Academic Skills



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Task Boxes on a Budget

Its January and while we all need winter break, those of us who teach in a Moderate to Severe Classroom know coming back from a break can be like the first day of school all over again. There are so many different ways you can keep structure in your classroom without pulling your hair out. 
First tip from myself, a fellow Moderate to Severe teacher is to not worry about teaching content the first week back. My students need time to readjust back into their routine and behavior management. This does not mean to just allow free time and choice time all day long. That will only get you further away from your goal! In comes TASK BOXES! These should already be a staple in your classroom and continuing on with your students routine (centers, whole group, etc) using task boxes in place of academic content will remind your students of the classroom routine and structure without stressing them out with tasks that are new and difficult for them! 

I like to change up task boxes every year or so, however, my current batch of kids have been with me for the past 2.5 years. In order to avoid a room full of bored kids I took some time over my winter break to assemble some new task boxes, all from...... wait for it..... THE DOLLAR TREE! Everything I bought was under 25$ Now that is what I call a successful shopping trip! So here is how I set up my  new task boxes in a couple hours and 3 easy steps! 

The dollar tree does offer a ton of bins that you can choose from, BUT I actually do not think those are the best deal. You can find shoebox size plastic boxes sold for under a dollar at Wal-Mart and Target. Have no fear I found a great alternative to house your lovely tasks. 

These bins are simply disposable cooking trays that were 3 for 1.00. I just write the task on it and the students match it to their schedule. More about that in the next tip though :) 

I love these bins because they are large enough to store many materials and they are super lightweight. Plus if they get damaged or ruined its not a big dent in your pocket! 

There are so many amazing products on TPT to help set up a structured work task system. Check out these links if you want to buy and assemble one made by these talented TPT authors:  

In my classroom, I am lucky to have students who are readers so I choose to do a simple and easy checklist. I just hand write out on a piece of paper the tasks the student needs to complete, the reward they choose, and a space for them to check is off! Simple, easy, and cost me no money at all! You can  even laminate it and leave out the task box number and reward so you can save on materials! Easy Peasy! 

Now the fun part! What goes in the task boxes! First I want to explain that if you want your students to be independent at this activity then you need to put MASTERED TASKS! I know I know, you want them to work on current IEP goals or Standards....BUT hear me out. Our students are easily frustrated and/or have learned how to avoid hard tasks (tantrums, sitting "pretending to work", thawing the objects across the room---you name it). So you can prevent this from happening by making it easy for them so they learn how to complete tasks. This will help your students in so many life skills areas and hopefully generalize it at home and in the future in their employment opportunities.
Puzzles are a great way to implant independent work. This puzzle to the right was the most pricey task box I put together because I got 4 at a dollar each. Since I am guessing my students will finish them fairly quickly I will put 2-4 puzzles in each box.

I also bought a simple foam alphabet puzzle. All of my students have mastered putting puzzles together and their letter but this is easy, not stressful, and a great way to sneak fine motor into a task box without the kids knowing!

I love this next task because it can cater to the girls in the classroom. These are pastel pipe cleaners and matching hair clips. This is an amazing fine motor tool and the kids will be busy matching colors. The pipe cleaners were $1.00 and the clips were $1.00 totally 2 bucks total!

This task is a life skill task. It is a simple pack of thank you notes with the envelopes. The students simply have to place the cards in the envelop and they are done! 10 cards came in this pack so it is something that they won't finish super quick! This task cost a total of $1.00! Simple, easy, and cheap!

I could not pass up these adorable little red cups in the paper products aisle at the Dollar Tree. You can use these in SO many different ways! Counting, letters, sorting! They were well worth the $1.00. I chose to make a task with close pins (also $1.00) to place around the rim of the cup. I don't even know if I could say this task cost me 2 bucks because I had a ton of cups and clothespins left over to make more task boxes in the future!

Plastic silverware is another great task that you can use to have students practice job tasks. I like to have the students sort them by type OR take one of each and roll them with a napkin like they would see at a restaurant! 

Socks are a mother great life skill to work on. I got a pack of 4 socks (with different patterns and colors on each pair) so the students can match and fold. The parents will LOVE this one I promise :) 
Now that you have taken the time to read about all about task boxes on the cheap you have earned your reward! (Hahaha little token economy humor for ya!) I created a freebie with 4 simple and easy sorting tasks and matching tasks to add to your bins! These are low prep and will keep the kids engaged! I included two simple sorts (emotions and fruit/vegetable) and two higher level sorts (Match the planets and Match the community places) 
   Lower level tasks 
          higher level tasks   

You can check them out Here!

How to Start a Classroom Coffee Cart in a Life Skills Classroom

A few months ago I posted a picture on instagram (@superheroesinSPED) of the coffee cart in my classroom. I got a ton of questions and requests asking for details of how I implement this in my classroom! I currently teach 3-4 grade life skills. We are just beginning to dabble in vocational tasks outside of safe cooking and file folder activities. I was really excited to get a coffee cart started but I'll be honest I didn't really know how to begin. Where do I get all the materials, will this is more money to start up then I am willing to spend.....well the east answer to that is yes it is a lot of materials and yes it CAN be really expensive. I say can because you can also be thrifty like me! I started with obtaining a grant thru my school to get a nice cart, a ton of creamers, sugars, coffee cups, was amazing! I was planning on using most of that money to buy the coffee makers and coffee but I have a generous parent who loved this idea and donated a coffee pot (my para donated the other) and she sends in so much coffee for us each week! 

Next, I decided how often the coffee cart would be open, I mean we still need to teach reading and math right!?! I personally decided to open shop once a week on Fridays to the staff in my building for .25 cents a cup. The teachers LOVE this and are so excited to have my students arrive at their door with a steaming hot cup of coffee. I make sure to let the staff know this money goes into the students "paycheck" and to purchase coffee cups. This money is not for classroom supplies. 

The students paycheck is my favorite part of the coffee cart! I was told over and over again by parents in many different meetings how difficult going into the community and shopping can be. Their children want to buy all the things! So once a month we take a field trip to the local grocery store to buy our cooking supplies for cooking lessons and then we walk down to the Dollar Tree, which is in the same complex) to buy something with their paycheck. The kids LOVE this and it truly connects working hard ---> Earning money ---> buying fun stuff! 

So let's start back at the logistics of it all! 
On Thursdays I send out a google form to  the staff in my building. This is the easiest way to get the information to the teachers and get their orders to me. Before school on Friday I write the teachers orders on each cup. Then we start making the coffee. During this step we use ALL.THE.VISUALS. Using visuals in the classroom are so important no matter what you are doing to implement independence and decrease prompt dependency. My school is a studio setting and each studio is assigned a color. We use the colors to sort the cup into first floor and second floor. An adult in the room fills the coffee cup and the students then add cream to the coffee (I like to use the creamers with pumps). I also want to note that I use coffee pots for this for three reasons. 1. They were donated to me 2. They make much more coffee at once 3. It is less expensive to purchase bags of coffee as opposed to kurig pods. 

Now we are off! we deliver the coffee to each teacher, asking for payment, and working on so many different speech skills. Students that use AAC devices get an opportunity to have conversations with people outside the classroom. Again I use visuals to help prompt verbal interactions while limiting verbal prompts! 

When the students are done passing out their coffee they are able  to work on the important life skill of cleaning up! We do the dishes and put all of our materials away until next week. 

I have created a product to help implement a coffee cart in YOUR Classroom! You can find it Here

Here is a ittle preview of what is included in this pack! 

Employee rules posters to keep the students on track while at work

Employee of the Month/Week. This is a HUGE motivator for the students in the classroom. I also like to use this in place of student of the month. I try to keep things as age appropriate as possible and typical 3-4 grade classrooms often do not have student of the month! 

Another great way to facilitate conversation while delivering the coffee is giving out coupons and implementing a coffee club. We like to give out coupons randomly and on holidays! The teachers loved getting the a free coffee coupon on the last day before winter break! 

The teachers are also given a coffee club coupon. They hand this to the students each week and once they buy 10 cups of coffee the next one is free! 

This product also includes a tutorial for google forms, a non editable order form if you do not have access to google forms, visuals (as pictured above) and a social story to help the students learn how to work at the coffee cart!

There are also a TON of other bloggers who have talked about a coffee cart in their classroom. I personally love Brie from Breezy Special Ed's post! She is the queen of high school life skills so make sure to check her post out here to learn more! 

Happy Coffee Making Friends! 

Best Books to Teach Students About Autism

I don't know about you but I am constantly asked by other teachers how they can teach their students in the general education about differences and special needs. It is such an important topic so it makes me super happy to share some resources I have collected over the years. I actually love to go into the general education classroom with my students from my self contained class so read some special stories and have an important discussion about different disabilities. I teach 3-4 grade so it is a perfect opportunity to break out some picture books (I mean come on they may not be babies anymore BUT I know they LOVE a good picture book). Here are my favorites

My Brother Charlie 
Written by Holly Robinson Peete Illustrated by: Shane W. Evans  
This book is told from the point of view of a little girl who has a brother, Charlie, with autism. The little girl paints a beautiful picture of the similarities and differences she and her brother share. She explains how Charlie can get very quiet and sometimes doesn't talk. She then goes on to explain how he has Autism and that does not make him much different than everyone else. This book overall is a wonderful view into the life of a child who interacts with autism on a daily basis. I highly recommend this book to help teach your students or the students in your school about empathy and kindness when interacting with special needs students. This would also be a great book for a student who may be struggling with their home and living with a sibling with multiple needs.   

All About My Brother
Written and Illustrated by: Sarah Peralta 
This is a truly special book. It gives me all the feels. It is an eight-year-old sister's introduction to her brother who has autism. The book begins with a forward written by Brenda Smith Myles, Ph. D. and a beautiful picture of the author and her brother, Evan. It also includes a Preface with information on the parent perspective written by Sarah and Evan's mother, Dorothea. Dorothea also wrote an introduction giving some background on her two children and how she handled answering Sarah;s questions about her brother's diagnosis. Then, here comes the GOLD of this book, a whole page of tips and tricks on how to use the books. It includes a 10 step guide to help children understand how Autism works and how to facilitate a discussion with the children in your classroom. 

The book then begins with Sarah's words. She drew (the most amazing) hand drawn pictures to go with her inspiring words. She describes her family and how they are all unique (from her, to her parent's, to her brother, to the family pup). While she describes her family she also explains how they are similar. For example: Dad loves computers as much as Evan loves sticks as well as how Dad and Evan love to play on the swing set. This book is such a beautiful way to facilitate a discussion on how everyone is different, but in those differences we can find ways that we all connect. 

At the end of the book Sarah provides her e-mail address and a letter asking siblings of those with autism to e-mail her so they can share ideas on how to help them. I mean COME ON! Is that not the most amazing thing you have ever hear?!?! For real. ALL.THE.TEARS!

The Girl Who Thought In Pictures: The story of Dr. Temple Grandin 
Written by: Julia Finley Mosca Illustrated by: Daniel Rieley 

The last book I want to share/review with you lovely followers of my blog is this amazing story about Dr. Temple Grandin published by Innovation Press. Innovation Press was kind enough to send me a copy of this book to review and create a book companion for you all! This book is one that made me shed tears the first time I read it. It gives a lovely description of Dr. Grandin's life beginning from birth. The story explains how no one believed in her (besides her mom of course) and they found the right school and teachers to help Temple reach her potential! It is just amazing. 

I personally used this book while working in the general education with my students. Myself, along with the general education teacher read the book to the class and had an amazing discussion about Temple, if they ever felt different or an outsider, how to be kind to others, and it led into a great discussion about the students in my class that would be joining them in many different activities though out the year. Students with AAC devices were able to show off their AAC skills and answer questions from their peers. The kids were honest and candid and they loved hearing about all the cool things my student's learn about in my classroom! It was an amazing way to begin the school year! 

I created a FREEBIE which is in my TPT store to complete with students after they read the book. There are two fun activities 

You can grab this freebie here

If you want to buy any of these books you can get them by clicking the links below 
(These are amazon affiliate link. This means I get a small kickback that will go back into the blog and Superheroes in SPED--Thank you in advance if you choose to purchase) 

Please send me an e-mail if you have any other questions! 

Dream Sensory Room Reveal

Hi Friends! I am SO excited to share a project that I have been working on for over two years, MY DREAM SENSORY ROOM! I have mentioned in other blog post how lucky I am to work in a supportive district, but they really went above and beyond when I came to them with a problem and possible solution. 

Last year, I had a classroom of new students in an intensive needs settings. These students had some very specific needs that I felt would be helped if they had a sensory space outside our classroom. This would be used to help prevent a negative behavior by providing the students with a sensory diet as a component to their behavior plans. Directly outside my classroom was a resource room that was not used on a regular basis. So in came my bright idea. I begged, pleaded, and presented the idea of making that space a sensory space for all students in the school who have sensory needs. 

My school district realized the important of sensory input and was willing to make the room possible. We were also super lucky to get some wonderful donations from members of our amazing community. 

Ok so now myself, other sped staff, and the occupational therapists went to the drawing board of everything that would make a sensory room down right amazing. We all agreed that we needed to make sure we have visual stimuli, sensory input, and sensory output. Basically we needed a calming space that was visually pleasing and provided tactile sensory items to help calm the students down and prepare them to work hard in the classroom with limited behaviors. 
Before I reveal I want to go over the benefits of a sensory room! Sensory rooms are put in place in environments such as a school by those who have learning difficulties, developmental disabilities, or sensory impairments. The use of a sensory room will help the children interact with the world around then in a safe environment. They are able to explore lights, sounds, and different textures. This freedom will allow you as the teacher to see what calms them down, hypes them up, or their personal preferences. No two sensory rooms should be the same. Each one should be unique to fit the needs of the students utilizing it! Students will benefit by an increase in sensory stimulation, enhancing learning and play, improve balance, movement, and spatial orientation, tackle problems with behavior, and lastly improve focus and attention in the classroom. 

I started with an empty room that was white and had a mixture of dry wall and cylinder walls. The cylinder walls were an issue because students were using them to harm themselves when they were escalated in a behavior. I went in on a Saturday afternoon and painted all the walls a calming blue color. Once that was complete We had soft padded walls installed over the cylinders so help eliminate an injury. This also helps keep the room quiet! The next HUGE choice we made was to put a soft floor in. We used a snap in floor so it easy to change out if it were to be punctured or damaged. We avoid this by having all students take their shoes off while in the sensory room! 
This is a picture of the room as a whole (understand the lighting is not great for pictures :) ) 

Once the floor and walls were installed we were able to buy different sensory objects to help with input and output sensory needs! 
As you can see above we have a platform swing that hangs from the ceiling (We can also change that out for a hammock swing), A large bubble tube that changes colors with a remote control (great for cause and effect), a hide-a-way-house, squeeze machine (steam roller), smart board, and bean bags. We also provide the students with exercise balls, body socks, and soft objects like pillows. 

I know how crazy lucky I am to have access to this amazing space, but I also realize it is not possible for all classrooms to spend this much money. So how can you get a sensory room in your classroom? Well first off start by presenting your "dream" to your special ed director or admin team. You might be surprised that they can donate some funds to this idea if they see you put thought and researched prices. Next, look into different grants. I am a HUGE fan of Donors Choose You can start a campaign! Many people love to donate to help special needs students succeed. You can also reach out to members of your community. They often allocate funds to donations for tax purposes each year. The organization that donated to our room was SO sweet. They even came in and spent time in the room with the students once it was completed! It was a great experience for everyone! 

Here are some of my favorite sensory items you can use in your classroom! (These are amazon affiliate links. I get a small commission if you purchase thru this link that will help support my blog) I linked up a bean bag, body sock, exercise ball with pump, small bubble tube, sensory body roller, and a fabric tunnel! I use all of these in my classroom and can help you get the sensory room of your dreams at a reasonable price! Just click on the pictures below! 

If you have any questions about setting up a sensory room please leave a comment below or shoot me an e-mail!