The life and words of Martin Luther King Jr. are embedded throughout the city of Atlanta (and beyond), where I live. I love the idea of volunteering to honor his lifelong work by helping others on MLK Jr. Day. The social challenges that sparked this Pastor’s passion for peace are complex and difficult for some of my students to understand. With my younger students, I like to focus on the concept of why we should help others. It fits beautifully into a social thinking framework of taking someone else’s perspective, thinking about how our actions and words make someone else feel and the value of doing something kind for another person, without expecting anything in return.
At first glance, these are pretty big social concepts, right? However, when you look at Dr. King’s vision and the words of his sermons, you will see the essence of his message is to love and accept other people. A big part of being able to do this is to be able to think about how other people might feel and think, in relationships to our words and actions. In order to talk about this concept, we break big picture ideas into scaffolded steps, like this helping hand wreath.
I found these great free clip art hands from Teacher’s Clipart on TPT. I printed them, cut out the shapes, and then let my kids pick a hand. Your students can also trace their hands on construction paper and cut them out too for an ink saving version with a fine motor bonus. Add to the lesson with Readworks , a free website that has many articles at different comprehension levels/grades that help us talk about MLK in the context of history and social change like this second grade passage with great pictures. It is important to talk about why we honor someone, what that looks like and how helping other people can do this.
Next, I ask the kids to think of a way they can help someone and we talk about the idiom “give someone a hand”. They can then write or draw how they can help someone on their paper hand. It doesn’t have to be formal volunteering, it can be as simple as bringing the garbage can in for an elderly neighbor, holding the door open for someone or picking up your room without your mom asking you to do it. The object is for their actions or words to help someone (and in turn that person will have good thoughts and feelings about them)! It can even be a “secret mission” as the point is not recognition for a good deed or even telling others what you did, but that doing for others makes us feel good too. They often come back and share how it went and it is a great time to connect how their actions and words made other people feel. I hope this activity lights a tiny flame of altruism that they carry throughout their lives and effects positive social change for them too.
How do you teach the bigger concepts of kindness and service? Share here…
The holiday season is upon us! How does it always feel like it sneaks up on me? It’s been a difficult year for our communities for many reasons, so I wanted to add a little kindness to my social skills activities to end the year. I made these little Christmas stocking freebies to encourage my students to think about one another and offer up the positive things they see in their peers. I added starter prompts on the compliment strips, but you could do this with blank pieces of construction paper too. I like the black and white versions of the stockings so my kids can color and decorate the stockings to represent themselves (and bonus, coloring is a calming activity that helps many of my students stay in their Green Zone). For your students who don’t celebrate Christmas, they can decorate their stocking to represent themselves or the holiday they do celebrate. This would be a great activity in the speech room, social skills groups AND the classroom!
Giving and receiving compliments is a hard skill for some of my students with social language impairments. We build on the skill by talking about perspective taking, feelings, thoughts vs. words, non-verbals and emotional regulation. Pairing this activity with the book “How Full Is Your Bucket?” is a great way to extend the idea of kindness and how our words and actions impact others. This stocking activity is an opportunity for your students who often stand out because of their unexpected behaviors, to be recognized and seen for their strengths instead!
You can do the activity together with your students to give examples, both expected and unexpected, and talk about them before they get started on their stockings. You can have fun with this, and remember our kids with social language impairments are NOT incidental learners! This teaching time helps our students understand the point of the activity (and what NOT to do). BTW, I do look at what they write before they share them with their peers, because sometimes their idea of a “compliment” might not be perceived as one (example: Your hair is HUGE!). It’s a teachable moment, so stop and talk about how someone might feel or think if they received that comment.
Once the stockings are done, you can create a holiday bulletin board (A Friendship Fireplace? A Kindness Corner?) and hang the stockings on the board. If your kids are comfortable (and you do want to try and keep your therapy room a social “safe” zone emotionally), they can share their compliments directly with one another. It would be a fun activity to pair with a hot cocoa kindness party too (really, ANY day is a great excuse for a hot cocoa party). If my students are not as comfortable sharing directly, I have them write the name of the person they are complimenting on the back of the sentence strips and they leave them with me to stuff the stockings. I get to be the Speechy Santa!
Before the winter break, take the stockings down and send them home with the kids. You might be surprised at how often they read what their peers wrote about them. We all need to feel the positives now and again, especially our kids who struggle socially. Here’s to kindness and a gift that keeps on giving!
How do you encourage your students to demonstrate kindness to one another?
It’s that time of year, hearts are everywhere! What a perfect opportunity to talk about how what we say affects people’s feelings (their heart), both positively and negatively. For some of my students, there is a disconnect between what they say and what they mean. We work on using our social filters (thinking before we say something), understanding that our thoughts, actions and words make other people have different thoughts and feelings and learning to regulate our emotions in relation to others. This is difficult territory for many students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) or my impulsive students with ADHD. I love the book “How Full Is Your Bucket?” by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer to work on the concept of thinking of others. You can peek at a youtube read aloud of the book HERE .
I was in the dollar store the other day and saw this packet of “Wack-a-pack” hearts. They come in a four pack for a buck! Here is the cool thing about them. You open the pack and they are four flat balloons (small, mylar, and heart shaped, of course).
Here are the directions!
When you smack them against a hard surface, it activates a small packet inside the balloon which then inflates it, just like magic! But my lesson is on kindness, so instead of smacking the poor balloon, I use it as an illustration. When when we hear sincere, kind and encouraging words, it makes us feel good. We have what Michelle Garcia Winner describes as “having a good thought” about the person talking to us. These good feelings can be described as “making my heart grow”. Then we practice this with each other (it can get a little goofy, but that’s okay!). I secretly push the packet inside the heart and voila’, it puffs right up, making our hearts grow right before our eyes!!
Then we talk about how mean words can make our hearts break. We chat about what mean things someone might have said to us and how that made us feel. We also talk about how careful we need to be when we talk to others! Mean or careless words can make people have sad or mad thoughts and feelings about us when we don’t use our filters and think before we talk. I then take a pin and pop the heart. Ouch! A heart shaped Venn Diagram would be a great visual reinforcer of these concepts too or if you are feeling brave, bubble gum to “grow” and POP your hearts!
What social skills materials have YOU found at the dollar store? Share here!
**Want some other great dollar store ideas for speech? Check out my friend Kristen’s blog, Talkin with Twang, Linky HERE .
This time of the school year, we are up to our necks in IEP meetings, progress reports, data collections and lesson plans. We SLPs are powered by strong coffee in the morning and sugary treats stashed in desk drawers during the afternoon energy slump. The weeks will only go faster between now and the holidays! As someone who has been working in this field a long time (+20 years), I can forget how overwhelming this time of year can be for new grads and my fellow speechies who work from sun up to way past dark most days. This week is ending in a teacher work day and a Monday off for Columbus Day. Everyone is so looking forward to a little break to regroup!
Before we head out for the long weekend, I wanted to make an effort to let the people around me (in person and on email) know how much I appreciate them. I see their hard work, even if they think no one else does. Working with students with social language deficits has given me an appreciation of perspective and emotional reciprocity. Like I tell my students, I may be thinking about what a great job someone is doing, but if I don’t tell them, they won’t know! We tend to get bogged down in our own little worlds and forget that community and connection are just as important and energizing as coffee and chocolate (well, almost). It’s easy to point out what people are doing wrong and gripe about how unappreciated we feel. An attitude of gratitude is a little more work, but equally as contagious!
So here is my challenge to my fellow SLPs this week, talk to someone, send them an email or *gasp* a hand written note to let them know that you noticed all that they do and that you appreciate them. It’s such as simple gesture, but so powerful! I have a cork board at home that I pin notes from parents, students and co-workers to remind myself on the bad days that what I do makes a difference. It’s like sunshine to a flower, we flourish with an attitude of gratitude!
How do you encourage others?
As I was walking into one of the nine schools I visit, I noticed that blue stars had been painted along the sidewalk leading to the front door. As a fan of symmetry, I immediately began to notice that most (if not all) of the stars had smudges, uneven angles and wobbly lines. Nothing that would jump out at you as a mess, but less than perfect. Perfect. Hmm, has that become the standard? I let that sit with me a minute and it didn’t feel quite right.
Yes, there is merit, and even beauty, in precision and sameness. But does that make those that fall outside of that expectation less valuable? Nope. Education models are merging into business models today. Children are being viewed as “products” and parents as “consumers”-kind of a weird analogy, don’t you think? But in the striving to create the perfect “college ready”, all AP, best athlete, highest score on the SAT type of product, we are missing the bigger picture. What about empathy, compassion and kindness? Not exactly standardized score kinds of stuff. Our kids (and parents) are stressed out, angry, depressed and discouraged by trying to reach an unreachable standard for most.
So here’s to the wonky stars this school year, the kids who don’t quite fit in, the ones whose smiles are contagious, the ones who are happy with exactly who they are, regardless of where they fall on a bell curve. As an adult, I recognize that some of my personal strengths are not from the straight edges and perfect angles of trying to be the best, but from the smudges and the wobbles that came with my struggles. They were blessings in disguise.