Monday, September 23, 2013

My "Top Ten" from Bloggy Conference 2013

I recently attended my first blog conference in Sandusky, Ohio.  I have been blogging for about 2 years and wanted some new tools to help me provide a better blog experience for you!  Going to Bloggy Con 2013 was just what I needed!  Not only did I learn more about blogging, but I also made some new friends, and lots of great memories!  I decided to share my "Top Ten" take-aways from our weekend at Cedar Point!

10.  The fun begins BEFORE a blog conference.  The conference gave attendees many opportunities to connect through Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.  Through the Facebook group we were able to ask questions and make connections with other bloggers that were attending the conference.  Tiffany Noth, conference organizer, did an outstanding job of monitoring this site and answering questions quickly or helping us connect with someone who could answer!  I also attended my first Twitter Party with Bloggy Con 2013.  It was a hoot trying to keep up with all those tweets, but I learned a TON! 

9. Cedar Point is a great place for Halloween fun!  The event was hosted in Sandusky, Ohio at the Cedar Point Amusement Park.  That made this a great opportunity for family fun!  Bloggy Con was a very family friendly event!  Many of the bloggers brought the whole family!  The Park was all ready for Hallo-weekends with surprises around every corner (and I mean EVERY corner)!  They have haunted houses, fun decorations, actors in costume for photo opportunities, scary musical and magic shows, and trick or treating! 

8.  Hotel Breakers is a beautiful location right on the edge of Lake Erie, but make sure you dress for the weather!  Upon our arrival at the resort, the weather was NOT very friendly!  I fretted for days about how to dress for the conference (especially the Meet and Greet where I hoped to make some new bloggy connections).  Come to find out, the Meet and Greet was right on the beach where the winds were so strong that the sand was blowing in my face.  Not exactly what I had in mind for meeting new friends.

Here I am with two of the ladies who braved the weather with me while we stood in line for registration at the Meet and Greet!  I felt like one of those weather forcasters that you see on the beach trying to do a report as a hurricane is approaching!  Ack!

The decorations at Hotel Breakers were AWESOME!  It felt like we were on the set of the Adam's Family!  The whole hotel was decorated like a haunted mansion!
7. When it's cold outside, you can always find warmth in friendship!  I was so fortunate to connect with these five ladies before the conference so we could share the experience together!  I am  happy to call them my friends! 
Although we come from all around the country, we share the common bond of inspiring others through blogging.  Meet Dee Dee from Designed D├ęcor, Amy from One Artsy Mama, Kirsten from One Tough Mother, Kara from Happy Go Lucky, and Carrie from My Favorite Finds.  

Nothing like warming up next to the Hibachi Grill with lots of food, fun, and fantastic friends!

6. Building community is essential!  My friend, Amy Latta, presented a great break-out session about "Building and Engaging Your Community".  I learned about Quick Growth and Slow Growth Methods for building your community.  Quick Growth Methods include large giveaways, contests, and linky parties.  Slow Growth Methods include referrals, submissions and guest posts.  Each method has its pros and cons.  The main point here is that engagement is more important than growth. 

Amy gave many helpful tips about engaging your audience through social media, blogging at least 2-3 times weekly in a predictable pattern, responding to comments, and asking questions of your audience.  My favorite quote from Amy is "You are more than a blogger, you are a community builder!"  Well said my friend!

5. Pinterest is your friend!  There's a whole lot more to it than you think!  Thanks to Amiyrah Martin from 4 Hats and Frugal I have a bunch of new ways to improve my Pinterest boards and use them to help you connect with great ideas!  Some of my favorite tips were to make sure you organize your boards to include one for your blog as well as the main categories you address on your blog such as fashion, food, and family.  Use the other boards as subcategories and rotate them on a seasonal basis.  Try to limit your boards to 12-20 boards and make their titles, photos, and descriptions SEO friendly.  I also learned about the 80/20 rule!

4. I love my Honda Odyssey!  Every time I go to a big event or meet up with friends and family I have plenty of room for everyone in my van!  I love that it gives me the opportunity to take lots of kids, adults or cargo wherever we go!  Honda was a sponsor of Bloggy Con and the new 2014 Odyssey is amazing!  Too bad they last so long, I sure would love a new one, but we will be driving the '07 until the wheels fall it may be a while!  :) #HondaLove
3. Bloggy Con is a great place to meet lots of new "Peeps"!  The other bloggers at the conference were so friendly and helpful!  It cracked me up because for once, I wasn't the only crazy blogger taking tons of pictures!  There were smart phones, iPads, and laptops galore at this conference!  These ladies stay connected digitally AND in person!  I especially loved meeting Laura Kelly and her Peeps!  We had a lot in common!  She also used to teach early childhood special education!  Small world, huh!   
2. Blogging is a lot like being a teacher!  If I didn't get anything else out of the conference, I learned the importance of getting organized!  I plan to narrow down my subject matter and add more predictability to my blogging.  Since my expertise is in working with children who have special needs and behavior management, you can expect to see more focus in these areas.  I am going to sit down with a plan book over the next few weeks and get plans in order so that by the first of the year, you will see lots of fun new content on the blog!
1. My #1 Take-Away from the conference is that "Your Life is a Masterpiece".  Our keynote speaker, Debba Haupert from Girlfriendology, made this powerful statement in her opening address.  The choices we make every day about how to spend our time, money, and energy are like the little dots in the picture below.  If you just had a random splash of dots here and there and didn't emphasize the right colors and organize them into recognizable figures, you would end up with a mess of dots.  You wouldn't see the true beauty of the masterpiece.  
My ah-ha moment at the conference was that I want this blog to take on its own beauty, but I don't want it to squelch out the beauty in my life.  The most beautiful moments at the Bloggy Conference are the ones I shared with my family.  My daughter and I took some time to walk on the beach experiencing the softness of the sand between our toes and the crisp cool water of Lake Erie.
We also took some risks together not letting our fear stand in the way of enjoying some amazing roller coasters!  The Iron Dragon was her first "real" roller coaster ride and once she did it, she couldn't get enough and even rode in the front!

My brother talked me in to riding the brand new coaster called the Gatekeeper!  I swear that this must be what it would feel like to fly!  It was such a smooth and relaxing ride!  I was so happy to share it with him!
As a blogger, it would be easy to become obsessed with all of the social media and numbers and be distracted from the things in life that truly matter!  I want my blog to be about more than sponsored posts, giveaways, and SEO.  I want it to be an outlet for my passion for helping all children be successful regardless of their ability and shining little more light on your path toward being the parent or teacher you want to be!




Thursday, September 12, 2013

Love Grows Here

As many of you know, I love to garden!  One of my favorite things to grow is spring bulbs like tulips and daffodils.  As you tuck those little pods of life into the warm cozy soil, you are hoping for better things to come!  You trust that the hard work you are doing now will bear fruit in about six months when the weather warms back up and the spring rains begin.  I love the view as I pull up to my house in the spring and receive a colorful "welcome home" from all the beautiful flowers I tucked away in previous seasons!

Wouldn't you agree that disciplining children is very similar to growing a garden?  When your children are young you take special care to nurture them and give them the skills they need so that one day they will grow up into talented adults who are able to embrace life and make the world a more beautiful place.

Tomorrow I will be heading north with my family to Bloggy Con 2013 in Sandusky, Ohio.  I am so excited about this opportunity to meet other bloggers {face to face}, learn more of the ins and outs of blogging, and have tons of fun at Cedar Point Amusement Park!

I have connected with an amazing group of bloggy friends and we have some fun planned while we're in Sandusky!  To help us get to know each other better we have decided to bring little goodie bags full of some of our favorite things.  If you know me, I'm an "outside the box" thinker.  :)  I couldn't just give them a bag...I'm giving them a flower pot like the one you see above.  It will be full of my favorite things including homemade apple pie filling, MUGS coffee, a fun ice cream scoop {because I LOVE ice cream}, my favorite kind of hair tie, and of course a few little Conscious Discipline surprises too! 

This is not your normal flower pot!  This flower pot isn't designed to grow flowers, it's designed to grow acts of love.  Whenever you notice someone doing something helpful or kind you put a flower in the pot.  Our goal is to fill the whole pot with evidence of our kindness!

You can make a kindness pot too!  Start by grabbing a flower pot and having some fun decorating it!  I figured out last week how to use my mom's Cricut machine to cut vinyl.  That's what I used to cut the letters.  It's so cool because you can just slap them on there and they are good to go!  No glue necessary!  I added a cute ribbon to each flower pot to give them a little extra flare.  Now all you have to do is fill the pot with something like marbles, rice, Styrofoam, or sand and go to the dollar store and buy some colorful silk flowers to put in a basket beside the flower pot.

Throughout the day at home or school you and your children can be looking for kindness.  When you notice someone doing a kind or helpful act be sure to let them know you saw them.  You could say something like, "You put all your toys away and then helped your friends, so we could get done in a flash!  That was helpful!"  

Just like those little bulbs that are planted each fall with hopes of a spring to come, you are planting seeds of love in the hearts of your children.  With the love and care that they find in their relationship with you their roots will grow deep and strong and one day bear beautiful fruit!

Use Sensory Integration to Get the Right Start!

Have you ever had a student that comes to school upset pretty much every day.  They arrive at your door and this is what you see...

Here comes this kiddo who is having a tough time and there are many reasons why this could be happening.  It could be due to sensory issues, a rough morning at home, not enough sleep, hunger, being yelled at, communication delays, and the list of possibilities goes on and on.  The truth is, we don't always know WHY they are behaving the way they are, but there are certainly some things we can do to help them prepare their bodies for learning.

I'm dating myself now, but waaaaaay back in the mid 90's when I first started teaching, I was intrigued by a workshop I attended about sensory integration.  I was so interested in the results they were getting with children by addressing their sensory needs.  I tried some of the techniques in my classroom and immediately saw a difference.  Honestly, the biggest difference I saw was a shift in my perspective on behavior.  These sensory integration techniques gave me new tools to help my students.  I began to see that excessive movement or aggression could potentially be caused by unmet sensory needs.  

This past school year, I had a little girl in my three-year-old class who would come to me in an upset state frequently.  I found myself expecting her to come into the classroom and be ready to connect with me and follow the arrival routine without first addressing her internal state.  At a conference last spring I heard Dr. Becky Bailey say, "If a child comes to you in an upset state, why would you let them in the door?"  Well, we certainly aren't going to keep children in the hallway until the "get happy", so we have to come up with some other ideas.  Since state dictates behavior I knew I needed to be more intentional about changing her internal state. 

In our school, we use a program called Minds-in-Motion.  This program uses a series of movement activities set up in a maze that students go through in about 15 minutes daily.  This program is designed to stimulate a child’s VISUAL processing, AUDITORY processing, as well as their MOTOR skills. The outcome is a better integrated and balanced child who will perform better in school and at home. 

We decide to begin going to the maze every morning as soon as the children arrived.  We didn't even take off our coats and backpacks.  We gathered the children at drop off and headed straight for the maze.  Now my whole class {including the teachers} had the opportunity to disengage their stress and regulate their upset through organized movement.  What started out as a plan to help one child get ready to learn, ended up benefiting everyone!

You know me, I can't leave well enough alone.  I have to add a Conscious Discipline twist to learning as often as I can.  ;)  So, instead of sticking strictly to the maze plan, I modified it to make sure it included connecting activities and met the developmental needs of my students with special needs.  Here are some pictures of us doing the maze.

We start by doing Wall Push-ups.  We push with our hands, backs, heads, and feet.  I tell students we are going to try to see if we can move the wall.  We also count forward and backward as we push.  A great opportunity to create a pattern and squeeze in some academic skills.

We call this exercise the Electric Slide.  It's basically a side step, but instead of stepping, you slide your foot.  Older children are able to do it independently, but most of our three-year-olds needs some help organizing their bodies.  By holding hands we are also boosting this opportunity to connect with children through the sense of touch.

The Log Roll is usually a huge favorite!  For this exercise we play the Hotdog Game from Dr. Bailey's book, I Love You Rituals.  The child lays down on the mat and pretends to be the hotdog or burrito. Then the teacher or another student pretends to add toppings to the hotdog.  We make lots of funny noises and movements and enjoy this playful time before the hotdog rolls away across the mat!

Climb Every Mountain can be a very challenging movement for preschoolers.  The challenge is to lift one leg all the way over the obstacle while balancing on the other leg.  We really encourage children to complete this movement as independently as possible as it is designed to really strengthen their balance and core strength.

The Puppy Dog Crawl helps children cross the midline.  We like doing it on a line to give children a visual to help them cross their hands over properly.  In this exercise, children crawl in various directions while making x's on the floor with their hands.

It is a joy to watch the children push themselves and increase their skills over the course of the school year.  The Balance Board has taught us many lessons in communication, connection, and focus.  We sometimes hold a hand or two to help children feel safe.  This is also an opportunity to practice calming techniques as this can be a bit scary for little guys.

You don't have to do a maze to help children regulate their state and disengage the stress from their morning.  I have also found great success in using Calming Cream to address sensory needs.  I buy a cheap bottle of lotion and a pump from the Dollar Tree.  Put a small amount of lotion on your hands and rub it on the child's hands while singing a song or making a game out of it. 

Here is an example of a song you can sing:
Bye, Bye Crankies
Bye, Bye, Crankies
Bye, Bye Crankies
It's time for you to go.
We also have an adapted bike that we could use to take children on a bike ride around the school.  One of our classroom jobs is the milk helper.  This child would push a small cart that was filled with blocks down to the cafeteria to collect the milk for the day.  This gives the milk helper an opportunity to get in some heavy work, organize their bodies, and be helpful!  It is very important that you include organized movement patterns as well as opportunities for free movement {think recess or dancing}. 

Who knows what an Underdog is?  When I was a kid we loved getting underdogs on the swing because it was such fun.  I have had several students who respond very well to swinging to address their sensory needs.  For an underdog I get behind them and push them forward as I go under the swing.  They love that dropping feeling as they swing back and forth with a little extra boost.  Once I get started giving Underdogs it's hard to stop, but I'll tell you what, I will have those children "eating out of the palm of my hand" when we're finished.  ;)  It's worth a little extra physical exertion on my part!

I'll leave you with this...

My bloggy friend, Amy, over at One Artsy Mama shared this photo from her son's new school.  When she questioned the administrator about why they have a slide in the school, the administrator said, "Because, school should be joyful."  They really have the right idea!  We have been called to design learning opportunities for children that bring them pure joy!  Why would we want anything short of that?

The next time a child arrives at your door in an upset state, consider how  you might address their need for organized movement to help them change their state and get them ready to learn. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Getting to Know You: Fun Games for Children with Autism

At the beginning of the school year I loved to play lots of games with my students to help them get to know one another.  There are a TON of opportunities to work on important skills throughout these games.  This particular game idea came from my favorite Autism Consultant several years ago.   I have modified it so we could use it over and over again. 

Grab an old coffee can, preferably one that will roll easily across the floor {and doesn't have rust or paint in it}.  Put a photo or name card in the can for all the students in your class.  Put the lid on and you are ready to play!

Gather your students on the floor in a circle.  One person starts by saying the name of a friend and rolling the can to that person.  {For children who are nonverbal, we used a voice output device or picture communication board to help them communicate and make a choice.} 

The receiving child opens the can and removes a picture or name card.  They will say the name and identify the person on the card.  The whole class can then greet that child by saying "Hi ____!" and waving in that direction.  Now the lid is replaced and the can is rolled to the child that everyone just greeted.  You continue this way until everyone has had a turn.

This activity offers lots of opportunities to practice necessary social skills.  When children are removing and replacing the lid on the can, they may need to ask for help.  You can use visual or verbal prompting to help them learn to ask for help appropriately. 

My favorite cue is the sign language for "help".  If they become upset, this is a great opportunity to practice calming techniques and wishing well as a class.

Games like this help keep the children actively involved while practicing lots of essential social skills in a functional setting.

  1. Instead of rolling the can to the pictured child, have them offer that child a greeting such as a high five or fist bump.
  2. Pass the can around the circle in a clockwise direction and use this as an opportunity to practice tapping your neighbor on the shoulder, getting their attention, and then handing them the can.  Inside the can you can place various greetings or movement activities that the children can participate in.  You could also place pictures of shapes, numbers, letters, objects, or sight words in the can for them to identify when it is their turn.  You could ask them questions about what they pulled out of the can or they could give clues to the class and let them guess. 
  3. I had a speech therapist that did a super fun activity every year with the coffee can and instant pudding.  She would allow the children to assist her in following the steps in the recipe to make the pudding.  Then she would secure the lid on the can with tape or rubber bands.  We would mix up the pudding by rolling the can around the circle.  In turn, each child would say the name of a child across the circle and then roll the can in that direction.  When the can had made it's way around the circle, then it the pudding was ready!  We didn't eat it right away though.  Instead, we took it to the table and finger painted with it on wax paper.  It was always a big hit!  The kids even got a choice between vanilla and chocolate!