Creating a Space

Untitled collage

Spring Break is just about over and as usual, there were projects! Among them was creating a space in my bedroom to unwind, look out the window, or just feel satisfied that I’m not waking up to a pile of clothes on the floor! There’s something so rewarding about staring at a before and after photo so I’ve created a collage showing the 2 pieces of furniture I bought at Mimi’s Attic, our local used furniture store. Just walking into this place makes me inspired! There’s always so much to choose from but this time I wanted to keep my finished project to under $100, which I did. The 2 items pictured are:

  1. A vintage vanity seat painted in sheepskin chalk paint and covered with some updated fabric
  2. An old metal and wood CD rack with the metal frame painted in the same color chalk paint and the shelves painted with blue milk paint, which I’ve never used before but LOVE!

There are a few items on the finished shelves that also came from Mimi’s – succulents in a small pitcher, a glass oil jar and 2 small cups (perfect for brandy or some other ladylike drink). When my alarm goes off at 6:30 tomorrow morning, I’ll wake with a smile on my face, looking at one of this week’s accomplishments, which will help as I wake with a groan at having to readjust my sleeping schedule.

Here’s another photo of the finished project:

mimis after 2

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Sensory Pockets

Oh the evolution of crafting – it’s fascinating, isn’t it? Today I’m finally documenting the most recent project/idea that has evolved here in my craft room. I’m calling these little things Sensory Pockets. When I was so thrilled at my first few and showed my husband, he asked, “they’re cute babe – what are the kids supposed to do with them?” My first thought was – fight over them, like they do with everything new. So I had to make a bunch.

It all started with this post I saw on Pinterest –

I loved them and thought they would be fun, especially for our littler preschoolers who are still in the exploratory phase of play. So I bought a clear shower curtain and some intense glue because I didn’t want to hand sew the edges.

sensory pocket 1.jpg

That was some CRAZY glue – it sort of dissolved the edges of the vinyl and I didn’t like the way it looked at all – very sloppy. So then I thought, why not try to sew the edges with my sewing machine? That was a disaster because my needle couldn’t go all the way through. I did some reading and decided a leather needle was what I needed for my machine. That worked nicely although I had to help the vinyl move under the feeder because sometimes it would get stuck sewing in one spot. Here’s what the sewed pockets looked like –

sensory 2.jpg

Oh dear – please try to overlook how dry and awful my thumb looks – it’s winter in Upstate NY – in fact – it’s a huge snow storm, which is the only reason I have time to write this post!

ANYWAY….I decided I wanted to add something besides just rice or sequins or whatever. So I picked up a bag of buttons – Grandma’s Grab Bag I believe it was called. They have them at Hobby Lobby and JoAnns where you can pick up a bag with your handy 40% coupon. And Amazon if you don’t mind paying full price ($6 or $7). Oh readers – these buttons! I literally wanted to tear open the bag and spread them out when I got in the car because I could see so many wonderful treasures. Most of them are buttons but some are embellishments. Looky! Go ahead, zoom in if you can 🙂

sensory button collage.jpgThe right top picture were some of my favorites from my first grab bag. The right bottom pictures some goodies from my (ah hem) other grab bags. I use coupons, OK???? And back to the appropriate use of the word evolve – my sensory pocket project has now evolved into a bit of a button obsession. Have you ever seen a button tree or button art on canvas? Look on Pinterest! That’s my next project.

OK, back to business. After I got bored of colored rice, I thought – why not dye some other small pasta and use that to fill the pockets? So I tried some little alphabet pasta and some Acini De Pepe. Ever hear of it? Looks like Cous Cous. I threw a little glitter in with the pasta, dye, and alcohol (which I don’t measure – just toss a splash in a plastic baggie and shake, then lay out to dry on wax paper. The neon food color is my fav. Sometimes the fine glitter just makes the vinyl look dusty so I didn’t put glitter in all of them.

sensory 6.jpg

So, I’ve got the mostly sewed pocket filled with some kind of filler, buttons, puffy stickers in a couple and some glitter in some. I sew up the pocket the rest of the way. But the edges still looked unfinished to me so I tried a bunch of different riboons and trims. Probably the best were the gathered lace trim and the Paper Studio brand of pom pom ribbon (in the paper crafting section of the craft store – .99 cents for a yard.). Here are some of the finished projects. They each have a theme – birds and flowers, the beach, dogs, Christmas, pearl trim/ribbon/beads, dragonflies, etc.

sensory 7.jpg

Most of them are about 4 inches in diameter but at the end I tried making a larger one, which is pictured below next to the Sharpie so you can see how big it is. And there you go – my sensory pockets!

sensory pocket collage

 

 

What Winter Storm Warning Really Means

It means an entire day to craft away….and then blog about it. So this week we’re doing our ‘Outer Space’ theme and there’s no shortage of fun, smart ideas for content teaching on Pinterest and Teacherspayteachers. For open-ended outer space play, we’ll use our Safari Space Toob figures – if I have any left from last year or if like every year, I need to buy another one because I won’t find last year’s figures until the Space theme is finished for this year…ayeayeaye.

There are dozens of playdoh recipes floating around online but the one I’ve used for years is:

2 cups flour, 2 cups water, 1 cup salt, 1 Tbsp oil, 2 tsp cream of tartar*, and food coloring.

I whisk it together in a bowl and pour into a pan on medium heat. I stir until it becomes a single glob and then I take it out and knead it on the counter – it’s pretty hot  so I wince at first (this is probably why I don’t like making it!). Last time I made playdoh I added some fine glitter and it was so gorgeous, I couldn’t stop staring at it. When the kids would drop some on the floor, I’d pick it up and mutter under my breath! I don’t think I’ll ever NOT add glitter to playdoh again.

*just a note about the cream of tartar – I used to use 2 tablespoons but I’ve read some recipes that use the smaller amount and the stuff is so darn expensive that if it doesn’t make that much of a difference, why spend more? Do you know where the stuff comes from? I just learned this – from the bottom of wine barrels. You could really save money if you made your own wine AND cream of tartar my friends.

Anyway, back to the subject. I added black food coloring to this batch and after it was out of the pan, I kneaded in blue, pink, and gold fine glitter and small white and blue star confetti. And look at this stuff! Will I even be able to take it to school???? The picture doesn’t do justice and I don’t have the toys to put with it because – it’s a snow day! Maybe I’ll post some faceless kids playing with it later in the week. For now, it’s MINE….ALL MINE!

galaxy playdoh

What Makes Good Early Childhood Data?

blog-post-on-data

Goal: Given 2 choice times per day, student will choose a toy/activity and play for at least 1 minute. 

Sure – tally marks, time sampling, structured observations,  charts, graphs….create them, compare them, send them home to parents, take them to IEP meetings. But please don’t use them to replace your narrative records. Why? Well, here’s an example…

One day during choice time, to your utter delight, you see the child with the above goal sitting on the sofa of your dress-up area with a doll in her arms, saying, “Hi girl…” There are so many things happening at this moment! I want to record the dialogue (using words to greet) and the activity (dramatic play). I want to take a picture to use this as a visual prompt to play tomorrow.  I want to call her mom – perhaps they can do some doll play at home. I want to note this moment to expand play with an adult or a peer later.

But if this observation is nothing more than a dot on a chart or a slash on post-it, it is likely to be lost. And that is why I strongly encourage this data-driven generation of early childhood teachers to learn and practice the art of recorded observations.

Breathe, Children, Breathe

breathing collage.jpg

Circle time in our classroom has somehow gone from impressive to insane. Maybe that’s a bit over dramatic. In any case, I know that we go through phases in the preschool classroom. Whether we’ve got cabin fever (April is still winter in Upstate NY) or the addition of a few new characters in our production, circle time has escaped me these days. I’m a firm believer that it’s our job as teachers to make circle engaging enough that the kids will attend. Oh, our kids are attending all right – to each other! 

So, I wanted to try something different. We recently had a yoga training at one of our conference days and the instructor showed us some interesting breathing exercises. What I’ve decided to do is just the good old ‘in through the nose, out through the mouth’ to start circle time this week. So I picked up some fake roses, a box of birthday candles, and some green scotch tape. I happened to have some lollipop sticks. I taped the rose around one end and the candle around the other end. My plan is to give each child one of these (pictured in the lower right hand side) when they get to their seat and we’ll all try a few rounds of “smell the flower, blow out the candle”. If breathing really makes a difference, a few rounds of this should help us start out circle time a little calmer Monday! But just to humor myself, I’m predicting that there will be a few kids who manage in the first few seconds to tear off the flower, pull off the tape, and try to chew the candle. Ahhhh…preschool 🙂

For Whom Autism Speaks

for whom pic for blog

Though it is generally time consuming, I believe it’s paramount to look at both sides of a controversial subject before or instead of coming to a conclusion. This week I went to a lecture featuring Bob Wright, Co-founder of Autism Speaks. Before the lecture, I had heard about the ‘Boycott Autism Speaks’ movement. I was curious to hear what Bob Wright had to say and if any of the concerns expressed by this new movement would be addressed. The talk was relatively short. He showed several videos that  highlighted work that Autism Speaks has accomplished in their 10 years of existance. If you’re not already familiar with Autism Speaks, have a look at their website, which is full of resources. There are many free ‘kits’ that are designed to help those living and working with people who have Autism. It’s impressive.

If you go to www.BoycottAutismSpeaks.com, you’ll be able to read some of the objections to Autism Speaks. Here’s a summary – the senior leadership does not include anyone with Autism, the organization has expressed anti-vaccine sentiments, they have allowed the Judge Rotenberg Center* to recruit students at Autism Speaks fundraising walks, a disproportionately small amount of the budget is spent on services and supports for families, and their advertising presents Autism as a burdensome tragedy for families. But there are other groups that have found fault with Autism Speaks, such as Autism Parenting Magazine and numerous blogs.

*While I was researching online for this post, I got diverted (only for about 3 hours!) on the subject of using aversive therapy, specifically an electric shock device used as a behavior modification tool, which was the subject of controversy around the Judge Rotenberg Center. Personally, as soon as I hear electric shock, I think about 2 things:  invisible  fences for dogs (which always seemed kind of cruel to a cat owner, even though I understand that they keep pets and people safe) and ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) which enabled my sister to function again after a severe bout of post-partum depression for which she was hospitalized. To begin with, if you can stomach it, you can see a video of a student at the Judge Rothberg Center, Andre McCollins, being restrained and shocked many years ago when he refused to take off his coat  –  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YcxpGKctZMs. It’s DISTURBING. There was an ensuing law suit, among other consequences, after this incident. The use of such a device in this instance was undeniably excessive, inappropriate, and abusive.

However, when it’s used the way it was designed, to deal with extremely aggressive or self-injurious behavior, some parents actually believe it has saved the lives of their children. Parents have pleaded with the courts to allow this form of treatment.Talk about considering both sides of an argument! I challenge you to do some research. Find the testimony of a former employee of this school and an article by parents who swear by the methods used. What would lead parents to approve of this? Are they sick? Well, you decide. What if your child had an intense self-harming behavior such as head banging that was severe enough to cause a stroke or dislodge  corneas? What if your child made a habit of gouging their eyes out or chewing on their arms? What if the side effects of the medications the Dr.’s prescribed for these behaviors made you feel like your child was not living at all?  If, like me, you’re curious about this issue, check out these links….

New York magazine did a story on the Judge Rotenberg Center prompted by the incident with the student in the video cited above, Andre McCollins. Read the article here –

http://nymag.com/news/features/andre-mccollins-rotenberg-center-2012-9/index1.html

In response to a television news story about the use of electric shock devices at the JRC (Judge Rotenberg Center), the school made an interesting point – “the notion that because a treatment involves causing the patient to experience pain, it therefore is equivalent to torture does not make sense. By that standard surgery and dentistry would also qualify as torture and should be banned as well.” See the school’s full response –

http://dotnet.judgerc.org/Documents/judgercdocs/EmailtoMinton.pdf

And finally, on the other side of the argument, is the testimony of parents who support the correct use of the treatment. Read more –

https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/06/24/the-fda-may-ban-the-treatment-keeping-our-daughter-alive/

Now back to the objections with Autism Speaks…

What I don’t know is whether Autism Speaks allowed JRC to recruit students before or after they stopped using this method as part of a plan for new students. The article states that, “Since 2009, the New York State Board of Regents has banned the use of the shock device on any new students from New York, and last fall Massachusetts prohibited the use of shocks for all new students.” What seems clear is that some parents with children who have a history of self-harm and aggression feel they have exhausted all other resources. For them, JRC seems to have given them a solution.

However, allowing JRC to recruit during their fundraising walks is only one objection of the boycotters.

The question I can’t seem to find a simple answer to is how the massive funding Autism Speaks raises is specifically used. I’m not an accountant so I can’t seem to reconcile the numbers that the boycotters post and the financial statements from Autism Speaks. Maybe you can. Here’s the link to the statement from last year published by their auditors –

https://www.autismspeaks.org/sites/default/files/docs/final_autism_speaks_2014_28229.pdf

Yes, it does seem as though they spend an inordinate amount of money on their salaries. And on research. I think to most Americans, research in connection with a medical condition can only be good. But the question is, to what end? Bob Wright said in his talk at Elmira College on Thursday evening, that the focus was on, “not a cure so much as treatments.” The organization has invested a large amount of money into their ‘MSSING’ project. Not only am I not an accountant, I’m not a scientist. So I don’t fully understand genomes. Here’s the simplest definition genomes from the NIH website… “A genome is an organism’s complete set of DNA, including all of its genes. Each genome contains all of the information needed to build and maintain that organism. In humans, a copy of the entire genome—more than 3 billion DNA base pairs—is contained in all cells that have a nucleus.”

Will this research help the millions of kids, adults, and families dealing with Autism?  It would certainly help to know if a child has Autism during pregnancy if it meant they would get early treatment. Because I am a special education teacher, I can say from experience that early identification and treatment hold great potential for children with Autism. What else might research accomplish? One thing that has puzzled me in recent years is that we rarely see kids with Down Syndrome anymore. What happened to them? ABC News reported, “An estimated 92 percent of all women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome choose to terminate their pregnancies, according to research reviewed by Dr. Brian Skotko, a pediatric geneticist at Children’s Hospital Boston”. Is that something that research will bring about? That seems pretty awful – that this generation is raising money to fund research so that there will be fewer children born with Autism because more mothers-to-be decide to abort. That said, I’m also not the parent of a child with Autism, or any other developmental disability. As a special ed. teacher, I have the same benefits of a grandparent. I get to know and love these children 25 hours a week but then I put them on the bus and go home to a quiet house and time to myself. To me these children are like treasures – as they learn to discover the world and their ability to function in it, they are joyful and proud. And to participate in it is such a privilege.  So I come back to the question of – research to what end?

And now my question to families – is raising a child with Autism a tragic burden? Having worked with so many of these families over the years, I recognize that it takes a loving, resourceful, and committed person/family to raise a child with Autism. But there are some things in life that are both a burden and a blessing, aren’t there? If we want to prepare families for life with a child with Autism, they need to know about both parts. And they need to have all of the resources and support we can provide. Could Autism Speaks provide more? Yes, and I hope they will hear the voices of families asking for that.

In conclusion, I’m grateful for the awareness that has been generated by Autism Speaks, although watching the videos the other night at the lecture made me a little apprehensive about the thinly veiled grandstanding. Personally, I wouldn’t donate money unless there was a shift in priorities and more forthcoming disclosure about the ultimate goals of research. But I also hope that people who want to help support people and families of those with Autism don’t turn away from that desire because they don’t like the direction that Autism Speaks is going. The good news is that there are so many more ways to get involved besides pledging and walking.

Let’s hear what you think!

Autism Part II

glass half full edited

High Functioning Autism and the Problem with the Half-Full Glass….

As a longtime Special Ed. Teacher, I recently experienced being on the other side of the table. Literally and figuratively. It’s been revelatory. I attended a CSE meeting as a support to a friend. And I learned something – I never want to sound as though I’m dismissing the concerns of a parent.

Sometimes parents need assurance – that they’re not alone, that they’re doing a good job, etc. Sometimes though, parents need to be heard and validated for their concerns about their child. I have probably done this before while trying to comfort an anxious parent – inadvertently dismissed their concerns by ticking off all the typical things their child does… knows letters, sings the words to lots of songs, does a great job playing on the iPad. But most likely there are also times that parents don’t want to hear about all of the things that they already know their child can do. It can come across as seeing a glass that is a half-full.

The problem with looking at a child with High Functioning Autism as a half-full glass is that families want their children to have lives that are a full glass – to have friends, to do well in school, to be prepared for a fulfilling place in the real world. If we settle for the half-full glass, it’s easy to lose focus of the path to a full glass. And I for one, never want to do that to a parent or child. It will take people on both sides of the table to fill those glasses. Let’s get pouring!