Sunday, November 5, 2017

Sensory Bin Fun!

Do you use sensory bins in your classroom?  This year I have decided to implement sensory bins with my preschool class and the bins have been a huge hit! I wanted to share some of what we have used so far that has been successful.

Base Materials:

I have used a variety of base materials to get our bins started.

Add ins:

Some of our bins include the base material and then just stuff to scoop and play with such a cups and funnels.  In some of the other bins, I put various items that the kids can hunt for.  Here are a few examples:
  • plastic/foam letters
  • small pumpkins
  • bugs
  • plastic shapes
  • numbers
  • mini erasers
  • items that match our current unit


  • Limit the number of students per bin. I only have two students per bin. 
  • Set rules.  I tell the children that they can not throw the items around and need to keep the "stuff" in the designated areas.
  • Use lunch trays to help contain. 

I am loving how these are all working in my classroom and plan in making a variety throughout the school year to fit with our units and the time of year.  I am still working on organization, but once I find something that works I will share! 

 I would love to hear how you use sensory bins in your classroom.  Please share in the comments below.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

October Alphabet fun!

Happy Fall!!!  I am so excited for cooler weather, leggings, hooded sweatshirts, and carving pumpkins.  Oh, and The Little Old Lady who wasn't afraid of Anything!  October can lead to so many fun activities that really grab our kiddos attention.  I wanted to share some of the alphabet games I play with both my preschoolers and K-2 kids to keep them engaged and learning in October.

1. Alphabet Bats

My student love these bats!!  They are paper bats on a clothes pin.  Each bat has a letter on it.  The kids pick a bat out of the bag, read then letter and hang it on the string.  Letter practice and fine motor all in one!

2. Alphabet Scarecrows

These scarecrows are so much fun and can be used in a variety of ways.  Students can practice saying the letters, handing you the correct letter, matching the upper and lowercase letters and the list goes on. I got these scarecrows for free from Make Learning Fun. 

3. Pumpkin, Pumpkin

This is very similar to books I use later in the year (Valentine, Valentine and Farmer, Farmer) however, instead of using a book I use a plastic pumpkin or a pumpkin cut out.  I put letters/numbers (cards, magnetic, etc) inside the pumpkin.  The students then take turns pulling out a letter and saying what it is.  Sometimes I will throw in a few distractor items like a spider or finger (Pretend of course!). 

4. Spider Webs

This is one of my favorite activities and I pull it out multiple times a year.  I have used black paper plates (from the dollar store) and a silver permanent marker to make spider webs.  Each web is programmed with a letter, number, shape, etc.  (I think I may make a few with sight words this year).  I then spread the plates on the floor and the students place spiders( I use these that I bought on Amazon) on the letter I call out.  You can see more about this activity by checking out this post. 

*This post contains an affiliate link for Amazon.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

5 Freebies to start your year

Happy September!  Happy Back to school!  Yes, I know I am late on the train, but just like everyone else, back to school time is crazy around here!

Here is a list of freebies for you to use to help you plan, make activities for independent work binders, for a quick center, subplans, or just on a day that you realized you didn't plan enough!

1. Name activities for parents:

I just found this Freebie by Tara West and it is perfect for me to send home with my preschoolers and maybe even some of my kinders for name practice at home (Ok, I will probably use it with my own child also).  I have not decided if I will save it for parent conferences or give it out next week at Back to School Night, but either way.  It is a win!

2. Printable Packs by 3 Dinosaurs:

If you have not discovered 3 Dinosaurs yet, I highly recommend bouncing over there right now.  I use Cassie's Printable packs not only for my preschoolers but also for my K-2 kiddos.

3. Planning Playtime Freebies

Planning Playtime has a Freebies page where she has various freebies that will work for each month.  While I am not a fan of using worksheets in preschool, I feel like a lot of these activities I could make into reusable activities for independent work binders for my K-2 kiddos.

4.  Make Learning Fun Themes

Another one of my favorite places to check is Make Learning Fun.  If you go to the themes section you can find tons of activities for math, language arts, etc. all on a specific theme.

5. Alphabet Letter Hunt

Tot School has these free Alphabet letter hunt sheets.  I am using these in conjunction with the Unique Curriculum.  As I introduce letters, students can use these sheets to practice recognizing the letter.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Meet the Parent: Special Education Style

Meet the parents tips for special education teachers.
As a new teacher (Okay, and as a veteran teacher) meeting your students' parents can be scary.  It is almost akin to meeting the parents of your new love.   However, this does not have to be so stressful as long as you prepare yourself and start off with a positive relationship. Parents are the best advocates for their children and they love to be your advocate also (I say this as a teacher and as a parent of a child with an IEP).

Get to know your students

I know, how can you get to know them when they have not been in your room yet.  Guess what, as a SPED teacher we have a slight advantage to general ed teachers in this department.  Paperwork.  Who ever thought paper work could be a good thing?! In this case, it is great.  So grab a cup of coffee, sit down and take some time to read over IEPs, parent surveys, evaluation reports, reports cards, etc that are in the student's cummulative folder.   This information will help you have an early peek into the windows of your student.  

Paperwork might be good!

Get to know your parents

Again, how?  Look at the paperwork!  If parents have filled out school paperwork look to see if the parents have the same last name, is the student living with one parent, both parents, grandparents or someone else?  

Make the first communication POSITIVE

Try not to wait until open house to contact your parent's for the first time.  Call home and introduce yourself, send a postcard to your student saying "Can't wait to meet you at open house!", send a quick email.  Anything to let your student and their family know that you are happy to be working with them. 

Ignore the Negative Nancy

My first year at my new school I was warned about one parent and how she was so hard to work with.  I was a nervous wreck!!! However, I was positive and gave a friendly approach.  Guess what?! She became one of my biggest supporters. We were able to have open lines of communication and talk about the best way to approach her child's education without so much as a frown.  


Let the parents know how to contact you.  I have a business card that I give to parents when I first meet them and every year I have their child, that simply has my name, phone, and email. I had them printed on VistaPrint, but you could just print it one peice of paper or even a sticky note.  This way parents know exactly what they need to do if they need to contact me.  I have also started using Remind so that parents can text me, which for some is easier.  Remind keeps a log of conversations so I can just print it out if I need to.  I have also had parents who would only communicate via Facebook messenger.  I try to do what works best.  However, remember that you have to have the type of communication that works for you.   If you are not comfortable communicating via Facebook or Instagram then give the parent your accepted forms of communication and move on. 

I hope this helps you feel a bit more comfortable when it is time to meet the parents!  Do you have any other tips or ideas to help new (or seasoned) special education teachers?

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Working with Para-Professionals

Working with paraprofessionals

**This post originally appeared on A Special Sparkle on July 21, 2013.  It has been modified/updated a bit.**

One of the scariest things for me my first year was not the kids, but working with my paraprofessional.  I mean, she was old enough to be my mom (Sorry Ramona!) and she had been working in that classroom and school for at least 5 years.  

 When I went into my classroom for the first time she had her (very large) desk in the back corner with some stuff hanging on the wall near it.  The first thing I did was move her desk.  I had to make sure the room was mine and the way I wanted to be setup so that we could have a successful year.  We never met until the first day that teachers had to be in the building and all of the paras came to eat breakfast with us. Of course I was late to that breakfast because I got a flat tire (Go me!!)

 Our first year was crazy, but we became good friends and in the past 11 years, I have learned a lot.  I am no longer working in that school, I now work in a different district with a different group of paraprofessionals (all who I love dearly), but what I learned my first year (and every year after that) has been invaluable.   The paraprofessionals I currently work with are great!  We are friends and even though they sometimes get very motherly on me, I still wouldn't trade them for anything.  With that being said, here are a few things you should keep in mind when working with paraprofessionals.


 Treat your paraprofessional with respect.  Don’t ask him or her to do anything you wouldn't do. If they are expected to change a diaper, then make sure you jump in a change a few yourself.  


 Let the paraprofessionals know what your expectations of are them.  I find it best to write it out.  That way you can always refer to it.  I made a plan a few years ago that I was told was very helpful.  You can check it out here.  Feel free to adapt it and use as needed.  Also, while blog stalking browsing, I read a great post on Make Take Teach where Julie explains how she structures student time in inclusion using a curriculum matrix.  This also provides that paraprofessional with a plan.

Open Communication

Keep the lines of communication open.  I can not stress this enough.  The ladies I work with are my lifeline at school.  If I am out, they are the reason the classroom runs smoothly.  There are often evenings where we are on the phone discussing something that happened during the day or texting reminders to each other.   This year I am planning on having a communication center where I can post notes for the day and a “ Ask Caitlin” notebook so they can write things down that I need to address at one of our meetings.  I also want to include a calendar in this area. 

Ask for help

 Ask the paraprofessionals for ideas and suggestions.  They are a wealth of information and sometimes will have an idea that you never thought of.  This can be for anything from a lesson idea, behavior modification or a suggestion on how to word an email. 

Have FUN!!

Most importantly, have fun!   

Here are some links to some other sites that you may find helpful information on working with paraprofessionals. 

Working with paraprofessionals

Monday, July 24, 2017

Simple experiments for the Pre-K - 2nd grade classroom

Simple Science Experiments for PreK-2 classrooms

Experiments in the classroom can be awesome for some and scary for others.  I love doing various experiments with my students.  Just like cooking, there is so much you can tie in to make is cross-curricular.  To give you some ideas of what you can do in your room, my boys and I did some experiments together.  Their ages are 8 and 5 and they loved all of the activities we did!!


We explored density by adding 3 liquids to a mason jar.  We used maple syrup, water (we used food coloring to make it blue) and vegetable oil.  The kids took turns adding the liquids (we started with the syrup, then the water, and lastly the oil).  When adding each liquid we predicted what would happen.  We then experimented with density by dropping various items and seeing where they would settle.  This was a huge hit!!  They dropped all kinds of stuff into the jar:  paper clips, chocolate chips, crackers, toothpicks, a penny, animals crackers, and cheese.  It was so neat to see where each item settled.  In the classroom, you could make a prediction sheet for this and have the kids record what they think will happen and what really does happen.
Explore density with this simple science experiment

Marshmallow Structures (STEM)

The last activity we did involved using marshmallows and spaghetti noodles.  We used these to build structures.  My husband walked in just as we were starting so he jumped in on the action.  It was neat to see how each kid put the structure together.  The ultimate goal was to have the structure support something, but we never got that far. 

Using marshmallows to make supporting structures

Scented Playdough (Recipe included!)

The first thing we made was peppermint scented playdough.  This was super easy and came out great! The kids helped measure, mix, and add ingredients.  Afterwards, they played with it and it kept well in a plastic bag.   I typed up the recipe for you and you can get it by click here!

With this activity you can talk about what happens as you add each ingredient, why might the water need to be hot, etc.  For ideas on what you can do with the playdough, check out this previous post

Make scented playdough to use in the classroom


Slime is the new hit thing right now.  We actually made two different kinds.  The first was a kit that B insisted I get from Michael's. ( I am sure by looking at the picture of the box, you can see why B wanted it.  Oh, boys!)  At first, it seemed too gooey, but after sitting overnight it was perfect.  The 2nd was a recipe from a book that we borrowed from the library.  This one did not turn out well. I am not sure if we messed up or the recipe was bad.  It was way too watery!!  Last time we used this recipe from PBS kids and it came out much better.

I have used the slime recipes when talking about solids and liquids.  The kids think it is cool how using the school glue goes to a solid glob.

Making slime/putty

Easy science experiments for the pre-k through 2nd grade classroom

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Cooking in ECSE and K-2 classroom

I love working on cooking skills in the classroom.  I am sure you are wondering.... What can you do with these little ones?  So much!!

Besides teaching basic life skills that our students will need for the rest of their lives, this is also a perfect opportunity to teach new vocabulary (ingredients, slice, mash, stir, etc.).  In addition, you can work on kitchen safety and health skills such as washing hands and proper use of a knife.  My students also use this opportunity to work on social skills as we often share our creations with school staff in the building.

 Here are just a few of the various activities you can do with your students.

This is a great activity to start with because it does not involve anything hot.  Just lots of stirring and mashing!  We use instant pudding, chocolate cookies (usually Oreos or a knock off of Oreos), milk, and gummy worms.  If you have never made dirt before, check out this post for directions and how we did this in a K-2 room.  I have also made dirt with my preschoolers, you can see some of that by clicking here!

During ESY, we like to make sand instead of dirt.  This is an easy spin on the dirt activity using vanilla pudding, vanilla wafers cookies, and a beach umbrella.  You could also add gummy fish aka Sweedish fish.
Making Lemonade
Another simple starter activity is making lemonade.  With this activity, we work on measurement, pouring, and stirring.  If you would like to see more pictures of this activity in action check out this post. 

Making kabobs is a great way to also work on patterns and counting.   I like to use fruit for this activity because it is generally easier to put on sticks and kids usually like it.  I often use bananas and strawberries.  The kids need to peel the banana and cut it up.  I also have them take the stem/leaves off of the strawberries.  Depending on the group we will also cut up the strawberries.  Next, the kids count out how many of each fruit they need and make a pattern on their stick.  To see more of this activity, click here.

I have other posts about cooking that you can find by clicking on the cooking tag on the left  Be sure to follow me on Instagram and Facebook also as I often post pictures, but may not do a blog post!