December Fine Motor Fun!

Can you believe it is December already?!  After Thanksgiving, we dove right into holiday prep and lots of holiday activities.  This year my class seems to be weak in fine motor so I am trying to incorporate various activities each week to work on building up those little muscles.

Decorate a gingerbread man

My students love playdough!  An easy adaption to just using playdough is to have a cut out of a gingerbread man and challenge the students to make eyes, nose, mouth, buttons etc.  I love seeing what they come up with!

My original mats came from Unique learning systems last year, but I could not locate those this year.  So a quick fix was, I searched for gingerbread man and printed out a couple that I found on the internet.  I then laminated them for durability and to make cleanup easier.  You can also find some great free gingerbread house mats at PreKinders!

Making Ornaments

So this one is two-fold.  Work on fine motor and knock out a parent gift in one!  I found these cute felt ornaments at Hobby Lobby that also have a little picture frame.  We used glitter to decorate them a bit.  Instead of just shaking on the glitter, I gave each student a small pile of glitter.  They then needed to "pinch" and "sprinkle" to put the glitter on the glue. This went amazingly well with the 2 and 3 year old kiddos.

Cutting Practice

My 4/5 year old class needs major cutting help.  To help this we made presents with wrapping paper.  They each got a rectangle of white paper (we are also working on rectangles).  Next they needed to glue on wrapping paper, but first they had to cut the wrapping paper into rectangles.  Each student was given 3 strips to cut into 4 or 5 pieces.  They then used a glue sponge to glue down the pieces.

I hope this gives you a few fun ideas to help you through this busy time of year!!


Collaboration with Gen Ed Teachers

Collaboration with general education teachers can be one of the hardest jobs of a special education teacher.  You need to find time to talk that fits in with both teacher's schedule.  Then if you have students in more than one general education class, you need to work out times with multiple teachers.

I have been teaching in the co-teaching and inclusion setting for the past 13 years.  Here are a few tips I have learned.

Document, Document, Document

One of the most important things I stress to all special education teachers (and General ed!) is documentation. Document the accomodations you are using with students and ask general ed teachers to do the same.  Document goals, document behavior and document communication.  I have a communication sheet that I use to document conversations between myself and general education teachers.  Some of my teammates use a notebook that goes between them and the general education teacher.  

Set up a time to meet

I have always had a set meeting with my general education teachers at least once per month.  I talked with them and we figured out what day of the week and time worked best, then added it to the calendar.  For example, last year, I met with a teacher the third Friday of every month at 8:15 AM.  This gave us a set time to discuss how students were doing or if we were co-teaching anything together, time to plan the next month.  Ideally, if you are co-teaching you have common planning, but lets be real, that does not always happen. 

Be open to change

When you are working with another teacher you need to be open to change and open to trying things a different way.  Learning new strategies and ideas can strengthen your teaching and help your student succeed. 

Check these out!

Here are some other place to find more ideas about collaborating with general education teachers. 

Teacher Self Care

We all have heard the saying that "You can not pour from an empty cup".  We know how important self-care is, but sometimes as teachers (and moms), we sweep it to the side so we can continue to do our mountains of paperwork.  As special education teachers, we often work with kiddos who are behaviorally and/or emotionally challenging.  With these challenging situations, we could experience "compassion fatigue"  This can lead to increased depression, emotional exhaustion, decreased happiness at work, difficulties with our personal relationships, and loneliness.  The stress we experience can also impact our concentration and attention (Shapiro, 2007).  When we take care of ourselves it shows not only in our appearance and emotions but also in our teaching and classrooms. This needs to be something we focus on DAILY, not just once in a while.

I asked my coworkers how they practice self-care and they came up with a great list.

  • sleep, going to bed early no matter what
  • pedicures 
  • drinking lots of water
  • meal planning for clean eating
  • water aerobics
  • alone time
  • watch mindless tv
  • read 
  • dipping into the candy drawer during planning
  • new pens
  • teaching Jazzercise
  • walking 4 miles daily
  • morning/nightly walks with lots of talking and laughter
  • a husband who cooks
  • girls night out
  • daily stretching
  • Chocolate
I know what you are thinking, "Caitlin, this list is great, but how do I fit it in?"  My number one  answer, make it a priority.  Just like getting your IEPs written, reports filed, and lesson plans completed are a priority, self care must be added to that list.  I schedule a pedicure once every 1 -2 months.  I put it on my google calendar and then share it with my husband.  That way he knows that I am taking that 1 hour for me.   I do the same thing with a girls night out.  I also take 10 - 15 minutes every morning to stretch or do some minor weight lifting.  This helps me get ready for the day and focus on what I need to do.  Every night, I read before I go to sleep.   How do you practice self care?  Please share in the comments!

I started a teacher self-care board on Pinterest.  Check it out here for more ideas on how to take care of you!


Tracking behavior in preschool

In my opinion, one of the hardest things to help students with in preschool is modifying their behavior.   In order to know if they demonstrate behaviors (okay, usually this is obvious) that need modification and to know if our interventions are working we need to have some kind of tracking system. I have talked about data collection before and I know that one system doesn't work for everyone.  I switch my behavior tracking systems sometimes multiple times throughout the year.  Today, I wanted to share some ideas that work for me.

First things first, you need to identify the behavior you are targeting.  Once you have your target behavior you can move onto one of these methods.


 I have said before and I will say it again.  This is a great system of you can keep up with it.  In my current position, I find it difficult to keep up with.  You can find out more about that by checking out this post.


Sometimes I find the easiest way for me to track is a simple tally sheet.  Currently, I am doing this to keep track of the number of times I need to redirect a student during circle. One of my coworkers shared a how many times sheet she found at this website (Really, there a few great tools here).

Rubber band or paper clips: 

Something else I have talked about before.  Put paperclips in your pocket or rubber bands around your wrist.  Move them to the opposite pocket when the behavior is exhibited.  If you need to track multiple students or behaviors you can use a different color for each.

Task analysis: 

Sometimes we think a task analysis is just for teaching a student to do a task.  However, right now I have the perfect example to use for behavior.  One of my kiddos refuses to use the bathroom at school.  This student is completely potty trained.  We decided to break down the task of using the toilet to figure out what may be the reason behind her behavior.  We now are tracking how they do with each step and finding that the act of standing in the bathroom is not the issue.  To track this, I have a sheet that lists each step and then a space next to the stop for the date, level of prompting, success rate, and reinforcements needed.

The biggest thing you have to remember is to do what works for you.  If you don't like it, you won't do it.

Organizing for Small groups

I don't about you, but being a special education teacher, I tend to run a lot of small groups during the day.  While running groups, I have little to no transition time so everything has to be ready and at my finger tips.

The first way to do this is good planning.  I have a weekly planning sheet for each group. Nothing grand, but it works for me.  Next is your set up.

I have a set of 10 drawers and each drawer is labeled.  In the drawers are activities by group, various alphabet activities, the books for my Orton-Gillingham/Wilson assessments, paper, and other resources.  This makes it easy for me to grab what I need quickly.

On the white shelf, I have a plethora of materials.  The small drawers hold letter and word card for quick drills for each group. On the very top is a utensil organizer I found in the clearance section of target that I use to keep pens, pencils, glue, scissors and those kinds of things that I need to use.  I also have a small 9 drawer organizer where I keep brads, paperclips, binder clips, etc.  The little containers hold reinforcers (because in special education editable reinforcers are often a necessity).  On the middle shelf, I have white bards, games, dice, and "teacher" books.  On the bottom shelf, I have a basket with my gel boards, a basket of whiteboard markers, colored pencils, crayons, and a box with my word cards.

So that is it, everything is all over the place, but I can get to it and use it quickly which is what I need.  I find that by the end of the week, my space is a disaster area so cleaning up after myself is always needed.


Social Stories 101

Social Stories.  We say it a lot, but do you know what they actually are and how they can help your students?

What are Social Stories:

 The concept of Social Stories is attributed to Carol Gray. She began developing the concept in the 1990's and if you look on her website she has a few articles explaining the history.  In short, a social story is a learning tool that is used to provide social supports for individuals. Social Stories are evidence-based and help the individual using the social story understand some of the little things in life that we often know innately. If you are doing a true Social Story, then you follow Carol Gray's protocol.  Honestly, I think the ones I write do not follow the protocol, but they work!

Why should I use Social Stories with my students:

Social Stories are great ways to help students understand expectations, routines, behaviors in a specific situation.   Social stories can provide visual/pictorial examples of expectations and are usually in story form which makes them more interesting to our students. 

Which students should I use Social Stories with?

All of them!  Ok, so I know typically we that that social stories should be used for students with Autism, but I have found that they work with all of my students.  Sometimes, just have those expectations written out is a reminder of what the student should be doing. 

How do I write social stories?

I promise it is not as hard as it seems.  A great way to start is a good old google search for social stories on ou specific topic.  I usually don't find exactly what I need, but I then can sometimes get some ideas and make the story fit my situation. I like to use real pictures and will go around taking pictures of set up situations for pictures to demonstrate what behavior I want.  For instance, I have a student who is having a lot of difficulties getting on the bus.  My first step was to take a picture of the bus drive, bus aide, the seat the student sit in, and the bus.  I then was able to write the student a story about getting on the bus, riding to school, getting off to see all their friends and having fun at school.  Guess what?  Getting on the bus has been much easier.  

If you want to know more about the prescribed way of writing a Social Story, this article from PBISWORLD is useful. 

I wrote it, now what?

Introduce the story to your student in a non-stressful time.  For example, a story about how we handle name calling should not be presented for the first time as a reaction to the student being called a name.  It should be introduced beforehand so the student is familiar with the story.  It can then be pulled out in that specific situation.  The story should also be reviewed at various times to remind the student of the expected behavior.  I often keep a copy of the story in the student's desk or book box, a copy in my classroom and I send a copy home.  This provides lots of opportunities to practice the skills and allows parents to be an active participant. 

Where can I find more information?

Here are some websites where you can find out more about Social Stories or find some examples:


Data Collection in ECSE

Data Collection can be tough.  Between teaching, behavior management, bathroom routines, nursing services, speech, OT, PT, assistive technology and who knows what else how are we also supposed to collect data?!?  Well, guess what.... we don't have a choice. (Ha, I know you all know that, but sometimes we need a reminder).

Embedded Instruction:

 The number one thing I do to make sure I can collect data while wearing all of my other hats is to embed my instruction.  When you embed instruction into your daily routines, you can collect data on the things you need.  Embedding instruction means that you purposely plan and teach through your daily activities.  I wrote a whole blog post on this.  You can find it by clicking here.


I like using a matrix to collect data in my ECSE classroom and when I am teaching K-2 self contained.  A matrix allows me to see what I need to work on all at a glance and take data right on the sheet.  I keep a copy of my matrix on a clipboard that I or another adult can easily access and add data points.  I then transfer the data to a graph for the individual student.   You can find a little more out about a matrix ( and how it links in with embedded instruciton) at this blog post

Be Ready to Collect Data:

Have copies of your data sheets ready to go.  I keep a binder. clipboard, or a hanging file folder (depends on the year) filled with the data sheets I need.  I also keep the items I need to assess with the sheets.  For example, if I need Alphabet flashcards those are kept in a drawer with the needed sheets.  I recently did an alphabet check on my preschoolers using the PALS quick check.  To make sure I could do this quickly, I have all of the sheets that I need preprinted and in a binder.  I put the sheets that the kids read off of on a page protector.  Then I assess as one of the center rotations.  There are usually 2-3 kids in a center so I work with one and the other one does an activity like puzzles or a fine motor box.  I wanted to share a picture of my binder, but we have had a larger than expected snow fall and I didn't take pictures ahead of time (#bloggerfail). 

Don't make it to hard:

Do not get yourself in a frenzy tryign to collect data. If you make it to hard, you will not do it.  If you need to, go back to the simple ways .  Put a pile of paperclips in one pocket  and everytime a student exhibits a behavior, move a paperclip to the other pocket.  You can do the same with rubber bands.  I even know teachers who have kept data on their arm with a pen or put a sticky note on their body to collect data.  I have also been known to wear a teachers apron (a nail apron from the hardware store works awesome also) and I keep whatever it is I may need such as sticky notes and pens in that.