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.
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