Thursday, July 14, 2016

Packing for a Trip to Grandma's or Summer Camp?

This past week my big kids have spent the week with their grandma and grandpa in West Virginia.  They have been looking forward to the trip.  They have been busy spending time with their cousin and attending vacation Bible school at my father-in-law's church.  I have to say I became a little misty-eyed as I began to prepare for their time away.  Having them both be 8 hours away from home was difficult for this momma who likes control.  Having them away has also allotted me the time to write this quick blog post, too.

I wanted my kiddos to be able to find their clothes for each day easily.  I love using my big Vera Bradley duffel bag for trips, because they are washable.  But, they don't provide very much structure inside.  Everything gets a little mixed up.

I decided to use gallon sized Ziploc bags.  My kids are still small enough that I was able to fit their daily outfits in one bag together.  I put shorts, tshirt, socks, and undergarments for both Kinsley and Zaven in each bag. 

To add a little excitement (and love) to the packing, I placed a quick note to each kiddo in each bag.  I numbered them so they knew which bag to use each day.  I did this because some outfits would be needed for church.  I also wrote a joke on each note. 

I have talked to the kids on the phone each night and they seem to really like the notes.  Sometimes, Kinsley will even remember the joke to tell me.  I thought I would pass along this quick little tip in case your kiddos are traveling without you this summer to grandparents' or to summer camp!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Task Analysis Charts

Are you tired of repeating yourself? Do you have to tell your kids the same thing 100 times a day? If this is you, I urge you to try these handy charts!

Task analysis looks at all the necessary steps it takes to complete an activity. It breaks down the task into manageable chunks. Think of it like a recipe. 

Some things I use task analysis for in my home:
Brushing Teeth
Using the restroom 
After school procedure
Getting ready in the morning 

For us, it seems like these times a day often lead to nagging. Did you rinse the toothpaste out of the sink? Don't forget to put the toiler seat down!

 Hang your backpack on the hook. You have to brush your hair for school!

These situations can easily turn into a power struggle. Instead, we put our kids in control by having THEM follow the task analysis charts. These visual charts work wonders, because children respond better to visual instructions versus verbal instruction. This is especially true for children with communication delays or children on the autism spectrum.
1. Determine the activity that you want to use. 
2. Write down the specific steps to complete the activity. How specific you are depends on the age and ability of your child. A morning routine actually consists of several tasks, but for my 8 year old daughter I combined all the tasks for one chart.

 For some children getting dressed could be a chart all on its own. 
  • Put on pants
  • Button pants
  • Put on shirt
  • Put on socks
  • Put on shoes
  • Tie shoes

3. Create the chart. Find clip art, draw pictures, or take photographs to illustrate each step. I prefer to pair the picture with the written words. This aides in reading development and keeps your prompting consistent.

4. Introduce the chart. Show your child the chart. I would suggest doing this in a calm moment. Do not try to introduce a new "Get Ready for School Chart" when you have woken up late and are dangerously close to missing the bus. Show the chart to your child the night before. Tell him/her that in the morning you are going to play a game to see if he/she can get ready without Mommy saying a word. Role play that night.  Talk about each picture and what it means. Point to the steps as your child carries out the action.
5. Implement the chart. I suggest using a system of least-to-most prompts: Verbal, gestural, model, physical prompts. First start with verbal prompts, because it is the least intrusive.  If needed, move to the next type of prompt.
Verbal: What is the next step on your chart?. 
Gestural: Point to the next step.
Model: Show the child how to do the step.
Example: Show the child how to put the toothpaste on the toothbrush.
Physical: Hand over hand help the child put the toothpaste on the toothbrush.

 I post these charts in places that the children can see and access independently. The toothbrushing and bathroom charts are posted on the mirror in the bathroom.  The "After School" chart is posted on our door that leads in from the garage (right beside where I want the kids to hang up their coats).

Have other routines in mind?  Comment below and I would be happy to make you a chart!

See where I link up each week here.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Letting Go of Pinterest: The Valentine's Box

I definitely subscribe to the child-directed, child-initiated learning philosophy. I believe that children are amazing thinkers. I think they display their understanding about the world in many different ways: movement, drawing, singing, dramatic play, construction, writing, etc. Watch this video.
I am quick to climb up on my soapbox when I see children's potential being limited by countless worksheets and standardized tests. I believe that children need ample time to explore, make mistakes, and find their own solutions. 

But, I evidently was not generalizing this thinking to all things kid related. I think I fell into the Pinterest trap. Did I secretly get a little excited when the Valentine's Day box letter came home from school?   You bet I did! I may have even created an inspiration board for my kg and second grader. 
Kinsley got right to looking on my phone for ideas.  I always enjoy sitting down with her to create her special box. I remember doing the same with my mom. One year as a kid, I made the coolest TV box. On the screen was New Kids on the Block. Hangin' Tough!
Kins decided against the ideas on Pinterest and decided to make a karaoke machine. We covered the shoebox with scrapbook paper, she created a microphone out of a tp roll, and she drew lyrics on the screen.  She still has some finishing touches to put on it, but I think it turned out great. I'll post pics on FB and Instagram this week.

And then there is Zaven, my kindergartner.  My out of the box, middle child.  When I first asked him to start thinking about his box, he became very excited.  That night he went to bed with a notebook and pen to write down his ideas.  A week had passed.  As Kinsley and I were working on her box, Zaven found an empty amazon box.  On his own he grabbed the markers and got to work. 
When I saw that he had started without me, I asked if he needed my help.
"Nope, I can handle it," he told me.
"Do you want to cover it in paper like Kinsley did?" I coaxingly asked.
"Nope, I'm just going to draw right on it," he said.
And that he did.  He spent a good hour drawing and designing this box. 
If we are being honest, I started to dread him taking this box to school on Wednesday.  I knew his classmates would probably be toting in cute Ninja Turtles, Lego, and robot boxes.  I even tried to remind him of the time we made a train box.  He said that he remembered, but he wanted to do something different this year. 
Since I am being transparent, I was afraid this box would be a reflection on who I am as a parent.  I felt the need to write a note to the teacher explaining that I tried to help him.  I made the time.  I had all the necessary supplies.  I even had a Pinterest board ready to go!
But then I stepped back and looked at Zaven's smile as he worked.  I looked at the box once again.
Zaven drew a boy looking at a rainbow.  "Remember that time we saw that double rainbow at the beach.  And the other day when we saw that double rainbow here in Kentucky?"
Zaven drew hearts and stars because that is what he drew on his original plan a week ago.


At the top of the box, he drew the planets in our solar system.  The squiggles that can be found all over the box are black holes. 
He took some scrapbook paper and tape to create a pocket on the side of the box to keep cards he wanted to give away.  This minion card is for his older cousin, Justus, who he adores and looks up to.
So yes, I have had a change of heart.  This Valentine's Day, I would only hope that Zaven's box is a  reflection on me as a parent.  But truth be told, it isn't.  This is all Zaven.  He is a creative, problem-solver.  He loves learning about science and history. He likes to make pictures for other people.  He has a great memory when it comes to things we have done as a family.  And his Valentine's box is the best one yet!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Are toys necessary?

I will be the first to admit it. My house is being over run with electronic, noisy toys. After Christmas and Brickston's first birthday, I've come to the conclusion that the toys are multiplying like Gremlins while we sleep.

My family loves to buy presents. My mom, sister, mother-in-law, and grandmother are all guilty. I'm just as much at fault. I have saved many of the toys from when Kinsley and Zaven were babies, too. This means our toy situation is growing exponentially. On a semi-related note, have you ever noticed how the batteries in the most obnoxiously loud toys will last FOREVER? Seriously, I have toys from Kinsley(she's 8 years old) that we have NEVER replaced the batteries, and they are still going strong. But my remote control, forget it. It's a conspiracy.

So aside from the toys adding to the clutter in my house, why am I reevaluating our possession of them? A couple of weeks ago, my academic advisor shared an article highlighting the research on the effect of electronic "educational" toys. You can read the article here.
The article discusses Sosa's  (2015) study which found that toys that produce lights, sounds, and words actually decreased the quantity and quality of infants' language behaviors. This seems almost counterintuitive. Why would we buy our kids toys that talk and sing only to have their ability to talk and sing limited? But many of us fall into the trap. The toy manufacturers suggest the toys as a way to build skills.  For example the puppy in the above picture claims to:
  • Encourages baby’s growing vocabulary with songs and phrases about letters, numbers, body parts, colors & shapes.
  • Introduces baby to the give and take of conversation with a friendly, cuddly pal.
  • Promotes understanding of cause & effect as baby discovers how to activate the sounds, phrases, and music.
(Retrieved from Fisher-Price website.)

The Importance
While this advertising is enticing, the research done by Sosa and colleagues demonstrates that these claims are much too lofty.  In their study, 26 infants were paired with a parent.  During the study, a series of communication behaviors were documented: children's vocalizations, verbal back-and-forth conversational turns, and parent's use of words (which are all important language facilitation behaviors). These behaviors were documented when children were given electronic toys, wooden traditional toys, and board books.  Researchers found that the most language facilitating behaviors occurred during children's interaction with board books.  The least number of parent words, children's vocalizations, and conversational turns took place during children's interaction with electronic toys.  The researchers warn, "Play with electronic toys is associated with decreased quantity and quality of language input compared with play with books or traditional toys," (Sosa, 2015, abstract).

Mini Experiment
This research definitely made sense to me as I read it, but I was still feeling the love for some of the toys.  I wondered how often Brickston (14 months) independently chose to play with these electronic toys.  In my quick little experiment, I recorded a day in the life of Brick. I found that he did not choose the electronic toys.  Here is our day:

First, Brickston played with my eye shadow while I was getting ready in the morning. I labeled the different parts of his face as he applied the shadow.  "You put it on your nose!"

He colored with crayons while I edited my literature review. Periodically, I would talk about the color he chose or what type of line he drew. "Brick, you made a long, blue line."
During breakfast, Brickston stacked the measuring cups.  He filled them with cereal and poured them onto his plate.  "Can you pour more?"


While I cooked lunch, Brickston took out the spices from the cabinet and rearranged.  He pretended to pour them into the measuring cups.  He gave them to me to smell, so I would "sneeze."

While I folded laundry, Brickston sat in the basket and handed me socks.  We talked about whose they were and the colors. 

Don't judge me by this photograph.  My sippy cup was organized at one time, but then my little guy became mobile.  During dinner, Brickston played in the cup drawer.  He tried to match lids.  He would bring a cup to his sister and she would pretend to drink.

That evening, Brickston did play with a toy.  It just so happens that it wasn't even his own toy.  Over the past few days, he has really gravitated toward playing with his older brother's Paw Patrol trucks and dogs.  Ironically, it does not make any sounds nor does it light up...just needs good old imagination.
Routine Based Play
Reflecting on our day, it is obvious that electronic toys are not a necessity.  Most of Brickston's day revolves around routines (just like all infants).  Certain things need to happen everyday: chores, mealtimes, etc. These daily events provide opportunities to practice those communication facilitation skills (vocalizations, turn taking, labeling, gestures, etc).  Routines allow for children to learn new skills because they are functional, predictable, and occur often (Kashinath, Woods, &Goldstein, 2004).
What is the major take-away? As parents, we need to be use caution when giving our children electronic toys.  V-tech and Fisher Price cannot come close to comparing to the rich language opportunities a parent can give.  There is no substitute for talking and playing with your child.  Simple books and traditional toys may afford for more language opportunities between a child and caregiver.  Electronic toys are not inherently bad, but adults must be sure to use them with the limitations in mind.
It is okay if your toy box or play room contains some of these electronic toys, but the majority of the items should be books and open-ended toys and materials.  In a later post, I will show you how to use both a traditional toy and an electronic toy to encourage language skills.  In the meantime, go ahead and let your little one go wild in the laundry basket!
If are looking for an language building example, check out this post!
What are your thoughts on children's toys?
“Association of the Type of Toy Used During Play With the Quantity and Quality of Parent-Infant Communication” by Anna V. Sosa, PhD in JAMA Pediatrics. Published online December 23 2015 doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.3753
Kashinath, S., Woods, J.W., & Goldstein, H.  (2006).  Enhancing generalized teaching strategy use in daily routines by parents of children with autism.  Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research,49, 466-485.
 See where I link up each week, here!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

DIY First/Then Board to Curb Behavior

The madness is back into full swing now that we are back from Christmas vacation and the kids are back in school.  My middle child has not wanted to practice his sight words or do his homework. My husband and I have been struggling with his behavior this week.  I think he is extremely tired.  We have been making sure he is getting enough sleep, but this increase in behavior had me look back to my toolbox.  What could I find to curb some of these conflicts before they start? 
I decided to pull out the good old First/Then board. 
A first/then board is a simplified type of visual schedule.  It tells the child/individual what will happen first and what will follow.  I used these boards countless times when I was a preschool teacher. 
Visual schedules are often used with individuals with autism.  Visual schedules are beneficial, because individuals with ASD often process visual information much more readily than auditory information.  The same can be true for young children. Visual supports have been shown to help students with autism transition between activities, stay on task, and engage in activities (Bryan & Gast 2000; Dettmer et al. 2000; MacDuff et al. 1993; Massey & Wheeler 2000; Morrison et al. 2002).  Based on Knight, Sartini, and Sprigg’s (2015) literature review, visual activity schedules are an evidence based practice.  That means they have been shown to be effective.
First/Then boards can be used on a contingency basis.  If there is an activity that the child is not fond of doing, you can follow it with a motivating activity.  For example, if homework time is challenging, but you know your child loves playing games on the computer you can set up your board like this:

You present the board to the child and say, “First you will do homework, then you can play computer games.”  You can even simplify the directive to: “First homework, then computer.” You may feel like a caveperson at first talking this way, but often children are bombarded with auditory information.  My son tries so hard to listen all day at kindergarten.  When he comes home, he is spent.  He has a difficult time sifting through what is important info and what is just fluff.  So, I make it easier on him and just say the essentials when using the first/then board.
What are some activities or times of the day that are a struggle for your child?  Could you find a motivating activity or reward to follow up the difficult activity?  Remember the post about giving choices?  The same important concept applies here.  Your “then” activity must be available and feasible.  Do not use “First wash hands, then blow bubbles” if you are fresh out of bubbles.  The intervention will lose its power, if you are not able to follow through on the “then” portion.  You will want the “then” activity to immediately follow the completion of the “first” activity.
Here is set of activity cards to get you started.  I like to pair the pictures with words in order to foster early literacy.  You can find your own clip art pictures on the internet to use according to your child’s preferences and needs. 
To make the first/then board, I used a 4X6 photo album. 
I used green and red scrapbook paper to make each section.  I used these colors, because green means “go” and red means “stop.”
 I used stickers to write “first” and “then” on the pages before slipping them into the plastic pages. 
Print the activities on plain paper and cut out the activity pieces. I stored all my extra activity pieces in the pages behind the board. 
This method is great, because you don’t have to mess with laminating or Velcro!  And it is portable!  Just throw it in your purse!
The Research:
Bryan, L. C., & Gast, D. L. (2000). Teaching on-task and onschedule behaviors to high-functioning children with autism via picture activity schedules. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30, 553–567.
Dettmer, S., Simpson, R. L., Smith Myles, B., & Ganz, J. B. (2000). The use of visual supports to facilitate transitions of students with autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 15(3), 163–169.
Knight, V., Sartini, E., Spriggs, A. D.  (2015).  Evaluating visual activity schedules as evidence based practice for individuals with autism spectrum disorder.  Journal of Autism Developmental Disorders, 45, 157-178.
MacDuff, G. S., Krantz, P. J., & McClannahan, L. E. (1993). Teaching children with autism to use photographic activity schedules: Maintenance and generalization of complex response chains. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 26, 89–97.
Massey, G. N., & Wheeler, J. J. (2000). Acquisition and generalization of activity schedules and their effects on task engagement in a young child with autism in an inclusive pre-school classroom. Education and Training in Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, 35, 326–335.
Morrison, R. S., Sainato, D. M., Benchaaban, D., & Endo, S. (2002). Increasing play skills of children with autism using activity schedules and correspondence training. Journal of Early Intervention, 25(1), 58–72.

See where I link up each week, here

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Day 12: The Night Before Christmas {12 Days of Christmas}

This is the final activity in the 12 Days of Christmas Book and Activities for Babies and Big Kids.  All three of my kids really enjoyed mixing the ingredients to make the reindeer food.  Kinsley and Zaven really liked being able to "write" their own recipe on the printable recipe sheet.  I hope your family enjoys this final activity, too!
I couldn't resist using the Golden Book version of The Night Before Christmas as the final book in the 12 Days Series.  It was my book as a child.  You can buy a remake at Amazon, here.
What better way to prepare for that jolly old elf and his eight tiny reindeer, than making a batch of reindeer food for Christmas Eve?
You can find several recipes for Reindeer Food, but many of them contain glitter.  I have a thing against glitter.  I know...I used to be a preschool teacher.  But the stuff never goes away!  In addition, we will be sprinkling the food out on our grass and we have outside cats that might eat it.  So, we made a pet-safe version of reindeer food.
Instead of using glitter, we made our own colored sugar.  It was so easy to do!  Put a 1/2 cup of sugar in a plastic ziplock bag, add a few drops of food coloring, and mix.  The kids liked smashing it with their hands.  Mess free!
We made four colors of sugar.  You can customize the colors you are going to use.  The printable recipe lets you write in the colors you are using.  You can get the printable here and here.
We gathered all the ingredients we thought reindeer would like:
Cheerios, popcorn, oats, and sugar.

The kids filled in the recipe by writing how many spoonfuls of each ingredient they were going to use.  This is a great exercise in number recognition.  After they completed their recipe sheets, they began assembling their reindeer food.
(I am fully aware that Zaven's pajamas are ridiculous)

Brickston enjoyed mixing the sugar in the bag, but was more interested in dragging things out of my pantry.  You can see the mess he was creating in the back of this picture of Kinsley.
On Christmas Eve, after we read The Night Before Christmas we will go outside and sprinkle the food on our green grass (I'm just a little sad about the no-snow situation). Hopefully, the reindeer love it (Daisy and Frizzle, too).

I am so glad that you stuck with us through the 12 Days of Christmas Book Activities.  Check out the other 11 activities here.  I hope you and your family enjoyed them!  Have a very Merry Christmas! I hope you and your family have a blessed time celebrating! 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Day 11: The Snowy Day

We completed Day 11 several days ago, but throw in a few class Christmas parties and an 8-year-old birthday party...and you get a great dose of procrastination!
This is a simple activity to set up, which is great for the last few days before Christmas.  All you need is the book, a pan, and sugar!  I have an entire canister of it that I'm trying to get rid of so I am not tempted in the new year!
First, we read the book.

I gave each child a baking pan and about a 1/2 cup of granulated sugar.  We were blessed with a 50 degree day to play on our porch, but you could easily do this at the kitchen table or on the tile floor.  

Probably the only "snow" we will see falling before Christmas this year.
After exploring the sugar, I gave Zaven a wooden skewer to write his sight words.
If you have used up all your sugar in your house, you could use salt.  But you probably won't get a cute picture of your little one with sugar lips :)

Do you want to see the other days in the 12 Days of Christmas?  Go here.