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How to thrive in December


December is stressful!  It's also stressful for our kids.  There are so many special things to do that we are often off schedule and we change up routines.  Kids are excited and can't wait until Christmas.  All of these things make kids and adults very crazy.  So, how do we survive?


We channel all of that stress, anxiety, and energy into something productive.  I teach my kids how to use these round looms to knit scarves.  Knitting is easy once the kids learn the process which is easier than you think.  It also requires concentration which helps the kids focus and reduces anxiety.  It also requires a lot of fine motor skills so it's easy to tie into IEP goals.


Each student has his own basket with a loom, yarn, and a hook.  When students finish work or when they need a minute to get themselves together, they grab their basket and get to work.



Here's what the scarf will look like when it's finished.  They turn out so nice that parents usually don't believe their kids made them!



How do you survive in December? I'm always looking for new ideas.

#SpedQuestions


I've received several questions lately so I thought I would share them here.  If you have questions, you can leave them in the comments or email me at lifeinspecialeducation(at)gmail(dot)com.

Question:  I have a kindergarten student who is struggling with waiting his turn.  He gets mad when I call on other students.  He only wants to be a partner with one student in the class.  He refuses to work with any other student other than the one preferred peer.  He also has poor fine motor skills and a very weak pencil grasp.  How can I help him be more successful in the classroom?

1.  Answering questions/waiting his turn to talk- Create a visual for the board.  Use a flat magnet that is red on one side and green on the other side.  Place 5 of these magnets on the board.  Explain to the student that these are his question tickets.  When he answers a question or volunteers a story, turn one magnet from green to red.  When he runs out of tickets, he cannot answer any more questions.  Since this is a kindergarten, the question tickets should be reset for each instructional block/subject.  Give the student ownership of his question tickets and have him reset the tickets to green before each new subject.

2.  Partner with non-preferred peers- To help student work with a variety of peers, have him work with preferred peer along with another peer.  This will help the student get used to working with others.  If he refuses to include the third peer, use "first, then."  First you will work with the assigned partner, then you will get to choose your own partner for the next activity.  If the student knows that he will get to work with his friend, he will be more willing to tolerate other peers to get what he wants in the end.

3.  Fine motor- First, only use the "fat" pencils/crayons/markers.  If the student does not use a tripod grasp, give the student only short pencils that are no longer than 3-4 inches.  The short pencil forces the student to hold the pencil using a tripod grasp.  Once the student begins to use a tripod grasp regularly, you can transition him to use longer pencils.  This particular student does use a tripod grasp, but the grasp is so weak that if he were to lift the pencil off of the paper, the pencil would fall out of his hand.  Try to figure out if the student has a sensory issue of how the pencil feels when writing on paper.  If this is the issue, a mechanical pencil may help.  If not, the student may need a weighted pencil.  You can make your own weighted pencil by adding a metal nut to the end of the pencil.  (Put a little duct tape over it to keep it secure.)  You can also work on strengthening his hand muscles by having find small objects in putty.


The Secret to Teaching

 Teaching is hard.  We all know that.  But what makes some teachers succeed while others fail?




The answer is probably much simpler than you may think.  It's relationships.  Teachers who take the time and effort to create meaningful relationships with their students are the teachers who are successful.  Relationships take a lot of time and hard work especially for our more difficult students, but relationships make all the difference in the world.  A student is more likely to trust an adult who takes the time to get to know them and who finds positive qualities in them.  Students are more likely to keep trying when they are frustrated, accept consequences, and calm down when upset or angry when they have a relationship with a trusting adult.  For many of our students, they have few, if any, relationships with adults and have no idea how to interact with others.

How do you create a meaningful relationship with your students?

1.  Get to know them.  I know we are busy and we have to cover the curriculum, so when do we get to know our students?  It really only takes a minute or two each day.  Every week choose 1 or 2 students to spend 2 minutes with them.  You need to ask them questions about themselves and share information about yourself.  You can also sit with them at lunch.  Kids love to have extra attention at lunch.  This is also a very low threat for students because it is a social situation instead of an academic setting.

2. Be silly.  Students like to tell jokes and trick the teacher.  Be willing to walk right into a student's joke.  This shows the students that you are human and you are not perfect.  Students love to laugh.  Find a way to laugh with them.  It's ok to laugh at yourself.  Your students will love to see you as a real person.

3.  Be willing to apologize.  When you mess up, apologize.  If you make a mistake, apologize.  I know it sounds simple, but students rarely get the opportunity to see you as a person.  If you are willing to apologize to a student when you mess up, they are more likely to apologize when they mess up.

4.  Talk to them.  Make an effort to talk to each of your students every single day.  It only takes a few seconds to say good morning and ask them how their night was.  Compliment them and notice when they come to school with a new haircut or new clothes.

5.  Say what you mean and mean what you say.  If you tell a student you are going to do something, do it.  If life happens and you can't follow through, tell the student and apologize.  When you treat a student with kindness and respect, they are more likely to return kindness and respect to you.  If you dish out a consequence when you are angry and you later realize it's unfair/unnecessary, talk to the student and apologize for reacting out of anger.  Tell them you overreacted and that xyz is a more fair consequence.

The bottom line, talk to your students and get to know them for who they are.  Celebrate what makes them amazing.  You kids will thank you for it.  

Top 100 SPED Blogs



Recently, Feedspot made a list of the top 100 SPED blogs.  The list is amazing!!  I found several new blogs to follow.  Head over and check out the list so you can find more great blogs to follow, too!

Classroom Makeover and a Giveaway

Want to win a classroom makeover from Creative Teaching Press?  They are going to give one lucky teacher everything you see here:  


Are you shocked?!  I was! When I received this amazing set of materials I felt like it was Christmas!  Everything I could ever want for my classroom was included!  This is everything they have in the Bold and Bright Learning Decor Collection.  It has 6 different boarders along with tons of labels and small pieces that can be used as labels.  There are llamas and record/planning books.  It has everything you could want to decorate your room.


I had about 3 different choices for my birthday board.  I really liked this one that I could easily personalize and use every year.



I love these number cards.  They are taped to my floor so students know where to line up.  It will help with personal space and fighting over who stands where.

Last year, this was my board for science and social studies.  Since I'm not teaching science or social studies, I'm debating what to use it for.  I may make it my math word wall.



I LOVE the calendar pieces.  Since I use a pocket chart, I didn't have to laminate anything.  There were also a few more pieces to this pack.  This pack also included weather and other pieces you would use for primary kids.


Class rules.  I love the "We are..." poster.




We are a tech 1:1 school.  I like to have iPad rules posted to remind students of technology expectations.



This is my hallway board.  I will write student names on the pencils.  They will be able to choose the work they want to display.  I am using the smaller pencil cutouts for student lockers.


This set had a number of items that I didn't have room to use in my class.  Of course I shared with my team.  Don't you just love the bright colors?!

Enter now for your chance to win a big box of LOVE from Creative Teaching Press!


#SwagRocks!!



Earlier this summer, I was notified that I was selected as a Creative Teaching Press Ambassador.  I am so excited!  Today, I found a box of swag on my porch!  Teachers LOVE free stuff!!  It was a beautifully wrapped gift filled with gold confetti.  Once I finished playing with all of the confetti, I got down to business and found an awesome shirt!  I love how cute it is!!


A new teacher bag!  Just in time, because my old teacher bag was worn out.  It even had 2 adorable buttons.  (My daughter tried to steal the llama one, but I managed to save it just in time!)



They also included 2 bags of cute buttons.  (Yes, I gave my daughter the llamas out of this set!) It also had a Starbucks gift card, a small cup, and cat emoji keychain.  Here's a look at everything!


 Thanks so much Creative Teaching Press!  You guys ROCK!!

#creativeteachingpress

Fidget Sinners...SIGH....


I know most of us are over the fidget spinners.  Right?  So, I decided to take some of the fun out of them by turning it into a project!  I had my kids examine their fidget spinners and discuss the various parts.  Why does it spin so long?  How can we make something similar using only the supplies we have in the classroom?  We made several different versions.  (I forgot to take pics of the failures.) . This was one project that the kids didn't mind going through the design/test process repeatedly!  They really wanted to make a fidget spinner that worked especially my kids who didn't own a spinner.




Here's how we made it.  We cut a large craft stick almost in half and used a fingernail file to smooth out the corners.  Then we used a pair of scissors (teacher only job) to make a round hole in the center.  Add a straw with a bit of hot glue to hold it in place.  We snipped the end of the plastic ink tube (from inside the pen).  We added a dot of glue to each thumbtack and attached it all together.  We experimented with different weights, but pennies were the only weight we had handy in the classroom that could be easily attached to the spinners.




The kids loved this project and kept them busy on one of the last days of school!

Rainforest Adventure




If your kids are anything like mine, they are done with school, but unfortunately, school is not over. How do you keep them busy learning and entertained?  The answer is STEM, PBL, and research.  My kids loved my Rainforest Adventure unit that we did the last month of school.  It is so fun, the kids beg to work.  Here's a quick overview:

QR codes to make research a snap!


6 PBL questions to give your kids choice and a reason to research.

9 Awesome STEM activities with a great backstory.  All STEM projects are related.
Students are taking an imaginary field trip to fly over the Amazon Rainforest.  The plane has some serious issues and crashes with the class in the middle of the rainforest.  Everyone is fine, but how do they survive until help arrives?

1.  Build a shelter
2. Improve shelter


3. Build a parachute that will drop fruit from high in the trees safely to the ground


4. Make a waterproof food storage container


5. Cork launcher to protect yourself from the wild animals


6. Zip line so you can move quickly through the trees




7. Flare (sling shot) to signal the plane flying overhead


8. Boat to float down the river to find help
9.  Improved boat with all supplies

We also looked up how tall a rainforest tree is and measured the entire length of our building to discover that the trees are as long as our building.  We also created a scale drawing of ourselves next to a rainforest tree.

We made dioramas to take home so we could share our learning with our parents.


The unit has a ton of other ideas to keep kids busy and learning until the last day of school!  You can find it {HERE} 

Erin Condren and $130 TpT Giveaway





Some of my favorite special ed teachers got together for this great giveaway!  Good luck!!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Longest Closed Shape Challenge

Today, I challenged my kids to see who could make the longest/biggest closed shape out of paper.  I am extremely competitive and bragged explained that I would win this challenge AND I wouldn't use any tape.  My kids were super excited to try to beat me.  The each received 1 piece of paper and about 18 inches of tape.  I gave them half an hour to construct the largest shape they could.  Here's the results:



The kids did a great job and almost beat me.  (I was a little worried that I wasn't going to win.) My shape is the long blue one and won by about 6 inches.


So, here's the trick to beating your kids.  First, fold your paper in half.  Notice how the first and last cuts are made.  Those are the 2 most important cuts.  You will go back and forth the entire length of the fold.  The closer you make these cuts, the longer/larger your shape will be.



Next, you will cut the fold.  DO NOT CUT THE FIRST OR LAST FOLDS.  Open it up slowly so you don't rip it.  It will easily be over 10-12 feet long.


I have also used this trick to challenge my kids to make a shape large enough for a person to walk through.  They always think it is impossible and love to learn how to make 1 piece of paper stretch so much.  I usually have 1-2 students go home and try this bet with their families!


Paper Shovel CHallenge

Today's challenge was to create a shovel using only 2 pieces of construction paper and 12 inches of tape.  The kids worked together in partners or by themselves.  We tested the shovels to see how many lego pieces the shovel could scoop.  We had a tie.  These were the winning shovels.



They each scooped 25 lego pieces!  

Here are the shovels the other groups made.




The kids had a great time!


Paper Chain Challenge

We have weeks of state testing this year.  To help my kids to stay focused and motivated, we are doing STEM activities in the afternoons.  Today, our challenge was to see which group could make the longest paper chain using only 1 piece of construction paper and about 12-14 inches of tape.  The students jumped right in and started creating.




After 20 minutes, we compared the lengths of each paper chain.  The green chain is actually folded in half!  The kids had a great time working together!



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