Thursday, September 6, 2018

She plays, he plays, wee ALL play!

Program room with toys, books, colorful rugs, and squares

Play is important work for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. Through unstructured play, little ones develop imagination, social/emotional, cognitive and motor skills in the most natural way. Children with disabilities need to learn through play as much as their typically developing peers, building and expanding on their psychological health and these crucial early developmental skills together. Inclusive play groups and programs encourage acceptance and diversity early on and help to serve as a model for creative play, especially important for older little ones who are still learning through parallel play alongside other children.

How can we adapt play programs for children of all abilities? This summer, we made our Wee Play program, for ages birth through three years and their grown-ups, even more inclusive and accessible with a few changes and additions of adaptive aids and toys. We now call this program Wee ALL Play. Here's what we have been doing so far:

  • Adjusting or dimming some of those lights in the room (especially those bright fluorescents!) and taking advantage of our wall of windows in our program room which lets in natural light to help prevent overstimulation in children who are sensory-sensitive. 
  • Making sound-reduction headphones available in the room who may need help cancelling out some of the noise. (You can also add a small pop-up tent in the room for those looking to head off a meltdown or just in need of a "quiet area.")
  • Providing adaptive toys with built-in or attached capability switches for those with fine motor difficulty 
Curious George in the Box and See and Say toy with capability switchesMusical caterpillar toy with built-in capability switches

Musical giraffe toy with high-contrast color feature and capability switch

  • Adding more high-contrast toys, light panel activities, puzzles with sound features, and noisy balls (like the Wiggly Giggly Ball) for youth with visual disabilities
jungle animal puzzle with sound featuresWiggly Giggly ball

 light panels with high contrast shape puzzle pieces        

  • Story boxes not only help youth who are blind or have low vision engage with a story, but they are also great for "acting out" stories with tactile manipulatives, providing a sensory experience that helps give more meaning to the words in a story and builds early literacy skills in children of all abilities.
Little Quack story box with book and tactile duck manipulatives

  • Providing simple American Sign Language (ASL) puzzles and toys with visual stimulation features that allow those with hearing disabilities to "see" sounds, like this Pop! Pop! Piano with popping stars.  

Mirari Pop Pop Piano

  • Adding more easy to grip (and great for all abilities!) building and textured sensory toys to help kids build fine motor, sensory and hand-eye coordination skills.

Colorful Tobbles Neo building toy

  • We also added more sensory-engaging gross motor toys, including Bilibo seats and a tactile beam.
blue bilibo seattactile beam pieces

In the future, we may also consider partnering with a local university occupational therapy department to provide some professional therapeutic insight and support for parents and caregivers who are interested.

What are some ways that you have made your play programs more accessible and inclusive?

Monday, July 2, 2018

Outreach: "Springtime Science"

My Adult Services colleague, Ed, and I brought a little multi-sensory spring science lesson to students at the Wing Lake Developmental Center just before Summer Reading started. As I have mentioned before, Wing Lake is a year-round school that serves students, ages 3 - 26 years, in Oakland County with severe cognitive impairments (SCI) and severe multiple impairments (SXI). Often times cognitive disabilities are associated with a younger developmental age. Please read this fantastic post about mental age theory by S. Bryce Kozla i-have-mind-of-infant-mental-age-theory.html. Even though a person with cognitive disabilities may have difficulties with the complexities of language, comprehension, and other developmental skills, it is important to recognize and respect their physical age. Because there is a wide age span of the students here, we do our best to select activities, songs (which are always a hit here!!), and books that are age-respectful. These age-respectful picture books have simple, clear language and illustrations that will appeal to all ages. Books with photograph illustrations are especially great. April Pulley Sayre is one of my favorites!

Here is what we did:


1. Hello! (Talk about Picture Schedule)

2. Talk about our theme: Spring Science
"Today we are having fun with things that we experience in the spring. What are some things you notice outside in the spring? (flowers, birds, leaves growing on trees...)

3. Yoga pose: "Sunrise"

4. Song: "Spring Song" 
Tune: "London Bridge"
Leaves are growing on the trees,
on the trees,
on the trees.
Leaves are growing on the trees.
It is springtime.

Additional verses:
All the grass is turning green...
See the birds build their nest...
Smell the flowers as they grow...

5. Story: Bird Builds a Nest by Martin Jenkins (I love this new "A First Science Storybook" series!)
We incorporated some fun multi-sensory experiences to help students understand some basic science concepts introduced in the book. As we read the book, scanned and projected onto wall screen, Ed and I (along with the teachers and teaching aids) used stretch bands with each student, introducing the concept of "pushing and pulling," as the bird does when attempting to pull a worm out of the ground. We brought around different size twigs to demonstrate "heavy and light" like bird does when finding branches for her nest, and also dropping them (as the mother bird sometimes does) to demonstrate "gravity and force." We also brought feathers, grass, and a bird's "nest" for students to touch and feel.

6. Puppet rhyme: "Owl in the Tree" (using various bird puppets)
Tune: "Skip to My Lou"
Owl in the tree goes, "Hoo, hoo, hoo."
Owl in the tree goes, "Hoo, hoo, hoo."
Owl in the tree goes, "Hoo, hoo, hoo."
Early in the evening.

Other verses:
Babies in the nest go "tweet, tweet, tweet..." "...all day long"
Duck in the pond goes "quack, quack, quack..."  "...all day long"
Rooster in the yard goes "cock-a-doodle-do..."  "...early in the morning"
(source: unknown)

7. Story: Thank You, Earth by April Pulley Sayre
Again, we took around some sensory engaging experiences to each student while reading this book: vines, sunflowers, and carrots to touch and smell. And don't forget to describe the beautiful illustrations for students who are blind or have low vision!

8. Song: "This Land" (with hand motions)
Tune: "This Land is Your Land"
This land is your land.
This land is my land.
Let's work together,
to make it better.
From tall green forests,
to clear blue waters,
this land depends on you and me!

9. Craft activity: "Coffee filter planet earth"
We used coffee filters, earthy-tone dot markers, water spray bottles, and plates to create our very own planet earth!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

SENSEational Story Time: "Welcome Home!"

Diversity and acceptance of others is a topic that can and should be talked about with children of all ages and cognitive abilities. Today we talked about different homes, things we see in and around homes, and welcoming others onto our "front porch." Here's the plan:

1. Hello!

2. Welcome  Song: "The Story Time Ball"
tune: "Wheels on the Bus"
(Roll ball back and forth to each child)
The story time ball rolls back and forth,
back and forth, back and forth.
The story time ball rolls back and forth,
Let's see who it found. Hi ______!
Now roll it back to me.
(Keep rolling back and forth until each child has said their name.)

3.  Yoga pose: "flower" -- seated with our legs crossed in "easy pose," taking a deep breath in as we place our hands behind our head and imagine that we are a flower in a flower bed in front of our house, blooming. Then we bring our elbows together in front of our face and lower our head to the floor and exhale. We inhale again as we rise and "bloom" all the way open.

4. Flannel rhyme: "There Was a Little Green House"
(Layer houses underneath and remove top house until you get to the heart.)
There was a little green house.
And in the little green house,
there was a little brown house.
And in the little brown house,
there was a little yellow house.
And in the little yellow house,
there was a little white house.
And in the little white house,
there was a little heart.
(traditional english children's song)

5. Story: My Very First Book of Animal Homes by Eric Carle
We used our set of these board books for every caregiver to interact with this split-page story. We read the story together, finding the home on the bottom of the page that matched with the animal on top.

6. Stretch band rhyme: "My Turtle"
This is my turtle.  (raise stretch band over head)
He lives in a shell.
He likes his home very well. (lower arms and stretch out to sides)
He pokes his head out (lean head forward)
when he wants to eat
and pulls it back (lean head back)
when he wants to sleep. (raise stretch band over head)
(traditional rhyme - source unknown)

7. Puppet story: A Bear Sat on My Porch Today by Jane Yolen
The top of our discovery bin became our "front porch," with the help of a few pieces of cardboard "porch railing" attached with tape. Puppet friends were added to the porch as I read this wonderful, cumulative story of wary strangers becoming friends. Story time kids helped by saying the repetitive "Boo! Shoo!" when asked "What should I do?"

8. Parachute song: "Itsy Bitsy Spider"
The itsy bitsy spider climbed up the water spout. (raise parachute high)
Down came the rain and washed the spider out. (lower parachute)
Out came the sun and dried up all the rain. (raise parachute, walk around in circle, and lower)
And the itsy bitsy spider climbed up the spout again. (raise parachute high)

9. Goodbye song: "Tickle the Clouds"
Tickle the clouds.
Tickle your toes.
Turn around and tickle your nose.
Reach down low.
Reach up high.
Story time's over.
Wave goodbye!

10. Play time: "House building with blocks and Magnatiles on light panels"

Animal habitats "Jungle animals" and "Sea creatures" (using blue moon sand as the ocean)

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

SENSEational Story Time: "Look Up!"

Shake the Tree book cover with tree and animalsHooray for Birds! book cover with illustrations of different birds

We have really been looking forward to spring time in Michigan (or at least being done with "swinter"), so this was a Saturday to look up at some of those things we see up above in warmer weather! 

Here's the plan:

visual schedule with images of activities done in story time1. Hello!

2. Welcome  Song: "The Story Time Ball"
tune: "Wheels on the Bus"
(Roll ball back and forth to each child)
The story time ball rolls back and forth,
back and forth, back and forth.
The story time ball rolls back and forth,
Let's see who it found. Hi ______!
Now roll it back to me.
(Keep rolling back and forth until each child has said their name.)

3. Yoga pose: "tree pose" (adaptation for kids unable to stand: taking a nice breath in and extending our arm "branches" out.)

4. Flannel rhyme: "Four Little Kites"

4 flannel kites
One little kite in the sky so blue,
Along came another, then there were two.
Two little kites flying high above me;
Along came another, then there were three.
Three little kites, just watch them soar;
Along came another, then there were four.
Four little kites dancing across the sky;
what a sight to see, way up so high!
(source: adapted from "Five Little Kites" storytime katie)

5. Story: Hooray for Birds! by Lucy Cousins
We had so much fun making bird sounds and trying to move and stand like birds along with some help from our puppet friends.

peacock, flamingo, and parrot puppets

6. Bubbles song:
I blew bubbles from a large bubble wand (best for kids who may have sensory discomfort with bubble machines) and we sung our song as we "looked up" to catch bubbles.

tune: "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star"
Bubbles floating all around.
Bubbles fat and bubbles round.
Bubbles on my toes and nose.
Blow a bubble...up it goes!
Bubbles floating all around.
Bub...bles to...the...ground.
(source unknown)

7. Active Sensory Story: Shake the Tree! by Chiara Vignocchi
I love this interactive story (great for one-one sharing and group sharing)! The layout shifts from vertical to horizontal every time the tree is shaken and a furry surprise falls down. I handed out shakers to every child and they shook their shakers "to the left and to the right" when it was time to shake the tree and see who or what would fall out!

8. Parachute activity: "Up the Hill" (This can be great fun for kids who choose to be seated/laying under the parachute.)
Here goes turtle up a hill...creepy, creepy, creepy, creepy... (move around very slowly with parachute)
Here goes a rabbit up a hill...boing, boing, boing, boing...  (raise parachute up and down quickly)
Here goes an elephant up a hill...thud, thud, thud, thud...  (raise parachute really high and lower)
Here goes a snake up the hill... slither, slither, slither, slither...  (move side-side with parachute)
Here comes a rock down the hill...boom, boom, boom, boom... crash!
(raise parachute up and down slowly -- really high and then down at the end)
(adapted from Malaysian folk game)

9. Goodbye song and stretch: "Tickle the Clouds"

Tickle the clouds.
Tickle your toes.
Turn around and tickle your nose.
Reach down low.
Reach up high.
Story time's over.
Wave goodbye!

10: Play time: "Feed the Bird" discovery bin
I filled our sensory bin with bird seed, branches, moss, little bird finger puppets and pipe cleaner "worms." Kids found worms using their hands, scoops, or large tweezers (great fine motor practice!) and fed our hungry bird.

sensory bin filled with seeds, moss, branches, scoops, bird puppetstouch and feel box with bird face and beak attached

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

SENSEational Story Time: "How Do You Feel?"

It was another snow-filled Saturday last month, but our SENSEational Story Time families (including a new family!) said "they wouldn't miss it!" Yay! We celebrated by having fun with our feelings. We talked about how friends (and the help of a few silly hats) can make us feel better. Then we learned how our actions (and the acts of others) make us feel with lessons from a bunny.

Here's the plan:
visual schedule

1. Hello

2. Welcome Song: "The Story Time Ball"

Tune: "Wheels on the Bus"
(Roll ball back and forth to each child)
The story time ball rolls back and forth,
back and forth, back and forth.
The story time ball rolls back and forth,
Let's see who it found. Hi ______!
Now roll it back to me.
(Keep rolling back and forth until each child has said their name.)

3. Mindfulness exercise: "Body Scan"
Lie back or remain seated, close your eyes, and squeeze all of your muscles as tight as you can. Now relax all of your muscles --- "How do you feel?"

4. Flannel activity: "Expressions Game"

flannel faces that are happy, angry, surprised, scared, silly, and sad
I gave the kids scenarios and then we pointed to the expression that best fit how we would feel in each situation.

Yellow - "happy"
What if your parents gave you a big box, and inside the box was a puppy? How would you feel? What does your face look like when you are happy?

Purple - "surprised"
What if you walked into a room and everyone yelled "happy birthday!?" How would you feel? What does it look like when you're surprised?

Purple - "scared"
What if those people who yelled scared you? What does your scared face look like? (put hands over eyes on face)

Red - "angry"
What if someone pushed you and made fun of you, or took your favorite toy? How would you feel? What does your face look like when you're angry?

Blue - "silly"
Do you like to be silly? Make a silly face!

Green - "sad"
What if you fell and skinned your knee? How would you feel? What does your face look like when you are sad?

5. Story with interactive flannels: Hooray for Hat! by Brian Won

flannel elephant, owl, turtle, zebra, lion, giraffe
box with red bow

box opened with little flannel hats for animals
After a grumpy Elephant opened his gift of wonderful hats, he gave one to each of his friends, who then gathered all of the hats together again to gift to Giraffe so he would feel better! I had some helpers in story time gather the hats from all of the animals to place in the box, one at a time, for Giraffe.

6. Scarf rhyme: "Shake My Sillies Out"
I had the kids choose a scarf color to shake based on how they were feeling (like we talked about earlier in the expressions game).

I've gotta shake, shake, shake my sillies out
shake, shake, shake my sillies out.
Shake, shake, shake my sillies out
and wiggle my waggles away.

I've gotta clap, clap, clap my gloomies out
clap, clap, clap my gloomies out.
Clap, clap, clap my gloomies out
and wiggle my waggles away.

I've gotta stomp, stomp, stomp my scaries out
stomp, stomp, stomp my scaries out.
Stomp, stomp, stomp my scaries out
and wiggle my waggles away.

I've gotta shake, shake, shake my sillies out
shake, shake, shake my sillies out.
Shake, shake, shake my sillies out
and wiggle my waggles away.
(Adaptation of song by Raffi)

7. Sensory Story: Bunny's Lessons by Harriet Ziefert

tactile items include bunny puppet, doll, toy stethoscope, toy thermometer, toy glass of milk, blue flannel splotches, bowl of noodles, book

During the story, kids were invited to put bandaids on our bunny puppet, touch/feel his noodle lunch, help Charlie feed "baby" bunny his milk, paint (flannel) splotches of blue on bunny, and then we all gave ourselves a big hug in the end (like Charlie and bunny).

8. Parachute activity: "Grand Old Duke of York"
The grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men.
He marched them up to the top of the hill 
And he marched them down again.
And when they were up, they were up.
And when they were down, they were down.
And when they were only half-way up,
they were neither up nor down.

9. Goodbye song and stretch: "Tickle the Clouds"
Tickle the clouds.
Tickle your toes.
Turn around and tickle your nose.
Reach down low.
Reach up high.
Story time's over.
Wave goodbye!

10. Sensory craft: "Stress balloon balls"

We stretched our balloons out, rolled up play dough "worms," and stuffed them into our balloons. Caregivers tied a knot at the bottom of the filled balloons so the kids could draw faces on their stress ball. Then we squeezed!!

boys holding stress ball balloons

boy squeezing stress ball balloon

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Outreach: STEM Sensory Story Time at the Science Center

I was invited to be an advisor on the Super Spark accessibility committee at the Michigan Science Center last year. I volunteered as a guide during one of the Super Spark Special Needs Awareness Weekends and later met with museum staff and local disability advocacy group leaders to consult on ways to make the museum more accessible and welcoming to families of all ages with disabilities. Check out their accessibility page: They also offer visitors with sensory sensitivities a color-coded sensory map, indicating areas with especially loud sounds and bright, flashing lights. The museum offers accessible days geared to families with special needs one Sunday a month and accessible field trip days for special education groups the second Tuesday of the month. A couple months ago, Ed and I were invited to present a STEM-themed multi-sensory story time to a group of students with various learning disabilities in grades 4 - 6 on one of the field trip days. We went with an Engineering & Inventions theme to go along with what they were learning that day.

Here's the plan:

1. Hello -- "Today we are talking about engineering and inventions. Have you ever built something? What is your favorite invention?"

2. Mindfulness exercise: "Balloon breaths"  -- holding our imaginary balloon, take deep breaths and blow up your balloon until it's "so full," then release it (repeat).

3. Activity rhyme: "Building a Skyscraper"
Brick by brick
by brick by brick.
My building's so high
it's scraping the sky.
(place fists one on top of the other, going higher each time)

Brick by brick
by brick by brick.
My building will sway
when the wind blows this way.
(sway left, then right)

Brick by brick 
by brick by brick.
Now I'm ready to stop 
and a flag goes on top.
(open one fist and wave left and right)

(Source: Reedy, Polly 1001 Rhymes & Fingerplays)

4. Story: Dreaming Up: a Celebration of Building by Christy Hale
We scanned and projected this story on their big screen for this large group and added sensory experiences from the story -- touching water and clay (like the village in Egypt made from the four basic elements of earth, water, sun, and air), inviting a few students up to make a fort with blankets and chairs (similar to the design of the Yoyogi National Stadium in Japan), building with Legos (to look like the housing complex in Montreal, Canada), and passing around paper tubes (imagining a whole school made from larger, heavier versions like the temporary paper tube school in China).

5. Interactive flannel activity: Building with flannel shapes
We kept the building theme going, inspired by the book Moving Blocks by Yusuke Yonezu and a Flannel Friday post from Storytime Katie and Mel's Desk

We invited volunteers up to design a car and a rocket ship with our flannel shapes. Here's the rocket ship.

6. Story: Imaginative Inventions by Charise Mericle Harper

We chose a few of the invention spreads in the book that we thought the students might really enjoy and added some fun sensory experiences: 
1. potato chips (We offered everyone a chip to taste of course!)
2. frisbee (The very large theater was a great space to throw and catch the frisbee with a few volunteers.) 
3. doughnut (We didn't taste, but smelled the wonderful cinnamon aroma!)
4. flat-bottomed paper bag (Kids passed around a paper grocery bag from today's grocery store.)
5. chewing gum (Yes -- everyone got a piece of gum to chew. This was a favorite!)

7. Goodbye song: "The Inventor Song"
Oh it took Bell to make the telephone ring,
And it took Edison to light up our way.
It took Robert Fulton in a steamboat,
to go chug-chug-chugging down the bay.

Otis made the elevator go up,
McCormick's reaper reaped the rye.

So when you're spelling the word inventor
don't forget to dot the I!

Richard Hoe improved the printing press,
so we could get the news.
Charles Goodyear made the rubber
for the heels upon our shoes.

So if you talk about a new invention.
Incidentally don't forget to mention...

That it took Morse to make the telegraph hum
and it took Henry Ford to make an auto 
so that folks could go and take a drive.
Howe knew how to make a sewing machine.
The Wrights learned the right way to fly.

So when you're spelling the word inventor
don't forget to dot the I!
(adapted from classic school song)

We received so much positive feedback from the teachers the next day. I'm not sure who had more fun though - the students or us?!