Egg-cellent Social Language Ideas!

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picture by Eric Britz

We are in the midst of Spring break (yay) and Easter is right around the corner.  I have been seeing lots of posts about targeting articulation and language using plastic eggs, so I thought I would add my two cents on ways to work on social language!   The colored eggs are perfect to work on Zones of Regulation ® with my students too.  The red(pink), yellow, blue and green eggs align to each zone, but just as there are no wrong emotions, there are no wrong colors either, so if you have a few orange, teal or white eggs, no worries. Ask your students to come up with what emotions they think might align with these colors. Don’t be surprised at how creative and insightful they can be!

We also prep by reviewing books or videos as a refresher to what each zone might look like.   I made an interactive book, Calm Down, that I use with my younger elementary friends as part of this prep.  We can then brainstorm ways to calm ourselves down when we are in the red, yellow or even blue zones.   My students can dictate or write down these strategies on pieces of paper and put them into the corresponding colored eggs.

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You can put different strategies in any colored egg and have your students choose one, read the strategy and then match it to the zone.   For your students who are comfortable and accurate with these concepts, you can extend this into a “good egg/bad egg” game and have the kids decide if the strategy in the egg is a good solution/expected one or an unexpected strategy.  For example, if you are in a red zone (angry, furious, out of control) and the strategy says to go take a walk and calm down, that’s an expected solution. However, if the strategy says to scream in someone’s face until you feel better, that’s definitely an unexpected solution.  How fun would it be to put the “good eggs” in a basket, and the “bad eggs” in a little trashcan? You can further tease out the social language concepts of consequences and how other people might feel or think about us when we have unexpected reactions.

Have you seen those cute emoji eggs in the dollar stores?  Me too, but if you can’t find them, just make your own with a sharpie!  You can draw different mouths on both sides of the bottom of the shell, different eye and eyebrows on the top of the shell and rotate to get more choices per egg.  You can give your students the chance to draw their own egg emojis and have their peers guess which emotion they drew and identify the clues they used to make those guesses.  Hello non-verbals!  If you give them an emotion, ask your students to identify scenarios that might elicit that emotion (write or draw a picture) and stuff them in the eggs.

You can also fill the eggs with tiny objects or picture clues that all relate to one concept or idea.  For example, a tiny cake, a candle, a ribbon, a deflated balloon=birthday party! This is a fun way to work on gestalt thinking and help our kids connect the details to the big picture ideas.  The quicker or the less clues they need to make a smart guess, the more “points” they earn (it doesn’t have to be a tangible reinforcer, my kids are competitive enough to just want to beat the previous number of guesses)!  I don’t deduct points for a wrong guess, but we do stop and talk about what made them make that guess, and it gives me insight to where the breakdown might be.

Lastly, you can use the eggs and a basket to work on conversation skills.  Each person gets two of the same colored eggs (one gets blue, one gets green, etc..).  I write a CC (connecting comment) or a ? (ask a question) on all of the eggs indicating what the student needs to add, and I tape a picture of the topic on a basket.  We go around the table until all the eggs are in the basket and we have maintained the topic so that everyone has asked a related question and made a connecting comment.  I’ll play too and throw in an off topic comment or ask a totally unrelated question to see if my kids catch me!

I hope you found some egg-cellent ideas to work on social language concepts with your students this Spring!  What are some other ways you use plastic eggs?

Calm, there’s an app for that!

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We had our Best Practices GOSSLP conference for school based SLPs in Georgia last week. It is a conference I look forward to for many reasons, including meeting new friends like the great OTs who created Lucy the Lap Dog , catching up with old speechie friends that I don’t get to see very often and the great speakers the conference brings.   I went to hear Terri Rossman speak on Zones of Regulation, Sarah Ward talk about executive function skills and Julie Weatherly discuss special education law (that will keep you up late at night!!). These courses offered great table discussions during lunch among my fellow SLPs!

One of my takeaways was the seemingly increasing need of our students, particularly the students that I see with social language impairments, for self-regulation and calming strategies.  One of my colleagues in our county is establishing mindfulness classes for both the students and the staff at her middle school!  She has done a lot of training on her own and like me, sees an increase in the stress and anxiety levels in our students and our peers. I think it’s the teach to the mandated test culture, social media pressure and the message to “do more/be more” that we are inundated with in our world today. I feel it as an adult, do you?

So with this in mind, I stumbled across an app called Calm (it’s available on iPhone and Android).  While the app is free, there are paid options within the app that you can choose as well.  Some of the free features include a visual breathing circle, seven days of calm meditation program, soothing visuals and sounds of nature,  and sleep stories for bedtime (for adults and children) that are read in a calm voice.  The app is easy to navigate and has good explanations of each feature. It is packed full of great options that are useful in a variety of settings, to help provide an external cue for self calming.

I had the opportunity to try the app with one of my little after-school friends. He was in the “yellow zone” during our session and was a giggly, wiggly mess last week!  We have been working on whole body listening but those cues and visuals were not enough. So, I popped up the app on my phone, showed him the breathing circle and we did this together for a few minutes.  He did calm down enough to attend to our activities and regulate back to the green zone for a little while before we needed to get up and MOVE to get the wiggles out. There isn’t a one size fits all therapy tool that works all the time with all of my kids, but this app is a nice addition to my skill set.  I may just use it myself the next time I am stuck in two hours of Atlanta gridlock!

What other apps do you use to target calming, reducing anxiety or self-regulation skills? Share here!

It’s just behavior…

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I follow several Facebook speech language pathology groups and have seen over the past few weeks many threads of discussion debating how we discern social language impairments from “just” behavior in our students.  It’s a question I get often from my SLP peers during my social language trainings and from my CFs too.  I will say right up front that I don’t have a magic checklist or one determining factor that will help answer this question quickly and definitively (sorry).  But don’t give up hope just yet as there are tools we can use to help better understand this chicken vs. egg process!

When students are referred to the RTI process in my school system, often the reason is that something has happened (usually multiple somethings), making the student stand out from their peers.  The teacher is usually quite frustrated and concerned that their usual bag of tricks isn’t working with this particular student.  The first step is to collect information and observe the child not only in the classroom, but less structured environments such as recess, lunch and transition times during their day.  Often our kids with behavior issues AND social language impairments  hold it together better in highly structured environments and have more difficulty in free range settings, like the hallway or playground.

Talk to the teachers who see this child on a daily basis.  Next, ask questions about what the concerns are and what is happening both before and after the situations they are concerned about with the student.   It is basically doing a bit of ABC (antecedent,behavior, consequence) analysis, which is very helpful in teasing apart this issue.  We also ask our teachers and parents to fill out a social language checklist AND a behavior checklist as part of our RTI process.  It is not unusual for the parents to report a very different child at home.  There are far fewer structured social expectations at home than during the school day, and families naturally adjust their behaviors, supports and reinforcements to keep the peace in the home.

It’s always interesting to me to look at the information and see if the student is consistent in their behaviors or inconsistent.  If the student is cursing at only one teacher who constantly sets them off but not anyone else, then it may be a setting (or person) specific behavior.  Can they pick and choose where and when they are using the spoken and hidden rules of school?  That is another clue that it may be a behavior and not necessarily a social language impairment.  Our students with social language impairments are fairly consistent in not understanding or being able to apply social rules, especially the hidden ones!!

The occupational therapist (OT), counselor,teachers and parents need to all be part of solving this equation as well.  We need to tease out the underlying pieces that may also be contributing to what we are seeing in the classroom.  Is it difficulty with sensory or emotional regulation?  Is it significant anxiety? Is it a mood disorder or attention/impulse control weakness? Is the child getting any positive behavior rewards?  It’s easy to get caught in the “No David” cycle with tough kids, so we need to really try hard to catch them being good and reinforce the heck out of those moments!  Are we reinforcing negative behaviors by giving them attention? Both positive and negative attention from an adult can inadvertently feed the attention monster! Are the behaviors working to help the student escape a non-preferred activity?  We once had a student that was a runner. The administrators decided that having the student hang out with the principal and play on her ipad after he ran away was a good calming tool for him. Ummmmm, nope.  It was totally a POSITIVE reinforcer to chat with adults and play before heading back to class. Needless to say, it was not an effective deterrent.

Chaos in the classroom is not the friend of any student, but especially our students with social language impairments or emotional-behavioral challenges! Is there a clearly defined, positive reinforcement behavior system set up for the class and does the student understand it? What works for one doesn’t always work for all.  As I tell families that I work with, when we start to put a plan in place to address a behavior, that behavior often gets worse before it gets better.  Teachers and parents will throw up their hands and say it’s not working about two weeks in when this happens, but really the plan just needs a little more time. The kids are trying to figure out how far they can push things before the boundary or rule changes, so they up their game before understanding that it won’t change (it’s called an extinction burst in ABA terms).

Are there visual supports in the classroom for transition and work stations?  Less language and clear, consistent directives work for both social language impairments and behaviors.  Truly, this is best practice and works well with most kids.  Do the adults try to reason and talk to the student in the midst of a meltdown?  This often just makes our kids even more overwhelmed and upset, so wait until a calm moment after the event to talk it through.  As students get older, we need to help them integrate calming and regulating strategies from external sources (parents, teachers, environments) to internal strategies (deep breathing, taking a walk, journaling). Implementing The Incredible Five Point Scale and The Zones of Regulation curriculums in general education classrooms are genius tools to teach these life skills to all students (and it aligns with PBIS beautifully).

Ultimately, we need to remember that identifying the label isn’t really the goal of this process. Behavior and social language are often tightly intertwined. The goal is figuring out how we serve the student with the appropriate level of support to be successful academically AND emotionally in school (and in life). This can be in the special education setting and/or the general education setting. Many of my students who are served through an EBD classroom also have social language impairments and many of my students with social language impairments also have behaviors!  We don’t “fix” these students, we provide strategies and supports to help them figure out how to function in a social world more successfully.  This is not a quick process and in some circumstances, it is life long work. Lastly, it should NOT fall on just the SLP to be the only go to person in the building to figure out these friends or to provide services. It has to be a team approach to be successful and has to begin in the general education setting way before the student enters special education!

Share your thoughts here on how you discern behavior vs. social language impairment…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Tis the Season for Compliments!

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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?

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!

 

 

 

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?