Escape Speech Room Boredom

escape-blog-pic-template

I love a good puzzle and a challenge, so naturally my curiosity was piqued when my son came home after a Breakout adventure with his friends.  These adventures are themed rooms where you are “locked” in, such as a jewel heist or the CDC during a Zombie outbreak, until you solve several clues. They are elaborate and creative fun and the group has to work together, or nobody gets out alive  wins the challenge. After thinking about how cool this idea is, my second thought was why not try this in speech?

One of the skills that I find I need to address over and over again with my social language students is the concept of working in a group successfully with peers.  There are so many social concepts to scaffold prior to working in a group such as sharing personal space, whole body or active listening skills, turn taking, maintaining a topic,  perspective taking, emotional regulation, executive function and more!  However, we are requiring even our Pre-K kiddos to master this skill pretty quickly in the school setting.  These skills are also embedded in the common core under the Speaking and Listening strands  Working cooperatively is a life skill and if our kids can’t learn to develop these skills in their early years, how do you think college, jobs or even living in a community is going to go?  Not well.

Out of this skill set, my Connect the Dots: Cornucopia Caper group work product was born! I wanted a fun way to work on a tough social skill with my upper grade students.  It’s always good to shake it up a bit to avoid boredom, right?

cornucopia-caper-8x8-cover

I created a print and go packet of activities perfect for November social groups with seven puzzles and challenges to solve.  I set up a secret mission for my students and they must work together to solve all of the challenges (logic and physical) to “escape” the speech room.   I have included templates for group rules and a rubric for data collection on this skill set.

ctd-group-rules-up-close

Setting up for success

There are “How to Use” instructions included as well as mission descriptions for your students and an instruction guide/answer key for the SLP in each section.

img_3546

7 challenges to solve

Your students need to work together to solve each puzzle,  like this Pilgrim’s Peril physical challenge  (the construction paper is the Mayflower and the floor is the ocean, all must share space to stay on the boat for thirty seconds).

ctd-physical-challenge

Pilgrim’s Peril

The missions can be completed in one or even over two sessions, if the students work together.  There are two HELP cards included for the SLP to intervene if they cannot figure out a puzzle or are having difficulty working together.

The last mission is the “key” to escape and they receive a mission accomplished clue as the meet each challenge. These use these clues to solve a riddle.  I also tell my students, because they tend to be very literal thinkers, that when I tell them they are working to find the key to escape the speech room, this doesn’t mean we are actually locked in the room.  This reduces anxiety just a bit before we start the activity.  If the idea of a timer frustrates your students within the challenges, you don’t have to use it, it’s just a suggestion to move the activity along.  The goal is successfully working together, not beating the clock.

I hope this has given you a fun idea to try when practicing the social concepts of working successfully in a group !  This product is the first in a series, so check back soon for Holiday Hijinks, the next in my Connect the Dots series!

How do you work on the social concept of working in a group successfully with your students?

 

 

 

Mindfulness with a scoop of pink oatmeal.

pink-oatmeal-blog-pic-template

I love to stumble across different social language tools to use and I found this  great blog post by Maura Fox, SLP, that outlines beautifully why mindfulness aligns so well with Social Thinking concepts.  I then happened upon the TPT store, Pink Oatmeal, last week while I was looking for preschool yoga visuals, for a presentation. Beyond my intense curiosity over the name of the store, I was impressed with the variety of thematic yoga and brain break cards for littles that this school based Physical Therapist has created. Her Halloween themed yoga product below is an example and is too cute for words!

halloween-yoga-pink-oatmeal

One thing leads to another when you are researching, so down the rabbit hole I went finding even more ideas after reading these posts on Edutopia.  The concept of  teaching mindfulness and breathing aligns beautifully with the Zones of Regulation .  I know I benefit from just slowing down and taking a deep breath throughout my day.  Our kids are under a lot of stress, and anxiety has skyrocketed in the past ten years in schools. Why not look at a tool that everyone can use to help with emotional regulation throughout our day?

The school based PT behind Pink Oatmeal, Chanda, also has a Youtube Channel and fun blog that shares tons of great ideas on how to build these skills with young learners!  In my preschool professional learning day presentation, we talked a lot about teaching our students breathing techniques to help calm themselves.  I love this video from Sesame Street that teaches kids how to belly breathe through a sweet song! Feel free to look through my playlist of  sounds of nature videos  to work on calming down, breathing and even visualizing all the things we can hear. I am using these in my Sunday school special needs class, to help calm my kids as they come into the room.

School also requires our kids to sit and listen for extended lengths of time, but little bodies are wired to move!  Mindfulness and movement both have foundations in teaching the language of emotion and listening skills.  Joint attention, whole body listening and developing an internal voice versus narrating everything we are thinking about out loud, are skills embedded in these techniques. Cosmic Kids Yoga is another free Youtube channel that offers fun, thematic yoga activities for little people.  They have movie themes, animal adventures and even a video with a puppy explaining what the concept of mindfulness is all about.

I know this may feel a bit “woo-woo” to you, but just consider this a minute.  Mindfulness is easy to embed in your morning circle or starting time (or end of the day) and is a research based methodology to address attention, emotional regulation, calming and compassion.  Our schools are using PBIS to address behavioral expectations and mindfulness is a tool that address all of these skills.  Being able to learn techniques to calm our minds and bodies, focus and develop empathy towards others sounds like a win to me, so take a deep, calming breath and let’s give it a go!

Do you use mindfulness or yoga with your students?  If not, what are your concerns? Share here!

 

 

 

Sociables

sociablesblog-pic-template

I presented on a professional learning day  to a group of SLPs who work with the preschool population. We talked about teaching early social language learning concepts in a preschool setting for most of the day.  I was very excited to share how I use the concepts of Social Thinking, The Incredible Five Point Scale and Zones of Regulation with them!  The concepts in these teaching methodologies can be pretty complex but I tried to find examples of how they can be simplified for little people too.

One of the ideas I had was to create these social concept mobiles  (social+mobile= sociables, get it?!) . Conceptually, Pre-K and K students are working on identifying feelings and emotions in themselves and others, learning to regulate those feelings and emotions and then figuring out how their thoughts and emotions make other people think and feel too.  Heady stuff for four and five year olds, right?  But the color coding system approach of the Zones of Regulation and the Incredible Five Point Scale are fantastic visual tools to work on these skills from a very young age!

My sociables align with the color system as well.  Read more about the use of Zones and the Incredible Five Point Scale (you can thank me later) and consider investing in both of these teaching products, it’s money well spent. Think about applying for a Donor’s Choose grant or a PTA grant through your school to fund your own social language library!

sociable-1

At the top of the sociable, I cut out square pieces of colored construction paper that align with the Zones:  red (mad), yellow (frustrated), green (happy) and blue (sad) . For the sake of the discussion, I simplified the colors into one emotional state, but the Zones goes into variances along the spectrum of emotions in each color much more in depth!  You can cut out pictures from magazines or print Boardmaker pictures of things/situations that might elicit these feelings or emotional states.  For example, for blue, I might have a picture of someone losing a game or watching a sad movie.

sociable-3

Then I attach three cut outs along a string that hangs from the colored square. I created a thought bubble (what am I thinking?), a heart (what am I feeling?) and a speech bubble (what would I say?) using PowerPoint shapes.  You can  color code the string, yarn or ribbon with the color to give more visual cues for the zone or use the same zone color for all the construction paper squares for your sociables.  This could be a great co-treat project to do with your Occupation Therapist (OT)  to work on cutting, threading, gluing and identifying sensory regulation ideas!

sociable-2

For example:   Green Zone and the picture at the top is of two friends, my thought bubble could be thinking, “I like my friend!”, my feeling heart could be, “I feel happy!”  and my word bubble might be “I like playing together!”.   For your littles who aren’t writing yet, you can have them dictate to you and you write them down on the pieces or they can glue picture representations on each one .  Your students might need picture choices to scaffold responses (use these with your non-verbal students to support their participation too). Emoji stickers would be a fun way to identifying feelings, for example.  I laminate my teaching model (so I can reuse it), and I show the kids my final product before we start, to give them a visual of what we are working towards.

sociable-mobile

Hang these sociables from your class ceiling or create a bulletin board for your class!  You can extend the conversation to include talking about the strategies we can use to move from red, yellow or blue feelings back to green feelings (calm and happy) using the Zones and Incredible Five Point Scale curriculum.  Don’t forget to talk about how it’s okay to have ALL of these feelings and that no one is in the green zone all the time, but we have tools to use to get us there. You have built in a visual support for emotional regulation right into your room all day long!

How do you support this skill with your young students?

Stuck Thinking

stuck-thinking-blog-pic

I had the misfortune of walking into a spider’s web the other morning.  I was caught up in my own thoughts and didn’t see the web draped across the hedges until it was too late.  There’s nothing quite like a spider web freak out, and I am glad no one was nearby to witness it (or they would still be on the ground, laughing).  It took me a good twenty minutes to untangle myself from the sticky webbing, and at least another twenty minutes to calm down.

This experience made me think of my students who get caught in their own thoughts but can’t get “unstuck”. Mental health is a big issue in our society, especially with our older kids. Many of our students with social language impairments, anxiety, and ADD struggle with managing their focus internally and externally.   It’s easy for someone who doesn’t struggle with these thoughts to say, “Just stop thinking about it!”, but it is harder than it seems.   Negative or perseverative thought patterns often upset our students, keep them disengaged in learning and conversation, and make it difficult for them to establish friendships if they become stuck in a chronically negative mindset.

This is one of those gray areas that overlap speech therapy and counseling’s scope of practice.  It doesn’t have to be one or the other, as our students can benefit from the support of both specialists.  From a social language perspective, helping our kids connect the concepts of keeping their “brains in the group“, taking the perspective of others, connecting how their choices might make other people think or feel, and emotional self-regulation  are all valuable tools in their coping toolbox. Using a five point scale to talk about the size of a problem and matching the size of a reaction to that problem, are also helpful strategies with our kids. We need to make sure that we are working on these skills  outside of the moment, as our students are often not available when they perseverate.  They need to hear the message that they don’t have to do this on their own,  and there are supports all around them!  If the anxiety or compulsive thoughts are overwhelming for the student, then we need to dialogue with the family and encourage them to involve their pediatrician or psychiatrist in the conversation.

A friend once told me that she can’t be in her head too much because it’s a bad neighborhood to linger in.  What she meant was that she can get stuck in dark and negative thoughts when she thinks too much on her own.  She needed to talk through her worries with others who could put her concerns into perspective when she couldn’t. This is a similar  premise of cognitive behavioral therapy .  CBT is a “short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy treatment that takes a hands-on, practical approach to problem-solving. Its goal is to change patterns of thinking or behavior that are behind people’s difficulties, and so change the way they feel.”  This sounds like an approach that aligns with social thinking concepts and emotional regulation strategies, doesn’t it?

I created a TPT product for my older students to work on strategies and problem solving to get unstuck in their social thinking.  It walks them through the steps to learn to “change the channel” in their mindset from negative to positive! Want to check it out?   Social Skills: Change the Channel from Negative to Positive .

 For your younger students, I really love the book by Kari Dunn Buron,  When My Worries Get Too Big , or Julia Cook’s fantastic book,  Wilma Jean the Worry Machine .

How do you work with students who are chronically stuck in an internal or negative mindset? Share here!

#OctSLPMustHave sale is back!

monster-social-skills-bundle-8x8-cover

October is here and so is the #OctSLPmust have sale on TPT!  Loads of SLP created products are on sale for 50% off for one day (the 7th of each month) , including my Monster Halloween Social Skills Bundle .  It’s 195 pages of spooky (but not scary) social language activities, a whole month’s worth of fun for your littles to your middles!   Search the hashtag #OctSLPmusthave to find all the products you can snap up at a great value!

Getting back to my green zone…

getting-back-to-my-green-zone-blog-pic

I don’t know about you, but the beginning of this school year is kicking my tired butt!   I have never had so many long meetings, IEPS,  and observations, in my professional life.   Like I often remind  my students, sometimes we need to stop and catch our breath when we are feeling out of control.  I started to think about all the social emotional learning tools that I teach my students to use when they are feeling discouraged or overwhelmed.  Why not apply them to my own life?

In social language terminology, I am taking my emotionally disregulated,  yellow zone self back to the green zone this weekend.   I will identify the size of my (perceived) problems and try to respond in a way that matches them accordingly.   I am going to use my social smarts and a five point scale to find my way back to a happy medium, my own personal reset button.   The paperwork and meetings aren’t going to disappear, I know they will be there to greet me on Monday morning.   However, fresh mountain air and no internet connection are the tools that I am choosing from my coping skills toolbox this weekend.

Do yourself a favor and put down the IEPs, the medicaid billing and the lesson plans, just for a few hours this weekend.  Go for a walk, play with your own kids, wonder at the beauty of early Fall where ever you are and just breathe.