Author Archives: Easterseals

Extended School Year Reflections: Two Different Perspectives, Five Takeaways

By: Matt Parsons and Melanie Solano

Melanie’s Perspective:   

This summer marked my 5th year as an ESY (Extended School Year) teacher for Lower Merion School District through Easterseals of Southeastern PA.  I have worked with students in the program from grades K to 12, and while I mostly work with students in their own homes, in past years I have meet with kids at local camps, equestrian farms, libraries, churches, and even cafes. All work is provided by the child’s special education teacher and I track data for each goal highlighted in the child’s IEP. I LOVE this program and the all of the students I have worked with throughout the years. I normally have a new group of kids each summer, but I have met with some students multiple years in a row. Every family I have met has been warm, inviting, and grateful for my summer help.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this summer was the first time I completed my tutoring sessions online. At first I worried that I would have trouble connecting with each student in a virtual format, but each child’s personality was still able to shine through. I had one student who bonded with me over our shared love of guinea pigs. At the final session, she showed me her pigs, and I held up all three of mine. I had another student who was very into technology. Each session he had a different virtual background waiting for me to see. I learned a lot of new Zoom features by working with this child!

I struggled to figure out how to teach over Zoom, using the scanned paper and pencil tasks that had been left by the students’ teachers. I ended up using the “Snipping Tool” to “cut” the daily tasks we would be completing together. I then pasted each activity into a Google Slides presentation. I made a new set of Google Slides for each session, and started each presentation with the objectives for the day. I locked each task so that it could not be moved, and then added text boxes on top of the task so that the student could type the answer. We also used the line feature for matching activities and the scribble tool for multiple choice questions. Students were able to work in Google Slides with me during the session, which made our time much more fun and interactive. When it was time to send materials back to the teachers in August, I was able to include a document of Slide links, instead of scanned pictures or individual materials. What I thought was going to be a more difficult summer of adjusting to teaching online, actually ended up being much calmer and organized than I could have planned. I am excited to return to my regular position of teaching second grade, where my district will be fully virtual until at least October 2.

Matt’s Perspective:

This was my first summer taking part in the Easterseals program for ESY, working with high school students in writing. After several years as a professional writing tutor for a couple of universities in the area, I took the chance to broaden my experience by working with students at a different grade level. Online tutoring, as a result of the pandemic, is a mixed bag: on the one hand, I’ve done totally virtual tutoring in the past, so the transition was smooth for me. I point that out because, conversely, students were still adjusting to the shift from in person learning to using computers from home, logging on to school and tutoring. The readiness of distractions, coupled with the separation from a dedicated learning space, made for difficulty early on. As the first couple of weeks went by, students started to adjust to this new situation. We established routines and had clearly defined expectations for each session we met for.

This year, everyone needed to adjust to these new circumstances: teachers, parents, and students. ESY was no exception, as families were forced to cancel vacations, children had to stay inside away from friends, and both present and future were uncertain (and remain so). While ESY may not have been most students’ first choice on how to spend this new summer vacation, I believe it did help to bring some sense of normalcy to their lives. No matter what else may have been going on, there was at least the knowledge that “I’m going to be doing writing work later this week.” While keeping skills sharp during summer break, ESY gave the chance for routine, which is important for anyone during times like these. I feel great knowing that working with Easterseals helped provide not only learning, but structure for these students.

Our Takeaways to Remember for Online Learning:

1) Keep an open mind: While virtual teaching is different from the in-person learning we are used to, it has many positives. Students can interact with coursework in new ways and show off their computer skills. There is still time to bond with each student, so look for their interests and help foster connections with those.

2) Keep to a routine: Students thrive from routine and structure. If possible, use the same link for each session and meet at the same time each day. Structure your activities in the same format such as: warm-up, mini lesson, practice, fun review game. Students will know what to expect and will feel more confident participating.

3) Be organized: In an online format activities and lessons need to be easily accessible and ready to go to maximize time-on-task with students. Consider placing your lesson into a format like Google Slides or Google Docs that students can complete with you. If students are not completing tasks on the screen, these formats can still be used for organization when you share your screen. Use easy to use fonts and do not overload each slide with excessive pictures or colors. Keep student interest by alternating text with videos, games, and other activities.

4) Set expectations: Telling the students the objectives of the lesson upfront will help them stay on task as the lesson moves forward. When working with students with IEPs, tell them which goal you are working towards and why. Students are often much more motivated to complete tasks if they know what they are working towards. Some students are also competitive and want to beat their own scores when they notice a pattern in assessments and have a set goal. Celebrate their victories when they move closer to their goals or surpass them. Consider graphing their progress each week to add an extra element (and some math!) to the process.

5) Be flexible: Everyone is adjusting to new territory this year and many students are going through more than we know. Try to be patient and encouraging with students by allowing them to keep their videos turned off, allowing time for snacks, and factoring in some movement breaks. Sometimes allowing for something this simple can keep the student working hard throughout the session.

Matt Parsons is a professional writing tutor and adjunct professor at two local universities. Melanie Solano works as a second grade teacher and the LMS Curriculum Coordinator for Springfield School District in Delaware County. They both love teaching and helping students meet their goals.

The Importance of Staying Connected in a World of Social Distancing

by Jeanine Johnson

I don’t think anyone would disagree that the past five months have been a whirlwind.  Our lives were turned upside down and sideways.  Was I anticipating that the Covid pandemic was going to last this long?  No I wasn’t.  As the days went by I found myself drifting away from family and friends.  Regular interaction with co-workers was mostly halted due to the appropriate decisions to have the staff work from home.  Those of you who know me, know that I am a pretty upbeat and positive soul.  I felt like I was starting to lose some of my shine.  Not having any of the normalcy I was used to, that I’ve taken for granted, was starting to wear on me.  Can’t do something as simple as have breakfast at the Diner before I go food shopping.  Oh, and let’s not talk about the whole process of food shopping.  I miss the kids.  I so miss the kids.  They are the best part of my work day. 

I realized I needed to connect.  I needed to bring some of the sunshine and joy back into my life.  I needed some Mung therapy.  Just in case you have never read any of my blogs, Mung is a student that graduated from Easterseals a couple of years ago.  I bonded with him and his family while he was a student here and we have kept in touch.  Usually meeting up a couple times a year for an outing.  So grateful to his family for sharing him with me.  For his summer break I had planned to meet up with him, take the ferry from Penn’s Landing, go to the Camden Aquarium and feed him to the sharks.  Ok, I wasn’t going to feed him to the sharks.  Unfortunately, circumstances squashed my plans.  I thought about it.  If I’m feeling disconnected, how must it feel for the kids.  It was time for me to get selfish.  Time to bring a little unexpected sunshine into his life.  Selfish because this would probably bring me more joy than he would get out of it.  I have a little inexpensive pick-me-up I use on occasion.  It is a Cookie Card.  Its $6.00, shipping included.  You get to send one cookie in a decorated box with your message on the label.  I got so excited at the prospect of bringing joy that it helped bring that spark back.  I couldn’t wait for it to be delivered.

I didn’t have to wait long before I got a text with a picture and two videos of him thanking me aka “Wonder Woman” and Autumn (my daughter) aka “Bat Man”.  He said that he loves and misses us.  It was so nice to hear.  I realize that you can start to lose yourself if you become too disconnected from the world and each other.  We have to get used to a “new normal” and have to rebalance how that makes us feel, find the positives and take joy in the little things.  It’s been real trying, but we’ll be stronger because of it.

Get out of your chair part 2

In this series, Suzanne Gladstone, MS OTR/L, provides a more helpful ways to get out of your chair! In the first video she explains how to make a homemade card using simple abstract art with markers, crayons and paper.

The second video goes over how skills presented in the previous series will be incorporated into this fun art activity.

Measuring Accomplishments

by Susan Lowenstein, MSPT

Booker T. Washington, American author, orator, educator, and advisor to many presidents once said, “You measure the size of the accomplishment by the obstacles you have to overcome to reach your goals.” 

So, that being said…let me tell you about a little boy I know named Miles. He is a 6 year old that is currently a student of mine at Easterseals of Southeastern PA, Bucks County Division. I have had the pleasure of watching him fight to overcome obstacles for the past 9 months, but he has been fighting an uphill battle for all 72 months of his young life.

Miles attending virtual therapy!

OBSTACLE #1: Born 8 weeks early.

OBSTACLE #2: Shared birthday with his twin brother so he was already small for his gestational size.

OBSTACLE #3: Has a mutation on his COL2A1 gene that causes several types of skeletal dysplasia, and his is closest to what is called hypochondrogenesis.

OBSTACLES #4,5,6,7 and 8: Has spinal instability, ongoing joint issues, hearing loss, significant vision issues, and a floppy airway.  

OBSTACLE#9: Intubated at birth

OBSTACLE#10: Received a tracheostomy at 3 months of age

OBSTACLE#11: Transferred to the ICU at Nemours DuPont (an hour away from home!)

So… why am I sharing all of this with you? Well, this is just the beginning of Miles’s story. He may have encountered countless obstacles… but he continues face each one head on and works to overcome them.

So…let’s look at all that Miles has ACCOMPLISHED so far in his 6 years of life.  

ACCOMPLISHMENT #1: Became strong enough to be supported by a home ventilator and home nursing support to go home, just 6 days shy of his and twin brother George’s 1st birthday! 

ACCOMPLISHMENT #2: Learned to taste foods by mouth (even though he needed a g-tube for nutrition) during the first year of his life

ACCOMPLISHMENT #3: Used his hands to gesture and request for food like yogurt and applesauce during his first year of life

ACCOMPLISHMENT #4: Re-learned how to accept some food orally again after cleft palate split at 18 months of age.  

ACCOMPLISHMENT #5:  Started sprinting (practicing time off the ventilator) when he was around 3 years old. Now he is at the point where he can spend nearly all of his waking hours without the ventilator.

ACCOMPLISHMENT #6: Sat upright in a highly supportive activity chair at 2.5 years old (despite his large head and short arms and trunk)

ACCOMPLISHMENT #7: Sat upright on the floor without any back support while playing with toys and watching the classroom smart board or TV at home at 5 years old

ACCOMPLISHMENT #8: Transitions from lying down into sitting up all by himself at almost 6 years old

And…just in the time that it has taken me to put this blog together…Miles has accomplished yet another 2 more feats!!! He can now pull himself up into a supported standing position at his walker all by himself (that’s #9), and has gotten strong enough to crawl over to a large couch cushion and pull all of his body weight up onto it (that’s #10).

Every accomplishment that Miles has achieved is testimony to his resilience, his amazing family and his team of health care and educational professionals. Together, we continue to imagine what he CAN do, not what he CANNOT do.

When people ask me what I do for a living, I tell them that I am a pediatric PT that works with children with complex physical and medical needs. Frequently, I am asked, “ Doesn’t your work make you sad?”  But to the contrary, I find it wondrous to work with children like Miles who are able to overcome obstacles and accomplish so much more than some people may have ever thought would be possible.

Miles, thank you for being such a fighter. We at Easterseals are behind you 100%, and we will continue to watch you hurdle through more obstacles and accomplish so much more accomplish in your future!

Miles proudly displays a certificate of accomplishment

Bilateral Coordination

by Suzanne Gladstone, MS OTR/L

In this two-video series, Suzanne, an Easterseals of Southeastern PA Occupational Therapist, created two virtual occupational therapy sessions. In the first video, Suzanne explains bilateral coordination and how it is part of our everyday lives and activities. In the second video, Suzanne shares a fun activity for kids, in which they make snack with simple ingredients and use bilateral coordination.

Suzanne shared her video with her students recently and they were a hit!

Communication Board for Older Students/Adults

The Assistive Technology team has created an older student/adult language board to use during this pandemic period of time. They have also created an alphabet board set in Qwerty that can be printed separately or on the back.

These visual supports can be useful in trying to facilitate communication. He hope you find this helpful.

Visual Support for Communication

 

Sleep Strategies and Toilet Training Webinars

Our Behavior Therapy Department is pleased to present training webinars for all who are interested. There are two webinars available. See below for description and registration information.

Sleep Strategies:

Learn about sensory processing and self-regulation and how it relates to sleep, as well as behavioral interventions for common sleep difficulties such as delayed sleep onset and night awakenings. Presented by Daniellle Franchini-Muir (BCBA), Adrienne Krysuik (OT), and Nequetta Alford (LBS).

 

You are invited to a Zoom webinar.
When: Jun 10, 2020 03:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Topic: Sleep Strategies

Toilet Training:

Learn about toileting/potty training strategies no matter where your child is developmentally! We will discuss where to start as well as readiness and motor skills. Presented by Daniellle Franchini-Muir (BCBA),Isabel Kats (LSW), Rachel Rosenblum (OT), and Braelyn Beaver (BCBA).

You are invited to a Zoom webinar.
When: Jun 9, 2020 03:30 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Topic: Toilet Training

Mindfulness Activities for All!

by Lisa S. Wzorek, MA, OTR/L

I wanted to share a few activities that can be done to help our children (and ourselves) practice mindfulness, based on last week’s post.  One activity is a tried and true one in my family, and the other is a new one that we tried over this past week.

One thing that I loved doing as a shy and introverted kid to be calm and away from my loud family was building a fort.  It was usually a small, dark space but it was my own space and a great getaway.  Lots of people and classrooms these days use tents as a “calm corner” for our children to have a place to be calm.  When my son was younger, I discovered a fun and easy way to make a tent without the need to purchase another item:  simply putting a sheet over our table!  Then we would pile blankets, pillows and stuffed animals inside.  Calm and relaxing!  The one we made in the picture below is using a lighter sheet.  You can make use a dark sheet or blanket to make the space darker.  You can also put your child’s favorite toys, books, light up toys and wands, and flashlights.

Screen Shot 2020-05-28 at 11.18.51 AM

Another activity is making a Mindfulness Jar.  You can google this and find different names for it, such as Calming Jar, Meditation Jar, Time-Out Jar, etc.  I found two simple recipes that work really well and, if you are a crafter, you may already have all of the ingredients at home.

Screen Shot 2020-05-28 at 11.19.13 AM

 

For the calming jar, you can use an empty plastic bottle or a glass jar.  If you have a child that tends to throw objects, the plastic bottle may be your best option.  You can use white glue if that is what you have, too.  This activity is, in itself, very calming!  Fill your container about 1/3 of the way with glue, add about 2 tablespoons of glitter (or however much you want!), then fill the rest of the way with warm water from the tap.  At this time, you can add 1-2 drops of food coloring into the mix if you like.  Cap it and shake it up until all of the ingredients are mixed together.  Here are some of our finished products:

You may be wondering…what do you do with the jars and how do they work?  Sit with the jars when you need a calm moment and give them a good shake.  Set the jar down and watch the glitter swirl.  Focus on the movement of the glitter and take some nice, deep breaths.  Focusing and breathing helps to calm our brains and our bodies.  Do this until the glitter settles down; then do it again, if you like!  When you do this with your child, describe what is happening in the jar.  This will help them to focus just on the movement of the glitter and to be mindful.

The act of “doing” with both of these activities has both strengthening and healing components.  We’ve already pointed out the aspect of mindfulness and calming.  But making our tent and our jars also taps into problem-solving, motor planning, visual motor skills, visual perceptual skills and fine motor skills.   Maybe even some math if you are able to work on measuring with your child.  If your child cannot participate in building the tent or making the jars, talk out the steps you are doing and bring them into the activity in this way.  Talk about the colors you are using, the textures (sticky, wet, warm, messy) and help them to experience it, too.  Maybe you can try different positioning with your child inside the tent to read books together and play flashlight tag.  Hope you enjoy these mindful activities!

Mindfulness

by Lisa S. Wzorek, MA, OTR/L

A positive mental health strategy many of us are hearing about these days is mindfulness practice.  Personally, I have been exploring it myself, and am feeling the benefits that are being touted for this simple activity – better focus and concentration, positive mental health, etc. (Ackerman, 2020).  But what exactly is mindfulness, and importantly, can we teach this to our young children and our children with special needs?

Mindfulness is defined as “creating space for ourselves – space to think, space to breathe, and space between ourselves and our reactions (Mindful.org, 2018).”  Being mindful means that one is aware of sensations and feelings in the moment without passing a judgment on it – it is noticing without judging.  Googling how to practice mindfulness leads to an abundance of sites that instruct adults on how to practice…mostly sitting quietly, eyes closed, focusing on the breath, noticing our thoughts but not judging or trying to chase them away.  So, can we help our young children to be mindful?  Turns out, we can! And we don’t have to make them sit still to do this.  We can guide our children in a mindful practice on nature walks, listening to music or sounds, or moving their bodies.  Mindfulness activities can be customized to what will work best for your child.  It can involve yoga poses but doesn’t have to.  Some ideas to help our children with special needs practice mindfulness are as follows:

  1. Take a nature walk with your child.  Tell your child that it’s time to look for a given object, for example, birds.  Model looking for birds in different directions for your child by labeling and pointing (ex. “look to the right” while you point).  Limit your talking but focus on the birds.  If your child has a communication device, perhaps you can place a photo of the object you are looking for so that they can activate the icon when the see (or hear) the object.  Or, if your child uses picture exchange communication cards (PECS), you can have them point to the picture as they see/hear the object.  You can do this with flowers, insects, leaves, rocks, etc.  Choose something that will interest your child the most.  If a nature walk is not their style, but vehicles are, you can do the same with cars and trucks.
  2. Blowing dandelions, bubbles or pinwheels. Help guide your child to focus on taking a deep breath in and blowing the air out of their mouths.  As the air hits the dandelion, bubble or pinwheel, guide them in watching it until you can no longer see the dandelion seeds/bubble floating in the air or until the pinwheel has stopped.  If your child has a communication device or PECS, perhaps you can access pictures of these objects for them to activate or point to before you begin.
  3. For our kiddos that are movers, try guiding them into a pose that they hold. For example, standing tall like a tree with hands on the hips (or if more motivated by a character, use superman/batman etc.).  Guide them to taking a nice deep breath and hold for a few seconds in the pose.

Some tips to remember:

  1. Start practicing when your child is happy and feeling good. Once they get it, then you can start using mindfulness to help them to feel better and more organized.
  2. Use pictures as a visual aid if you are focusing on a particular object or action as you begin the activity and show them each time that you see the object.
  3. If your child has a visual impairment, try listening for sounds instead of locating an object with sight. For example, when outdoors you can listen for birds or cars going by.  Indoors, you can play calm music or a bell and focus on that sound as it begins and fades.
  4. It’s ok if you have to help your child to activate the icons on their communication device or locate the correct PECS. Guiding them in this will help them to understand the activity.
  5. It’s ok if your child can only do this for a few seconds at a time. The key is not to judge the activity as a success or a failure, but to continue practicing.  Recognize your own thoughts during the activity but let them go.
  6. Be the model for how to be mindful for your child. Guide them with your actions.  Give lots of praise when it is over for participating.
  7. Use the internet! If you have access to the internet and a tablet, computer or phone, there are many YouTube videos that can guide both adults and children through this practice.  Here are several you can check out:

 

Friendly Wishes guided meditation by Cosmic Kids Yoga  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HtYIQiXyrsE

Be the Pond Meditation by Zen Den  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wf5K3pP2IUQ

Fading Tone Meditation (Bell tone) by My Life * help your child to hold their hand over their heart during the sounds   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzuaKhkwskw

Enjoy experimenting and share your experiences with the Easterseals community!!

References:

Ackerman, C.E. (2020).  25 fun mindfulness activities for children and teens.  Retrieved from https://positivepsychology.com/mindfulness-for-children-kids-activities/

Mindful.org (2018).  How to practice mindfulness.  Retrieved from https://www.mindful.org/how-to-practice-mindfulness/