Sometimes the most unexpected finds make me smile, case in point is my classroom trashcan. As I was changing out the liners this week, I found the bottom of the can coated in gold glitter. The more pragmatic me would have rinsed it away, but it was so pretty all I could do was marvel at it for a moment. It was a tiny gift of pretty in a cinder block kind of day. It is my birthday, so I am off to enjoy the sunshine and blue skies. I wish for you to find your trashcan full of glitter today and some joy in the unexpected.
I have always had a soft spot for Eric Carle books, and use them frequently in speech therapy. I stumbled upon a “new” one (for me), The Mixed-Up Chameleon while perusing my school library shelves. The story follows a hungry little chameleon on his adventure through the zoo. The chameleon thinks about it’s shortcomings and imagines itself taking on the positive characteristics of the other animals. But as he ponders himself becoming all the seemingly better creatures on this journey, he isn’t truly any happier. The chameleon becomes a bizarre patchwork of pieces and parts of each of the zoo animals it imagines until there is nothing left of our poor narrator. BUT….a tasty fly buzzes by him and prompts, “I wish I could be myself”! Resolution, self acceptance, the end.
As with most of these deceptively simple stories, there is deeper meaning. I think about my students who struggle with anchoring themselves in a positive self concept; too short, too tall, too heavy, too smart, too geeky, the list goes on and on. I am sure at one time or another, we all have wished to be something we are not, something that exists only in the indefinable and unattainable place called “better”. But what if better actually resides in the best version of being our self and not in becoming something we are not? See, I told you this story is deeper than first glance!
I use the chameleon’s adventure to begin discussions with the more comfortable launching point of talking about make-believe stories and creatures, not about the students themselves. At least not yet. The story opens up the opportunity for great conversations to start developing (and owning) ideas about what we are good at, our wheelhouse so to speak. This can lead to fabulous side lessons about the difference between confidence and bragging. As the younger students start connecting the story to their perspective and personal experiences, the light starts to come on. For my older elementary and middle schoolers, this is a life skill lesson. Helping them navigate a positive self-image can be treacherous waters when we consider what culture dictates as desirable appearances and behaviors, particularly for girls. This book is a great tool in helping kids to figure out how to appreciate positive attributes in others, without wishing away the best parts of themselves.
There are lots of fantastic accompanying activities for various age and ability levels here and here. There is even a lovely YouTube read aloud version here .
What activities have helped you build a positive self-image in your kids?
Sometimes these five seemingly innocuous words breed frustration, silence or worse, “nothing”. As a parent, being able to connect with your child’s day at school is important. Not in a “I figured out what I want to be when I grow up” kind of day, but in a social connection way. Understanding that people have different experiences and can share them is a powerful idea. It leads to conversations and connections, both important milestones in communication development. I don’t need the minutiae of bathroom details, but the meat of the day helps.
It is a tension point sometimes for teachers to add one more thing to their to-do lists, but your speech therapist (or OT or para-pro) can help. My fellow speechies developed a simple checklist that went home once a week for our group thematic activities. We would follow a theme calendar and then give feedback on the child’s participation, any verbalizations or new skills we saw (hurray!), things that worked well and things that didn’t go smoothly. We also had some visuals for their emotional state and room to comment if we figured out new tricks to share with mom and dad. A quick email from home on a Monday morning about the weekend activities is always helpful too!
For my older students, I often ask them to use their technology to share about their weekends or breaks (instagram pictures are a great prompt…teacher friendly please!) or to help them create personal blogs or storyboards. They are often doubtful when I suggest sharing these with their families as their perception is that mom and dad won’t care. Surprise, we do!!
Over breaks and summer, I suggest that my parents to get a cheap flip picture book like this one:
This one was from Walmart and was less than ten dollars. You can also find them at Dollar stores for much less and build a library of memory books. This is an easy way to talk about a vacation or what happened while the student was on break. It also is a good visual prep for visiting family you don’t see very often (Look, remember when we went to visit your cousins? We had so much fun swimming at their house!) to reduce anxiety.
For more tech savvy parents, you can use a site like Shutterfly to create permanent photo books for your adventures. There is also a new app called Steller that you can take a peek at to create visual story telling on your iphone (it has a save feature for future viewings). Even Pinterest can be used to create secret boards all about your adventures and can be shared only with who you invite to view it (teachers, grandparents, therapists). So next time you ask “What did you do today?”, you just might get more than you asked for!
What communication tools work for you?
It’s spring break here (finally!) and even better, it actually feels like spring too. Harry Potter is in my near future ( yes, my geek flag is flying proudly on this one) and I couldn’t be more excited! Before we head off to see the wizard, I wanted to share a great idea from one of my friends at school. She took the problem/solution page I created and blew it up on a poster maker and hung it inside her classroom door. It looks like this:
She taught the parts of the process:
identify the problem,
figure out who can help you
what can you do on your own?
what’s the size of the problem
the solution you decided on
This version also includes a question to ask, “do I know what to do next time?” and
a feeling chart before and after the problem/solution was identified.
But the best part? The students now manage their issues on their own or together!! They lead each other to the poster and through the process (particularly the size of the problem) successfully. The teacher is now a teacher and not a referee (although she will step in if needed) and the daily drama has been dramatically reduced. Yay!! The goal is for the kids to internalize this thought process and be able to take it with them through life. Awesome job Ms. Burns!!