I saved this one for close to last because I knew it would take me the most time to cover. Sensory...touch, smell, see, hear, taste. Where do I even begin?
First of all, we already covered some great sensory items in the previous sections, but because that was not their main function, they weren't saved for sensory. But let's take a look at what they were anyway so you can see how sensory encompasses so much. I won't include pictures of the items we covered already, but I will list them again, as well as where they can be found so you can refer back to them if needed.
For auditory, there were the children's instruments in Centers. The service bell in Behavior Modification is another great tool. In Play, the felt food for the kitchen and the felt boards in Teaching Aids provide great feedback for kids with specific touch issues. Also the Jesus finger puppets in Behavior Modification, as those can be worn and carried around by the kids.
Also for touch were the sensory mats and faux fur saucer chairs in Furniture. For visual, the light box in Play is a great sensory item. So are the magnetic gears, which are visually pleasing to watch turn simultaneously and the I Spy bottle and LED hula hoop in Play as well.
For touch, the bristle blocks and Bunchems in Play are great resources. Some kids may prefer to just carry one bristle block around with them or keep it in the hands during the lesson to be continually fed by the effects touching it has on them.
Now onto the items I purchased specifically for sensory processing and our kiddos.
I bought these amazing lightbulbs that change color with a remote control! I simply screwed the bulb into an ordinary desk lamp and voila! I bought the desk lamp that clamps onto flat surfaces so that, as long as there is an electrical outlet nearby, I can move the lamp around the room. I have one little guy who loves to sit with that remote in his hand and switch between the sixteen different colors just staring in delight!
This is one of my favorite finds. These are dollar stores frames that I took the glass out of. I then glued items to the cardboard still in the frames and hung them on our wall. They can easily be reached and removed by the kids who want to touch them or take them down and sit with them while they listen to the lesson. Most of the items glued onto the cardboard inserts are also from the dollar store. I used bows from the gift wrap section, craft pom poms, sandpaper, foil, cork board, a piece of felt, and a microfiber dusting mitt that I cut to fit.
The other items I hung on the wall were some shaped silicone molds that I had from my lotion bar-making days. These are not removable as I had to actually nail them to the wall. I suppose you could attach a ring to the tops of them to hang on a nail, but I did not do that.
More removable dollar store finds I attached to the side of my bookshelf in the sensory center. I used thumbtacks for these so the kids would not poke themselves with the nails as they removed them. There are fuzzy key chains, dusters, and a stretchy back sponge. I also hung an LED light switch for one of my kids. He absolutely loves to turn lights off and on, but it triggers meltdown in other kids and can be a little distracting when you are trying to teach the lesson and the lights are flashing on and off. So I bought him his own light switch. He carries it around turning it off and on to his little heart's content!
NO sensory center is complete without bubbles! I have bubble guns, many bottles of bubble solution, and a battery-operated bubble machine.
For the sound sensitive kids, I have two pairs of these noise-cancelling headphones.
There are several things in this picture I want you to see. First are the sensory bottles. They are just plastic water bottles I soaked the labels off of. I filled them halfway with baby oil and the rest of the way with water. Then I put different items in each bottle for the kids to turn this way and that to watch move. I put water beads in one, plastic beads from the dollar store in one, buttons in one, and colorful paper clips in another. I bought a magnet wand for the one with the paper clips in it. The kids love to use the wand to make the magnets climb up and down the bottle. You can also use food coloring in these bottles. I just choose to leave them clear because the items I put in each are colorful enough. Be sure to super glue the lids on tight when complete and before little hands are on them!
You can also see in this picture my plastic puzzle maze cubes. The have dividers placed strategically in them with holes and tunnels. There is a small bead inside that you have to turn the cube this way and that to maneuver through the maze.
This is so random, but this post would have been a mile long had I taken separate pictures of everything sensory in this dollar store basket. Here are some of the sensory goodies inside:
Most of these items I got from the dollar store. You can literally stock your whole sensory center in your room for about $50 from the dollar store.
By the way, these items all make great teaching aids as well because they keep kids focused on your lesson if they are the type of kids who need to constantly be moving or doing something with their hands in order to pay attention.
Sensory sand and rice bins are great stored in those disposable food storage containers (dollar store). I fill them with colored sand or rice and hide random little items in them. I keep sand rakes and shovels, funnels, measuring spoons and cups, sand sifters, and chunky tweezers near the bins too. Great fine motor activity!
I have sensory (kinetic) sand that came with molds and also keep a container of Play-Doh (or Model Magic) and molds and shaping tools nearby. I got plastic trays for the Play-Doh to keep it from getting stuck all over our tables.
Who doesn't love these sequin pillows that change color when you rub them in different directions? Ours says peace one way and joy the other...two things I want in my classroom at all times! LOL!
My kids love these pin art toys. They mold to whatever you put inside of them...hands, faces, toy cars, you name it. The pins feel neat on their little hands too.
This sensory bag is great for just squishing! You only need some clear hair gel (or colored if you prefer), random items that will not poke a hole in the bag when squished, and a large Ziploc bag. You will also want to fold the top of the bag over and use clear packaging tape to tape it closed when you are done filling it. I have also seen people use clear contact paper cut into large squares and colored duct tape to go around the four edges to form bags. The contact paper is more durable than the plastic bags of course. We taped ours to the class window for the sun to shine through.
Whew! There you have it! I have no doubt there is more out there to be added to our sensory supplies, but this is what I have to start with as I explore more options. Hope it helps to get you off to a great start too!
Teaching our children about their Savior in a safe and engaging environment is what our objective is. This post covers the "safe" part.
Because every classroom has one Harry Houdini escape artist who can spot an opportunity from a mile away and beat even the most agile volunteer to the door, we have door locks. We have a swing latch on the front entrance door and, because we are in a portable and have a back door, we have a slide lock on that one, in addition to a deadbolt and locking doorknob! Typically, church policy frowns upon locked doors, especially when there are no windows in the doors, but in an exceptional needs classroom, safety first!
And just in case our little sprinter can make it to the door and get all three locks undone before one of us recognizes and catches him or her, we have baby gates in the doorways as well. Just one more obstacle to have to hurdle over before making a break for the great outdoors!
I downloaded this free First Aid for Seizures poster from the Epilepsy Foundation for kids who have seizures or a diagnosis of epilepsy.
Baby wipes and disinfecting wipes...one for dirty hands and faces and one for the surfaces responsible for those dirty hands and faces. I recommend unscented baby wipes for kids sensitive to strong smells since you will be using them on their hands and faces.
Super Sorb for liquid spills. And by liquid, I do mean vomit. This stuff makes clean-up of the vilest kind indubitably easier...still not fun, but easier nonetheless.
And there you have it! Not the most fun additions to your ESE classroom, but definitely necessary. Safety first!
Life skills...cooking, cleaning, making your bed, folding clothes, brushing teeth, tying shoes. Life skills are those skills we need to learn to "do" life, practically speaking. While life skills are typically taught at home, schools, churches, and extended friends are family members should chip in to help make the transition from dependence to independence for the child smoother.
We only have our kids for an hour and a half or so each week, and a chunk of that time is spent teaching them the Bible lesson. Therefore, what life skills we can teach them in our room, we have disguised as play and incorporated them into their free time.
Remember, we have a play kitchen and dishes and food. Learning to serve people and use manners and ask questions about others likes and dislikes is all a part of developing life skills. So we request certain "dishes" and drinks, comment that our food is cold and needs to be cooked longer, and encourage "cleaning" the dishes when free time is over.
I also put sticker pictures of a knife, fork, and spoon in the utensils tray so the kids can practice putting the dishes away where they go and sorting. They can even sort the utensils by color! The idea for this activity came from here.
I printed a girl's head, cut it out, and laminated it. Then I bought some metal no-slip hair clips for the kids to practice putting in the girl's hair. An alternative to this would have been a real doll with yarn hair, such as a Cabbage Patch Doll or maybe even one of those make-up doll heads with hair. This is a great fine motor exercise for their fingers as well! And I got the barrettes in different patterns and colors for sorting purposes. The idea for this activity came from here.
This is a corner shelf rack. They come with one or two tiers. I printed some clipart clothing pieces, cut them out, and laminated them. The kids can practice hanging the clothes with clothespins, organizing them by type or color if they choose. Again, those clothespins are great pinching exercises for fine motor development. The idea for this activity came from here.
I have no doubt I will be adding to the life skills activities in our classroom as I come across them. I love play with a purpose!
You can have the best lesson plan prepared with great visuals and hands-on activities that are engaging and multi-level to reach every child in your program, but if you are unprepared for the meltdown that happens during times of transition or ill-equipped for the child who cannot and will not stop walking around the room while the video is playing, your lesson will be mediocre at best when it comes to execution and, most importantly, the children learning the main point. Behavior management is a huge part to consider in any special needs classroom, even in one where the kids only converge once a week for an hour or so. Here are some tools we have in our classroom to help with behavior modification.
I LOVE this timer! It is the best thing ever for transitions. In our class, we allow the first 20 minutes to be free time. The kids haven't seen us or each other in a week, it's early in the morning, and it's the weekend! So we let them visit with each other and play for the first part of class so that, by the time the lesson starts, they are ready to sit down and learn...hopefully! There are always exceptions to this rule!
Anyway, this timer has a built in clock. You can set the timer for however many minutes you want to. When you press start, the green light comes on. You program at what point you want it to change yellow, maybe when there are five minutes left. At that time, it will chime and turn yellow, alerting the kids that it will soon be time to transition to the next activity. Again, you program the last warning, which is red. Ours is set to change when there is one minute left. That gives the kids a minute to stop what they are doing, return a toy to its place, and come to the table for the lesson. Again, at the one-minute mark, the timer chimes and changes to red. After that minute is up, a final chime alerts the kids that it is time to switch gears. In the case that they are heavily engaged in whatever activity they are doing when the timer chimes each time, we let them know verbally, "Hey guys, the timer just turned yellow. That means you have five minutes left before we clean up and do our lesson."
Nothing fancy here, just a standard service bell. We can use this for whatever we want. Maybe to get everyone's attention. Some days we use it for just one of the kids who is having some specific behavior issue. We pull them aside and let them know that we recognize that they are having a hard time sharing (or whatever the behavior is). We want to help them without embarrassing them. We tell them that we will ring the bell whenever we see an opportunity for them to make a wise choice and share with one of their friends.
FYI, this is a great sensory tool too. We have a little guy in our room who LOVES cause and effect. The idea of tapping this bell and it rewarding him with a happy little "ding" just excites him to no end! Of course we have to be careful that he doesn't get carried away or our noise-sensitive friends will not be so excited!
Ahhh, the "if/then" chart. This is an excellent reminder about what is expected of the kids before they earn what it is they are working towards. In our room, the last ten minutes of class is spent in a sensory gym next door, complete with ball pit! Needless to say, they are anxious as the time goes on to get there. About midway through the lesson, some start asking. I simply pull this down off the shelf and set it on the table where they can see it.
It is a laminated piece of cardstock folded in half. It has two pieces of Velcro to hold the if/then pieces. In a basket from Dollar Tree I have those pieces. I have a set of laminated and Velcro-clad cut out "if" cards showing pictures with words of all of the desired behaviors we want from them...sitting through the lesson, using nice hands, sharing, doing the craft, staying in their seat during the movie, etc... The "then" cards are what we know they anticipate most...snack, the sensory gym, playing a game, putting a puzzle together, more free time, treasure box, etc...
It's just a great visual reminder that makes it so no words have to be said or distractions to the class made as we work to complete our goal of teaching the lesson and they work towards earning something they desire.
These free token boards are wonderful! I have only four because not every child needs to be constantly rewarded with a token to reinforce positive behavior. Thank you Jesus! But for the ones that do, these are a great tool. I laminated them and put Velcro pieces for each token on the board. Then I cut out and laminated the token pieces and affixed them with Velcro to the bottom of each chart. As a token is earned, I pull it off the bottom of the chart and place it somewhere on the picture above.
I love the different themes to excite the different kids...superhero, farm, dinosaur, cars. And I am sure you can find more or even make your own.
Use a dry erase marker to write the child's name on the top of their chart at the start of the class. Write in the box what they are working towards...maybe game time one-on-one with a volunteer, being read a book, an extra treasure box goodie, two extra minutes in the sensory gym, a special sticker, etc... Each child is motivated by something different.
Then comes my favorite part. Watch them like a hawk for the behavior you desire from them and point it out, celebrate it, congratulate them, and reward them with a token each time. "Lacie, great job using kind words with your friends. I love how you used the word please when asking Toby if you could have a turn with the Play-Doh rolling pin." Be specific! If you want them to repeat the positive behavior, they have to know what it is.
Try to spread the tokens out over your class time so that they have not earned them all in the first twenty minutes of class and then have no motivator towards good behavior for the rest of the time.
These visuals are for our bathroom and more to reinforce good hygiene to keep from germs spreading and to ensure that no step is missed and a child comes walking out from the bathroom with their pants and underwear down around their ankles. It happens.
For our protection and the kids, our policy is that no adult volunteer can be in the bathroom simultaneously with a child. While we have some kids still in pull-ups in elementary Sunday school and so don't have to worry about their toileting needs (unless they soil themselves), some are working towards toileting independently. These visuals are a great reminder of each step to build their confidence and aid them in a way that retains their dignity. Most children, regardless of ability and developmental age level, do not desire to be seen undressed or helped to complete such a personal and vulnerable task as using the bathroom.
The visuals can be downloaded and printed from this site. Laminate them for durability!
Communication cards are a must for your non-verbal kids in the class. Many a meltdowns take place because a child cannot communicate his or her needs understandably. I printed these, laminated and cut them out, hole-punch them, and bound them with a key ring. They hang on a thumbtack on the wall where they can be easily accessed by anyone needing to use them.
There are cards for yes and no, to indicate a child feels sick or is hurting, to communicate that they are hungry or their need to use the bathroom, and more. The child can flip to the card they need to or the volunteer can flip through the cards, showing them to the child and watching for a reaction from them that tells them that that is what they are trying to communicate.
Communication cards can also be for teachers as a non-verbal way to communicate with a child. For example, if the movie is playing and you have a child who is humming or singing loud enough to distract the other kids, you can show him a picture of the "SShhhh" card with a picture of someone holding their index finger in front of their closed mouth. The other kids won't be distracted by this non-verbal gesture and the child won't receive negative or embarrassing attention for the behavior. Those cards can be found here.
Don't forget, you can make your own communication cards customizable to your classroom/student needs.
I know this visual schedule was in teaching aids, but it bears mentioning again as it is another great transitioning tool for behavior modification. When kids know what what to expect, they are less likely to erupt. They love routine! Again, here is the post with directions to make a visual schedule for your classroom. More schedule picture cards can be found here.
Sometimes, knowing how kids are feeling when they first enter the classroom can give you an edge over their behavior. Maybe they didn't get much sleep the night before or they have a cold or just got into a fight with a sibling before they came to class. Maybe they were overstimulated or their senses assaulted by some loud noise or strong smell. Knowing these things when they first enter your classroom can enable you to adjust your expectations of them and avoid potential meltdowns altogether.
I got the idea for these charts here. Then I made my own based on some Disney or cartoon characters I knew the kids liked. I simply Googled "Elsa scared" and a picture came up. I printed one for each possible emotion the kids might be experiencing. I laminated the charts and affixed a piece of Velcro and then cut out and laminated the emotion cards and attached Velcro to the backs of them as well. The line on the bottom of each chart is for the child's name.
Because everyone needs a little Jesus now and then! I love these finger puppets. I ordered five of them and put them in a Dollar Tree basket attached to the wall with self-adhesive hooks.
My laminated sign above the basket says, "Need A Little Jesus? If you need to remember that Jesus is with you, watching over you, and encouraging you to live your life to bring Him joy, then grab one of our Jesus finger puppets to wear as a visual reminder. Please be sure to return your Jesus to the basket before you leave the classroom so others can wear Him when they need to. 'Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.'
We can wear this finger puppet to show to kids struggling to make wise choices or ask them if they would like to wear it. Of course, we incorporate praying for them as well at that moment. Prayer is what needing a little Jesus is all about, after all.
This is simply a visual rules reminder. I got the idea from this site. They used Mr. Potato Head pieces, but I didn't have any so I just used clipart. It's always important to incorporate pictures with the words in an exceptional needs classroom for the non-readers.
I got the idea for this Inside Out emotions chart from this pin. At the top of the black foam board and in sticker letters, it says, "What Can I Do When I Feel..." Then next to happy, sad, worried, and angry, I posted options like pray, hug someone, put headphones on, talk about it, breathe, count to ten, etc... I wrote the options, as well as included clipart visuals of each. I used washi tape to separate the different emotions and options.
This is in our Jesus Calms the Storm center and just a great visual for handling emotions. We can walk a child over to the poster, help them figure out what emotion they are feeling, and then talk through some options to process that emotion in a healthy, safe manner.
What kid doesn't love a treasure box? Actually, we have a few who could care less about it, but then others who anticipate it for the whole hour they are in Sunday school! I found this gem at a flea market. It has batteries and, when you open it, it sings, "Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me!" I love it! Here is a great alternative to mine. It is full of gently used fast food toys, flea market and yard sale finds, Oriental Trading goodies, stickers, beads, and anything else I can find that fits in the box and gives them some options that they will work hard to earn.
Snacks as a behavior modification tool? Oh yes! Add hungry to any exceptional needs child and you have a whole new breed of monster! We keep our snacks in airtight cereal containers to keep them fresh and from creepy crawlies throughout the rest of the week. We have two. One is for our kids who have no allergies and the other is for our kids with allergies. It's important to keep the snacks separate like this to eliminate the risk of cross-contamination. I have each container clearly labeled.
We also have paper towels, napkins, small paper plates, and small Dixie cups on hand. There is also a water jug that we take to the kitchen and fill with ice and water before class. Be prepared! And don’t forget to appoint one of the kids to be your special helper for the week and pass out snacks, paper products, and/or drinks to their friends. Asking one of the kids to be a helper usually gives them a sense of purpose that motivates them to do a job well because of the expectations that are being set and it teaches them to serve others. Praise and encourage them while they are helping you!
We usually do snacks as we share prayer requests after our lesson, but there are times when we serve snack for the kids to munch on during the movie or lesson to keep them seated and engaged. Do what works!
Last but not least is this all-in-one behavior binder. It contains many of the behavior modification tools found previously in this post, but all in one handy dandy binder for any volunteer to grab and keep close to a particularly challenging child. It reduces the risk of them having to get up and walk around the room and away from the child to access a token board, communication cards, the if/then chart, or visual schedule.
Everything is laminated and Velcro'd. The individual chart pieces are in snack-sized Ziplocs and clearly labeled and taped inside the binder for easy access. There is the Today I Feel... board, an if/then chart, an emotions thermometer with options for diffusing, a visual of the rules, a small token board, and a visual schedule of the day's routine. There is also an I Need... visual for non-verbal cues.
All of the charts and cards are laminated and glued to a manilla file folder...front, insides, and back. The file folder is three-hole punched then and put into a 1/2" three-ring binder for durability. It's a good idea to have several of these on hand.
I made the majority of these inserts, but found the emotions thermometer and made it my own from this site. The Today I Feel... charts came from here. If you want any of these inserts that I made for our folders, please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you the PDF's FREE!
And that's it! Well-managed behavior leads to a well-managed classroom, which leads to children successful in learning about God's Word with one less obstacle to overcome.
They may not be as necessary as teaching aids or behavior modification tools, but they are just as important to sprucing up any special needs classroom.
Everyone likes to have their birthday recognized. Let's face it, it's one of the most important days in your history...the day God chose to bring you into this world. We have a cupcake for every month of the year and write the names and days of our kids' and volunteers' birthdays on this display. I found the idea for the cupcakes here. Be sure to laminate the cupcakes and use dry erase markers to write the names and dates on them so they can be changed when necessary.
These two posters came from this lovely website. They were freebies, but she has many more if you desire to purchase a whole set. They are very colorful. I printed them on cardstock and then bought Dollar Tree frames to hang them. Of course, if you are handy in Publisher, you can also make these for yourself.
This sign hangs on the back of our classroom door to welcome the students and their parents. The idea came from this pin on Pinterest. I used foam letter stickers for welcome and family. I edged the sign with bulletin board border.
I loved this! I got the idea from this pin, but changed their wording slightly to fit a Sunday school classroom. I laminated the mirrors, which I found free clipart to on Google search. After laminating them, I attached actual mirrors to their centers using foam mounting squares. Aren't they cute? I just wanted the kids to know how beautiful they are, regardless of their abilities or differences from other kids. I wrote in a Sharpie, “You are fearfully and wonderfully made” around the outside of the mirror before laminating them as well.
And there you have it. It's not much in light of all of the other necessities on my walls, but a few decorations sporadically placed just brighten things up a bit more...walls and dispositions!
Teaching aids. They are those tools we buy, make, dream up, and stay awake at night trying to come up with so as to help us teach our kids a lesson that they will "get," remember, and be able to apply to their lives. And since every child learns differently, you really need an arsenal of teaching aids to cover all the bases.
So let's start with the obvious...the TV and DVD/Blu-Ray/VHS player. The curriculum we use (The Gospel Project) actually has a video to go along with each lesson. It's only about 5 minutes in length usually, but it's partially animated and includes the big idea, the main Scripture, the Bible story, and always ties back to the fact that Jesus saved us from our sins...how and why. We usually watch it before we do any other part of our lesson. I turn a few of the lights off, let them sit in whatever chair they desire, and sometimes, if they are extra antsy, I give them their snack before the video to keep them sitting still and paying attention.
Also, if you have this handy dandy Apple adapter to connect your device to your television, you can show YouTubes you find that correlate with your lesson. There are some hidden gems of channels that creatively teach Bible stories, show cute skits to solidify character qualities, and even some great music videos made just for Scripture memory. There are way too many that I like and subscribe to to list here, but it's worth the spare time when you have it to do your own search and create your own favorites list of YouTubers to subscribe to. You can even set your YouTube up to notify you each time one of them posts a new video. I do that and then, when I see one I think will fit for an upcoming lesson or just one I think will benefit my kids at some time, I e-mail the link to myself and save it in a folder I specifically have set up for future lessons. Periodically, because I am old and forgetful, I go into that folder and remind myself what I have saved there!
You can also watch pawn shops, yard sales, online auctions, and flea markets for old DVD's/VHS tapes, and Blu-Rays to stock your library.
Object lessons are by far my favorite teaching aid. ANYTHING can be used as an object lesson. I have used a kitchen strainer to talk about filtering things out of our lives that are not of God. I have used hard-boiled eggs to teach about the Holy Spirit. A bookbag full of rocks helped teach how hard it is to run the race God has marked out for us when we are burdened by things of this world...worries and material things. Seriously, the possibilities are endless.
Maybe you are like me and not very creative at thinking up your own object lessons. That's ok because there is no need to re-invent the wheel! Pinterest has a ton of object lesson ideas and so does YouTube. Just search for the topic you are covering and object lesson and be amazed at the variations that will come up. For example, if I am teaching on obedience, I will search "obedience object lesson," or obey God object lesson."
I like options and so I actually purchased the e-book pictured above. It has hundreds of object lesson ideas for all sorts of topics, including holidays. Other books you may find helpful to add to your teaching aids library include Object Lessons: 100 Lessons from Everyday Life, 50 Great Object Lessons That Bring the Bible to Life, Object Lessons for a Year: 52 Talks for the Children's Sermon Time, and Everyday Object Lessons for Youth Groups. And there are more!
Seeing a lesson based on an object helps solidify the lesson in their minds. The object is tangible. They can touch it, smell it, wear it, taste it. And the kids remember them! I taught an object lesson to my youth kids years ago about not judging people by outward appearances. I made ugly cupcakes that were delicious and then beautifully iced and decorated cupcakes that had a cotton ball inside each of them. I let the kids choose a cupcake at snack time without them knowing it was all a part of my lesson. Hands down, they all chose the beautiful cupcakes. I wish I had a camera to capture their expressions when they bit into those cupcakes and pulled hairy cotton balls from their mouths. It was priceless! And it is a lesson they have not forgotten to this day. Those kids are all adults now and I still see a few of them from time to time. We get to reminiscing about youth group days and they always bring up the cupcakes!
Science experiments, similar to object lessons, are very memorable. I have set a $10 bill on fire without it burning up to demonstrate God's protection. I have put skewers through balloons without them popping to show what happens when you have the Holy Spirit living inside of you. Mentos in Diet Coke is a great way to show the effects of discipleship. Be creative and remember, Pinterest and YouTube are great resources for these!
Calm down. I am not talking about Harry Potter or Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. I am talking about honest to goodness fun and simple slight-of-hand or science-based magic tricks that demonstrate a gospel truth. There are lots of YouTubes and Pins out there for these and you will totally amaze the kids with them!
You don't have to be a ventriloquist to use a puppet. Just change your voice a little and the kids don't seem to care that the sound is coming out of your head and not the puppet's. Or pretend the puppet is shy and only whispers in your ear and then repeat her questions and comments so the kids can hear them. You can even let the kids hold and be the voice of the puppet and have them retell the day's story to you or answer questions about the lesson.
I got this dry erase cube in the school supplies section of Dollar Tree. I used a Sharpie to write what, when, why, where, who, and how on each side. After our lesson, each child takes a turn tossing the cube across the table or the floor. Whatever word lands face up, I ask them a question about our Bible story lesson from the day that starts with that word. It's a great tool to use so you know they understood the lesson. If they answer incorrectly, it's the perfect time to give them the correct answer.
I included my visual schedule here because it can be used as a teaching aid as well as a behavior management tool, helping to avoid meltdowns because a child was unsure of the expectations or what was coming next. Check out this post for directions. And if you don't want to make your own schedule cards, here is a great resource to download 72 of them for only $4!
I made my cards in Word, but you can make them in Publisher or even on a picture card making site like Mrs. Riley. All you need is a paper or cardstock, a printer, scissors, a laminator, a foam board from the Dollar Tree, and Velcro...lots of Velcro!
A flannel board is a must. I have multiple board backgrounds and I just switch them out on the music stand depending on the day's lesson (inside a building, outside, on the water, etc...).
If you want to be really crafty and creative, make your own flannel board. They are not hard! There are even websites that have full flannel board scenes and Biblical characters you can print, cut out, laminate, and put Velcro on the back of. This one isn't free, but they are very inexpensive and you can even have the seller cut the pieces out for you!
To make your own, all you need is a piece of foam board or, if you need bigger, a heavy duty appliance box that you can cut a piece from to fit your needs. You will also need a piece of felt in your desired color large enough to cover the entire front of your board and even wrap around about 3 inches of the back of your board. You can get this at WalMart or any fabric store. You will need scissors and a hot glue gun and glue sticks as well. Some simple directions can be found here.
I let the kids play with the felt boards at their leisure during free time, but if I am using them for a lesson, I prepare beforehand. I find all of the pieces to go with the day's lesson and the background I want to use and have them ready. Then I simply put each story piece on as we talk about the Bible story for that lesson. I have even given each of the kids a piece or two and then prompted them when it was their turn to put the piece on the board for me. This keeps them paying attention because they are waiting anxiously to hear their turn to add a piece to the scene.
These are random game helps I keep in my supply closet for games I make up to reinforce the lesson. Games are great becase they get the kids moving and a little competition never hurt anyone. Most of the items you see here I got at the Dollar Tree:
This is our Scripture Memory area. I found some cute graphics to print, laminate, and hang and also hung Psalm 119:11 on the wall. Our current memory verse is taped to the board and stays there for the entire unit. Every week, the kids can either say it independently or repeat it piece by piece after me or one of the volunteers.
Scripture memory and ESE kids? YES! They are capable! Even our non-verbal kids can look us in the eyes while we hold their hands and say the verse to them week after week. We are assured in Isaiah 55:11 that God's Word does not return void. Their spirits are being fed with the Word of God when we speak it to them out loud. I have laminated reward charts for each of them. Whether we said the verse to them, they repeated it after us, or they said it independently, they get a star in one of their squares...and we celebrate...loudly and boisterously! It is exciting to read/recite God's Word!
I send the new verse printed on cardstock home with each child at the beginning of the unit so parents can hang it somewhere visible and practice it with them as well.
As you can see by the verse displayed, I type the verse out and add pictures whenever possible to the words for those kids who are not yet reading. This takes some thought and time searching Google images, but I think it is well worth the time and effort to help each of them learn their verse in the best way they know how.
Lastly, I have story sticks. Story sticks are basically complete Bible stories broken down into parts with pictures on cards. The cards are then printed on cardstock, cut out, laminated, and Velcro's to a paint stirring stick (free at most home improvement or paint supplies stores). The size of the paint stirrer depends on the size of your story! Two great places for the cards can be found here and here. For more information on making the sticks, visit this site. You can use these the way you do the flannel boards when you tell the Bible story or let the kids use them to practice re-telling them. I do recommend numbering the backs of the cards for each story in order so the kids can easily take them off and put them back on themselves if they stumble with remembering the story's sequence.
I have the Ten Commandments, the days of creation, Adam and Eve, Joshua and Caleb, Noah's ark, Moses, Joseph, and Jesus' birth. I have more I would like to make at some point, but these are ones that I found the stories to already on sequencing cards by searching Pinterest and so these were the easiest to make. The other stories I will have to find the individual pictures, make the cards, and add the text to them.
As you can see, I store the sticks in a clear plastic garbage pail I picked up from WalMart with a label I made in Word taped to the front. Nothing fancy!
And that's it! Though I am sure that those are not really the only teaching aids out there. These are just the ones I currently use. I add and implement more as I find or learn about them. Keeps it fresh and exciting for the kids that way too!
Play is important. It doesn't matter who you are or how old you are. Everyone likes to play and that looks different for everyone. Even though the kids are only in our room for about an hour and a half each week for just one day, it is important for them to spend a small portion of their time there just playing. It helps them learn how to share, develops their imagination, gets out their energy before lesson time, and is just plain fun. We try to have things in our room though that are both fun and functional/educational, meaning they serve some sort of purpose, hidden to the kids of course or they would never consider it fun! ;)
Dress-up clothes...one of history's oldest ways to have fun. Whether you put on your mom's high heels or tried on dad's suit jacket and tie, dressing up and playing make-believe that you were someone else for a time was fun and stoked your imagination. Our dress-up bin is in our storytime center so that, if we re-enact a Bible story, the kids can dress up as the characters to make it come to life for them. We have a knight's costume, a wig, some masks and glasses, a crown, and even a robe. Watch local thrift stores or discount stores after Halloween for these gems. Yard sales are great places to find often times once-worn costumes as well.
I wanted a light table in our room from the very beginning! They feed the senses and more than one child can sit around the table and play at the same time, creating with shapes and watching them come to life when the lights are turned on. But seriously, have you seen the prices on light tables? No matter where I looked, they were well out of our budget. Enter Pinterest! While there were many tutorials, I found the easiest one here. All you need is a clear under-the-bed storage box (Ikea's are the best), white tissue paper, clear tape, and lights. This post suggested I use holiday lights and run the cord via an extension cord if need be out from under the box lid or a previously drilled hole in the corner of the box. I went even simpler. I bought these lights, five of them to be exact, and used double-sided tape to stick them to the inside bottom of my box before putting the lid in place. No cords. And the lights are easy enough to pull up when the batteries need to be changed. You could probably use battery-operating Christmas strand lights as well, but then you would have to wind the strands evenly around the inside of the box and tack them in place to make sure the light is evenly distributed.
Once your box is assembled, you need the pieces for on top. I found these great colorful clear geometric shapes. There are also alphabet letters you can purchase as well.
This file folder storage pocket holds all of my file folder games. File folder games are file folders that, when opened contain an entire game board or activity inside. On the outside back, in a pocket made from an envelope, you store the game pieces. Once assembled, these make for easy transportable fun. Some of the games or activities are for one person and others are for two or more.
There are folder games for Noah's Ark, matching and puzzles, creation and the cross, the Beatitudes, and I am sure you could find more. They are fun and easy games that help solidify facts and characters from the Bible.
One tip with file folder games. Once made, either cover them in clear contact paper or have them laminated for durability.
The play kitchen. Another one of those toys that has stood the test of time. Love this! And I have boys who love playing in this kitchen as much as some of the girls do. A friend donated her daughter's kitchen to us, but you can usually find them at any children's consignment shop or garage sale. I bought the colorful plastic cups, plates, bowls, and utensils. While I originally bought a pack of plastic pretend food for our kitchen, I added to it with some softer, easier-to-clean, and way too cute felt food. If you have Facebook, you can message a sweet and crafty gal named Madeline Holland who lives in Peoria, AZ and she can hook you up with her handmade felt goodies. Here is a peek at her most recent price sheet so you have an idea of what she charges. Very reasonable for the quality.
These peg boards with colorful pegs are great for making a picture in kids' imaginations come to life without paper and crayons. Those little pegs are great for working those fine motor skills muscles too!
What is playtime without blocks? We provide a variety. We have wooden blocks, Legos (check yard sales for batches or moms who are tired of stepping on them for donations), and bristle blocks. I recently saw these ones called Bunchems that are round spiky colorful balls you can stick together to make shapes. Keeping a watchful eye out for those as well.
Plastic or wooden tangram pieces are fun with printed puzzles to match the colorful shape blocks too. The kids can use the pre-printed puzzle ideas or create their own patterns with the blocks. Many sites offer free tangram pattern printables to download and print for your use. Dig deep enough and you'll even find some Christian-themed ones. As with the file folder games, laminate these for durability.
This I Spy game was inspired by this Pin. I used an empty glass Voss water bottle, soaked the label off, and filled it with birdseed and tiny objects, like the kind you might find in bubble gum machines. We actually have a vendor who sells these 10 for $1 twice a month at our local flea market. That's where and when I stock up. I took a picture of each item before putting it in the bottle and then added them to a Word document I printed in color and laminated.
We have a few Magna Doodle boards for the kids to draw on. We actually have one little girl who loves to play doctor and she uses these as her x-ray machines. Seriously. She pretends you have a broken hand or foot, places it on the board, and then draws around it with the pen to make the x-ray. She adds lines to show breaks or fractures! Imagination crazy!
These magnetic gears are very cool. They interlock and then all rotate in different directions when the one with the handle is turned. I currently have these on the freezer in our room, but if I did not have the freezer would have a designated magnet board just for them.
These magnetic faces are cool too. They come in many different skin tones and with different shaped eyes, noses, mouths, glasses, hair, facial hair, etc... You can make dozens of different combinations. It promotes acceptance of all of God's children and is a great social skill builder with the different facial expressions that can be made - angry, happy, sad, excited, etc...
I found this wooden castle on a marketplace site, gently used and with a few of the people still intact. It is the Melissa & Doug castle. I bought a tube of knights and dragons to go with it. For the boys, it is the equivalency of the play kitchen and they love it. And we encourage them to re-enact some of our Bible stories that involve kingdoms and towers, and fortress walls.
This finger puppet theater is in place of a real puppet theater I would love to have in our room, but lack the space for. I got these great Bible character finger puppets to go along with it. Again, great for re-telling our Bible stories.
I bought these aluminum pans at the Dollar Tree. Using craft foam shapes and self-adhesive magnets, I made magnet boards for the kids. The foam shapes come in every style, even animal shapes. I superglued a soda can tab to the backs so they could hang on the wall, but they can easily be taken down for the kids to play with them in their laps. One of them I made using a # from washi tape and then five foam footballs and five foam soccer balls to make the game pieces to tic tac toe. I got the idea for these cookie sheet magnetic boards here.
Ahhh, the pop-up tent. These never grow old with the kids. Some play pretend in them. Some seek to block out sensory overload inside them. When not in use, we store them between the wall and the supply cabinet because they fold completely flat.
This LED hula hoop is fun for the senses and for the wiggle bottoms we have in our room who need to be constantly moving.
I got this idea from a Pin on Pinterest as well. It is a sheet of vinyl siding cut to 6 feet. I used a few cans of black outdoor spray paint to paint both sides. Then I put a strip of road tape down the center of each "lane" and covered that with clear packaging tape for durability. Because it is vinyl, the edges are smooth and not sharp so no risk of a child cutting themselves. I bought some generic Matchbox-style cars from Dollar Tree and a bin to keep them in. I even got a few of those friction cars that wind up when you pull them back first and then take off when you let them go. The kids love racing the cars side-by-side on the track. They lay it flat on the floor or sometimes use a chair or one of the tables to prop it up on to make a ramp.
Last but not least, we have our quiet or busy bags. What are they? Quiet or busy bags are Ziploc bags or even pencil bags that have any variety of objects in them to keep little hands busy and to themselves and little bottoms in chairs when you need them to sit still. It could simply be a bag of yarn and straws cut to various lengths to thread. We have one that is a paper plate with hole punched around the edges and shoelaces to lace around the plate. We have a bag of popsicle sticks and plastic Dollar Tree farm animals so a pen could be built to house the animals. Silly straws and washers and beads with holes big enough to thread onto them, craft pom poms and Dixie cups, a magnet wand and colorful paper clips...seriously, the ideas for quiet or busy bags are only as limited as your imagination, but there are some excellent pins on Pinterest that can help you out if you are drawing a blank. Try this one, this one, this one, this one, this one, or even this one.
Once I assembled all of the bags, I labeled what was inside of each with a black Sharpie on the outside of the bags. Then I bought a collapsible cloth bin from Dollar Tree and put them all inside of it for storage.
And there you have it! That is a pretty comprehensive list of what we have in our ESE ministry classroom to play with.
While I have seen many variations of furniture in ESE classrooms, when it comes to tables and chairs, we just have the basics. Why? Because unlike a school classroom where the kids are learning for up to six hours a day, we only have them for about an hour and a half. Our kids' ages also range from 4 to 11 and so purchasing those smaller, toddler-sized tables and chairs is not relevant for us. We simply have the sturdy plastic white tables that can be arranged any way we desire and can even be folded down easily and put away when we need more floor space for an activity, and some black folding chairs. The chairs are sturdy, but their seats and backs do have some give to them, which is great for the "bouncers" in our room. I like to arrange the tables so that kids and volunteers can sit on either side. Sometimes we add a third table and make a "U" where our teachers can stand in the middle and be seen by everyone during the lesson.
I did find these great sensory mats at Oriental Trading that we purchased for kids to place on the chairs to sit on if they need the extra sensory input to stay still. There are other fidget accessories to keep kids still during our lesson that we have in our sensory center and I will talk about those in the sensory post later.
One other way to modify a few of our chairs is with exercise resistance bands. We tie these around the legs of a chair and the kids can put their feet on the band and bounce their legs up and down. Great for the wiggle worms.
Over in Noah's Nook, we have several seating options. Here's where I have to be honest and admit that I have no idea where to purchase these. They were donated to our room in the beginning. The square foot stool type seat is hard and has no give, very solid and secure. The curvy one has a slight bounce to it yet is contoured to fit nicely to any child's bottom.
The bookshelf I purchased from a garage sale, but Amazon carries it as well. I like it because it arranges the books so that multiple can be seen at once. The books sit in these little colorful hammocks and they make it easy for little hands to retrieve and return the books.
In the Jesus Calms the Storm center are my faux fur saucer chairs. I love these! And we have one little girl in particular who goes to these every time she enters our room. She sits in them for the movie, the lesson, and during snack time. She pets the fur on them and rolls the hairs of the chair in between her thumb and forefinger and you can tell that, for her, it's just bliss!
This brings me to my favorite seating in our room...the bungee chairs. Just the name is fun! Who doesn't like the bungee and bouncing? I have kids who sit in these facing forward and they just bounce up and down with their bottom during the lesson. Then I have a few who sit facing the back of the chair, putting their feet through two of the larger holes, and they use their feet to bounce up and down like crazy! It's as fun to watch as it is to sit in these chairs.
Last but not least in the way of furniture is my supplies cabinet...if you lack a supplies closet in your room that is. I try to be as prepared for a lesson beforehand as possible, but there are times when I discover a missing craft supply or need extra paper or a stapler that works. I keep all of these things and so much more in my supply closet. Inside you will find:
There you have it! Everything you need and a few things you may want to furnish your ESE ministry room with!
I started this series last week. It will have many parts to it in hopes to pull together everything I have learned about setting up an ESE classroom for our children's ministry at church. Last week was an overview. This week is about centers.
I love centers. I think every classroom needs them. They break up the monotony of the room and provide different areas for different activities as well as different kids. Obviously, being at church, I wanted my centers to be Bible themed. Here is what I came up with. Mind you, these are just my centers. In a future post, I will outline everything in those centers in greater detail.
Storytime with Sarah is our center where the kids can re-create or retell our Bible story from the day with our felt boards, story sticks, dress-up clothes, blocks (for building tabernacles and cities), and our light table. It is also where our memory verse is kept visible, as well as the individual reward charts for the kids learning those verses. Our day's visual schedule is on this wall too since it is the first thing the kids see when they enter our classroom. I got the star cutouts for the wall here. Storytime with Sarah actually shares the wall with our next center.
Music with Martha & Mary is our music station. As you can see, because it shares a wall with Storytime with Sarah, the shelf hosts more felt boards and pieces, as well as provides a place for our dress-up clothes to be stored. But mostly, this is where we keep our CD player and a huge assortment of CD's (everything from previous year's VBS music to Scripture songs to good old-fashioned praise and worship). I printed out a picture of Psalm 105:2 and even put a bin of children's instruments for the kids to use to play their own music. I got those cute music note cutouts here.
Noah's Nook is a place for the kids to go and sit and look at books, all Bible story related. The rainbow is simply colored tablecloths from Dollar Tree cut into one-foot lengths and glued together. Glue did not like the material of the tablecloths so we had to use clear packaging tape on the seams on the reverse side as well. I have a table with a castle and a bucket of knights and dragons nearby so they can make their own stories. I also have a cute finger puppet theater and bin of Bible finger puppets here as well.
And what about those clouds? They are looking a little worse for wear after a year now, but considering they are in front of the air conditioner vent blowing on them constantly, they have withstood the test of time nonetheless. I found the tutorial here. It's basically paper lanterns with polyfill hot glued around the outside. Before the polyfill goes on though, thread clear glass crystal beads through fishing line and tie them to the shaping wire inside the lantern. Make sure the beads hang at different lengths to give the appearance of raindrops. You can use different sized paper lanterns for different sized clouds too.
Daniel's Drive-In is where our video time happens. I also scored a great big lot of Veggie Tales movies on eBay to add to our movie library! The idea for the lion's head came from this Pin. As with all of my large paper decorations, I use sheets of poster paper cut from rolls at our local teacher supply store.
Jesus Calms the Storm is a place with some soft fuzzy chairs for kids who need to just go and sit and diffuse. It has an Inside Out inspired feelings board to help them identify what they are feeling, why they are feeling that way, and how to handle those feelings in a positive way. I bought poster boards in various shades of blue and just cut wave shapes from them. Using brown and white poster board and a small dowel rod, I made a ship. With gray and silver poster boards, I made some clouds and lightning. The decorations were inspired by this Pin. John 14:27 is on this wall as well.
Caleb's Craft Crossing is where we keep our craft supplies, as well as a table for crafting if the kids would like. I got those cute red and blue bins for glue, crayons, markers, and pencils at Dollar Tree. I am a bit OCD and so I label absolutely everything, even the obvious. I figure it doesn't hurt to have those printed words associated with objects everywhere as some of our kids are not reading yet and so they will learn to match the written words with what they are seeing. Some of the labels I simply make in Word, print out, and tape in place. Others I actually use my labeler for. I'm in love with my labeler!
Again, a plastic tablecloth from Dollar Tree to add color to the table and protect it from the markers and glue. The Sterilite 3-drawer bin on wheels houses craft supplies and stickers, paper, and coloring books.
The giant grapes on the wall were inspired by this Pin. It is basically green cardstock leaves, a twisted length of brown packaging paper, and purple paper plates from Dollar Tree.
Prayer is so important and, the earlier kids learn how to pray, the better. Paul's Prayer Place is all about prayer. The idea for the center came from some coloring sheets about Paul and Silas in prison. We have a prayer request bucket, which is really just a recycled large snack container. I keep a Dollar Tree basket of scraps of construction paper and a pen nearby. We discuss prayer requests before we pray and I write the requests on the slips of paper and put them in our container.
Every month, we take our prayer requests out, figure out which ones God has already answered, and then roll them up and put them into our toilet paper tube answered prayers cross inspired by this site.
I also have a Lego prayer board for the kids who are more tactile and like to "feel." They can press a Lego piece into the cross for each prayer requests they give me. I keep another of those Dollar Tree bins filled with different colored Lego bricks nearby for this. The idea came from this post.
I also created a poster outlining the A.C.T.S. prayer for the kids (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication). I even assigned a different colored Lego brick to each piece of the prayer so the kids can use the Lego cross to help them to remember to pray every aspect of the A.C.T.S. prayer.
Philippians 4:6 is printed out on our prayer wall too!
Solomon's Sensory Center is all about those sensory-seekers, be they for touch, hearing, or sight. I will have a whole blog post on sensory items in the classroom since this is such a biggie. Suffice it to say, it gets its own dedicated center.
Peter's Play Patch is the last of our centers. The idea for Peter's fishing boat was inspired by this Pin. I will detail what exactly is in Peter's Play Patch in a future post on toys, but I will tell you that our toys have to serve some greater purpose to be in the classroom. They are fun, but they have to teach a life skill or work on fine motor skills or social skills. And yes, that is a large freezer you see in the picture. We currently share a part of our classroom with our women's resource center and so we have a fridge and freezer in our room. But as you can see, I just incorporated them into our classroom and gave them their own purpose and function.
And there you have it! That's post #2 in this series and it's all about centers. Be creative and come up with ideas of your own or feel free to use mine. We're all in this together and I am more than happy to share.
In 6 days I will officially be at my job for one year. And I have the best job, next to being a mom that is. I spend every Sunday morning teaching ESE kids all about Jesus, how much He loves them, what He did for them, and how they can glorify Him with their lives. Love, love, love my job. The other six days of my week are brainstorming ways to do it better, learning behavior management techniques for in a classroom setting, and lesson planning that uses all of the different learning styles...because if there is one thing I know for certain it is that, if you have met one special needs child, you have met one special needs child. They are ALL different. They learn differently and should each be taught in the way that they will learn the information best.
It has been a long, but exciting and ever-changing year in our church's new ministry. Before this year, they had no designated children's church for ESE. So there have been lots of learning curves, groundbreaking, start-from-scratch, going-back-to-the-drawing-board moments. Especially at our first ever ESE VBS this past summer. But we have survived. And we have grown. We consistently have 4-5 kids now every Sunday and more in preschool on the way up.
The best compliment came when a dad brought his daughter a few weeks back and said, "We were going to stay home this morning because our oldest daughter is sick, but this one insisted on coming and not missing church." Praise God! Of course that came on the heels of another parent telling us we had not seen her child in a while because she had been traumatized when another child pulled her hair a few weeks prior. Oh but God is good. He balances our failures with His blessings and reminds us weekly that us being there and teaching those kids has nothing to do with us at all. It's all Him. And I say us because not one lesson I plan or craft I prepare would ever amount to a hill of beans were it not for the amazing volunteers I work with. Some of them come every single week to love on our ESE kids just because that is their heart.
Anyway, in my 365 days of building an ESE classroom from the ground up, I have learned a ton. And I won't pretend to take any of the credit. I believe Pinterest is God-ordained like manna from heaven! I am beyond thankful for the artsy craftsy, creative, and imaginative pinners I follow who make me look like I am not just faking it week in and week out. All along the way though, I promised myself that, once my classroom felt complete (though I am sure it will evolve over time), I would do a series of posts, all on one blog to detail everything we did to make it a safe and fun learning environment for our kids. My prayer is that it may save someone else in the position I was in a year ago the countless hours of web-browsing, Internet-searching, eighteen-new-window-tabs-open-at-a-time pinning madness that I endured! Not that I didn't thoroughly enjoy much of the research, but for the sake of time, it would have been nice to find it one-stop-shop style.
So this is my first post about my classroom and it's more really of a teaser. I am simply going to give you the overall view, the pictures of my room from every angle. In my next few posts I will break down the ideas and reasons behind such things as the furniture, the centers, the toys and games, the behavior management tools, and even the safety objects we have in place. Most importantly, I will do my very best to provide you with a link to where each of the ideas/items came from and the glorious directions on how to do it yourself. Ready, set, go!
I am a Christian. I am a wife. I am a mom. I am an author. In that order.