Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Last Minute Christmas Gift Ideas for Teachers, Daycare Providers, & Friends

A while back I had the opportunity to meet two amazing moms, Holly Homer and Rachel Miller.

They are the authors of 101 Kids Activities That Are the Bestest, Funnest Ever!: The Entertainment Solution for Parents, Relatives & Babysitters!

My boys and I have just barely scratched the surface of all the activities in this book but we love what we have done so far! And it got me thinking...the best part of these activities is that they give us a chance to slow down and do things as a family.  

Lately, I have been struggling to be there for them both physically and emotionally.  I get caught up in the daily responsibilities of working, blogging, housekeeping, cooking. (Well... to be honest that last one is not my strong suit!)  Anyway, I tend to overcompensate for my physical and emotional absence by buying the boys things or taking them places when in reality all they want is to be with me.

In speaking with other educators throughout my career, I think most of us struggle with "mommy guilt" from time to time. It's part of our teaching nature to try to be enough for every child in our lives, both our kids and our students. 

Holly & Rachel’s book has given us the opportunity to do simple, fun, memorable activities together. As a result of them giving me a copy of their book, I thought I would pay it forward by giving another copy of the book to someone else. 

My son’s first grade teacher also has two small boys.  As part of her Christmas gift, I created this gift basket along with Rachel & Holly’s book.

Inside the book, I attached this special note:

I also shared this concept with our youngest son's daycare provider.  She doesn’t have any little ones herself but she does have many little daycare buddies that love doing little projects so I pulled together all sorts of seasonal crafts (with a little help from Hobby Lobby.)

And placed them in a santa gift bag with this special note.

We took the gift to daycare on the 1st of December so the kids would have the whole month to make their creations. Then at the end of the month, they can be sent home in a gift bag from my little Payton!

So fun and purposeful! Not just a trinket or two from the dollar store, but special decorations and memories from daycare. :)

Finally, one final special gift that will be given to friends and family this holiday.  Just a little something to remind everyone what really counts throughout the season...a wrapped box of chocolates! 

With a note on the outside that says ‘Wishing you Many Memories with Friends and Family this Holiday Season! From: The McDaniels' ".

And a photo of my boys glued to the wrapping of the chocolates that says "The best present you can give is the gift of presence."

I wish you all many holiday memories full of presence and love!

Merry Christmas, 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Strategies for Reading Aloud for Non-Verbal Students and Children with Special Needs

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet Vanessa Levin of Pre-K Pages and Deborah Stewart of Teach Preschool.  They "wowed" me with their experiences, love, and excitement for preschool during their presentation entitled, “Wow Your Crowd with a Read Aloud” at NAEYCAs a reflection of their presentation and Vanessa’s blog posted date 11-19-2014, I began to think about the strategies they shared and how they relate to children with developmental disabilities, limited language, social deficits and/or Autism. 

During their session they shared 10 strategies for wowing the crowd based on the books Literacy Beginnings: A Prekindergarten Handbook by Gay Su Pinnell and Irene Sue Foutas and The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. 

The first strategy they discussed was stamina (which I totally bought into to!)  They described stamina as the length of time children can listen to a story or look at a book independently.  This concept is huge when thinking about children with disabilities. Often attention spans are shorter than typically developing children.  

When choosing a read aloud book for my special needs preschool classroom, I always kept the attention span of my lowest level students in mind.  In the beginning, our books were very short and using high interests. For those that needed it, I would also incorporate a task strip to help them know how long the book was and how long they would be sitting.  

In the book, a frog eats different bugs with his sticky tongue and then gets eaten by a fish at the end of the story.  To help students who have a hard time sitting, I would offer them little images of each bug and animal that gets eaten in the story and they would attach it to a task strip. 

Although we want our students to be actively engaged during a read aloud with the book itself and the reader, some students are not able to sit and attend without knowing how much work they have to do.  The icons and task strip help reduce anxiety and support success as they know exactly how long the story will be. 

This strategy is based off of the TEACCH program.  The TEACCH program is designed to support children with Autism. The idea is that the activity, in this case a book, is visually structured so the students know how much work they have, and when the work will be finished. 

Now moving on to the second strategy shared by Vanessa and Deborah...vocabulary.  They shared, "when children understand the vocabulary used in a read aloud they will be more engaged and you will be better able to capture their attention."  Makes total sense! However, with some of our special needs students, vocabulary is very limited. 

In some situations in order to support a student's understanding of the vocabulary in a read aloud, we play games in small groups or at direct instruction to prepare them for a read aloud later in the day. 

For example with The Icky Sticky Frog book, I may have students match photos of the bugs and animals that are in the story to icons of bugs and animals that are in the story. 

This helps students generalize that a fish can look like this or like this but it is still a frog. 

This activity often helps with IEP goals related to increasing the number of words a students knows, says and/or understands.  It also supports the student in making sense of picture icons and photographs so they know that pictures and icons have meaning in order to use them for individual schedules and choice boards. 

Leading me to another version of the same thing, for students whom do not yet understand icons we use three-dimensional objects to help with making sense of vocabulary.  

Here is a sample of a three-dimensional vocabulary task. Instead of matching icons and pictures, the student matches objects to pictures that are magnetically attached to spaces in a muffin tin. 

Next up...Repetition.   While reading the same book over and over may not appeal to the adult doing the reading, it is important for increasing comprehension and vocabulary.” –Vanessa Levin

When working with students with special needs, I often introduce new books at direct instruction or in the small group literacy center and then repeat the story as part of read aloud at large group.  The idea is that I am setting students up for success.  Many students with special needs struggle in large group settings. By introducing a book at small group or during one-on-one direct instruction, I can expose them to a book to support comprehension and prepare them for success in a whole group setting. 

Another option is to work on adding imitation and repetitive phrases in small group and in one-on-one settings.  Many students with special needs have limited verbal and gross motor imitation skills.  By reading a story in a small group setting, I can teach them the words and actions.  For example with the Icky Sticky Frog, we could work on sticking our tongues out when the frog does it in the story and/or working on saying “Shhh" or "Shhh, frog didn’t make a sound” when that part comes up in the story.  

Do youhave a student who is non-verbal?  No problem.  Program a voice recording button or use the voice memo on your phone or iPad to say the phrase so every time the phrase comes up in the story your non-verbal student can contribute at the same time as their verbal peers. 

I prefer to use a voice recording button for this activity, but I figured I would show you with the voice memo on my phone since mobile device and iPads maybe more readily available.  Note: You can also tape little visuals in your book where the repetitive phrases come in so students can see when it is their turn visually.  A great self control activity to wait for the button visual!

This page also has a velcro bug. We do that in our mini-version as another way for students to interact with the vocabulary, attend to task, and know how long they need to attend to the story.  All the characters are on a velcro strip and get pulled off and put into the story as it appears.   

Now moving on to other books and a new strategy, Narration.  Vanessa Levin shared that Narrating or retelling helps children understand what a story is about and how story structure works. Children enjoy retelling stories independently in centers using tools and props such as flannel boards and puppets.”

A way we like to retell stories in our classroom is through pretend play.  For example after reading the Birthday Monster by Sandra Boynton, we might transform our pretend play center into a birthday party! (More to come on the Birthday Specific Pretend Play Center in a future post.) To see a pretend play center transform based on a book, click here.  The book it was inspired by is Biscuit Visits the Vet by Alyssa Satin Capucilli.

The final strategy is Wordless Picture Books!  Vanessa shared in her blog that Nothing is more interactive, motivating, and engaging than inviting a child to tell you the story they see in the pictures using their own words.”                                                                                                                                     

I totally agree. But what if a student does not have verbal communication? How can it be done then?  Through aided language boards!! They are systems I have come to know through the work of Gayle Porter and Linda Burkhardt in their work creating Pragmatic Organizational Dynamic Display.  You can see more regarding aided language boards by clicking to this past posts on communication supports.  The video below demonstrates my son working through a story using pictures to retell it.  Note: To stay with the Icky Sticky Frog theme, I chose to use the book and just place sticky notes over the words. 

(Even though my son is not nonverbal, I asked him to play the part so you can get an idea of how it might work.) 

Some teachers are reluctant to use visuals such as this because they want their students to talk, rather than point however research shows that visual support facilitate communication.  I use aided language boards and other visuals with many students regardless if they have language deficits or not as the support helps the students come up with the words to retell the story and builds literacy.  Remember visual supports are easier to fade than verbal ones so if you have to help a student retell the story by doing so with visuals instead of words, they will become independent more quickly!

Until next time...Happy reading aloud!


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Family Christmas Traditions

I have previously shared some family traditions to celebrate our birthdays  As we prepare for the Christmas season this year, I realize that we have some fun Christmas traditions too. In an effort to keep this year's surprises a secret (especially since E.J. is now a reader!), I am going to share photos from last year.  

First, we usually start December off with a Christmas activity calendar.  

I pre-program an old Santa advent calendar I got at Target several years back with slips of paper that share activities to do each day to prepare for Christmas.  

Things like making Christmas cards, videoing a Christmas carol for Grandma and papa, making Christmas ornaments, making a loop chain for the Christmas tree, making Christmas cookies, writing a letter to Santa, watching a Christmas movie, etc.  I intentionally program them so that longer more extensive activities are done on the weekends and little things are done during the school week.  School night activities include calling your cousins to wish them a Merry Christmas or reading a Christmas book before bed.  You know how it is....busy moms have to rig things a bit to make it all work!  Santa's little helper!!! ;)  

Secondly, we paint glass Christmas bulbs for family, friends, and teachers.  These are the same ornaments my students made for their parents throughout the years. Click here for more information about previous year's bulbs.  

Here is last year's family gift. 


Note: That on the ornaments the boys make for family and friends, I specialize the tag so that it denotes each boy's contribution to the bulb.  

Then each of the boys make their own ornament for our family tree as a memory of that year.  It also documents how they wrote their names that year and their artistic abilities. Thus the not so Santa looking bulb that Payt made as a two year-old.    

The boys also pick out their own Hallmark ornament each year.  Making it so much fun to decorate the tree each year! 

On each Hallmark box, I write a little something about what they were doing that year making great memorabilia to pass along to their families when they get older.   

It has been fun watching them grow and mature over the years.  EJ started with a little Fire Truck ornament, then Thomas Train, Handy Manny, Spiderman, Ben 10, and this year Disney’s Planes.  Payton started with a Teddy Bear, then Winnie the Pooh, and this year Jake and the Neverland Pirates. 

EJ’s choice, the Planes ornament, triggered a new tradition last year.  He decided that it would be neat to cover his whole tree with his toy airplane and helicopter collection.  

It turned out so cool that their bedroom trees will now be decorated with the toys of their choice each year.  Here is what Payton's looked like last year. 

In preparation for Santa each year, we decorate a plastic plate for our cookies and milk and leave a Santa key on the doorknob for Santa before heading to my parents for Christmas at Grandma and Papas. 

When we return, there's always a small gift and goodbye note from our Elf on the Shelf in the Christmas tree.  Last year's was candy in the tree. . .

With this note: (Daddy staged Chippy eating the boys' candy all season last year :) )

There were also notes in the boys' stockings that lead them to their gift from Santa. The notes read, 'Your big present from me is in the place that you sleep. Love, Santa.' 

They were quite clever gifts so I thought I would share them with you. Payton got EJ’s old bed with a new train comforter set on it to replace his crib. 

Here is a closer look at Payton's note from Santa. . .

And here is a pictures of EJ's much-asked-for bunk bed. . . 

and the note that went on his bed. . .

Lastly, I would like to share with you the tradition that keeps our memories of each Christmas alive.  I got this Christmas Memorybook from a school fundraiser several years back.  

Each year I paste our family Christmas card inside and then write what we did that Christmas.  

It is sits on our coffee table every Christmas season as a reminder of the holidays we have been blessed to share together. 

Hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday!