Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Using Visual Schedules with Sensory Kids

I promise I will get back to the original focus of this blog which is arts and crafts. But I feel like some of these topics might be interesting to those who follow me. Because two of my three children have sensory processing issues, I tend to focus on that quite a bit. And the arts are such a tactile thing that I feel like all of this sort of goes hand in hand. Part of why art is such a focus in our house (aside from the fact that we just like it) is that it is so tactile in nature and can provide such a variety of sensory input for my kids.

When my oldest daughter was in preschool we used a yard stick with velcro on it and pictures of places we frequented to make up a visual schedule for her to follow. This helped her to know what to expect during the day. She knew she would be expected to get in the car (transitions were hard for her) at certain times. And she always did much better if she knew ahead of time what was going on. We are now experiencing much of the same behavior with my son. However, he is not at the point where he will just look at the schedule and leave it alone. He would think of the velcro schedule as more of a toy and pull everything off over and over again.

Use a visual schedule so children know what to expect for their day.

We tried the velcro visual schedule with him in his private speech therapy sessions and it just seemed to overwhelm him to see everything all at once. The therapists came up with a GREAT way to use a visual schedule with him but not have everything out at once. They used an iPad! They would take pictures of each activity ahead of time and have them in an album. He would just swipe through and see each activity. Eventually they also used an app called Pic Collage to put choices on one screen for him. They usually have 6 or so activities they want him to work through by the end of the session. They let him choose what he does and what order he does them in. After each item is complete, he puts the image in the trash can and picks something new. This works great!

Give small children limited choices for play activities via a photo collage. This gives them a bit of control and independence.

And we have incorporated this same collage technique at home. I create a collage of 3 or so activities for him to pick from and we do them as he chooses. Since he is still mostly nonverbal (likely due to a motor planning speech disorder--he's still too young for a diagnosis), this is a great way for him to communicate what he wants to do. It gives him some control as well. This method could work really well for any and all toddlers/preschoolers. They all seek some control and independence. This just might do the trick to satiate that feeling for a bit.

Here are a couple examples of photo collages I've thrown together in about 2 minutes on Pic Collage:
I've taken photos of many of my son's toys and activities with our iPad Mini. But one of the great things about Pic Collage is that you can easily add photos from the web directly to the collage.
 Just tap anywhere on the screen and choose "Photos From Web".
Type in what you're searching for and a bunch of images will pop up. Choose the one you want to use.
And voila! Instant photo collage. You can save the collage as an image, share it to social network sites, or email it to yourself.
We use our original iPad (the first generation iPad) for our son. A big drawback to this is that it doesn't have a camera on it. But now that we have an iPad Mini as well, I take photos on the Mini and they appear in the Photo Stream on all of our apple devices. I can easily share photos between the two iPads as well as on my computer for blogging.

Use iPad apps for more sophisticated visual schedules.

For those needing something a bit more sophisticated in terms of a daily visual schedule, there are also several apps out there you can use. Some are VERY expensive and others are not. I researched the reviews of several and decided that ChoiceWorks would fit our needs well, as well as not empty out our pocketbook.

It has several built-in images (using visual PECS) that come with the app. But it also has the feature of adding your own photos.
You'll notice, you can add audio as well. You can record in your own voice what the activity/place is. For example, I took a picture of my son's bed and I recorded my voice saying, "Time to go to bed, Night, Night Time."
All the built-in images have a recorded voice as well. This is really fabulous for kids that find auditory cues helpful along with visual cues.

Here's what one of our visual schedules looks like:
It shows a mixture of the built-in (cartoon-ish looking PECS) images and my added images. Once you save a schedule, there is an option to touch a button and have the schedule "read" to you. By touching each task you can hear what it is. The child also experiences a sense of accomplishment when they finish a task by moving it from the left column to the right column. The recorded voice then says "all done".
You do not have to add anything to the "Then I can" section, but I do occasionally. In this instance. My son doesn't like to go to speech therapy (he's fine once he gets there) so I entice him by letting him know we will go to Target afterwards. I typically get a bag of popcorn to bring home for my husband as a snack and my son LOVES to steal a few handfuls. This is a good way to have a built-in reward system if you feel you need it.

So far this combination system between Pic Collage and ChoiceWorks has worked well for us. The only thing I've found annoying with ChoiceWorks is there seems to be a bug with the audio. Every now and then the voice won't play. I've figured out that if you go to the Image Library and click on one of the image's sound, it seems to reset the audio on the whole app. Hopefully this bug will get fixed in an update soon.

I hope this will help other parents who may be dealing with children who need visual schedules. I find it so much easier than using the Velcro yardstick approach. :-)

You can see other ways I use our iPad in my post:

Off the Topic: Embracing Technology

I'm going to start this post off with a big, giant *sigh*. From about age 18-30, I was fairly "up" on the latest technology. Maybe even before that. My dad is a design engineer. And he was always into the "latest" computers. He had an Apple Lisa II when it came out back in the day, Then a Commodore 64. And since then, I had a computer toward the end of high school and laptop in college. Email. The internet. An original iPod. Ecetera. I had a blog when the idea was still fairly new and shared photos of our newborn kids through a website. There was a point when my mom said, "Holly's whole life is on the internet." and that was before Facebook and EVERYONE'S whole life was on the internet.

But somewhere along the technology road, I got lost. Somewhere around the explosion of the iPod Touch, smartphone, iPad era. The sudden explosion of devices, all their uses, apps, etc. It all seemed overwhelming to me. I'm not saying our household didn't participate in the digital revolution. Oh, we have ipod touches, Nintendo DSs, NookColors, iPads, smartphones, etc. But I only learned very basic things to do on each device and stuck with that. Otherwise, it seemed like I would just spend my life going from device to device. And don't get me started on my kids' use of these devices. It drives me batty!

However, I've come to realize several things. 1) The devices are not going anywhere. In fact, I'm pretty sure they will just keep coming and joining our household. 2) This is the world my children live in. A friend of mine told a story from her daughter's kindergarten teacher. The kids (all ages 5-6 years old--keep in mind the iPad is three years old and the iphone came out in 2007--the year many of these kids were born) all sat down in the computer lab to take a standardized test. They all had a screen, keyboard and mouse. Half of them did not know what to do with the mouse. And swiped their finger across the screen as if to wake it up!! Can you believe that?!

That is such an indication of the world we live in and the world our youngest children are growing up in. My embracement of technology the last 10 years has been slow but steady. For the longest time, I vowed I wouldn't get an e-reader. I LOVE books. In fact, I had a book blog at one point in time. And I couldn't imagine a world without holding a book in your hand. But then, I got a NookColor one Christmas and well, I concede. It is nice to have an e-reader. I do still enjoy reading actual books, but the e-reader isn't as evil as I once thought.

We received the original iPad as a Christmas gift a few years ago. And to be honest it hasn't been used for much except entertainment for the kids. We have educational apps, fun games, movies and music on it.

BUT. We are now in 2013. And I've decided maybe it's time to really fully embrace these devices. We received an iPad Mini for Christmas this year. And it has prompted me to do some actual research on how to use these devices to their fullest ability. And I found out some really great things!
Image Source

#1--REUSABLE WORKSHEETS on the iPad: Did you know you can put printable worksheets (pdf files) onto an iPad and they can be used over and over again? You need Dropbox and GoodNotes as well as a stylus. There is a great tutorial here. Thanks to the ever growing homeschooling environment, there are all kinds of worksheets and free printables on the internet. Here's a link to some on Pinterest.

Using worksheets on the iPad changed a bunch of things in this household! My first and third graders have math fact sheets (from school--so a random math app doesn't work here) they need to practice and it is sooo easy to have them practice them on the iPad instead of making copy after copy of the worksheet that is sent home. They just do the final timed test on the actual paper. Can you say GREAT FOR THE ENVIRONMENT! LESS PAPER, LESS CLUTTER. LOVE it! Also, my technology savvy three year old is more apt to stay focused with a pre-writing activity on the iPad than if I tried to give him an actual worksheet to do.

#2--EXCELLENT NEWS SOURCE: I've used iGoogle for years to receive my news headlines. The iGoogle frontpage will not exist anymore after November 2013. I've been sort of searching for a replacement for this. I believe I found it in two different apps on the iPad: Flipboard (my preferred news app) and Zite. They can be used in combination with an app called Pocket. ALL FREE! This is really amazing to me! You can save items from the internet into the Pocket app and then read them OFFLINE at a later time. Great for reading articles on a plane or when you don't have access to WI-FI (like traveling in the car). It also easily provides me with my Google Reader feed and Facebook.

#3--VISUAL SCHEDULES:My oldest daughter has apraxia and sensory processing issues. When she was a preschooler, we used a yard stick with velcro on it and photos of various places we went on a daily basis so we could create a daily visual schedule for her. This helped her transition between activities much easier if she knew what to expect during the day. Now, my youngest child appears to have some sensory processing issues and a language delay. I thought about getting the ol' yardstick visual schedule out. But I figured he would just pull them all off or play with them. He had trouble with the visual schedule at his speech therapy sessions. UNTIL, they started using an iPad for their sessions with him. They took photos of each activity ahead of time and they would show him the photo the activity. Let him swipe to the next one. Do that activity. Swipe and repeat. Seeing each item one at a time really helped him focus and made him feel less overwhelmed.

Once we received the iPad Mini with the camera on it. I decided I was going to try this approach at home. Using Photo Stream and iCloud, it will be easy to create a daily visual schedule for my son. I will expound more on this in a separate post. ;-) I'm still learning iCloud and consolidating information on there to use on devices across the board.

You can read a more thorough explanation of this at this post:

#4--EVERNOTE--What a great way to link information to all your different devices. I use this app to create to-do lists for myself, save information from the internet into one place, and organize my planning thoughts when it comes to our summer art projects and science experiments.

In the past, I have used my laptop to show the girls artwork and examples during our art and science projects. I plan on getting everything organized so we just have to use the iPad for this instead.

(Sidenote: Since initially writing this post, I've realized that there are some bugs in the latest version of Evernote and my notes are not syncing across devices. Kind of annoying! Hopefully they will fix this bug in future updates.)

#5--PINTEREST--Anyone who reads this blog faithfully will know I'm addicted to Pinterest. And I'm very thankful for art education blogs and Pinterest because I have been able to provide so many more lessons and ideas for my children. Now, I can use Pinterest without lugging my laptop all over the house! :-)

#6--MEAL PLANNING/SHOPPING--There's an app called Menu Planner (it's $2.99, but well worth the price!). You can store all the items you regularly shop for and make lists from them. You can store your recipes and add them to a calendar. FABULOUS! You can also scan bar codes to add items. It's so great that it not only helps you plan future meals, your past meals stay on the calendar so you can remember when you last had something. Youc an also organize your shopping list in the order of the aisles at your grocery store (and save more than one store configuration).

Those are just a few of the ways we have recently incorporated more technology into our lives around here. I still long for my children to know the days of being completely unplugged. But that's not their lives. It sort of scares me to think what the world will be like when they are my age and have their own kids. But I try not to dwell on that too much. :-)

All of the above may be old news to you. You may have already embraced all this new fangled technology into your life. But I thought since this was all new to me, maybe it would be new to someone else. Having it in a post with everyday uses might be helpful to someone so I thought I would share.

How do you use your iPad in everyday life? I would love for you to leave a comment with anything new and exciting that I have missed and maybe I'll learn even more! What are your favorite apps??

Monday, February 18, 2013

Glow Sensory Activity: Baked Cotton Balls--Part Two

In Part One, I showed how to make baked cotton balls and how we played with them with tools. Anyone who frequents this blog will know I often do activities I find on Pinterest. However, this time, I think I may have come up with this on my own. I don't believe I've seen it anywhere before. I decided to use neon paint to make our baked cotton balls. I thought it would be super fun to play with them under the blacklight.

 These were my test cotton balls to see how they would work.
And even though we did the dipping of our cotton balls in natural light, Look at the paint tray under the blacklight! You could definitely do this project under the blacklight for added sensory fun!
And here they are during our playtime:
 The outside glows and the inside is fluffy and soft!
 My son LOVED this!
I have a few more play ideas for these glow cotton balls. I'll be sharing them in the near future!

Sensory Activity: Baked Cotton Balls--Part One

While searching around for fun sensory activities for my son, I came across baked cotton balls. And then I saw this post combing baked cotton balls and smashing/bashing them with tools. Um....YES, please! I figured he would be all over banging tools and smashing something.
All you need is:
--paint (I used tempera paint from Michael's)
--cotton balls (I got 100 in a package from Dollar Tree!)
--flour and water (1:1 ratio; I used 1 cup of each and had plenty for four colors.
 I mixed up the flour paste and separated it into a sectioned platter and let my son go to town.
Just dip them in and put them on a lined cookie sheet. What a fully great sensory experience! First you get to dip soft cotton balls into a gooey solution. Then they turn hard and crunchy after they are baked.
He wasn't super into this though. I think it was TOO much of a sensory experience for him. So I went ahead, finished them and baked them.
The directions had said to bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes. I think I ended up doing them for less time. If you leave them in too long they "burn" and turn a bit brown. I just tested a few to start before I did a whole pan.
 Here they are!
I did this activity in two parts. The first day we made the cotton balls and a week or so later when I needed a new activity for him, I pulled out the baked cotton balls and set up this play invitation:
He really seemed to enjoy this! He checked each tool. He tried to use each one to break up the cotton balls.
Now, are you sitting down? Because, guess what? I think I just may have come up with an idea on my OWN! Well, inspired by Pinterest for sure. But I don't believe I've seen this around the blogosphere or on Pinterest before. I used neon paint to make the baked cotton balls. So we could have a GLOW experience with them! Check it out in Baked Cotton Balls--Part Two.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Glow Sensory Activity: Introducing Blacklight!

I have been seeing "glow" activities all over my Pinterest boards. Mainly from a wonderful blog called Growing a Jeweled Rose. She has soooo many glow ideas it's incredible! I asked for a blacklight for Christmas so I could do some of these fun sensory rich activities with my kids. If you're interested at all, I created a "Glow Activities" board on Pinterest. Head on over and follow it!

We started off by just playing and experimenting one Saturday morning.
We tried the Lite Brite without turning it on. This was really fun and as Kellan gets older, I can see him getting into making Lite Brite patterns with the blacklight.
The girls were pretty excited to see their neon nail polish glow!
I found these neon pop beads at Dollar Tree and thought they might be a great thing under the blacklight. And boy was I right! They glowed MAGNIFICIENTLY!
Though I don't have a picture of it, you can stick them in the Lite Brite holes too! You could make wonderful pop bead mosaics or mandalas!

Lastly, we played with drawing under the blacklight. I bought Crayola's EXTREME ULTRA BRIGHT markers thinking they would be great under the blacklight. But alas, they were a disappointment. The yellow, green and pink worked pretty well. But the Dollar Tree highlighters I had worked so much better. My advice, skip the Crayola ultra bright markers.
All in all, experimenting with the blacklight took up a good 45min to an hour of our morning! Just wait! More GLOW activities coming your way soon!