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!
I am a Christian. I am a wife. I am a mom. I am an author. In that order.