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Sensory Play

Do you have a space for sensory play in your classroom? I am lucky enough to have a large sensory table to put sensory materials in. If you don't have a sensory table don't worry, before I had a table I kept my materials in shallow plastic bins.

My students love when I change over the materials in my sensory bin. I try to change the materials every 2-3 months depending on what is in the bin. Often times I might leave a base material in the bin i.e. sand and change the task. For example I might keep sand in the bin for a few weeks. One week I might have students identifying coins in the sand and the next week I might focus on scooping and pouring.

I leave out a variety of tools in the sensory table depending on the objective, but I am sure to change the objective or rotate the tools every week to keep the sensory bin exciting. I thought I could share some sensory bin ideas with you. If you have an item that you put into your sensory bin that is a hit in your classroom let me know by writing a note in the comments section.

.If I have a plan of what I am planning on putting in my sensory table I am more organized and more likely to switch up the tasks.
I created a yearly sheets to plan / keep track of sensory materials and tasks across the whole school year.
Click here to get the sensory table planner.

Let me know what you like to put in your sensory table.

Sensory Table - Base Materials 

When purchasing a base material for my sensory table I am looking to buy a material that can withstand being scooped and poured and jumbled around. I am looking for something that I can buy a large quantity of because I need enough to fill my large sensory table and I am looking to buy the materials at a reasonable price.

Filling your table for free is totally possible! I live in New England so I like to take advantage of the seasons- in the fall I fill the sensory table up with leaves, acorns, and pinecones. In the winter I scoop out some snow and bring it inside. Not only are these options free they align with the science curriculum at my school.

Other ways to fill up your sensory table for free included filling it with water for water play. Math manipulatives for sorting, patterning or building can also be added to a sensory table without a cost.

Scraps of paper in a sensory bin could be used for practicing folding, ripping, or cutting.

My advice is to get creative when looking for materials to fill your sensory bin with. My wedding invitations arrived in a huge box filled with biodegradable packing peanuts they were a huge hit in my sensory table, you never know what you might come across.

Not everything I put into my sensory table is free. Some of the materials I put in my table are from the dollar store!

Check the vase filler isle for smooth rocks, water beads, and fake grass.

Bubbles make a fun sensory material in the summer, large bottles can usually be found in the toy aisle of your local dollar store.

Don't forget to check out your local dollar store's food isle for dried beans, rice, and corn kernels.

In the gift section of the dollar store there is crinkle grass in many different colors and can fit into many tasks. I bought my grass in bulk after Easter for a great discount.

I even buy the shaving cream I use for sensory play at the dollar store.

Other examples of base materials for your sensory bin includes sand, and potting soil.

Now that the base material is decided you have to decide which task is required.

Sensory Table - Tasks / Tools

When students are playing in a sensory table the task might be just to give them sensory input so touching and playing with the materials is their only job.

If students gravitate towards the sensory table as a preferred activity I might create tasks for them to do at the sensory table in addition to playing with the materials.

I might ask students to scoop and pour using sand shovels and buckets.

I bought most of my shovels and buckets for scooping and pouring in the seasonal section of the dollar store in the summer.

Using funnels for scooping and pouring is also fun. I got my funnels from the dollar store. Check in the tool aisle.

I also use the sensory bin as an identification activity. I have placed numbers or letters in the sensory bin, students dig through the bin and identify letters or numbers as they find them. Sometimes I have students sort / match letters or numbers they find

I have had students look for coins in the sensory bin. Students identify the name and value in addition to sorting the coins they find.

My students love to use the strainers when they are looking for objects in the sand table. I bought a three pack of strainers at the dollar store (look in the kitchen area).

Sometimes I have my students work on fine motor skills at the sensory table. I have students spray with a plastic bottle I got at the dollar store. Tasks that involve the spray bottle include predicting what will happen when the sand gets wet, putting washable color into the water and predicting what will happen when the colors mix in snow.

Sometimes I put different materials into the bin for students to sort. Pictured below I placed a variety of insects into the bin. Students sorted the insects by color, others sorted the objects into objects that were insects and objects that were not insects.

Students love exploring objects in the sensory tables with magnifying glasses and tweezers.

Let me know what you put in your sensory bin by writing a comment below.

Read It and Roll It

Hi Everyone!

Every Sunday I have been linking up with The Bender Bunch for SPED-tacular Sunday Freebies. I love downloading resources but it is really special to have a weekly link up that it dedicated to free products for special education teachers.

Click here to go the the link up and see today's freebies.

Today on the link up I am featuring a product that I like to use for review: Roll It & Read It

Click here to download

I have used this product in the general education setting in addition to in the resource room, It is a fun way to review many different concepts.

This product is editable and features three differentiated versions. The concept of the game is the same, the different versions allow the teacher to increase the field.

For example, in the first version there is one editable text box in each column. The teacher could put 1-3 items in that column.

The version below was created to have 4 items in each column. 

The last version has the potential for seven items in each column. 

To play each student rolls a die, they read the entire column of the number they rolled. For example, if they roll a three they must read all of the items in the 3rd column. 

This is a great review game and something I keep on hand since it can be played quickly and without a lot of materials. 

In my classroom I keep a blank copies of the game printed out and laminated. I have my students write in the blank boxes with dry erase markers. My students love filling in the boxes and at the same time  they are practicing their spelling! Once all the boxes are filled in students challenge each other to a game.

Some items that I review with this game are:
  • sight words
  • phonics skills (CVC words, CVCe words)
  • letter identification
  • number identification 

 I created a Roll it and Read it sheet that focuses on reviewing letter names and sound identification exclusively for my blog followers.

Get it here

If you would like me to create another filled in Roll it and Read it sheet leave a comment below!

A Getting to Know you Game for Staff and Paraprofessionals

This year I am gaining a new special education teacher in my building, along with a few new paraprofessionals who were transferred from other buildings. I have found that participating in a few team building exercises have increased moral and helped us work as a cohesive unit.

This idea is inspired by Hope King's giant jenga review game. (click here to see Hope explain her giant jenga game).

To prepare this game you will need 19 popsicle sticks, 4 different colored markers and a cup.

Using the markers color the tip of 5 sticks pink, orange, blue and color the 4 remaining sticks green. 

Place the sticks color side down in the cup. Each person takes turns pulling a stick and answering a question. 

Pink sticks correlate to questions about personal life such as "share something fun you did this summer", orange sticks correlate to questions about favorite things such as "what is your favorite food?", blue sticks correlate to preference questions such as "would you rather have recess duty or lunch duty?" and green sticks relate to school year questions such as "what is one thing you are looking forward to this year?". 

Once a question is selected each person takes a turn answering the question. 

To download this game  for free click here!

What do you do to get to know your new staff members in the beginning of the year?

Fairy Tales : Beanstalk

Is anyone else teaching Extended School Year (ESY) or summer school? Last year I was on my honeymoon so I didn't teach but this year I am teaching.

I had been playing with the idea to do a fairy tale week for the past few years and this year I decided to go for it!

To decorate my classroom I built a beanstalk!

A few people requested that I describe how to build the beanstalk.

Materials I used:

  • 3 pool noodles (I got mine at the dollar store)
  • 3 paper plates
  • cotton stuffing (could use cotton balls)
  • brown paper
  • green paper
  • double sided tape
  • bin (can be any color of size)
First, I placed two of the pool noodles into an empty bin that I had ( I believe it is from the dollar store). I stuffed brown paper into the bin and draped it over the bin so it appeared that the beanstalk was growing from a mound of dirt. The brown paper held the pool noodles in place without a problem.

Next, I attached the third pools noodle to the other two noodles with double sided tape. I taped the noodle in a few places for extra support.

It didn't take a lot of tape and I haven't had a problem with it falling down. I cover up the double sided tape and the places where the noodles connected, I ripped long pieces of green paper and twisted to make vine shapes.

I used clear tape and double sided tape to attach the vines. You could put as many or as few as you want.

My beanstalk didn't quite reach the ceiling and I wanted to give the impression that it was taller than it was so I added a puffy cloud at the top. I took two white paper plates and attached cotton stuffing with glue, then I used double sided tape to secure the paper plates around the beanstalk.

Do you read fairy tales in your classroom?

I created this Fairy Tales, Folktales and Fables pack to provide teachers to posters that define traditional tales, and response sheets to respond after reader or listening to traditional tales. 
View my Fairy Tales, Folktales and Fables pack here and read the full description. 

Managing Paraprofessionals

I am one lucky special education teacher because I have a fantastic group of paraprofessionals who are dedicated to helping children!

Whether you call them teacher assistants, paraprofessionals, instructional aids, support staff, or paraeducators the people in your room are your most valuable resource.

I have been teaching special education for the last 5 years and over that time period I have worked with 18 paraprofessionals! I first started teaching immediately after I finished college and I wish I had been required to take a course about managing the other adults in my classroom because it is hard work, and it can really make or break the atmosphere in your room.

So after 5 years of teaching I have developed a system which I am sharing with you! Think of it as the college class on management that you never got to take.

To purchase A Special Education Teacher's Guide to Managing Paraprofessionals click here.

I will be focusing on 5 major sections:
1. Command Wall (sharing information)
2. Organizing Materials
3. Sharing Knowledge
4. Write Down the Expectations
5.  Getting to Know You

1. Command Wall
I have been in 4 different classrooms during my time as a special education teacher and in each classroom I created a "Command Wall" (yes- I made up that term).

 My Command Wall contains general information for the staff in my room including the school year calendar, monthly calendar, the recess / lunch duty schedule and information that is more specific to my classroom.

I put each of the sheets below in a page protector sleeve, when I want to write a note I use an expo marker and wipe the note clean when it is no longer needed. I like the page protectors because I can just replace the page protector once it gets old or stained instead of printing and laminating each sheet again.

I have a note sheet where I can leave a generic note for all staff members to see. Honestly, all of my paraprofessionals have lockers- so I am more likely to leave them a sticky note on their locker, but if I have a message for everyone I will write it on the note sheet.

On the upcoming events sheet I normally write school wide events such as a field trip, a testing date, a date and time for an assembly. It helps my paraprofessionals be aware of where a class might be, or how their schedule might change.

The daily changes sheet gets used when I ask one of my paraprofessionals to do something other then their normal schedule. I might ask a paraprofessional to service a student at a different time because of a special event. Daily changes almost always happen in my room when someone is absent. 

It is important for everyone in my room to know when someone is not in the building. When I find out a related service provider is absent I write their name on the who's out chart this way my paraprofessionals are not waiting for a related service provider with a child. Also if a classroom teacher is out who is the general education teacher for students on my caseload I do let my paraprofessionals know. Having a substitute can throw a student off and being aware of that ahead of time allows my staff to be proactive. 

 The Command Wall is my way to share information with my teacher assistants. I do try and catch my paras to let them know if a change affects them directly however, I am often times held up in meetings or with unexpected things and this system ensures that everyone is on the same page.

2. Organizing Materials
When you are setting up your classroom you should consider creating a space for your paraprofessionals to work with students and a place to hold their belongings. When I first started at my school I really didn't have a space for my para's personal belongs however, when I shared this problem with my school principal I was able to score these lockers for free!

My school's awesome administrative assistant was able to get these from the middle school. Your storage solution can be anything from crates for each person, to hooks, to cubbies but don't be afraid to ask for ideas and assistance with purchasing and installing storage solutions. The picture above is when we first got the lockers. My paraprofessionals love them and personalized the outside with sticky notes and magnets and the inside with pictures and locker decorations. Creating a space for my paraprofessionals to store their personal belongings in the room really created a better environment in my classroom.

My teacher assistants work with students at shared tables, I know some special education teachers who provide their paraprofessionals with desks or a shared desk however, this just doesn't work in a my small room.

In addition to providing a place for personal belongings you want to be sure to keep shared materials organized and within reach. My paraprofessionals often need to access school supplies such as scissors, pencils, and glue. In my current classroom I have school supplies in labeled drawers.

If you are short on space you could always hang your supplies in a shoe organizer. This picture was taken a few years ago, before I created cute labels with fonts and clip art.

If you are extremely lucky your paraprofessionals may be able to complete some clerical work for you. I want to use every free minute of their time so they can be productive and I can go home at the end of the day. In order to stay organized with this I keep a three drawer bin with the labels To Do, In Progress, and Finished. In the morning or during my planning period I put things that need to be copied, cut, or sorted into the To Do drawer. If my paraprofessionals finish the job they move it into the finished drawer with I check and empty each day. However, if the job was not completed it goes into the In Progress bin keeping the projects organized and off my tables.

I also keep an ongoing to do list on my desk. When I first come in each morning I write down everything that is on the top of my head to do and if a student is absent so something changes I am able to provide my teacher assistants with a list of meaningful tasks to accomplish.

3. Sharing Knowledge
It is so important to be on the same page as your paraprofessionals! I have found the best way to be on the same page is to have weekly meetings with the whole team. I know this can seem like an impossible task but ask your special education director, principal, or administrator if there is anyway your team could meet once a week as a group. My team meet every Friday afternoon - we found this time to be beneficial because most times students are doing fun activities where support is not needed. My school's administrative team has been very supportive of our meeting time, it hasn't been canceled in the last five years.

What do we talk about each week? Well I have an agenda items sheet on the Command Wall where I ask for questions or suggestions.

If there are not any suggestions I talk about upcoming school wide events, things I learned at professional development, or I use the opportunity to teach skills such as using technology. There are a list of suggestions included in the pack.

4. Write Down the Expectations
I have worked with paraprofessionals who have had no experience and those who were very seasoned. I have found it best to write down the expectations so every member of your team is on the same page. 

My school didn't have expectations written down so I created a teacher assistant handbook. Print the handbook and keep a copy near the Command Wall so the handbook can be referenced. Print out an extra handbook and keep it in your desk in case your get a new paraprofessional in the middle of the year (trust me it will happen). 

Sections I covered in the handbook are general information, responsibilities, special education teacher responsibilities, confidentiality, managing behaviors, instructional strategies.

5. Getting to Know You
I have found to become a strong team it is important to get to know the other members of the team. One thing that my team does is celebrate each other's birthdays. It is a nice tradition that has made us closer. 

We write our birthdays up on the Command Wall and on the Friday closest to your birthday we bring in your birthday treat of choice. The person who celebrated their birthday last brings in the treat and a card for the next birthday.

My administrators have been supportive and helpful with creating opportunities for team building with in my room. In the beginning of the year before the students come I like to spend some time meeting as a team. During this time I ask my paras how their summer was and spend some time sharing about what we are looking forward to in the new school year.

During this time I give my paraprofessionals a small gift to show my appreciation for all of the work they will do to help me throughout the year. Last year I made paraprofessional survival kits.

You can read my post about these survival kits and download the printable for FREE here

To purchase my Special Education Teacher's Guide to Managing Paraprofessionals click here

Do you have any tips for managing the adults in your room? Let me know in the comment section below.