OT.  This idea worked yesterday with two young students:

  • Find a puzzle piece or picture that shows a child's head, simply drawn.
  • Ask your student what they see when they look at the puzzle piece, then write down the different parts.  Aim for a list of 5-8 parts (hair, eyes, mouth...)
  • Draw a large circle on the paper.  Ask your student what parts are missing, then draw the parts on your list, one by one, talking about each one.
  • Remark on how the drawn face looks like a smiley face.  Introduce the idea that the student will earn parts of a smiley face when they are working hard "with their smart fingers" when a timer goes off.  Draw a large circle for your new smiley face.
  • Set the timer for 3 minutes, then turn the front of the timer away from both of you.  Begin your planned activity and keep going until the timer sounds.
  • If the student is working hard on what you've planned, ask them which part of the smiley face should be drawn.  Draw one part (like both eyes or the nose) then set the timer for a short period of time--no more than 4 minutes.  If the student isn't working hard when the timer goes off, lightly say that they might get to put a part on the smiley face next time when they are..."Cutting the shape out with scissors, folding their paper, holding the pencil close to the tip..."  Focus on saying what they can do to earn part of their smiley face and try real hard not to say things like, "When you stop poking me with your pencil you will earn a smiley face."
  • Repeat the process until your session is over.
  • Be sure to space out your timed intervals to realistically complete a smiley face within the timeframe of your session.  However, if they haven't earned all the parts of the smiley face and don't get a smiley face on their behavior chart that's beneficial for them to experience, as well.

Let me know how it works for you, or if you have other successful ideas for shaping positive behaviors.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Use Snowflakes to Motivate Bored Writers

Save a few die-cut snowflakes from the previously-posted activity for this snowy approach to practicing weekly spelling words.

Take turns with your student and write spelling words within the confines of the snowflakes.  Model looking at a word for a few seconds, then turn over the word list so neither of you can see the words.  Slowly write the letters of the word within the little diamonds of the snowflake and see if your student can tell you which letter comes next.  Then, let your student try the same thing with his word.

Some of the little spaces within the snowflake will be better suited for tall letters and some for wide letters.  If you happen to write a tall letter within a vertical diamond, be sure to comment on it, "Boy, it sure is easy to write that tall 'h' inside this space.'"

If you have extra time, go back to your cryptic page and locate one of the words you've written, then model circling the individual letters of that one word counterclockwise (if your student is right-handed.)  Now, it's your student's turn to do the same.

Special Snowflakes

No snow last night, just freezing rain which made the tree limbs and shrubs all glimmery in the night.  Here's a motivating way for students to practice writing the letters in their name, tracing, cutting on the line and then figuring out where to put their creations on the winter-themed bulletin board everyone sees when they walk past the classroom.

Start with die-cut snowflakes.  Let the students punch out the perforated sections.

Use a shapes puzzle to trace shapes on construction paper.  Cut out the shapes, then write single letters from your student's name on the shapes.  Or, write spelling/vocabulary words.
Have your student stand several feet away from the classroom poster and consider where he would like to place his letter snowflake(s).  Have her glue the snowflake into place.  Only the OT gets to think about whether or not the student placed the snowflake where it was originally planned to go.
Extra special snowflakes are hung on a ribbon.  Some students will be able to manipulate the paper clip to attach the snowflake to the ribbon, but it's pretty tricky.

Monday, January 17, 2011


No school today--Dr. King's birthday is celebrated in the USA with federal, state and county workers off in many localities.

I remembered the beautiful song my daughter's choir sang in 1999 or so when she was in high school.  Took me forever to figure out what the title meant--I'm so culturally clueless sometimes.  Here are some versions of that beautiful composition to appreciate:

Baylor University version


Thanks to Langston Hughes for the label quote.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Football in the Classroom

What an eye opener to create a large-scale football field in a high school classroom for students with Autism.  Thought it would be a good opportunity to review basic math facts and support academic goals (how many feet in a yard?) but that turned out to be a little too difficult for the students.  So, it ended up more of a fine motor, motor planning and language assessment session. 

The speech-language pathologist prompted me in how to phrase questions and when to just hold still and wait, without talking, after I asked a student to do something.  It's real hard not to hand a student the glue stick as you ask them to glue down one of the yellow yard lines.  I'm supposed to ask them to do it and wait, silently, for them to ask me for the glue stick.

Several students needed physical assistance to stabilize the yard stick as they drew 30" sidelines.  The fun at the end was gluing "spectators" and team players around the border of the field.  The SLP wore a Green Bay Packers No. 80 jersey and we happened to have a photo of the player in our collection of newspaper clippings.

 I pre-made a partial field from a grocery bag as a model for the students.
 Then, we made a field from scratch--30" wide by 15" high.
 Students lightly traced guide lines to mark where the yellow yard lines would go, then placed glue over (or at least near) the guide lines.
 The goalposts were made from recycled grocery bag handles.
Much different activity working with a group compared to working 1-1 with a student!

Perseverance Pays Off

Tried the Scrabble tile idea for spelling with the little kindergartner today.  I think he accidentally knocked more tiles off the little stands than he successfully put on the stands, but he kept on working.  His teacher had written a sentence for him to copy and placed it on his desk.  I broke down the sentence into single words and he did pretty well.  Also, I should have reduced the number of letter tiles to choose from on his desk, I think.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Are You Ready for Some Football?

In preparing for a group project tomorrow with high schoolers I realized that if I was going to help them make a giant football field for their class I'd better know some football terms...
Google to the rescue!  Here's a good site for quickly reviewing the dimensions of the field, plus the positions of the players.
Fan's Guide to Football
Another page on the site provides a glossary of football terms.  I'm going to memorize a few of the lesser known phrases, "Onside kick, touchback," and save them for impressing our family and friends during the upcoming Superbowl party.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Free stuff

A colleague just showed me this website--they even have free stuff!  Look for the leaf animals.
Your Therapy Source

Cool Ideas from the instructional magazine, "The Mailbox"

Saw these ideas when looking through the current Kindergarten edition of "The Mailbox."  Confession time--the school library computer was real slow this morning and I had to grab a magazine to thumb through or I would have gone crazy waiting for the computer to plod along.

Activities related to books:
Eric Carle's The Very Busy Spider--Have students sit in a large circle.  While reading the book have students create a spider web within the circle, using their hands/fingers as the anchoring points.  At the end, carefully remove the web from the students' hands and lay it down in the circle.  The teacher might choose a student to wind up the yarn again or you might suggest ahead of time that your "target" student gets to wind up the yarn into a ball, with your supervision.  This sounds like a good activity for attention, motor planning, bilateral coordination and sensory exploration.

Lois Ehlert's  Leaf Man--I haven't read this book but from the cover it looks like the story of a man made of leaves.  Use leaves of different shapes to make a person (head, upper arm, forearm, trunk, upper and lower leg).  I'd make a whole family of leaf people or perhaps use the idea to make a class "portrait."

Other ideas:  When using glue during the day, suggest that the students apply glue in the shape of the letter "A" or the shape of a single digit number.  The teacher can call out a letter at different times during the activity and have the students all apply glue in that letter shape until the next letter is called out.  We can do this when working 1-1 with students.

Have students cut out letters of different shapes from cereal or toy boxes, apply a strip of magnetic tape on the back, then use the letters to write words on a magnetic chalkboard or cookie sheet.  Assign students to tidy up afterwards by putting the letters in alphabetical order.  If cutting out thick paper is too difficult, use old greeting cards or similar paper.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Recycle Your Cell Phones

A fun way to use discarded cell phones to encourage conversation.

Getting Closer to the Fun

The action can get a little bouncy in a class for early childhood special education (ECSE) but the students in this class know how to adjust their boisterous ways when they are playing near a fellow student who is medically fragile.  Today's theme seemed to be "cowboys" and these students wanted their classmate to participate in playing "horsey."  One little guy took the lead and rode his horse over to be petted by their less mobile classmate, then another student got the same idea and moseyed over on another stick horse.

The horses' fur was really soft!

When we see our students sitting a little bit away from the fun in the classroom it's easy to bring them over to the center of action.  By just hanging out with our "target" student in the larger group of students we can model ways our students can be assisted to play with the toys and, oftentimes, the less-physically challenged classmates imitate us.  Remember to tell the teacher and aides how wonderful their students are, specifically citing examples of shared toys, conversation and other positives.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

High Tech meets Low Tech

A kindergartner in one of my schools really wants to write his name, but his shaky little arms and hands just get in the way.  While he's maturing and practicing his hand control, here's a way for him to write his name, spelling words, anything he wants.
This morning my poor, long-suffering husband trekked out to the storage shed to retrieve the classic Scrabble games I'd bought last summer at some thrift shops.  We tossed out the mildewed game boards and boxes and kept the letter tiles and stands.
A little Velcro magic and the letter tiles now stick to car headliner fabric, or felt storyboards, with a clipboard to add stability and make the writing "kit" more portable.
My little guy doesn't need thicker letter tiles since his pinch is quite accurate, but you might choose 1" cubes for your students if they need more surface area to grasp.  Just use permanent markers to write letters, or numbers on the cubes.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Recycled Crafts

What an amazing site showing unique ideas for making recycled crafts--some on the page would be great for older students (robot, car).

Look for more sites on this index:

Use Football To Your Advantage

Take advantage of the upcoming Superbowl excitement and work with students on making their own football fields.  This activity provides numerous opportunities for the students to precisely cut with scissors, use two-hands to manipulate thin strips of paper and utilize early math skills. 
Pre-cut long strips of paper about 1" wide, then have the students cut the strips in half or in thirds, lengthwise.
For younger students, demonstrate how to glue down the 50 yd line and the end lines before you ask them to add the remaining yardlines.  If needed, you may want to draw guidelines on the background paper (green paper in the photos) as a visual cue for where their paper yardlines should go.  Students will need to mark, then tear or cut off the excess length of paper from their yardlines, then glue the yardlines in place.
Older students can write the 10, 20, 30, 40 along one edge of their yardlines.  Some teachers may wish to keep these projects as "evidence" for the student's alternate testing portfolios.
Add goalposts and write the name of your teams on their respective endzones.  One of my students enjoyed drawing stick figures of the opposing teams.