Monday, September 1, 2014

Our ECSE Classroom Schedule: Part Five - Outside Time (10:20am -10:45am)

Welcome back to our classroom!  We left off with the students just finishing up snack.  With full bellies (and some help from dear Mother Nature), we head outside for a little sunshine next.  That being said, we live in Kansas so occasionally rain, snow, or 70 mph winds deter us from outdoor play.  

Also being that some years our kiddos have some pretty fragile health needs, we don’t always go out when the big kids do.  Our school has the policy that students will go outside if it is above 20 degrees with the wind chill.  We go case by case and year by year with this policy.  Never going out if is below 20 but also implementing other policies as needed.

We try to prepare parents and students by reminding them to dress appropriately for the weather with reminders, notes in the handbook, and monthly newsletters like the one below.

Despite our efforts, it is a judgement call whether we go outside or not.  On somedays due to a drastic weather change from the day before, parents do not dress their kids appropriately for outside play.  I always have a few extra coats and jackets for kids to borrow, but if I don't have enough we go to Plan B

(Plan B:  You may remember from my explanation of centers that if we do not go outside, we simply stretch the length of each center by 2 minutes to add a total of 20 minutes to learning rotations to prevent down time at the end of our day.)  

The routine for going outdoors is to line up on designated circle spots and wait for all the peers and teachers to go out together. 

Note:  There are two doors to our classroom so we actually have two ways to line up.  Lining up on the circles to go outside and lining up on the triangles to go into the hallway.  

Just another way to add shape recognition and listening skills to our daily routine!  We also have square shapes by the sink for students to stand in line for washing their hands before snack. 

The lining up process for outdoors time can be lengthy as we try to support all students in working on independent skills to get their jackets, hats, and gloves on.  Although this is an important life skill, it makes the transition and wait time a little lengthier than I would like. 

We try to keep our students engaged and on their toes during this transition by talking about our day, reviewing concepts with "I spy" games and guessing games, or singing songs that encourage imitation and active listening. 

For example, we may sing to the tune of "If You're Happy and You Know It".

If you’re ready to go outside, clap your hands, CLAP-CLAP***
If you’re ready to go outside, clap your hands, CLAP-CLAP
If you’re ready to go outside clap, clap your hands.
If you’re ready to go outside, clap your hands! CLAP-CLAP

***We change the action words to take a deep breath, stomp your feet, shake a hand, give a hug, stand quietly, etc.  I like to change the song's words to fit the class' needs in that moment.  If we need a little connecting, it might be hug. If we need to calm, it might be breath or stand quietly.    

Another great chant we use, adapted from Miss Molly's work at Colby Head Start.

Standing in line playing a game, 
when I point to you, please tell me your name!***

*** We change the chant depending the level of the students and what their goals are.  We might say tell me your mom's name, tell me your birthday, tell me your favorite toy or even say non-verbal directives for our limited language communicators like point to your nose, or point to your teacher, etc.  

When all the kids are ready to go outside we review the outdoor rules and expectations. 

Note:  Sometimes the rules need to be more specifically taught with visuals of students doing the activities. 

Or with a social narrative to support the students in knowing the rules and what the consequences are for not following the rules.  

 (We simply chalk out a pink circle on the sidewalk for the sit out spot.)

Other times we find it more beneficial to create video examples of what to do/not to do outside. Click below to see a video model that was created to support our kiddos in the ever challenging task of lining up to come inside.  We watched the video while reviewing rules at large group during morning calendar. Then refer to it again on my iPhone or iPad as needed.  

Following the review of the outdoor rules, we get all the students ready for a successful walk to the playground by singing this song to the tune of  Gilligan's Island found on Mrs. Jones' Room blog adapted from work by Dr. Jean.  

Note: We sing the last line "I’m ready to go out!" when we are headed outside. The song is perfect for body awareness and line up expectations.  However if you are like me and never get the tune right, you can record it on a big mac placed by the door so it starts and sounds the same every time. 

Now that we have prepped the kids for a successful outside time, we can head out the door!  We are fortunate to have a preschool playground a short walking distance from our classroom.  The only challenge is that we walk by the elementary playground on the way to our playground.  (I am sure you see some trouble dancing in your head with preschoolers whom are a little overly excited and impulsive.)  

Needless to say after the first week of school, our principal was kind enough to add a paint yellow line to visually help get us all to our playground.  The children also have another (blue) line going through the big kids' playground to dismiss to parents at the end of the day.  

It is amazing the difference these two lines have made for the kids.  Note: the paint was actually just left over yellow and blue paint from grounds department painting the parking lot. 

Of course with these added lines came a visual to prep the kids for which line they were going to walk.  

It is simply velcroed to the wall and flips to the other color line when needed.  

We also have a chart to show who is the leader of each line. The pink line is a sidewalk chalk line on the playground where the kids line up to come back inside when the whistle blows. 

(Yep!  We do use a whistle in preschool! It is a great habit to get into since that is what is used on the big kids' playground.)

So after we follow the yellow line to the playground, the students have the flexibility to play on whatever equipment they choose unless they show a need for more structure.  My philosophy is that all kids need down time and outside time is a perfect time to do that if kids can play in a safe and functional manner. 

If, however, they show that they need support to be safe or play in an appropriate way, we will make modifications and add supports. 

For example, one of our little guys would tune out and simply walk along the fence when we were outside so we created this visual to support him in using playground as it was designed. 

Note: After he finishes all five activities on the visual, he could go back to walking the parameter of the playground as he seemed to find comfort in doing so and needed it for downtime.  

The idea is teach new skills and create balance.  We wanted him to experience typical playground activities so he could possibly engage with peers and staff.  By giving him an organized structure to do that, he learned outdoor play skills and eventually played on the equipment without being prompted.   He still does not play on the equipment for significant lengths of time, but has some balance of playing and interacting socially and getting the downtime he needs. 

Another support we added for a little girl was a clipboard schedule with first-then icons.  She loved to swing and would spend the whole time on the swings if we let her so originally we structured it so she had to do something else first and then could go swing.  Later when she was ready for the next step, we created a three choice system in which she had to pick three things to do then she could do her preferred choice that seemed to change from week to week from either walking along the fence or swinging.

When we started having our little gal do new things like the trikes and sandbox, we had to build in more structures.  For the trikes, we added a token system to show her how many turns she could have as she hated sharing the trikes.  This actually turned out to be a great structure for all the kids.  They could each visually see how many rides around the bike path they got and when they needed to share their trike with friends.   

Note: We had a staff person standing at the start of the bike path to take tokens each time the students went around and facilitate the kids in going the correct direction around the path.

For the sandbox, our little gal had a different problem.  She hated the sandbox and wanted nothing to do with it so we added three sand tools and a bucket.  To start, the expectation was just for her to pick up the sand tools and put them in the bucket. Then as her sensory system got used to touching the sand, she was expected to scoop sand into the bucket three times and then she could be done.  Eventually, we removed the bucket system as she was comfortable to play in the sandbox without the added structure.

One more structure we added to outside was a aided language boards that hung on the storage shed.  These are similiar to the communication systems in the classroom centers and were used to support kids in communicating what they wanted to play with outdoors.  If you look closely you will see two icons for bikes and balls on velcro right inside the shed door. These were great for kids to take off and hand to a teacher like PECS communication to request the bikes or balls.  

Generally speaking, outside time is 15 to 25 minutes depending on the weather and how the rest of our schedule for the day played out.  For our morning kids, we do outside time toward the end of the day as it is typically warmer later in the morning making it more likely that we will get to go outside.   Ideally however, we would do outdoor time more in the middle of our day so the kids can have unstructured downtime to burn off some energy in the middle of the day to make for more focus time in the classroom.  

Finally, while outside we try to have staff spread out so that one person is helping on the swings, one by the equipment, and one by the trikes or sandbox depending on what is out for the day. This is a work in progress as it is in our nature to speak to each other at this point in the day about how the kids did throughout the day or to develop tweaks and restructures that need to be put in place, as well as other adult conversation kinds of things! :)  We really have to be disciplined to do this zoning step. If you would like to try the zoning system and/or support your staff in being more effective at it, I suggest you take a look at this excellent book by McWilliam and Casey.  

That's outside time in a nut shell, folks!! :) Join us next time as we close out our day with end of the day group time!  Until then...Enjoy the outdoors!! 

Playfully Yours,

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Our ECSE Classroom's Schedule: Part Four - Snack Time (10:00 am or 10:20am - 10:20 or 10:40am)

Welcome back!  It is 10:00 (or 10:20 depending on if we get outside time or not) in the routine of school day.  Are you hungry yet?  I hope’s snack time! 

Here are our snack prep area and snack tables. 

Click here to view a video example of how snack preparation works in our classroom. 

Yep, all our students help with snack jobs.  Impressive, huh?!   

Originally, we added snack prep jobs to solve behavior management issues.  Before snack jobs came about, it took an entire staff person away from large group to set the tables for snack.  The absent adult made it difficult for some kids to sit and perform at large group without prompts and supports from staff. And then...we revamped and added in snack jobs as suggested by our amazing OT, Miss Debbie!
So here is a closer look at how they all work.  First, during large group one staff person cleans off the tables and lays out the placemats. 
This one is used for when we have special guests like parents or observers. Other ones have staff and student photographs on them.

The mats are $1.97 placemats I picked up at Walmart and cut in half and then traced a cup and tray outline on them with a permanent marker so that the kids could practice one-to-one correspondence as they set the table and know exactly were to place the trays and cups. The trays and cups are also purchased from Walmart.  The trays are $0.98 and the cups are 2 for $0.88.  You can find them in the kitchen section. 


We decided on using trays rather than just napkins or plates as they are a precursor to the larger lunch trays that students use in the cafeteria when they move on to kindergarten.

Note: The staff person that sprays the tables and sets the placemats out does so after the student she supports at large group earns three tokens for good behavior (sitting up tall, listening to the teacher and doing your work) and gets to go play educational games on the iPad for 5 minutes using a sand timer from Watching Time Pass. 

(The tokens are earned and then stored on a DVD cover.)

Following the time on the iPad, the staff person is done prepping the tables and they both go back to group as a layered grouping feature best meets the needs of the student and uses staff time efficiently.  Here is the back of the DVD token system.  It is the student's picture schedule.  It says "Time for circle time!".  Other picture icons are stored on a Velcro strip inside the DVD case. It's so compact...a motivating system and schedule all-in-one!

Note that each placemat is color-coded with colored tape from Discount School Supply to match colored tape on the back of each chair. 

This helps get the mats out quick and strategically so that students that need extra adult help are sitting by adults and kids who have a hard time sitting by certain peers are sitting by those that will be good role models.  Color coding the snack mats also gives us an opportunity for layered grouping.  One of our kiddos in the afternoon class, who has a hard time sitting for all of large group, dismisses a little early to match the mats to the color on each chair.  A great way to give him the movement he needs without disrupting his peers!

As the students get dismissed for snack, they are prompted to line up on a black square to wash their hands. 

These black construction paper squares have been contact papered to the tile to support kids in not crowding each other at the sink.  We use other black shapes for lining up to go outside and lining up to go in the hallway.  Just another way to imbed learning about shapes throughout our school day!

As each student steps up to wash their hands, they have the opportunity to look for their assigned snack job on the magnetic board mounted behind the sink.  

Notice some students look for their photo while others look for their name or even last name.  Then, after washing their hands and finding their job, they walk to the right of the sink to get the supplies needed to complete their job. 

One student gets the trays from the top drawer, one gets the plastic basket of cups off the top of the drawer system, and another gets the plastic basket of napkins.  Then, two other students get out the food for the orange and purple tables from the orange and purple drawers. (The drawers are just clear tubs that have been lined with purple and orange construction paper.) One student gets the water pitchers out of our mini-fridge just to the right of the sink. One or two students place the artificial flowers on the table to match a di-cut flower that is packing taped to each table.  I say one or two students as this is one of our easiest jobs so if we have some pretty young or lower-level students, we will simply have their job be matching one vase of flowers to di-cut flower packing taped to the table. 

Notice the artificial flowers are in an old aluminum can so that we don’t risk a glass or ceramic vase getting broken. 

Whew...snack prep is done.   Time for snack.

Not a lot to say about actual snack time other than we try to support our kids in using language at snack so we have little snack language boards to support requesting and conversation. 

We also have a thank you board posted for students to read for information and thank the friend or staff person that brought snack for the day. 

Some of our students would prefer to breeze right through snack time so they can go outside.  To support appropriate eating and snack conversation, we often set out a 10 or 5 minute sand timer from watching time pass so the kids can manage their time wisely. 

When the sand is all gone, each child is in charge of going to the table to dump and put away their snack items. 

This is a great precursor to lunch time in the cafeteria as the students get promoted and move on to kindergarten.  

With that, I promote you to outside play!!  Join me next time for the inside scoop on outside time!    

Best wishes, 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Our ECSE Classroom's Schedule: Part Three - Large Group (9:40 am - 10:00 am or 10:20am)

Welcome back to the magic that is our classroom and how it all works together.  :)

Last time we were together, I shared our highly engaging and successful 80 to 100 minutes of learning rotations.  Now it is time to all join back up at large group between 9:40 and 10:00 (depending on if we have outside time or not). 

We do so by singing this song to the tune of She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain.
It is time to go to large group with our friends,
It is time to go to large group with our friends,
Put your things away, find your chair and have a seat,
Oh, it is time to go to large group with our friends. 
Hi Friends!”
Note: We sing this song over and over again until all the students have arrived at large group.  The song helps smooth the transition.   We can sing it fast, slow, loud, or quiet depending on what the mood and needs of the classroom are.  We can also change the words a bit to fit what is happening.  For example if we are waiting for a group to get back from an errand or a potty break, we may change the last two lines of the song to, We are waiting for friends, We are waiting for our friends? Who are waiting for right now? 

By singing it until everyone joins, we have found it makes for a more successful transition and the students who arrive before others still have something to do while they wait.  They can sing and slap their knees or clap their hands whatever the lead teacher is doing while we wait.  The big thing is that there needs to be a staff person waiting for everyone to come join.  Sometimes this gets challenging as that person (usually myself) is setting up the Smartboard, helping a student whom is struggling, or getting out lapbooks and materials so sometimes we have to be creative.  I feel like how we start engagement for large group sets the tone for the rest of group time. 
You can learn more about various forms of large group and how we run opening calendar by clicking here to read three different posts on morning calendar. 

At the end of large group (10:00 or 10:20 again depending if we get outside time or not), the students get dismissed one at a time for snack by using a thematic large group game. For instances, they may each get a chance to guess the item in Santa’s bag, or play hot potato with a pumpkin ball.  When the ball lands by them they go wash their hands for snack.  The idea here is that large group ends in a staggered fashion so we limit wait time at the sink as students wait to wash their hands.  

Join me next time to learn all about our snack time routine! :) 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Our ECSE Classroom's Schedule: Part Two - Centers (8:15 am - 9:40 am)

I am back!  It is 8:15 and time for centers or what we like to call "Learning Rotations".  I stole the term from two amazing educators doing wonderful work here in western Kansas, Teri Berkgren & Dixie Teeter.  They use the term for their older students whom are involved in structured teaching rotations within an inclusive setting. However, I stole the term for our classroom to help parents and staff recognize that although our centers revolve around play activities, they are very much learning opportunities!

Following arrival time, the students begin their 80 to 100 minutes of learning rotations.  Depending on if we get to go outdoors for recess and how many peers and staff groups there are, each rotation is 10 to 15 minutes.  Staff members know which center they will supervise with which student(s) by looking at this magnetic marker board chart. 

It is perfect for staff as the center photos and student pictures are on magnetic dots so we can change the chart as needed when peers or staff are absent. We can write little reminders to staff using a dry erase marker.   

The students know where they are starting learning rotations by the icon or object they are presented through their individual schedules.  I am not going to get into the centers themselves as you can go to each centers link below to see more details.

Direct Instruction
Independent Work/iPad Time
Art and Free Art (I promise to post on these centers soon)
Rug Play 1 and Rug Play 2

Pretend Play

However I will share a few logistical details about learning rotations.  We have four staff people in the classroom (and sometimes an extra volunteer).  Each person is in charge of two centers.  The students rotate around the room in a clockwise motion. 
Staff have the flexibility to rotate each group through their centers in a way that works for the group.  For example if we are switching adults every 20 minutes, the staff person can choose to have her group at her first center for 12 minutes and then do the other center for 8 minutes.  The whole idea is that we work with the students’ interests and abilities in mind.  Some students even leave the classroom with their paired adult between centers to do a functional errand or two. (I will share more about that later).   
I provide my staff with the tools and flexibility to support the kids however is best for each group. The only stipulation is that the group must work in both centers and complete their work for both centers before the 20 minutes is up and it is time for students to switch adults.  
At which time, we try to sing this song.  It is to the tune of Clementine. Originally I got it from Miss Joelene, an amazing preschool teacher here in Hays, who got it from Mailbox Magazine.  We changed the words a bit so we could work on the transition piece as well as saying goodbye and hello to staff.   
Changing centers, changing centers,
It is time for something new,
Changing centers, changing centers,
It is time to say goodbye to YOU!
Note: When I first started teaching in the special education preschool classroom, my staff and I were each assigned to a student or group of students per day.  We would go with our group to every center with our student or group of students.  We did so simply because I couldn’t wrap my mind around how the kids could possibly transition by themselves.  

With individual schedules and intentional teaching, you would be surprised how quickly the kids picked up on the transitions.  It is also a much better fit for staff.  We don’t all have to learn how to run each center instead we can focus on our expert center.  It also benefits the students as they learn to work with every staff person, every day.  It has also made my job a whole lot easier.  I teach direct instruction for each student so I have the ability to touch base with them every day and really work on their individual IEP goals in a one on one format. 
So there you have it.  It is 10:00 and Learning Rotations are over and it is time for Large Group!  Join me next time for more details.