Friday, 31 October 2014

Story telling with little ones with special needs and disabilities

Story props

Walking through the Jungle
Using walking through the Jungle to encourage sounds,
and symbolic play.

Soft or plastic toy elephant, lion, monkey, snake and crocodile - a crocodile puppet or switch toy ideal!

. The story contains several sounds and repeated refrains for children to join in or copy, and lends itself well to have the toy walk, swing or jump from child to child. Children copy the listening gesture for "can you hear a noise?" And can be encouraged to join in making the sound. Putting the animal sound or just the snap snap onto a big point switch can enable a child without much vocalisation to join in.
The toy can be left with particular children to explore - those that need more time, a sensory cue or something to fiddle with.
Visually impaired children can be helped to explore the defining feature such as the lion's mane, elephant's trunk to help them learn to identify the animal. It's even better if the animals have a different texture. We have a fabulous crocodile puppet and a switch operated crocodile that snaps its jaws.

At the end, the crocodile puppet has a huge impact. This has enabled the children to demonstrate anticipation, as they show excitement at the first "snap snap" , and start to join in with the actions or signs. We used play food to encourage the children to feed the crocodile after the story, offering a choice of two items. This was fun for our children who were learning to make choices, or beginning signing, and introduced some to their first symbolic play. . Joint chorusing of animal noises has helped a child with verbal dyspraxia really get enthusiastic about making these sounds.

In the classroom we had animals from the story including a small crocodile in the tuff spot with leaves and plastic food. The children played feeding the crocodile without any adult intervention. We had the switch operated crocodile, which motivated several children with few words to call out 'snap snap' They also explored picture matching cards of the animals. It was interesting to see one child who normally avoided this kind of activity excitedly playing with these and naming the animals.

Dear Zoo

The Dear Zoo story book is a favourite.
We have the standard flap book, and one with sounds.

I used a collection of boxes and a selection of toy animals. My toy elephant is really huge, and soft and just bursts out of his box.
Gift boxes would work, or decorated empty packaging or talking boxes.
I put a picture of the animal on each one - this is a good opportunity to model and let the children explore object to picture matching. For less able children there is the action of lifting the lid of the box, or looking inside and pulling something out.

The story introduces lots of great concepts and characteristics - big, tall need props that stress this.
Behaviour characteristics such as too naught or jumpy can be acted with the props, and the children seem to really enjoy being fierce or grumpy or scary.

There's another chance for group noises for the fierce roar or scary hiss.

We put each animal back in it's box with the line" so I sent him back" - useful for teaching that action, and we say "bye bye lion" demonstrating a wave for the children just starting to copy gestures, and giving lots of practice at a simple 2 word phrase for more verbal children. The repetitive nature of the story gives the chance for lots of practice.

In the classroom we are starting to explore animal pictures under flaps, matching pictures, boxes and animals in the small world play. We also have some Dear zoo party animal masks.

The Boy on the Bus

My props for this story include a selection of farm animals, including quite a few sheep, and a cardboard box painted and made to look like a bus, with an opening in the roof to put animals in.

This story is one that I use with very young children who haven't had much experience of group story. It's gentle, with farm animal vocabulary, and it surprises children as it is familiar, yet different. This seems to be a factor in the way it holds the children's attention. It has a repeat refrain, "who wants to ride on the bus?" and lots of farm animal noises to copy and John in.

I used it for practising putting things in containers with the children at very early stages of development, for picking up and releasing for the children with physical disabilities, for selecting the right animals with more able children, animal names and noises. It's great for children who enjoy song time, but haven't yet learned to listen to a story. We sing bits of it, too, then go into the more familiar version.

In the classroom we have the animals out with a truck or trucks to fill. Or a road mat with buses.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, 1 July 2013

Tactile mats.

I've been trying to encourage a couple of children with limited sight, to use their hands to explore. One is reluctant to handle messy stuff, and only cautiously and briefly investigates our tuff spot. The other seems to actively enjoy different textures such as fur fabric or messy play such as cornflour paste touching his hands. He has little movement but seems to be starting to move a little more. For both boys I wondered if they would find a tactile board interesting to explore.

I decided to make one large enough to to have several textures and areas to to enable them to reach, but not cumbersome. I also wanted to give them the best chance of seeing the contrast between the background and the textures. I found a sheet of card that had been in a large ikea picture frame and cut it in two. I covered the board with cloth tape. To get the visual contrast I made one black and white, and the other white to use with neon and a uv light.

Textures - I found buttons, feathers, sticky carpet tiles that had corded ridges, felt, ribbon, Pom poms, a stretchy cord and a sponge. This all came from home or from pound shops. The pound shops also had neon fishnet tights, and fluffy neon cleaning mitts.

I intend to place it on a table for one child to use when he is standing, and the other to have when lying over a wedge.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Play Activities for children with little movement.

Play activities to encourage movement in very young children with cerebral palsy.

When children have very limited movement, and can't grasp toys, or their reach is clumsy or limited there are very few toys on the market that they can access. These are the things that we use to encourage reaching, arm and hand movements, and to help the child learn that they can have an effect on their environment.

Bead curtain
One of the most successful toys I've had was a garish and noisy bead curtain bought for just a few pounds on a local market. There are not so many around now but are worth looking out for. We took it to bits, and hung strands of it over frames made from clothes airers or baby gyms, or the frame from a child's tent, placed carefully in reach of the child. It is important to make sure that the child is supervised to ensure that they don't pull it over or become entangled in it.

It looked great as the child moved their hand, and the colours all swam around and it made a great noise in response to very little movement. It's work trying them out or adding bells if the one you find doesn't make much noise. For some children we put it where they had to reach out, for others, where they would brush it accidentally and discover it. For some we used a hair scrunchie on the child's wrist, wrapped one string of beads loosely around the others so that moving it pulled all of them, and then tucked that string into the wrist band. Every movement of the child's arm caused rattling of the beads. Change arms, attach to feet to encourage kicking. This works really well with wind chimes, too.

Card shops sometimes do tinsel party screen things that can be visually interesting, like a bead curtain but without the noise.

Balloons with a few grains of rice/lentils/beans inside make a fantastic noise and can be hung up where the child can reach them to pat or kick at. Several at once can make an amazing display and be very exciting to knock.

Survival blanket

These can be bought in outdoor stores and often in pound shops really cheaply. Lying on them or having your hands placed on them makes for fantastic noise effects for very little movement. Lie the over the child, under a child lying in their front, under the feet, hanging next to the child. They reflect lights well, so having a colour changing light up toy shining on them can make them more visually interesting. My favourite light up toy cost £3 from tiger shop.

Bells on arms or ankles

Sew bells onto ribbons or soft hair bands to place on the child's wrists or ankles.

Attaching feely items to a wall, or cushion, tray, or mat.
You can buy really expensive feely walls with textured pieces fixed on, but for one child at home, this can be a simple panel of hardboard with brushes, scourers, buttons, textured fabric, short lengths of chain, shells, ribbon, etc glued on. If it would suit the child better, it could be a piece to fit onto their tray, or a cushion to place on their lap, or a mat to lie on. I once covered a large rubber floor mat with textured fabric, but you need to make it so that they can lie on it - ruling out some lumpy hard objects. It could even be a tabard or waistcoat.

Slinky spring

There are many of these around in bright coloured plastic. They are great hanging in the child's reach, being dangled by an adult or placed like a load of bangles over the child's wrist with some hanging down. Again a lot of movement and interest in the toy for a little movement from the child.
Even more effective in a dark room or den with a black or uv light if they are the neon colours.

Dark room

If you can darken a room, then tiny LED lights on fingers, (Tiger sell some, so do some of the catalogues like "explore your senses" and flashing plastic rings are sometimes on sale in gift shops. ) can encourage exploration of fingers, or with UV light, White or neon things on the fingers - face paint, nail varnish, gloves, especially if no one has these colours elsewhere, or wind Ribbons or soft hair bands in white or neon around fingers in dark room with uv light.

Whole body

Lie child on air bed, which gives a different feel and sound to body movements, on rustle survival blanket, in a shallow ball pit, (mix in some balls with bells) - use a paddling pool or large box. As well as balls, packing polystyrene in cardboard box where can be interesting for a child who doesn't put it in their mouths, or Christmas tinsel. Water is wonderful, of course. Or let the child place hands or feet in bowls of water, dry pasta, rice, etc.


iPad apps for finger movements

I've used and liked Fireworks, music sparkles, fluidity, art of glow, spawn sparkle, light box, finger paint.
I think fireworks is possibly the favourite.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, 12 April 2013

Making a dark den.

I've been really wanting a dark den or sensory room to work with a little lad in my class who has very limited vision. The classroom is visually busy and I would live to be able to explore what he responded to visually in a less distracting space with more pronounced contrasts.

I have some constraints around the classroom we use. It is a shared space with other groups and there isn't room for a large den. We have to pack up before and after each half day session, often with people waiting for the room, so don't have time to be fiddling around with complex structures and tent poles. I also need it to be big enough for an adult to get into comfortably, probably while carrying their child, and to hold and support a child in there. Nothing I found in the catalogues seemed to meet our criteria so I got exploring on Pinterest. There were a number of hanging tents being used as play spaces that would make a good, easily removable den, so I decided to make my own as a dark den.

I bought a hula hoop, and a few metres of black fabric. (6, I think) This was a bit of a compromise as the really dark, light-stop fabric seemed a bit too stiff and heavy. I went for a more flowing close weave black fabric that made it quite dark inside. Curtain lining was cheap and would make it dark enough, I think, to provide a contrast with light up toys.

For anyone who wants a rough idea how to make one, I cut out a circle, larger than the hoop, cut the circle into quarters so that I could overlap it to make the pointed top. I attached ties that would hold the hoop in place, and then cut the remaining fabric into lengths, allowing for it to hang from the ceiling and touch the ground. I joined the pieces together and gathered them onto the top part.

It worked, but looked a bit dark and scary hanging there so I decorated it with sparkly bunting type shapes around the top, silver fabric to overlap at the entrance and other shapes. The ribbon at the top allows me to get it to the right height of my classroom.

This is the finished project. The lights are really bright inside. I have some very cheap battery powered coloured lights on a string bought from Primark at Christmas, and it is really dark enough for them to stand out.

I added a few loops and cords inside so that I can attach toys, or a white dare to project lights onto. I'm looking forward to trying it out next week.

Lights inside it against the black, showing great contrast for encouraging a child with limited sight to reach out and touch.

The same lights against reflective foil.

Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Pay attention.

I've been thinking a lot about the children in my group who bash at toys, rather than explore them carefully, and who do a lot of throwing.
How can we move them on?
Mostly these children are very young, 3 at most, and at the crawling, pulling to standing stage of development. Throwing serves a purpose at the beginning of this stage, as babies discover object permanence, watch a toy move out of view and then discover it again. Their eyes are beginning to focus more on distant objects, and they are learning to track moving objects too. Throwing toys provides an incentive to crawl to retrieve them. But I'm noticing some children seem a little stuck at this phase and it is interfering with their ability to explore toys in other ways. Some families report feeling that they become disheartened about offering toys to their little ones, as they just get slung.
So what can we do?
First of all, I think removing anything that present a real danger is important. The space needs to be uncluttered. I find the posting toys are often thrown, quite possibly to avoid having to do them. So we've cut down on toys with little sling-able parts. We put less out, but have things ready to hand.
We do have light balls and baskets for catching so that we can turn throwing into turn taking games. Playing "ready steady go! " and making a fun drama of rolling or throwing the ball, or getting ready to catch, seems to help make this more fun than slinging toys. We use light up balls, balls with a bell or rattle inside, balls with holes to grip, bean bags, larger balls.
In the music corner we have a few drums and we encourage the parents to play these with their child, and try to get a turn taking game going. One loud bang, lots of quiet taps, my go, your go, Drumming with finger tips, using a flat hand. This seems to help the child move on from random banging to a bit more control.
I think another factor is that toys like posting boxes are often seen as an important step, introduced before the child has developed an interest in poking things into small holes (anyone who has lived with a toddler in the house will know this is a distinct phase where the child is passionate about poking things into small spaces, especially car keys). The child who just isn't aware of those possibilities yet isn't going to be interested in posting boxes and throwing the shapes seems like much more fun.
I have a theory that alongside this, we need to work on their ability to look, watch and pay attention to detail.
I'm introducing more toys that encourage looking and watching. We have always used bubbles, blowing them the stopping, waiting while the child makes eye contact, signs, says or in some other way indicates that they want more. We also use blowing up a balloon and letting it go. Both of these activities encourage looking at our faces, waiting, anticipating, and start an interaction between the adult and child. Party blowers appeal to some children and encourage them to watch our faces, and wait.

Moving away from our faces to shared interest in a toy , we use Jack in a box, and the pop up toys on sticks. These can be brought up by our face to get attention, encourage that shared looking and moved so that the child is switching attention between the person and the toy. Reactions from the adult can build up the interest and excitement. Balloon pumps, spinning tops, pop up pets can be used at this stage, encouraging the children to watch wait for the toy to do it's thing.
Zig zag car or ball tracks are also useful if used by an adult with the child. We have a number of these. At the right stage of development, children love watching the car or ball roll down. After watching it for a while, they are motivated to try to put the ball in the hole themselves, or the car on the track. They are already aware this is more fun than throwing it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuff spot and messy play.

A big feature in my classroom, is the tuff spot, or builder's tray. This is a black shallow tray that can be bought from school and nursery supplies or for under £20 from B&Q. The education supplies also sell stands, but we use ours on the floor as few of my class are walking.

On the floor it can also be used to encourage reaching from sitting or kneeling positions, and is great for the kids who want to totally immerse themselves.
On the other hand, the stand would be useful if we wanted to discourage too much immersion.
I try to put something different in it every couple of weeks, so that the children have chance to explorers more than once, but not so much of the same thing that they get bored. We have a few favourite tuff spot activities that we use a lot. Many nurseries use them to create imaginative play environments, like underwater scenes, or use items that represent a story. My class are so young that they are not really at that stage of development yet, and I really have to be aware of the likelihood of them putting bits in their mouths, so I am a bit limited by safety considerations.
However, I love the tuff spot. The children greet it with excitement and curiosity. It often absorbs them for quite long periods, and parents tend to enjoy it too. Filling containers is a favourite activity, so I collect different ones, bright colours, different sizes, some with handles, some metal to add sound and reflections. They really practice all kinds of physical skills here as they fill and empty containers, try different tools, move around and reach out across the play area. It's a sociable activity, as the children tend to wander over to the tuff spot to see what others are doing, and lots of exploration goes on as they investigate it, and the tools or toys in it.

This was spaghetti, coloured to make it more eye catching. There's a selection of different bowls and spoons and tongs to pick it up. Great for pretend cooking, for scooping and tipping, developing control using tongs. Tongs were great with this, and chopsticks were fun, too.
Playing with this gives you such an opportunity for conversation, offering choices "in here or in there?" Vocabulary around size, full and empty, colour, how can we pick it up?
Dry pasta shapes are a favourite. I haven't tried colouring them, although I think it can be done. They are great because they are so noisy, they don't make much mess, and while they aren't enticing to eat, they won't harm the child who tries. They are really popular when we put them out with bowls and spoons but we also use plastic bottles to encourage posting, saucepans for play cooking, soft toys for pretend tea parties.
Oats are interesting for pouring, silky to touch, go through funnels and slatted spoons. We have done a 3 bears theme with big and small bowls, teddies and spoons. Don't wear black clothes though!
Coloured rice looks great. We started ours in stripes and let the children mix it up. Rakes, cardboard tubes, funnels, plastic bottles, especially clear ones all work well with this. It was really popular. One child just loved run in it through her fingers. another lay in it and waved her arms as if swimming or making snow angels. most of he others filled the bowls, fed toy animals, and stirred saucepans. The rice keeps so can be used again and again.

At the end of the session, it looked like this!

Shredded paper, great with tongs, for building piles, hiding toys, throwing and catching. You can use different colours for different themes. We found red and blue for the jubilee and Olympics.
Cotton wool can be great with a snow theme, interesting to touch and throw, easy to clean up. Works well with containers with compartments like the inside of a chocolate box for early number work.
Christmas tinsel, with some unbreakable tree ornaments hidden inside. I chose things that the children would recognise, stars, Santa, animals, to encourage naming and searching.
This is my Easter theme. Green shredded packing stuff from the pound shop with a cheeping chick, fabric flowers and those eggs to fill. I've taped some eggs together having put rice, or pasta inside to make different sounds. I also bought cat toys from the pound shop to make an interesting rattle, and cheap toys with lights in that come on when you shake them, and took the lights out to go in a couple of my eggs. I think this will look appealing and encourage the children to shake and investigate to explore what the eggs

Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

This blog.

I've started writing this blog as a tool to help me in my job. I am really fortunate to be teaching a small group of children with significant special needs, and disabilities. It is fascinating working out ways to help them develop, and huge fun turning that into playful activities that they will really enjoy, and I think, if I write down some of the things that occur to me and the things I mull over it will help me develop my ideas and get better at what I am doing.

I can't put pictures up of the children, except this one which has appeared in the local newspaper and on their website. This is my previous class. In the autumn 2012 all 5 classes moved to new locations, as as that happened I moved to a new group slightly nearer to home. This was our open day, so this posed shot has all of us staff, managers and the local Mayor lined up along the back, with our lovely families in the front. It features one of our favourite pieces of equipment, the tuff spot.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad