Take a Seat, My Friend!

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The Buddy Bench has been in the news for a while, but if you missed it, here’s the gist.  A special bench (the “Buddy Bench”) is designated on the playground for kids to sit on if they don’t have someone to play with.  It is a signal to others that they should come and ask that child to play. I first heard about this idea on the news, when they picked up a story about a little boy named Christian (you can read his story HERE ) and his idea.  There is an entire website (www.buddybench.org) with ideas, a teaching video and a buddy blog with stories of the benches around the world.

My school installed one of these benches on our playground, but I heard one of the students say that he sat there, but no one asked him to play.  My heart hurt for him and I started thinking about why that may have happened.  Many of my friends with social language impairments struggle with the unstructured time at recess.  Too many hidden rules, social anxiety with initiating conversation or play, and the fast pace of social interaction outside are all hurdles that make it easier to wander around the periphery of the playground alone.   And just like any new concept in school, the kids have to be taught the rule of how to use the bench.

It made me so happy to walk down the hall a few weeks later and see that our counselor, Christina, had made a bulletin board (see pictures below) to do just that!  She had the kids make mini-posters of how to use the bench and even social scripts on what to say and do!  The information that I read about the bench also encourages schools to designate peer mentors (aka play pals) who will watch for kids on the bench and actively include them.  This is a strictly voluntary job, but oh how it warms my heart to see so many kids have empathy for others! In an increasingly academic focused environment, it is nice to see kindness and inclusion being fostered as well.

I love this teaching video and this one to share with a class, and prep the kids on how to use the Buddy Bench.  These videos really function as social teaching stories (and can be shared at home with families for carryover).  How great would these be in a public park to generalize a skill taught in school?  If you’ll excuse me, I think I need to call our local Parks and Recreation department and invite our Mayor to propose we do just that!

Does your school have Buddy Benches and if so how are they being introduced?

Mindfulness with a scoop of pink oatmeal.

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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!

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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!

 

 

 

Puppies, Prediction and Cars…

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I am a dog lover, so when puppy commercials come on TV, I get drawn in immediately. Subaru has a series of car commercials airing now that just suck me in. every. single. time.  They feature a family of Golden Retrievers (The Barkleys!) and their adventures in driving. There are no words in the commercials (duh, they are dogs) BUT they convey a message in each one very clearly. For my students with social language impairments, too much language muddies the processing waters, so these are perfect!  I have downloaded the series onto my social language Youtube channel playlists HERE .

Beyond the complete cuteness overload, they are fabulous tools to work on the social language concepts of predicting and inferencing for my students!  The eight commercials convey social scenarios (for example: the mom getting her hair done) and are great to use to identify emotions, prediction, point of view and humor, all in about thirty seconds. Don’t forget about expected and unexpected concepts too (a puppy in a car seat-whaaaat?). These would be great to use with Playposit (you can read my blog post on how to create your own therapy activity by embedding questions into video clips HERE ).

Do you use commercials to teach inferences or other social language concepts?  I love using Dorito’s Super Bowl ads  and kid’s movie previews!  Please share your favorites here!

Growth Mindset and Social Language

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Growth Mindset has been a big buzzword in the school community lately, so I started to read a little more about it to educate myself.  It is an idea originating from Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck. She proposes that in a fixed mindset, people believe their best qualities, such as intelligence, are fixed, and that talent is enough to bring success in life, regardless of effort. However, with a shift towards a growth mindset, it’s the evolving qualities of a love of learning and resilience that brings true success in life.  This sounds an awful lot like advice my mom gave me when I was growing up- work hard, love what you do and never stop learning.

As I continued to research, the google rabbit trail also landed me on related Youtube videos for Class Dojo.  Our school has been using this system for a few years and the kids LOVE earning dojo points for expected behaviors and bonus, it aligns with our PBIS goals.  A light went on in my head, like in the last few moments of the movie “The Sixth Sense” when all the puzzle pieces click together, and it became clear!  I may be simplifying it, but these concepts are all related to social language concepts.  Flexibility, resilience, emotional IQ, understanding hidden and spoken rules, working in groups, whole body listening,  it’s all there (even if it’s called something else).

A complementary piece of this Growth Mindset curriculum would be Sarah Ward and Kristen Jacobsen’s approach to working on executive function skills.  Their guided map of starting with a solution and working the steps backwards rather than handing students a checklist, allows the students to problem solve and learn the tools to become resilient learners in the classroom (and beyond)!   Zones of Regulation would also be a nice fit into this process as well, allowing our students to integrate self regulation and emotional resilience into their toolbox of life skills.  Can you imagine a classroom that embedded all of these strategies into the day?  Wow, I sure would want to learn in an environment like that!

What is your school using to support your student’s learning and positive behavior?

 

Recess Rules!!!

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I don’t know about you, but with two weeks of school left, we are all a bit squirrelly!  You can feel the end is near and it’s making everyone a bit crazy and cranky, kids and adults alike.  Recess is a saving grace and the promise of EXTRA recess will motivate even the most active kids to focus and work a little harder.  I sit in a LOT of IEP meetings throughout the year, and recess comes up often for my friends with social language issues.  Unstructured times, like recess, are often the wild west of hidden rules for these kiddos.  You will either see them walking the perimeter of the playground on their own or trying to join in, but in unexpected and unwelcome ways.

I found several videos on Youtube that explain the rules of recess, from the teacher and student point of view.  You can find them on my Youtube channel under social play modeling  or on my social videos Pinterest board.  Many schools have adopted PBIS  (positive behavior intervention and supports) to address the “rules of the schools”.  PBIS often addresses recess and playground behavior specifically, so how great would it be to make your own school video or school posters to talk about the rules of recess?  You could brainstorm with your students about the rules (both spoken and hidden rules) of recess and then have them teach their peers through a video.  Talk with your administration and media specialist about sharing the videos at school; we have morning announcements that show on TVs in all the classrooms.  Bonus:  it’s a great way to work on tone of voice, volume, orienting your body towards to camera, thinking with your eyes and more social concepts that your student may be working on, as you film them!  Don’t forget to get parent permission first!

To further this concept, what about making videos to show how to join into games, ask other kids to play or even how to play certain games, like rock, paper, scissors ? Remember, our kids are not incidental learners, so breaking down the steps to play may seem too basic, but it’s often where we need to start!  We also know there are students that could benefit from this visual support that don’t have IEPs , but still struggle socially at recess.  I bet you could get a LOT of buy in from your counselor, other special education teachers and therapists in your school for a great project!  Think about tapping into Donor’s Choose to apply for funds for a great video camera and editing software too.

How do you support your students at recess?  Share here!

Rolling Safari…

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One of my new and very creative SLPs in my county, Marjie, showed a Rolling Safari video in a group lesson last week.  Apart from being hilarious, they are the perfect videos to work on lots of social language concepts.  I have pinned a bunch of them to my Youtube channel as well as my Pinterest Social Video board, so please feel free to take a look and pin away!!

The Rolling Safari videos were actually developed for a short animation contest  but their social language application is so much fun!   The concept is to take animals that you would see on safari and enlarge their shapes until they look more like balloons in the Macy’s Day parade (or me after eating a burrito).  The students in the speech group I observed kept laughing at how odd the animals looked and moved in the videos.   This absurdity lends itself to a great way to work on talking about social language concepts including:

Expected/Unexpected

Prediction

Cause/Effect   (great for how and why questions for older students)

Compare/Contrast

Making a smart guess/inferences

What the other animals might be thinking, feeling or saying

Imagining/Wondering (what if…)

It might be fun to extend the concepts with a motor piece and have the students lay on top of a big therapy ball to move across a mat.  You could set up plastic safari animals on the mat to make their own Rolling Safari!  This movement can give language and experience to what the animals in the videos are feeling in their unexpected shape and size!  You can work in turn taking, imagination and self regulation skills into this activity for a fun way to spend the day on a rolling speech social language safari!

I’m so NOT a groupie.

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In working with students on the autism spectrum, one issue that seems to continue to pop up is working in groups successfully.  Collaborative learning is woven throughout the core from my itty bitties to high school.   I really like the tower of building blocks poster, from Michelle Garcia Winner’s Incredible Flexible You ,  that illustrates all the steps required to be part of a group.

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There are 14 skills that are necessary to do this effectively. Fourteen including joint attention, joint intention, imitation, attachment and emotional engagement, individual self regulation, language and cognition, central coherence, theory of mind, executive function, perspective taking (sharing space with others), self regulation in a group, cooperation and negotiation, collaborative play/sharing an imagination, and then, learning in a group.  It would be a great visual to share with parents and teachers to show the complexity of what we are asking them to do.  While it is innate in a neurotypical child, these skills often need more discreet teaching, breaking down the steps and lots of practice to help them figure out how to do all the things necessary to be part of a group successfully.

By the time the students are in middle school and beyond, it becomes more evident when there are social weaknesses that impair participation and cooperation in group work. Also, our kids who don’t have these group prerequisites can often appear to be non-cooperative and difficult behaviorally (refusal, interrupting, not being able to accept a differing opinion, no social filter) rather than their class recognizing that these “behaviors” are often part of their social language impairment.  This does not endear them to their peers or teachers. They are often left to fend for themselves as a result, and this may inadvertently reinforce these behaviors to escape the group work for our kids.  It’s a miserable cycle.

I have seen some great strategies that teachers, OTs and SLPs have used to encourage moving towards successful group work.  They include letting the student choose a part of the group work to complete (on their own or with a preferred peer), recording a piece of their research or presentation on an iphone to reduce anxiety with presentation to a class, having the group present to the teacher outside of the class setting (less people, less distraction), or working in a group via technology such as group me (a group text message app that allows a back and forth group discussion), edmodo or using a google doc.  Build up the time they participate slowly and reinforce the heck out of them!!  For my older students, introducing the concept of the “social fake/boring moments” as illustrated in this fantastic poster by Social Thinking (RT) is important. This poster for working in a group is a great resource too.  We need to acknowledge sometimes we need to work, think and talk about things we really don’t care about because it’s the expected behavior in a class discussion or project (and in life).  Here is a video link to a good example of a conversational social fake (and a bad example too)  as well as a great lesson plan from Cindy Meester on talking about the social fake HERE using the curriculum from Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking (RT) program. I also really like this TPT game, Phoney Baloney, from Just Speechie SLP to work on this skill too.

Working on the prerequisite pieces, such as self regulation, having a plan of what to do/say when you disagree, sticking to the topic, and the art of negotiation are all life long skills that will build success in group work, far beyond the school years. These are critical skills for success in the workplace and in relationships as well.  Remember, the skills aren’t going to be acquired in a few speech sessions, if that were true they would have picked them incidentally a long time ago from their peers! It’s not just the SLP that needs to work on these skills either, the best outcome results from a team approach (student, family, teachers, peers, OT, counselor, etc..) and a lot of structured opportunity.  I like to think about social language development as more of a crock pot than a microwave.

What strategies have you found work well in group work in the classroom for your students?