Puzzle it out.

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This time of year is the perfect storm.  IEP season is in full swing, Spring break is just around the corner (woohoo) and everyone is feeling a bit squirmy and squirrelly (including the SLP).  I like to have a variety of therapy options to keep my kids engaged, but my budget is tight right now.  I looked in my magic cabinet of therapy materials to see what I could add to my bag of tricks that wouldn’t elicit groans of “no, not that.”   I spotted a shiny metal box that contained a 30 piece Star Wars themed puzzle and knew I hit the jackpot!

Really, a puzzle?  You put it together and it’s done, boring.  Well, yes, it can be if you use it exactly like that.  How about using the puzzle pieces as a therapy activity to work on gestalt thinking with your social learners?   Show a piece at a time (without showing a picture of the final product) and have them make smart guesses as to what the puzzle might be. Have any friends that focus on the unimportant details and miss the big picture?  Me too, and this is harder for them than you would think!  Add in a little group work razzle dazzle and your students will be working together to problem solve putting the picture together (without a model).  You are embedding the Social Thinking® concepts of turn taking, sharing personal space, regulating emotions (when the pieces don’t fit quite right), thinking with your eyes and sticking with a group plan!

Working on non-verbal skills? Have your students put the puzzle together without talking. They have to watch each other, use gestures and pay attention to cues that it’s their turn to put their puzzle piece in.  For our students with impulsivity or difficulty with emotional regulation, this might be challenging!  Start with short, easy puzzles to help them feel successful and build resilience in these skills.

With younger students or students working at an early social cognitive level,  you can use wooden puzzles with several pieces.  I use the puzzle pieces as a template to cut out pictures from magazines or google images that fit a theme. For example, I might cut out pictures of candy, pumpkins, costumes, October on a calendar and a bat.  Then I ask the students to take turns removing the puzzle pieces to reveal the clues and  make a guess as to what all these pictures are talking about (Halloween).  You can scaffold the picture clues from easy to more difficult as they develop this skill.

Reinforce conversational turn taking by giving each student a few puzzle pieces, with you providing a topic of discussion.  As each student adds a comment or connected question to the conversation, they get to add a piece of the puzzle.  Start with large piece puzzles at first (8-10 pieces) and as your students get the hang of this, add more pieces and change topics within the conversation. You could also choose puzzles that are areas of high interest for your students (Star Wars, Super Mario Brothers, Legos, Dinosaurs) and use the puzzle pieces as reinforcers for maintaining topic during therapy. They earn a piece of the puzzle each time you catch them keeping their brain in the group (or whatever social concept you are working on that day).  If you can’t find a puzzle that matches an area of interest (guinea pigs, for example) just find a google image of said interest, print, laminate and cut into puzzle pieces, voila’!  Make sure you leave a few minutes at the end of the session for the student to put the puzzle together.

Do you use puzzles in social language therapy?  Share your ideas here!

 

 

 

I love Lucy (the other one)!

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I have had the opportunity to work in my church’s special needs class for the past few years.  The kids can have significant sensory, cognitive or medical issues that make it more challenging for them to be in a larger group (as we are part of a BIG church).  Our class offers sensory activities (swings, trampolines) and a modified curriculum for the weekly bible lesson (thanks Boardmaker and Kathy E.!).  My friend and room coordinator, the amazing Karen, recently bought some new materials for our class, and Lucy the Calming Companion (see above) was one of them!

She immediately became the favorite class pet and the kids loved how soft her fur is and how the weighted body was perfect for a snuggle!  I cracked open the accompanying story and we read all about how Lucy uses her strategies to feel calm and offers ideas that the kids can use too. What a fun companion to add into your Zones of Regulation tool box or counseling sessions!  You can adjust the amount of weight via the zipper on Lucy’s belly, as needed for each of your student’s sensory needs (wouldn’t that be great if WE could do that too??).  There is even a tutorial of how to wash Lucy when she gets a little too much love, grime or drool.

Lucy was  created by  Christy Bennett, an OT, and Stephanie Tishgarten.  A kickstarter fund gave this little pup a way to be shared and you can check out the website and video (including the real Lucy) about how Lucy, the Calming Companion, came to be.  You can order your own Lucy at this site as well!  For my friends with sensory needs, the wiggles or just those in need of some hypoallergenic hugs, Lucy is the perfect addition to our room!  I know you will love her too.

 

 

Escape Speech Room Boredom

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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?

 

 

 

Sociables

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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?

Social skills and hard conversations

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This summer has been a difficult one as the news has been full of upsetting images happening across our country.  I was visiting family in Dallas, Texas the week of the police shootings and like the rest of the country after an extraordinarily violent week, I was stunned.  I watched the peaceful protests in Atlanta on the local news when I got home the following week.  I had to turn off the TV for a while to process all I was thinking about, away from the rhetoric of social media. While I am not a mother to a police officer or an African American son,  I am a mom. My heart broke for these families and broke for us as a country. How can we begin to discuss these big issues-racism, trust, personal safety- in our homes, schools and places of worship, if we cannot begin to take the perspective of someone else?

To be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is hard.  It’s even harder when we define ourselves by how we are not the same, rather than what we have in common.  In social language therapy, helping my kids shift their point of view to at least try and consider what someone else might be thinking or feeling, is challenging.  All the lessons that we address in a social language framework , as Michelle Garcia Winner states, are life skills to help us work and live with others successfully.  Pause and consider this for just a minute. Understanding basic Theory of Mind, that my thoughts can be different from your thoughts based on our experiences and what we know, is a foundation to getting along with others.  Even the basic social rules we learn on the playground still apply in the grown up world; take turns, help someone if they get hurt, include others and play fair. Why is it so difficult for us to apply these lessons as we grow up?

It is critical that we teach the concepts of thinking about others and trying to consider another person’s point of view (even when you don’t agree with it) to all kids, not just students with social language impairments. It is equally as important as academics, in my opinion.  Self-control and emotional regulation are also necessary social skills that we need to teach, to get along with others in this world. Bullying people into listening to your point of view and screaming that you are right and they are wrong, are not going to solve anything, whether you are five or fifty. Like I tell my own boys, you have the right to your own thoughts and feelings, but you do not have the right to use them to purposefully hurt others.

I realize that this is simplifying a very complicated series of problems. I don’t have the answers, although I sure wish I did.  What I do believe, is that in a very “me” centered culture, we need to shift hard to thinking about other people, starting in our homes and in our schools.  We need to listen to and talk with people who think like us and those who don’t. These opportunities for difficult conversations are going to continue to present themselves to you and me, so how are we going to handle them moving forward?  I can take a step in the right direction by teaching children that I work with the life skills and social language concepts needed to think about other people, and practicing this myself.

Share your thoughts here.