Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Pull-out Drawer for Elementary Student Desk

This sweetie's desk had been consistently stuffed with notebooks, folders, crumpled papers, broken pencils, index cards looking for their friends.....

So, last Friday we introduced a pull-out drawer, made from a leftover box top in the school's copy room.  To suit the small opening of her desk, we folded over each side of the box top, stapled it, and covered the very top edges with masking tape.  We even took the extra precaution of making sure each staple was fully closed so no sharp edges would potentially scratch her skin as she pulled out the "drawer."

This morning the top of her desk was pretty jumbled, but her pull-out drawer still looked organized.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Live In or Near Virginia? School System Symposium is March 3rd

Come and listen to my buddy, Fiona, talk about AT--twice. 

The Virginia Occupational Therapy Association School System Symposium in Richmond, Virginia (USA).

VOTA School System Symposium Info

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Friday, January 27, 2012

Fine Motor Obstacle Course

There were several empty paper ream boxes in the copy room at school this morning--a perfect time to make desk drawers (a later post) and this fun obstacle course. 
 We began with just a few obstacles between the shiny marble and the "goal post."  That was difficult enough!  Great opportunity to discuss gravity and practice managing tape without a dispenser or scissors.  You have to push the tape firmly to the cardboard and obstacles or else your marble will catch on it.
Once you've scored a few goals you need to make it even more challenging.  These obstacles came from my recycle box at home.  
Each student took a few minutes to imitate my words--goal, marble, obstacle, start, finish--on a sheet of paper so I can have a record of their current handwriting skills.  (no photo)
Yes, it can get pretty complicated.  Great bilateral coordination activity, too.  If the marble rolls too quickly for your students try using a larger goal and a wiffle ball, or putting a thin layer of felt on the "field" before you attach the obstacles and goal.

More Handwriting Fun With Those Recycled Placemats

Since I forgot to bring the Handwriting Without Tears book that has the master forms for the letter shapes, this afternoon we cut the shapes "free hand."  However, these were not as easy to use as the HWT shapes. 

This first-grade sweetie formed a word, using the white strip as the baseline, then I "copied" her word onto my paper.  We took turns forming and then "copying" each others' words.
Afterwards, we went back and labeled which words I wrote and which words she wrote. When I work with students I write with my non-dominant hand and it was a little hard to tell which letters were the adult's and which were the student's. 

Since I keep these papers for documentation of progress, her full name and today's date were written down on the paper before I left the work area.  There have been way too many times when I've had to throw away papers because I wasn't sure exactly who wrote them, or when.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sensory Exploration While You're Waiting

Although this sweetie is included in everything her classmates in early childhood special ed do, she does have a little extra time on her hands now and then.  When this happens it's a good opportunity to provide her with interesting textures for additional sensory exploration.

The luscious pink blanket was a real find at Goodwill a few months ago.  Having it covering some of her wheelchair tray helps to motivate her to reach her arms and hands out to enjoy the soft texture. 

The green brush is really a lint brush I found at Marshalls last week, but it feels too wonderful to use it only for that.  We don't use the brush for deep pressure tactile input, just as an enticing object for her to explore with her fingertips.  Before trying it with her I used it myself for several days, as a mesmerizing relaxation tool for my hands.  It would be wonderful for long meetings...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Another way to make snow

Hope this link works:  Snowfall

I have lots of "snow" left over from last week's activity--maybe some of my kids can thread these beautiful snowfalls.

Shameless Plugs for Favorite Things/Places

Even though working in schools for a loooong time has improved my immune system, once in a while a cold hits out of the blue and I stay home and rest up.

Since it's a "home" day I thought I'd share my current favorite, over-the-counter-feel-better aid for chasing away the stuffy feeling in my head.  A friend gave me a box of this tea for Christmas and it was love at first taste.  For some reason, the very last sip is the yummiest:  Sugar Plum Spice Tea

Couldn't find it at any of the local stores in town so I broke down and asked my friend where she bought it.  Of course--at our mutual friends' natural foods store:  Good Foods Grocery

Another shameless plug--want some zero calorie eye candy to brighten your day?  Here's another friend's site for her handmade polymer clay creations and cast-paper designs:  Beautiful Art

Thanks for wandering around the web with me.  I'm off to brew another cup of tea.

Friday, January 20, 2012

College Prep Activity--Making Ramen Noodles

I think most teens in our area have made Ramen noodles at some point in their high school career.  Not so sure about these teens, though.

Our speech-language pathologist surveyed the students earlier in the week and found that they sorta like noodles, but no veggies in those noodles, please.  Too bad--we're at least going to learn how to cook the veggies even if we don't have to eat them.

These are high schoolers in a class for students with emotional disabilities.  They can read the label directions and physically manage the knobs on the water faucets, range top, range timer and microwave buttons.  However, several of them mentioned that their parents do not let them cook on the stove top.  One student seemed fearful of being close to the boiling water in the saucepan when he added the noodles to the pan.

Our recipe called for just using the cooked noodles and not the broth.  For safety reasons we used a pasta spoon/fork to remove the noodles from the pot, rather than pouring the excess liquid directly from the pot into the sink.  We waited until the water cooled before emptying the pot and washing it.

Here are our steps:
 Students took turns reading the 3-step directions.
 Of course, we washed our hands.
 One student waited and waited until the water temperature was just right for washing his hands.
 We decided that 2 cups of water was approximately halfway up the side of the saucepan.
Good thing we had an electric range and not a gas one--wouldn't want these long sleeves anywhere near the burners.
 Opening the bags of Ramen noodles wasn't easy.
 The teacher suggested breaking up the block of noodles prior to adding them to the boiling water.  We practiced using our free hand to hold the pot steady as we stirred the noodles.
 After three minutes you add the flavoring packet to the cooked noodles.
 These pasta servers make it easy to safely remove the noodles from the simmering water.
 We decided to use the microwave to heat the vegetables.
 These are microwavable containers.  Students asked if the tops should be firmly closed or left slightly open for any steam to escape.
A unique microwave--no dial, just buttons to press.

I left for my next school prior to the end of the activity--the students tasted their creation with different toppings (cheese, soy sauce, corn/peas added) and cleaned up the school kitchen.

What should we make next time? 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Recycled Placemats Make Great Letters

A PT buddy passed along some old placemats and their flexibility gave me an idea--how about making letter pieces for practicing letter formation?  They're not as good as the ones from the Handwriting Without Tears HWTears folks, but the kids love 'em.

 The blue square design looked especially good against this neon orange paper, and we used the paper to help us keep our letter pieces within a boundary.
 After each letter was created, we took turns practicing how to write the letter.
I left the letter pieces with the teacher so the students could continue to use them, to complement their daily handwriting instruction provided in class.  Since the materials were free, why not leave letter pieces with all my teachers?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Question for you

Usually there is one classroom in each of my schools where wonderful things happen on a regular basis.  I get happy inside when I know I'll get to share ideas with particular teachers at my different schools, because there is usually something new happening in the classroom that engages the students and reinforces independence on their part.

For example, once I brought in a clipboard holder to an elementary classroom and the next time I stepped foot inside her room the teacher had used it for this:  Using Clipboard Idea    What a thrill to see how a colleague uses a tool that was originally intended for another purpose.

What have you seen lately that a teacher or other staff member has done with an idea you've discussed together, or a way they have fostered independence in students?

First Day

When new students transfer into school I like to take photos of their equipment and place the photos in their cumulative folders.  It helps me remember what equipment they owned and when, especially expensive, durable equipment like wheelchairs and custom positioning systems.  Also take photos of the student positioned optimally in the chair and when engaged in a functional activity.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Another Desk Cave Excavation

Twice a month I work with this third-grade sweetie on her desk organization.  We bring lunch back to the classroom and work in peace while her classmates are trying to hear each other in the noisy cafeteria.  Take a bite, munch, clean a little, take another bite...

We bring over the trash can and turn a chair sideways to give us more room to place items from the desk while we work.  We also use several nearby desks to lay papers on for sorting by subject.

My role is to provide structure on how to organize the desk--sorting papers, deciding what to keep, toss and ask the teacher about.  As the year progresses I reduce my direction and have the student go through the steps with increasing independence.   The question I ask most is, "Do you need this?"

Oftentimes it helps to make a photo/text notebook with one step per page, which the student uses to remind them of the steps involved.  Sometimes a teacher will have the student use the notebook when the whole class is cleaning their desks.
Getting Started--assess the mess and remove all of it.
 Sometimes the mess crawls under the desk, too.
Reach far into the inner recesses of the desk for little pieces of paper and long, lost pencils.
As you pull out loose papers, sort them into piles by subject area--Language Arts, Social Studies, Math...
 This process quickly takes over a large area.
 Twenty minutes later everyone is back in class and things are looking a little better. 
If you have extra time--the student can work on her backpack, too.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Marble Maze

Look at the lower half of this link for a wonderful, recycling way to make a maze with paper tubes and marbles.  Just too easy, quick & fantastic.

Marble Maze at Bottom of Blog Page

Change Up Time for the Smiley Face Positive Behavior Rewards

Some students do well with predictable reward systems and some students do better with systems that vary a little from time to time.  I work with a student who seems to figure out how to get around all my systems so I keep changing things a bit as the year goes on.

Initially, she had been doing well with me just drawing a part of a smiley face whenever my timer rang and I "caught" her working hard with her smart fingers.  Of course, all through our activities I use the phrases, "Your fingers are sure working hard," and "I see some smart fingers working."  I vary the intervals of the timer--sometimes 1 minute, sometimes 3 or 5 minutes--so the student can't predict exactly how long she has to "work hard with smart fingers" to earn another part of her smiley face.  When she earns the whole smiley face during one session I draw a smiley face on her Point Sheet, which she carries around school all day long.  Her homeroom teacher reviews her Point Sheet at the end of the day and reviews how many smiley faces she earned and in which classes (language arts, library, recess, lunch...)  But, she grew accustomed (and somewhat bored) to the system and her attention was wandering more and more during our times together.

So, in our last session I changed up the system so that now our sweetie earns one of these de-lish M & M's to put on her smiley face when the timer goes off and all is going well with her smart fingers.  Why the plastic baggie?  Well, it keeps the M & M's from popping into her mouth before the entire smiley face is earned.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Exploring Geometric Shapes with Your Fidget Belt

When you're a preschooler, math is all about counting little bears and exploring geometric shapes.  When you have limited reach and grasp, sometimes those little manipulatives try to run away from you.
Here are two math-themed fidget belts, looped around our sweetie's wheelchair tray.  Both of them have spacers which help separate the beads and other objects I gathered from different toy baskets in the classroom.
If the fidget belt slides off the wheelchair, use a small piece of duct tape to temporarily affix a small portion of it under the wheelchair tray.
Connecting loops of the same belt material are used to allow the student to lift the pieces a few inches off the surface of the tray, yet not high enough to accidentally hit himself in the face.  If your student has difficulty with neck extension and frequently falls forward on the wheelchair tray, you'll want to select very soft materials to string on the belt.
 Even the white spacer pieces can be used to practice grasp and bilateral coordination.
Wouldn't it be fun to have several fidget belts, corresponding with familiar preschool stories, community helpers, transportation.....?

The items on this fidget belt can be easily washed, still attached to the belt.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

All Kinds of Fine Motor Challenges

Almost gave this 1970's Dymo label maker away to Goodwill over the weekend.  Whew!  What great fine motor challenges it offered the students yesterday morning. 
Of course, I didn't have any of the antique label tape that was originally used with the label maker, so I cut skinny strips of recycled construction paper and thicker, shiny white paper.  Turned out that reading the "label" was easier if the paper was shiny as compared to the matte finish construction paper.
 Many of the elementary students had to contort their wrists and fingers quite a bit to figure out how to turn the letter dial.  You could really see how well they knew their ABC order by how quickly they turned the dial clockwise or counterclockwise to advance to the desired letters.
Most students had to squeeze with both hands in order to create a legible impression on the paper.  The novelty and fun quickly wore off when the final results did not always reflect which letters they tried to use.  Maybe that's why label makers are mostly electronic with built-in QWERTY keyboards these days...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Time to Make Clouds

Yesterday we made clouds in the high school class for students with autism.  Lo and behold, Home Depot had "snow cover" on sale for $1.24 last weekend.  Good for me because the quilt batting I had been intending to use for the project turned out to be non-stretchable and the activity would have been a fine motor disaster.
 Our SLP brought the invisible thread but it was too slender and flexible to work with.  The thin twine was a better choice.
 We thought we would start by cutting a cloud size piece of fluff but the scissors wouldn't work on the material, nor did the "adult" scissors.  So, we just pulled off sections of the material to use. We used the scissors to cut the twine toward the end of the project.
 Yes, pliers!  Although we could bend the thin wire with our fingers we wanted to have the students experience using these needle-nose pliers.  Some students tried to use them like scissors to cut the twine.
 Our SLP consulted with the classroom teacher ahead of time and determined which clouds were appropriate to discuss during the session.  Answer--cumulus.  The SLP will use copies of these photos later in the week to reinforce the cloud vocabulary when she works with the students.
Although I'm not usually a packrat I did have a stash of this wire at home.  About 10 years ago a friend gave me the leftovers from her TV cable job and I twisted the wires around a pencil and popped them into this jar of non-candy, just for the visual delight.  Toward the end of the cloud activity you will be twisting sections of wire into the top of your finished cloud.

 For students who are less verbal the SLP has this communication sheet on hand.
 Some students dove their hands into the bag of fluffy snow.  For those students who weren't freaked out by their hands disappearing into the bag I pressed down firmly on top of their hands for a few seconds to provide deep pressure.
 To make the clouds more textured (AKA--lumpy) be sure to twist the materials many different ways prior to stretching it into your cloud shape.
 Some students needed a little physical cueing to figure out how to make their hands twist in opposite directions.
 Once you're formed your cloud, big or small, twist in your wire spiral from the top of the cloud.
 Then, hold your cloud by the wire and make sure it doesn't fall to earth.
 Some students used their fingers to make a hook at the top of their wire, where they would later attach a piece of twine.
 Some students were able to use the needle-nose pliers to form a hook at the top end of their wire.

 About 10% of these high schoolers were able to tie a knot independently.
Tell me again, which cloud did we make?