Saturday, November 14, 2015

Supporting Self-Regulation: Using a Cool Down Towel

The safe place has always been a tough sell for the students who need it the most.  As the saying goes, what we need the most we resist the most.  

In some cases, students are unaware that they need it, while in other situations when we suggest it, they have a hard time getting there and/or taking our advice.  To support these students, I suggest offering them the choice of a cool down towel. 

A cool down towel can be made with any beach or bath towel, so you can adapt it to the students' special interests, or favorite colors and then incorporate choice.  For example my staff use the phrase, "your body is not calm and quiet let's take a break." Then we offer them a cool down towel by sharing the basket towels with them . . .

Or by saying something like "would you like the Toy Story towel or the Star towel?" 

This gives them some choice so they don't have to give all their power away in a moment when they are already feeling powerless.  Notice that the basket has the phrase we say right on it so all staff can use the same language consistently.  We say it in a calm, caring and non-threatening manner out of respect for the student and to support them in not escalating further.  If needed, we state the choices over and over again in the same calm tone using the parroting technique that we learned through Conscious Discipline.

Next we designate a place for them to sit on their calm down towel or offer them two choices we are okay with, "would you like to cool down in in the library center or by the window?"  Again giving choices, but in a way that we can insure the safety of the whole class. The two choices or designated spot will be a place where other students are not present in that moment and places the child can get to pretty easily as we know in a moment of upset if we ask them to go across the room to a specific place they may hit or throw anything in their path or simply resist the transition all together. 

Think about a time when you were upset, angry or sad, did you go to a place that was designated for you or did you go to the place that felt good in that moment... your car, the hallway, the bathroom or a quiet place in the room were no one was.  It is important to take cues from the student and observe for what might feel best for them in that moment as they may not be able to make those decisions on in their own.  For example, I had a little guy a few years back that would always crawl into a corner beside the art easel.  This space was a way from his peers and felt safe to him so that is where his cool down towel went. 

Once a student has found their space in the moment of upset, they can use the expectations that have been ironed on the towel to support them in using the towel appropriately.  If you are interested in making your own cool down towels click here to get the images. All you have to do is print them on fabric paper and iron them on your beach and/or bath towels! 

NOTE: It is not as much about the space, whether it be a cool down towel, a Safe Place or break area, as it is about teaching students how to use the space.  Just like any other space in the classroom, you must have expectations that both students and staff know and you must teach those when the student is a calm state.  In some situations, you may model their use by using one yourself, or share a video model of how to use them.  

I also iron on an aided language board to the cool down towel:

Just like any other center, students need a way to communicate their wants and needs.  For example, by using the communication board on the towel, students can communicate:  "I'm not ready" "I need a hug" or "I need help." This is especially important for students who are non-verbal or have limited language, however in a moment of upset, we know that all children are less likely to use their words or use them appropriately because they can't access them in that moment.  Think about the last time you were really, really angry, did you use your words appropriately, or did you scream and curse? 

By offering children the words visually, they can express their needs in an appropriate way.  Remember: ALL BEHAVIOR IS COMMUNICATION!  When a child doesn't have the words to say "I feel angry" or "I need help!"  They may communicate those messages by throwing things, tearing down posters in the safe place, or screaming at the top of their lungs.  Yep!  You guessed it, our safe place also has an aided language board and expectations posted:

I think the most powerful words we have to offer children in the moment of rage and upset are "I AM NOT READY!"  I have written two posts prior about this very concept however I do want to mention here that every student's Cycle of Escalation is different and sometimes a student who appears very calm is not yet calm enough to return to classroom activities.  If we ask them to rejoin the group from their cool down towel and they are not ready but have no way to communicate "I am not ready,"  we can restart the cycle making the child more angry and frustrated than before.   To learn more about the Cycle of Escalation, I suggest Colvin and Scott's book Managing the Cycle of Acting Out Behavior in the Classroom.

I want to stress one more point, before I sign off, a student who is upset, whether they are using a Safe Place, break area or cool down towel, needs OUR HELP!  We must stay with them through the process and support them with self-regulation.  When a student is upset, they may be developmentally at the level of a baby or infant, and where do babies and infants go when they need help to self-regulating, they go to the lap or chest of someone who cares greatly for them, someone who is going to make it feel all better!  Now that being said this may look different depending on the age of the child and the situation but in a lot of situations students are looking to us to be calm so they can gain their own calmness.  In the words of Dr. Becky Bailey, this is called downloading calm.  For more information on how to do this I  recommend you check out Dr. Becky Bailey's work at  Her work has laid the foundation for me, my staff and my students, to be more successful. 

Until Next Time, Best Wishes,

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

CVC Rubik's Cube Work Basket and Worksheets

Wow!  It has been way too long since my last post! 

But I figure, there is no better way to get back in the game than to link up to Autism Classroom Resources' Workbasket Wednesday with another 'Tree'mendous Treasure

All you need is a rubik's cube with white background from Dollar Tree, Goo Gone, a few white sticker labels, duct tape, scissors and a red and blue permanent marker. 

To make this 6 ways to play CVC (Consonant Vowel Consonant) Cube.

Simply remove the stickers off of four sides of the cube using Goo Gone and then duct tape the other two sides so students can only move the cube forward and backward and not side to side.  Next cut and place a white sticker label over the middle square on each side to hide the middle holes.

Then program each of the four sides with the following letters. 

Ta Dah! You have a Consonant-Vowel-Consonant Cube for students to experiment with letters and sounds in six different ways!

Way number one as a work box activity:

Way number two as a checklist:

Way number three as a checklist with pictures:
Way number four as a fillable checklist:
Way number five as a fillable list:
Way number six as a sorting list (sorting real words and nonsense words)
Print these FREE from my Teachers Pay Teachers store!

NOTE: The worksheet printables could be used in a folder system as described in Autism Classroom Resources' Advanced Work Basket Folders last month. 

Each worksheet is in color and black and white so students can do the black and white copies as take home worksheets or you can print the colored ones and slide them into page protectors or laminate them to use with dry erase markers during center time.

Well that's all for now folks! Hopefully, it won't be three months before my next post:)
Best wishes until next time,

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Adapting Books to Support Communication and Interaction

Tis' the season for excellent finds in the dollar bins at Target!  Among the many amazing school supplies, books, games, and flash cards, I found six excellent board books that I just couldn't pass up. 

First up this series of four flap books: Are These My Spots? Whose Ears are These? Who Makes that Sound,  and How Do I Move? 

I added simple aided language pages to support students in answering the questions in each story. 

Great for students who have limited verbal skills or are just starting to use complete sentences as the pages will aid them in expand their responses to phrases and shorts sentences.  Such as, "The frog makes that sound" or " A turtle has a shell."

Simply print the pages, laminate or packing tape them, and tape the edge of each page to the last page of each book.  You can then fold the page inside the back cover for storing purposes.

NOTE:  If you print on cardstock or mount to thin cardboard the aided
language pages will hold themselves up so students have access to
the words as they look at the books.

Next up, Disney Pixar's Inside Out Colorful Emotion.

I added sentence strips and a Velcro word bank for students to work on pronouns, colors, and emotions. A great set of concepts especially for a book that was only a dollar!

This time tape the cardboard to the edge of the front page so you can fold it inside for storing purposes and then tape a sentence strip on each page with words on it.

And for my last dollar bin treasure, Fisher Price's Little People Time to Count.

For this one, I simply added instructions and questions with a permanent marker. 

For example, on this page I asked the student to circle the wheels and circle how many oranges.  Like I have shared in a previous literacy workbox post all you need is dry erase crayons to make board books interactive!

That all for now!  Just a short post to make sure you didn't pass up these great finds at Target!

Happy reading and shopping, Lindy

Friday, July 10, 2015

How to Talk to Parents about Behavior Concerns

Recently I had the opportunity to guest post for PreK-Pages about how to have Tough Conversations with parents and guardians regard behavior and social concerns.  

Sometimes we can't even put our finger on what the concerns are, we just know that there are things that make the child stand out in the classroom, and behaviors and social corks that are worrisome as they embed the learning of the child and possibly their peers. 

In other situations, we witness significant behavior on a daily basis that sends chills down our backs and all we want to do is get help for the child and their family.   But as chilling as the behavior maybe, we know that it will be heart breaking to talk about with the family.   No parent or guardian wants to hear concerns about their child's behavior or inability to interact socially with peers.  We want our children to have friends and be the perfect little angels we dreamt them to be when we held them in our arms for the first time. 

With this sentiment in mind, in my Pre-K Pages guest post, I suggested that teachers stay objective and keep the emotions out of the tough conversations!  But this is easier said than done! Why? Because. . . 

So how do we stay objective, my suggestion on the guest post was through data collection, so I began searching for data sheets that shared behavior and social concerns in a practical way. As many of you know there are a variety of data sheets out there but I couldn't find exactly what I had in mind.  I wanted a form that serve the purpose of helping parents and staff reflect on the impact a child's behavior is having on the classroom or how a students behavior is different from their 'typically' developing peers. Which got me thinking with a little tweaking a form I created for one our TASN-ATBS's early childhood trainings could be just the ticket!

Here is how it works.  On page one list your students' names and their information: their date of birth, how old they are in months and years, how many years they have been in preschool, and if they are on an Individualized Education Plan. 

The order in which you write your students' names on page one will assign each student a number. NOTE: I encourage you to be a little random about how you list your students so there is no way parents can calculate where their child's peers are in the line up.  (For example they maybe able to do so if you write the students' names in alphabetical order by first or last name.)  

On page two fill in the activities that take place throughout your school day in the left hand column.  In this section, I encourage you to write every activity that might cause students trouble not just the major activities.  For example, activities that often cause students issues are transitions and wait times:  waiting their turn at the sink, preparing to go home, transition to school from home, cleaning up after play time, and lining up to come in from recess. 

In column two, write the expectations that go along with each activity.  For example, at arrival time students are expected to put their belongings in their cubbies, wash their hands, check their job and sign in, while during snack preparation they are expected to leave group when told, wait in line, wash their hands, get their snack materials and sit in their assigned seats.
(If you need more than one page to enter classroom activities feel free to click page three
in the document you will get access to at the end of this post.) 

Then in columns C through V, rate your students' performance as + for meets expectations, E for emerging, or - for does not meet expectations in each area under their assigned number.

(In the example above I choose to take data on two different collection days using the same form but
 different colors of ink, this strategy could be used to monitor progress over time and make adjustments as needed.) 
NOTE: This is not about sizing up one child against another.  All children progress and develop in different ways and at different rates.  There may be several three year olds and even some four year olds that do not meet all the expectations or are emerging in some areas.  For that matter, you don't even have to show ratings of other students, the expectations of each activity and the student of concern's ratings in each area will tell parents and guardians a lot. 

One thing you might considering adding to the bottom of page three is your classroom rules, because each activities' expectation as shared above do not directly address each classroom rule specifically, giving you just one more way to open conversations about following classroom rules, and using good manners with data instead of opinion statements

NOTE: These forms are not normed or formalized and should not be used for IEP data or student files.  They are just a teacher friendly way for you to think about what students are having trouble, in what areas and open some conversations and reflections about what parts of the day a child or children does really well with and what parts of the day are more challenging. 

If you do decided to show the whole chart, remember it is not about picking out the flaws of one specific student. It is about showing that the expectations and demands of the classroom are age appropriate as most students the child's age are able to perform the skills expected.  It takes the emotions out of it, showing data regarding the student's performance during different activities throughout the day in relation to same aged peers helps show the concerns you have and opens up a conversation about next steps. 

That being said if you choose to use this form to start a tough conversation be sure to close the conversation with next steps and a plan for helping children be more successful in the areas they are struggling.  You don't want parents to walk away feeling helpless or all along. 

If you need some ideas and strategies to help you with the planning process feel free to click on some of my favorites below or just do a little Considerate Classroom blog surfing.

Click here if you would like to download the Student Performance Assessment and let me know how it goes below. 

Best wishes to you and the families and children you serve!   

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Leveled Puzzle Work Tasks

Chris over at Autism Classroom News had me worried with all her recent website changes, I was concerned Workbasket Wednesday was a thing of the past. . but lucky for us it is still going and on even better platform than before!  After you check out my leveled puzzle work tasks, be sure to head over to Autism Classroom Resources (formally known as Autism Classroom News) to see all the amazing things Chris has going on as she never fails to impress!

Let's get started...
Puzzles can be excellent workbasket items and with a little bit of tweaking they can even be leveled!  For example, I purchased four wooden alphabet puzzles from Target (for $1.00 each) several years ago and made four different tasks!

For level 1, I glued the puzzle pieces for rows one through three into the puzzle so the students would only have to put in the last row of pieces to complete the puzzle.  Then for level 2, I glued in rows one and two, for level 3 I glued in row one and for level four I didn't glue any rows in.  NOTE: I glued from the top down starting with the letter A rather than gluing from the bottom up starting with Z so student could see themselves complete the puzzle as they put the last few pieces in instead of putting the beginning few pieces in. 

If you look closely you will see Velcro on each of the pieces the children are asked to put in.  Velcro, you ask, but why the pieces are already inset into the puzzle? The truth is, I Velcro the puzzle pieces into almost all of my puzzles. If I am using them as a work task it makes them more permanent. When the students are finished with the work task and slide or dump it into the all done basket the pieces stay and the work is in tact.  Also I am less likely to loose the pieces and my students who are fiddlers or stimmers can be more successful.

Don't have the alphabet puzzles I purchased from Target five plus years ago... NO WORRY!  I picked up these alphabet puzzles (one upper case and one lower case) at the Dollar Tree just last week.   

They can be leveled work tasks without any glue or Velcro! 

To make the foam lowercase puzzle into a work task, I simply hot glued the base to a piece of cardboard and a bowl to the left hand side of the base.  Because the pieces are inset and they fit so snug to the base, I can simply take out the ones you want the child to put in depending on their individual level and ability.

The uppercase space puzzle is even easier!  It has it's own cardboard backing so I can simply take out the pieces I want the child to put in and I have it leveled to the child's needs.

NOTE:  A lot of students learn the letters in their name first, you can use these puzzles to support students in learning the letters of their name by simply taking only those letters out of the puzzle for the students to work on.

You can also take a photo of the completed puzzle and use it for a visual of what the finished puzzle looks like.  I packing taped my visual to the edge of the puzzle and folded it under the puzzle so if a student is struggling I can simply flip the visual up for additional support and even point to it as needed!

Need more. . . I also found these two puzzles at the Dollar Tree.

These also fit snug to the base and have a cardboard backing making them easily leveled!  However I took these puzzles one step further by purchasing two of each, one to keep whole and the other to cut apart into mini puzzles. 


For some students even when you only have a few pieces out for them to put in it is overwhelming.  Visually they are not ready for a puzzle of this size regardless of the number of pieces they are expected to put in.  By cutting a puzzle apart into smaller parts students can experience the puzzle in a successful way and then you can build up from there by presenting them different levels of puzzles as they gain skill. 

That is it for now!  Happy puzzle leveling until next time,

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Intentionally Teaching Classroom Rules through Video Modeling

Amy over at Delightfully Dedicated is doing a Summer Series Blog Link Up. This week the topic is the ever dreaded BEHAVIOR! 

A lot comes to mind when I think about behavior, but one of the things I think we miss is being intentional about teaching appropriate behavior in a preventative manner.  I have done a few posts on Rules and Expectations in the past, but in this one I thought I would share a bit more about how to intentionally teach the rules and expectations of the classroom. 

As I have shared before, brain research from Dr. Becky Bailey states that children think in pictures until age 9.   By having rules posted at all times, students can start to make connections with what is expected of them.
But sometimes pictures are not enough, especially in a world where technology is at the finger tips of our students in a variety ways.  In many cases they prefer to get information from the interactive and fast paced world of computers, iPads and other technology devices.  For that matter so do we!  When was the last time, you googled how to do something, and purposely clicked the Youtube how to version rather than the word and picture version? 

What we expect students to do can be fairly abstract to a young child especially when the rules and expectations are different from what is enforced and expected at home.  By sharing video examples of appropriately following the rules, I have found that my students can make connection with what they couldn't connect with or understand in the past! 

Which leads me to our morning meeting!  Each morning we review the classroom rules and expectations at opening group time via the Smartboard, but before we do so, we share a video model of one way to follow the rules.  The video is usually regarding a skill the students struggled with the week before.  For example:

Lining Up and Coming In From Recess

Transitioning From One Activity to the Next (and Sharing)
Raising Your Hand at Group Time
and Managing Upset and Frustration in an Appropriate Manner

Or skills and activities that are new to the students, for example:

Learning a New Song 
(the song in this video is from Jim Gill's The Sneezing Song an other Contagious Songs)
Playing a New Game at the Sensory Table

Using a New Visual Support
(for more information about this visual support click here)

or Using a New Communication Support to Request a Break When Upset
(for more information about this communication support click here)

Okay, I know what you are thinking. . . these are great, but how do you ensure your students are gaining meaning from the video examples? Well first off, from the students' behavior but secondly from a reflection after watching the video model each day. 

The rule helper for the week comes up and shares what rules the video example followed.  See a video of how it all comes together below:  (The Feeling Buddies in this video come from Conscious Disciplines Feeling Buddy Curriculum.)

So there you have it, Intentionally Teaching Classroom Rules through Video Modeling. 

A special thank you to my former student Bryce and his family for allowing me to share this video!  As well as my son EJ and his Friend Oaklye for creating a library of video model examples for students to grow and learn from.

Until Next Time, Best Wishes,