Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Something To Noodle On

I was intrigued by Brain Noodles. The name alone had me curious. What are Brain Noodles? Were these some kind of delicacy found in distance lands? (No.) A pasta dish that increases intelligence? (No, sorry.) A fun and tactile sensory experience for almost any age? (Yup!)
Brain Noodles: Stimulating toys that encourage hands-on learning.

I set out to test this set of 12 soft, fluffy, pipe-cleaner-esque toys that seemed simple and open ended while offering such an appealing tactile sensation. The box was taken to a 2-hour class with one child with autism, age 8, and his two younger brothers, ages 5 and 2.

My experience in teaching K, the child with autism, had already shown me how to engage him using his affinity for puzzles and playing in the window, as well as ball play in open spaces. He was not as interested in crafts. Since these Brain Noodles straddled the line between something used for crafting (such as sculpting or decorating with it) and a tactile fidget, I wasn’t sure how he’d react.

K took to them immediately. He looked each one over carefully. He threw them in the air and across the room, ran to pick them up, threw them again and shrieked with delight. This went on for several minutes. Because these are soft and light and the ends are not sharp, I felt comfortable with him throwing them indoors around his brothers.

K’s brothers also enjoyed the Brain Noodles. The toddler chewed and held tight to one of them. The kindergartner sword-played and tossed them like his brother. He also wrapped one around his arm. K followed suit, removing the coiled noodle and tossing it again. This time the colorful “zebra” noodle spiraled in the air, twisting and returning to him, like a curly boomerang. Soon all noodles were his to wrap around his arm, remove as they held their coiled shape, and tossed again. Then, multiple noodles were attached to create longer, colorful coils that could be tossed and bounced around the room. K played with these for almost an hour, undeterred and completely focused. He was active, happy and discovering something new.

In this teacher’s opinion, Brain Noodles: a success!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"Sock Critters" Make Calming Weights

Here's a creative and fun way to make simple, calming weights for young children. Research suggests calming weights provide deep pressure touch that helps some children calm themselves down. These simple "sock critters" were made by preschool children at Pressman Academy in Los Angeles. A creative teacher had each of her students make his or her very own sock critter at the beginning of the school year. Children filled old, adult-sized athletic socks with sand and then decorated them with markers and wiggly eyes. The sock critters often rest quietly in a wicker basket, but, during stressful days, the teacher passes the sock basket around during story time and the children hold their critters during the story. This seems to provide the group with calming results. Weighted products are non-invasive, easily applied and are generally pleasurable and self-motivating. A wide variety of professionally weighted products such as vests, blankets, and stuffed animals are available from Achievement Products.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Topics in Special Education

My name is Lori Shaver, and I am a National Sales Representative for Achievement Products. I have always had a passion for working with the special needs community, primarily because I grew up with a sister who has special needs. We were children in the 60’s, and my family discovered that there were so few resources available to parents and teachers of children with special needs. It is exciting to see how far the development of resources has come, yet it is very clear that there is still so much to learn. Every child with special needs has different challenges.

I spend a lot of time on the road demonstrating different items from the Achievement Products catalog. I especially enjoy getting feedback from teachers, occupational and physical therapists, and parents as to how the products have been useful to them. I often find that my time at professional meetings and trade shows actually brings me more information than I can give out.

I recently visited Salt Lake City for a conference. I had great feedback on quite a few products, but the one that really stood out was the Visual & Audible Timer. This is great for children who are deaf or visually impaired, or for any children who are learning to tell time. It actually shows passing time: a red space on the clock disappears as the time elapses. This visual “measure” of time passing is easier for children to comprehend than just the moving hands of a clock. This is great for self regulation because the children are able to know how much time they have without asking parents or teachers and it reduces stress.

Another product that stood out was the Elastablast. It is so important to make all children with all abilities feel included in the classroom setting. Elastablast is a fabric-covered elastic tube that is used with a group of children to encourage group cooperation and movement. And they have so much fun with it! There is an activity book available that includes a DVD. I am a visual learner myself, so I think that the DVD really is helpful.

For a great sensory stimulation product, I showed Weighted Animals. These can either be put in the microwave or the freezer, depending on the child and the need. Then the “animal” wraps around the child’s neck. It’s a “friendlier” source of heat or cold.

As I continue to travel and show products, I will share information that I have learned. I also welcome any feedback that you have for me.. I have always thought of teachers, therapists and parents as the experts because they are finding great uses for our products.
I am hoping that this blog will give us a new opportunity to share information and experience. I hope to hear from you.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Including All Children

My name is Patty Mazzoni; I am the Early Childhood Manager for Salt Lake CAP Head Start in Salt Lake City, Utah, where I manage early childhood services for 150 staff and 2,000 children and families. I also do consulting for the Achievement Products catalog for children with Special Needs. For the past seventeen years I have worked with children with Special Needs. I remember my first experience teaching in a Head Start classroom in 1992. I had a very diverse population including children with disabilities. I had never heard the term “inclusion” prior to that year of teaching. I learned a lot that first year. I began to understand all children have unique personalities, abilities, likes, and dislikes. My interest in continuing to work with children with special needs grew. Within a year I returned to school to complete a Masters in Early Childhood Special Education.

Soon after receiving my degree I became the Special Needs Administrator for Head Start in our area. Our philosophy was and still is to support inclusion. Teachers were trained to include a child with special needs in the full range of classroom activities. For some it required a change in their way of looking at each child as an individual, not at the child’s disability. They felt a child with special need should be placed in a “special” classroom, away from typically developing peers. It became difficult for a few teachers when planning activities to take in to consideration each child’s diverse needs, strengths and interests so that all children could participate at some level. Training and ongoing support was essential, along with patience, understanding and acceptance.

As the program grew and I became the Early Childhood Manager, I never gave up my passion to include all children. Teachers now embrace children of all abilities. They work on individual goals. They understand that some children with special needs may require unique adaptations, special equipment, or therapy depending on the need of the child. Others may not. Teachers are very thoughtful when adapting materials, they know how to choose appropriate materials, and they understand the importance when planning activities. They share stories, offer suggestions, and provide understanding for those that may struggle. Many of them mentor others giving guidance and support. We have been successful in our long journey, and I am very proud of our achievements.

I believe that inclusion can benefit all children. Careful planning, individualizing, collaboration and a classroom that is developmentally appropriate create an environment where all can participate. Does your classroom or school have the same experience with inclusion? I would love to exchange ideas or solutions that work for you.