Sunday, September 18, 2016

Fine Motor Friday in Special Education

Fine motor skills are the coordination of small muscles in a person's hands, fingers and forearms. These skills include things like picking up a marker off of the floor, holding a pencil to write, and zipping up a backpack (just to name a few).

Fine motor skills help kids perform crucial tasks in the classroom and at home... okay, all day long, and in every single environment they enter throughout the day. They help our students become more successful and more independent. Fine motor skills are very important!
And I honestly probably should have gone to school to be an Occupational Therapist because I love working on fine motor tasks with my students. Cutting, pasting, building... you name it, we do it in our Life Skills classroom.

That's when I had the idea to turn an empty, dormant storage corner of our classroom into a Fine Motor Skill haven for my students.
This is the corner of storage in my classroom. Last year I had 7 students, and so far I have 2 this school year... so I have quite a few desks and chairs left over that have to stay in my classroom.

My original idea was to use the desk stacks as "walls", drape a sheet over them and create a sort of reading nook. Well... the first 3 weeks of school went as fast as they came, and I wasn't exactly sold on the safety of it. Until last Friday when we had our first Fine Motor Friday.

Now we have been doing Fun Food Friday the past 2 years (see a video about it here), and we will continue to do that this school year. But why not make Friday even more epic with an afternoon of Fine Motor Fun?!
So against my better judgement of putting up a bulletin board only once this school year, I decided to put up one large bulletin board to cover up the old Velcro tape marks on the wall. Plus, the large bulletin board makes the whole area look like an actual center area, not just an awkward corner of furniture.
Then I got to work on some bins. I bought these bins are Target over summer, but you can use any type of bin you want. I just like to keep everything color-coded.
As with the rest of my well organized classroom (hey, it's the beginning of the year! It won't be like this for long!), the PlayDoh and dough supplies were all ready to go.
So I split up the PlayDoh and sorted all of the dough supplies into categories.
Then I found a bunch of dough tools, including plastic cookie cutters, that the previous teacher left. Jackpot!
So I made 6 activity-specific dough bins for students to choose from. Each bin has 2 different colors of dough inside of the bin, plus lots of other fun stuff to use with the dough.
On the front of each bin, next to the pockets, I put cute little dough splats on the front to match the color of dough inside of the bin. This will help students in putting the supplies away.
But dough isn't the only fine motor activity we will be working on on Fridays. If you look inside of the desks, you'll see a couple of labeled bins. Those bins contain even more fine motor fun.

PS. The big blank space on my bulletin board will be filled in throughout the school year with pictures of the students participating in Fine Motor Friday. :)
Perlor beads are an amazing fine motor task for our friends. The beads are small and to fill in the whole grid, the students have to be very careful. It's a fine motor task that is fun for students, without them even realizing they're doing work.
I think I love Legos just as much as I love PlayDoh. In our Motor Lab bins, we have the duplos and megablocks ready for daily "play." So I decided to use the smaller Legos in our Fine Motor Friday bins to really practice on our skills.

I made 2 separate bins of Legos for students, and tried my best to separate the pieces evenly. Sharing is an ongoing skill, and is an important skill we work on daily, but it was not necessarily the major skill we are working on during Fine Motor Friday... so 2 bins of Legos.

In our Fine Motor Corner, you'll also find 4 bins of kinetic sand and 2 bins full of cut up straws with string. Students can build sand structures and form the kinetic sand, and they get to string up the straw "beads" on to string in the other bins.

How do you practice and build fine motor skills in your classroom?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

There was an Old Mummy Who Swallowed a Spider ( Books Teachers Love )

October is probably one of my most favorite times of year when it comes to children's books. This section of my classroom library is enormous, and I can never say no to a good Halloween book.
My blogger friends seem to think so too because we have some amazing read alouds picked out and ready to share with you for the month of October.
There was an Old Mummy Who Swallowed a Spider is the story of a mummy who is making his way through the night swallowing a bunch of stuff. He's kind of like the little old lady.
The rhyming and catchy-ness of the story pair well with the illustrations, for a book your students are sure to enjoy.

I found this book as an Amazon recommendation. You can own it now too by clicking here*.
Sequencing anything is a tough skill for many of my students. Numbers, following a word in sequential order to spell it correctly, and retelling events in a story to be more specific... we're going to make these adorable mummy bags to help us retell the events in TWAOMWSAS. We do this activity with all of the Old Lady books and my kids LOVE these little retelling bags. They take them home at the end of the day too, so they can tell their parents all about the book.
If you don't want to create the baggie mummy, you can create a lunch bag mummy. Both are a super simple activity that engages students and helps them with sequencing.

We do the baggie activity first because it helps students then re-sequence the story as we work through other sequencing pages. The kids can write numbers on the back to help them remember, which is a super easy accommodation.
Then we switch gears to bingo daubers. I know, we have so much fun in Life Skills!
We go circle by circle and determine if the object / animal inside of the circle was in the story we read. If it was in the story, we use the dauber to highlight it. It's a great quick check activity that students can also perform independently too.
We do all sorts of cut and paste sequencing activities with pictures and words. It's super easy to differentiate for all of the learners in my classroom, or use the same for each to practice vocabulary words.
To finish off our lesson, we make our own mummy! All you need is crepe, tissue, or construction paper, a little glue and the pattern.
Glitter Glue is a f.a.v.o.r.i.t.e. in our room, so we break it out on super special occasions. Not only do we practice using on a little bit of glue, the kids really love seeing the spooky, sparkly purple glue peak through the mummy's wrappings.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Glue Sponges in the Special Education Classroom

Glues sponges are all the rage these days, and for absolute good reason. They. are. so. awesome! Once I saw them all over social media, I knew that I wanted to try them out with my students.
Glue sponges are very simple to make and not expensive to make or maintain.

In my classroom, glue sponges have taken the place of glue sticks and liquid glue in a bottle. ALL we use are glue sponges, and this is our second year using only glue sponges.
Supplies needed:
Liquid Glue (1 bottle per container)
House Sponges (you can get them at the dollar store - typically 2 fit in one container, depending on the size of container you will be using)
Storage containers (pictured are the WalMart brand, I think they're like $2.47 for 5 containers)

Now let's learn how easy these glue sponges are to make...
The first step is to open the containers and put your sponges inside of the containers.
Then you will pour one bottle of liquid glue into each container. Pour it right on top of the sponges.
This is what your sponge will look like once you finish pouring all of the glue out of the bottle.
Now something SUPER amazing that I just tried out was the liquid glitter glue. I didn't know how it would work as being the glue in the whole glue sponge thing... so we tried it.
Same exact process as the regular liquid bottle glue.

You'll then want to let your sponges sit overnight. This gives the glue time to saturate the sponge and become a glue sponge.
Don't forget to put the lids on your containers as they are becoming glue sponges.

...or after each use.
And that's it! Your glue sponges will look like the green glue sponge above once they are ready to go.

To use them, students just dab the paper on top of the glue sponge and then add it to their paper. Super easy to use!
Oh yeah, and that glitter glue sponge... are you curious as to how it works? works like magic! Perfection! Pure glittery amazingness!

I will be using the glitter glue sponge as a special "VIP" glue sponge for students to use on special occasions only.

Tips for implementing glue sponges in your special education classroom:
1. Our students are very sensory, and the first few times you use these with your students, they will probably want to just touch the sponge. With their whole hand. Maybe the arms too. And they might try to lick the glue off of their fingers. SOOOO you'll want to teach them the proper etiquette for using the sponges.

2. Don't forget to fully close the containers after every use. If you don't, they will get moldy and you'll have to throw the sponges away and start over.

3. Glue sponges typically last me about 4-6 months. They will start to dry out eventually, as students use up the glue. Simply add more glue to the top and let it sit overnight again. Like new!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Small Group Instruction with VersaTiles

Small group instruction is the focal point in any classroom these days, especially special education classrooms, to meet the needs of all students. And with technology as prevalent as it is in daily life, it's sometimes difficult to keep students engaged in activities that are naturally less than thrilling (let's be honest, 1+1=2 is not always fun).

Let me introduce you to VersaTiles, an ETA hand2mind self-checking system that is fun and easy to use with any grade level of students.
VersaTiles is an active alternative to practice workbooks. It combines the challenge of a puzzle with standards-aligned skills practice, helping students develop fluency of key concepts and skills.

I was introduced to VersaTiles my very first year of teaching. We had a couple of classroom sets that we shared among all of the 7th grade math classes. I immediately fell in love with them then... when ETA contacted me, asking if I'd like to try out the new tile boards with my classroom of special needs students, of course I wanted to.

I am always open to trying new things, or retrying old things that have been updated to better fit the needs of all students. And I absolutely love activities that can easily be differentiated to meet the needs of my students.
I actually have an old set of VersaTiles in my classroom, so as soon as the new set arrived I had to compare and contrast the new with the old. Let's be honest again... the new stuff ROCKS!
The concept remains the same, but the entire case is different now. The tiles are thicker (easier to pick up) and have larger numbers on them (perfect for students with vision deficits).

The cases are a tad smaller, but are overall thicker AND they have little gripper feet so they don't slip on desks. GENIUS addition.

I really like the clear cover, which really helps in the self-checking process too.
The First Grade math set is what was sent to me, and these are all of the books/topics that come in the set. Each small group, grade level - subject specific set is $69.95.

Images and art within the books provide great context for students, making the content more accessible to all learners. There are also tips and examples embedded within many of the pages, which is the perfect support for independent and small group work.
When using this set in my classroom, I will make copies of the page we are working on. I do this so students can write on the pages and work out their answers... you know how us Math teachers like for kids to show their work ;)

Before copying, I will cover up the answer pattern (shown a few pictures below) with a post it so students can't just copy the pattern without doing the work. That's my secret insider tip!
When students start working, all of the numbers need to be in sequential order on the top rows (blue).

As they solve problems, they take that # of the tile (so if they are working on question 1, they will be moving tile 1) to the correct answer as determined by the grid at the bottom of the worksheet. They will keep working until all of the problems are solved.
After students solve, they will close the lid carefully.
The nice thing about the new tile boards is that they click closed easier and don't accidentally open when the kids are flipping to self-check.

Can you tell I've had one too many experiences of students' tiles coming out of the boards before they could self-check?! :) Not with the new tile boards!
My favorite thing about the new boards is probably that the clear base, allowing students to self-check easier than ever before.

To self-check, students simply check their pattern with the answer pattern. If it matches, their answers are correct...
...if they have wrong answers, or misplace tiles, the pattern will be incorrect.

As with anything, it will take my kiddos a few experiences with the tile boards before they are able to utilize them independently. My goal is to have my higher ability students start on these with me, and then finish them independently. We will get there!

If you want to find out more about VersaTiles or if you'd like to order a set for your class, you can visit the ETA hand2mind website.

*This is a sponsored blog post. All opinions are my own.*