January 18, 2017

Affordable Alternative Reward System for the Preschool SLP

Curious about ways to break away from treasure boxes, candy, and stickers? Looking for an affordable alternative to the "expected" rewards? Read more, in this follow up post to "Why I Dumped the Treasure Chest".

After writing my previous blog post over dumping the treasure chest, I realized I didn't tell you quite enough about how I reward my precious preschoolers. Before I indulge them, let me recap:

My first year working at a school, I used the treasure box left behind by my predecessor. It was half full of McDonald's toys, dollar store goodies, and overall junk that kids love while simultaneously making parents everywhere cringe.

I was over it. It cost too much to refill and the kids were a little ungrateful. Fast forward to today.

After deciding upon a reward system for my elementary aged students, I realized it wouldn't work for my preschool students. A session without shoes or getting to sit with a stuffed animal didn't quite do it because those both sound like things that might happen on a normal day for them-- plus, preschoolers can't handle waiting 5 sessions for a reward. Preschoolers live in the here and now. They need immediate reinforcement.

You may laugh when I tell you what I use for my preschoolers as a reinforcement, but you and I can take that laugh straight to the bank because what I am about to tell you WORKS and will save you MONEY!

TA-DA. Lip balm.

Yes, lip balm, more specifically, scented lip balm, or as we oh-so-affectionately call it in the preschool world: A "Smelly"; Plural = "Smellies".

How does it work?  Simple. A child does something that is deserving of positive reinforcement, and therefore recieves a smidge of scented lip balm onto the back of their hand. Seriously. That's it. They love it, their friends are jealous, and their teachers are slightly tired of smelling the back of their students' hands when they come back into the room. The adults all have a good laugh and the kids are happy. Win-win.

A preschooler will do anything for a smelly. Truthfully, most kindergartners and first graders will also do anything for a smelly.

Did you finish your activity? You get a smelly! Did you walk like you were supposed to in the hall? You get a smelly! Was this the first session all year where a temper tantrum was not involved? I'll be darned, you are getting a smelly on each hand.

 Before I leave you, however, let me share these quick troubleshooting tips:
  • Some children worry about washing off the smell. Solution? Put the "smelly" on their forearm or wrist. 
  • Most children want to put in on themselves. Solution? No. It ends up going from hand to shoulder, possibly on lips, and rolled out too far then smushed up in the lid. Am I speaking from experience? Possibly.
  • Have 2-3 smells to choose from. Preschoolers like the choice but too many choices will overwhelm them, and they will never pick which smell they want. I change out the smells from season to season.
I mean really, what kid doesn't want to smell like fruit, ice cream, or soda*? Honestly, I kind of want to smell that good, too.

*Post contains affiliate links.

January 16, 2017

5 Under $5: Valentine's Day Must-Have Items for Your Therapy Room

Looking to add some flair to your Valentine's Day therapy, but want to keep it affordable? Here are 5 must have items, each under $5, to add to your toolbox for hands-on therapy this Valentine's Day!

1. Candy Hearts

There are so many things you can do with candy hearts. Obviously they can be used as a delicious reinforcement for articulation (5 correct productions = 1 candy heart) but what else can they be used for? For younger students, practice following directions using colors. For older students, practice following directions at a more engaging and difficult level by making your own paint using candy hearts! You can also line them up and use as a pacing board for fluency or withhold them for requesting (see my blog over using communicative temptations).

2. Mini Mailbox

I bought a mailbox from the Dollar Tree for $1 (also available on Amazon* for slightly over $5) which I use every Valentine's Day. Possibilities are endless with what you can do. You can use it in conjunction with articulation cards, of course. Have children draw a card from the mailbox or have them stick a card in the mailbox after practicing it. The mailbox can also be used with early language learners- open it, close it, lift the flag up and down, put items in and take items out. Use it for inferencing as well. Place items or vocabulary cards inside, and give clues as to what is inside. I offer a product on Teachers Pay Teachers called "What's in My Mailbox", a Valentine's inferencing activity (also under $5!), which can be used with this mailbox as well.

3. Sticky Note Envelopes

Regular envelopes will work too, but these self sticking post-it envelopes are my favorite. These Casemate Envelope Sticky Notes are available at Walmart and on Amazon*. They start out as a letter, and fold into an envelope shape. I typically give my students a list with their target words on it. From there, I have my students write a Valentine's note using at least 5 of their speech words. We practice reading these notes out loud. Sometimes the notes are silly and sometimes they are serious, but this short and sweet activity is fun for students of all ages-- just modify how long the letter needs to be depending on the student's ability level! You can also work on sentence types using these sticky envelopes. Your students can practice writing simple, compound, or complex sentences using these notes. Also, remember that mailbox from #2? These pair perfectly with it! Stick the notes in the mailbox or have the students take their notes home.

4. Heart Shaped Cookie Cutters

These cookie cutters are great for language therapy. They nest inside of each other, which means you have lots of sizes to choose from. Different sizes means you can use them to target comparisons (bigger, biggest, smaller, smallest) when following directions. Use them with play dough-- either purchased or homemade. Another fun way to use these hearts in a version of ring toss as a quick reinforcement between turns.  Scatter the hearts on the floor or on the table. Toss candy hearts, heart beads or even cotton balls into the hearts. Each heart is worth a different number of points depending on the size. Tally the points to determine a winner. A variation of this game would be to toss first, then complete a certain number of tasks, depending on which heart you land in. Mine heart cookie cutters came from Walmart, but you can also get them here* on Amazon.

5. Heart Shaped Beads/Table Scatter

I mostly use these for articulation therapy. Drop one in a bucket for each correct production and see who comes out with the most hearts (the students love hearing them drop in the bucket). When working on minimal pairs, take out 2 small cups. Flip them upside down and hide one heart under one of the buckets. Put the CORRECT minimal pair card on top of the cup hiding the heart and the INCORRECT minimal paid on top of the cup with no heart. Have the student guess which cup is hiding the heart. If the student guesses wrong or make an incorrect production (Ex: It's under the TAR!") have him/her guess again, practicing correct production (Ex: It's under the STAR!"). When guessed correctly, the student keeps the heart (until the end of the session). These came from the Dollar Tree, but similar items can be found on Amazon* for slightly higher.


Obviously Teachers Pay Teachers has some awesome affordable options for under $5 as well. Some activities that I use every year are my Valentine's Day Inferencing Product, "What's In My Mailbox?", Box of Chocolates Categories, Speech Valentine Cards, Peachie Speechie's Candy Heart Comprehension Questions, and Nicole Allison's One Item Therapy {Candy Hearts}.

*Post contains affiliate links to Amazon.

January 7, 2017

SLP Snow Days: Getting Through Without Getting Behind

The forecast is showing snow! There are two types of people: those who are pumped at the possibility of getting a day off, and those who are less than enthused because they know that meetings will be postponed, therapy sessions will be missed, and work will be waiting for them when they get back.

If you get bummed at the thought of a snow day, let's brainstorm. What can be done to ease the burden of a snow day?

Pre-Snow Day

The weatherman is calling for snow and chances are, school won't be in session. Depending on how early you know this information, there are a few things you can do to prepare. 

If you know a week or so ahead of time, start making phone calls to parents. If you THINK you're getting a snow day on a day when you have a meeting,  call the parents and find out if there is another day they will be available, after the snow, in case this one falls through. Go ahead and jot that date/time down so that as soon as school is back in session, you can sent out a new notice. If you are for SURE getting enough snow for a snow day, cancel the meeting, find out a new date/time that works, and send out a new notice to parents.

If you only have 1-2 days of notice for an upcoming snow day possibility, your options are a little more limited. You can call the parents or inform them via Remind  and let them know that due to snow, the meeting may be postponed, eliminating the chance of them being 'unaware' the meeting is not going to happen. Jot down the child's name on a notepad, and be prepared to come up with a rescheduled date as soon as school gets back in session. 

If snow is going to make you miss a deadline, remember that you may be able to pull the meeting forward using a 7-day waiver form. If the parent is unable to attend, a phone conference may be an option. However, always check your district requirements first.

In fact, you may even plan very far ahead and schedule meetings much earlier than necessary in order to miss chances of snow. For example, in my area, we typically get most of our snow in January/February. Therefore, we try to schedule as many meetings as we can in December. This decreases the chances of missing meetings due to snow.

On a final note, if I know a snow day is going to happen, I may try to squeeze in a few extra sessions (or add an extra student or two to my groups) so they won't be missing therapy that week. It doesn't always work out, but I give it an honest effort!

During the Snow Day

For goodness sake, enjoy the snow day!! Do not stress out about things that should have been done or are being missed. Snow days are one of the perks of being employed in a school (and sometimes early intervention or a private clinic, if the snow is bad enough). Catch up on things that are enjoyable--  a binge-worthy tv series, a favorite book, or take a nap by the fireplace. The rest will fall into place.



After the Snow Day

The big question-- to makeup sessions or not to makeup sessions? There is not a GREAT answer to this, because every district is different. However, let's look at what we know. ASHA states that the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs responded in December 2015 with an email to state special education directors reiterating that missed sessions do not necessarily constitute a denial of a free and appropriate public education. This means that missing occasional days of speech therapy due to things such as snow days, does NOT deny a child FAPE and therefore should not be grounds for a required makeup. If you are having trouble with getting this across to yous SPED director, I suggest showing him/her this article, as it truly gets to the heart of the issue. In my district, we are not required to makeup these days. I simply document in my Medicaid notes that the student was not seen that day due to a district snow day.

Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) Days

We are implementing NTI days in my district this year. These are days when school is not in session due to weather, but teachers are still working from home. In short, students are sent home with schoolwork to be completed on the day off, and the teachers must be available from home during school hours, in case the students have questions about their work. So what can we do? 

First, remember we can NOT bill Medicaid for these days. We are not providing physical (or virtual, such as teletherapy) face to face therapy with these students. Even if you are required to have activities prepared for your students to complete during this time, sending activities home with these students does not count as a billable service. Just wanted to be clear on this! Instead, mark this day as a snow day in your Medicaid program.

Unfortunately, in my district, it cannot be assumed everyone has internet.
My suggestion is to find an all-in- one activity and send that home with ALL of your students. I'm thinking something along the lines of a speech/language calendar, like those offered on Super Duper's website or on Teachers Pay Teachers. Another option is to send home a letter to the parents saying the NTI day assignment is to read a book, and either listen for the speech sounds (articulation), practice fluency strategies, or discuss the information within the book (language). Again, both Super Duper online and Teachers Pay Teachers have handouts for parent-friendly strategies for speech and language. For more complex students, you may have to get creative, but book reading can target everything. Let the parents know via a note on the assignment or a text via Remind that this will be used for NTI days.

If you are fortunate enough to live in a district where internet is provided to everyone (yes, those exist), you could always send home a link to your speech-language school webpage (if applicable) or links to passages (such as those on ReadWorks) that may be useful to your students. 

My main point here is to remember to be available. If you are a contract SLP, this section may not apply to you. Check with your district for specific guidelines for NTI days.

What about you? Snow days-- do you love them or hate them? How do you handle NTI days if your district implements them? Let me know in the comments!