Category Archives: From the teacher

Virtual Friendship Academy

by Patricia Formicola

The best part of social distancing is every day at 9:30am I get to see my students and teaching assistant, Ms. Sonia for our Morning Meeting Circle Time! It brings an instant smile to my face as each child arrives to our Go-To-Meeting room. We count and take attendance each day and have up to 12 students at a time. We do our Good Morning song and our Positive Behavior Support song. This song is lead by my Teacher Assistant, Ms. Sonia. We then have a structured routine each day so the students know what to expect. It is the same schedule we used in our classroom at Easterseals  Friendship Academy in Levittown, PA.

We talk about the weather of the day. I call on a student who uses her talker (speaking device) to tell us if it is sunny, rainy, cloudy, or snowing. We move to our calendar, days of the week, special days of the month etc…Each student is called on to answer different questions like , what is the month, day, year and someone chooses the background for the calendar whether its a spring background, Earth day background, or rainy one for April showers. Then we watch a shapes and a number song video from YouTube using the split screen as a visual.

Afterwards we talk about the letter of the week, the sound it makes, and what words begin with this letter. Students then use items in their house to do a Show and Tell. This week was the letter “W” and students took turns showing me their water bottles, watches, Woody dolls, a whale stuffed toy and one student who is 3 years old even showed us a picture of Washington’s Crossing. W for Washington. His mom prompted him asking him what river and he knew it was the Delaware River that Washington crossed! He was excited to answer this question and we felt his excitement!

After the letter of the week, we do a read aloud book picking different authors. This week we are reading all Eric Carl books. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Very Lonely Firefly, Head to Toe, 10 Rubber Ducks, and The Mixed-up Chameleon. We make connections to each book as Eric Carl is the author and illustrator so you see similar pictures of the sun, moon, different animals etc.. His books also teach letters, numbers, shapes, days of the week, animals etc…

For the last part of our morning meeting we end with 100 exercises. I show a Jack Hartmann, Let’s Get Fit ….Count to 100 video. Every set of 10 we do different exercises including, arm circles, touch your toes, jogging, and clap your hands over your head.

Then we say our Good-byes to everyone! Students call out the names of their friends saying Good-bye to each person and see you tomorrow!

Create Fun and Engaging Activities with Common Household Items

by Megan Guthrie

Don’t throw out the trash just yet. You can use common household items to create fun and engaging activities for your kids. Plenty of us have stocked up on common household items such as toilet paper, and paper towels. You might even have sponges, Q-tips, dish soap, eggs, milk, oatmeal, rice, sponges, napkins, Popsicle sticks, shoe boxes, cotton balls, tape, markers, pasta, cornstarch, and food dye. What if I told you that if you had all of these items, even some of these items that you could create some pretty awesome home activities for you and your preschooler to engage in together. See the list below:

Colored Milk Art

Pour some milk on a plate, use 1-2 drops of food coloring, dip the Q-tip in the dish soap and then in the milk, watch what happens! You will need:

-Milk

-Food coloring

-Q-tip

-Dish soap

Dish Soap Silly Putty

Mix together 2tbs. of corn starch and 1.5 tbs of dish soap, stir for 10 seconds. You will need:

-dish soap

-corn starch

What to do with tape

-Create hopscotch

-Create a racetrack on the floor

-Create a sensory path

What to do with napkins

Have your preschooler draw a picture on one side of the napkin, then fold it over so that you cover the picture. Place in water and watch the drawing appear.

What to do with rice/oatmeal

Place some rice on a place, then have your preschooler practice drawing shapes, letter, and numbers in the rice.

What to do with a shoebox and Popsicle sticks

Cut small slits in the top of the shoe box, enough to place a Popsicle stick through. Under each slit write letters/ numbers/ shapes/ colors. On the Popsicle stick write letters/numbers/colors. Have your child match.

What to do with sponges

Cut your sponge into different shapes and use it as a tool to paint. Paint too messy? Don’t worry, you can have your child dip their sponge in some water and “paint” making shapes with their sponge outside on the sidewalk or driveway.

What to do with an egg carton and cotton balls

Work on counting with 1:1 correspondence, have your child place one cotton ball in each egg place and count as they go.

What to do with empty milk containers

Set up empty milk cartons (at least 3) in a triangle formation, then get a ball or something round. Roll the ball towards the milk cartons and try to knock them down. Have fun bowling!

What to do with empty paper towel or toilet paper rolls

-Tape the empty paper towel or toilet paper rolls to a wall to create a large funnel. Have your child place cotton balls in the tube at the top and watch the cotton ball trickle through them, all the way to the ground.

-Make binoculars by taping two together and play I Spy around the house of outside.

-Cover and tape one side of the empty paper towel or toilet paper roll closed with paper or another material, fill the roll half way with rice, then cover and tape the other side of the roll with paper. Now shake. You have a maraca, make some music!

What to do with uncooked pasta

Get out your strainer. Get out your uncooked spaghetti or angel hair pasta. Have your child use their fine motor skills to place the pasta through the holes in the strainer. (You can also do this with pipe cleaners)

What to do with an empty oatmeal container

-Take the top off and use the container as an easy put in activity.

-Keep the top on and cut a slit in the top, practice fine motor skills with coins by placing the coins through the slit in the top.

Circle Time

by Megan Guthrie

This video of Circle Time was created to hopefully bring a sense of normalcy and calmness to our students. In the video we review our Circle Time schedule: Review Rules, Say Hello, Review Emotions, Read a Book, Engage in a Music and Movement Activity, and lastly say Goodbye. The goals for Circle Time are to establish expectations and create structure, review social and emotional skills , as well as cognitive skills.

 

Easterseals’ Family And Family Feud!

by Jennifer Eubanks

Easterseals has been an integral part of my life as I have been an educator here for the past 13 years. I receive such joy, feelings of accomplishment and pride when I see my students’ progress year after year. I was thrilled when earlier this year an opportunity presented itself to contribute to the organization on a larger level. My brother-in-law, Kevin Eubanks, was picked to appear on Celebrity Family Feud. He was debating what charity to choose to represent and wanted it to have a local tie. Well, needless to say, I wholeheartedly suggested Easterseals as the perfect charity to choose! Much to my delight, he was onboard with that choice.

It was wonderful to be able to get the Easterseals name out in the public in front of a large viewing audience. The trip was wonderful and the game show was a blast. It was Team Kevin Eubanks vs. Team Ryan Lochte.   While I cannot tell you the outcome, you can watch and see for yourselves. The episode is scheduled to air on September 22, 2019 on ABC from 8:00 pm – 9:00pm EDT.

Enrichment through Storytelling

By Jennifer Eubanks

Guess who is the best storyteller in the whole wide world? That’s right you’ve guessed it! It is Patricia Fitzmeyer, aka The Story Lady! After well over 30 years of teaching in the Yaffe Center in the Starfish classroom, Pat decided to retire. However, her love for the children and teaching could not let her disconnect from Easterseals completely. So fortunately for us, she graces the classrooms weekly with her dramatic and animated storytelling ability.

She is such an incredible addition to our learning environment. The children and staff look forward to her visits. The students gain so much from Pat. She awakens their imagination and enhances their expressions. There are always lessons in each story she tells. Some days stories are filled with color, others with wild animals from the jungle! The students are transported to unfamiliar places through Pat’s vivid illustration of each story! Our lives are enriched and enhanced by her weekly presence.

Pat we just want to say THANK YOU for everything that you do and we are so appreciative of you. Love the Owls!!

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Angels Without Wings

by Michael Murphy

Being a teacher you expect to have an impact. You expect the children you teach to at some point carry a couple of your lessons into the rest of their lives. This can be a difficult idea when you consider a preschool or primary grade student’s perspective. As a preschool teacher I battle for attention in a steel cage versus SpongeBob Squarepants, Mickey Mouse and a plethora of Disney Princesses for the World Heavyweight Champion of THE BRAIIIN… and sometimes I come out on top. Every once in a while I walk away with a victory. I get that it is never a routine victory, and that’s the joy of teaching. It is not often, however that a teacher expects to reach the parents in the same way.

At Easter Seals Bucks County Division, our Friendship Academy parents often pick up their students right from the classroom (as opposed to waiting in a car line or waiting for dismissal at the door). This offers us a unique opportunity to wrap up the day, share some praise and concerns about their child and creates the welcoming family community that we have established so well.

During an encounter with a parent after their child’s particularly rough day, one of several in recent history, I shared my concern:

“They did great with X, Y and Z but could use some extra help with A. Can I share some strategies with you?”

The look of joy, relief and grace poured from the parent. “I thank you. You do it, I don’t know how you do it, but you do it. They are a different kid since they started here. They clean up at home Because “Mom Mr. Mike said so.”

I’ve gotten compliments before, people notice what teachers do sometimes, but then mom stopped and reached out and said “this place is amazing. I love it. Everyone says hello, they smile, they ask how I am, they all know (child’s) name. You don’t know, Mr Mike. I come in here and I am so happy. You are angels without wings here. You may not see your wings, but I see them. All of you have them.”

I’ve gotten compliments before. I’ve gotten hugs and high fives, I’ve seen parents tear up with gratitude. In this sense I know I am lucky. Not every teacher gets to hear or see the kinds of things, achievements progress milestones that we get to see at Easter Seals. Not every teacher gets to be part of such a team as Easter seals. The parent went on to talk about the staff and administrators at the front desk who greet them both by name each day. She also discussed teachers, therapists and teaching assistants from the building that share smiles and praise her child’s walking feet or listening ears. She crosses fellow parents who share a wave or some words as they hustle to another stop or errand.

I’ve never heard any of these people set goals to make people smile, but it is just something we do here at Easter Seals. Something ingrained in our approach and our routine; to be thankful for each child and family we get to reach and those that are supportive and positive about what we do. It’s not always easy and no day is like another. We smile and take those parents who need us under our wings, that now I know we have, and let them know that they have a team behind them.

Six Super Rules

by Michael Murphy

At Friendship Academy in Bucks County, following the rules is not as hard as you’d think. While the children all learn differently, we have really had the benefit on controlling behaviors following six simple rules. The rules are not a list of ‘Don’t’ and ‘No’, which can intimidate and often do not help students behave any better, nor are they loosely described by any means. Our six rules are very closely tied to our classroom expectations as labeled through our PBIS initiative (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports). Our six rules are:

Hands Help

Hearts Care

Ears Listen

Feet Wait

Eyes Watch

Be a Friend

The nice thing about these rules, best utilized during times of instruction (circle, story, activity\craft instruction, etc.), is that they describe aspects of the individual child that can be controlled with self-regulation and practice. Instead of telling students what not to do, and providing examples of how they can (poorly) behave to receive some additional attention, the rules simply act as reminders of what their bodies are capable of and how they can best use their bodies to their advantage.

What has made our rules all the better is tying them, in part, to a superhero theme. Thinking of the different aspects that make superheroes special, yet still require them to work in teams to solve problems, helps to create some additional hints towards working together with our peers, finding individual strengths and using new ideas for the greater good. Many preschool and early learning programs use a similar “Be A Superfriend” strategy that helps to recognize the everyday superstars that our children can be, through simple, kind and intentional acts in daily interaction.

Recently Edwin Gonzalez, Friendship Academy’s artistic Teaching Assistant, has created an exciting set of pictures and classroom reminders that help students focus on their expectations. The pictures show diversity, from Wonder Woman’s watching eyes to The Incredible Hulk’s waiting feet to Iron Man’s mechanical caring heart. They are bright and colorful, much like the students we teach. The pictures speak to all types of children, whether they like the hero or just the picture itself. The pictures grab their attention just enough for the teacher to direct it to the lesson. The pictures are unique and even the process of putting them together drew attention from the students as they watched Edwin plan, draw, color, laminate and post. You could tell that they already felt a little super about each addition to the series.

In addition to our Superfriends, there is much to be said about the everyday unsung heroes, the Teacher’s Assistants, the Bus Aides, the therapists, nursing staff, individual support staff, those that cook, clean, file or place calls. We are all part of a team of heroes. When we focus on what we are able to control, our body and our attitude, we can think more positively about the effects our actions have on our team, and more so, how we can contribute to make a team stronger. A team is only as strong as the weakest link, and if your weakest link is the Incredible Hulk, you are in pretty good shape.

 

Music Makes it Work

by Michael Murphy

Dan walks in right on time, but circle has run long at Friendship Academy. Dan doesn’t mind, he readies himself for his session. The children watch him as he does, waiting to get to say hello, waiting for their turn to find their spot on the carpet for music. As we wrap up our circle routine, a couple songs to go, the children look back at me and continue. With each song, Dan starts to play along, strumming in the background. We tend to make up songs, but that doesn’t slow him down. Dan goes along and adds another experience to our circle. He is in no rush, but increases the pace along with my song. Each child hears their name, jumps up from their chair and hurries to their carpet square for music. Dan praises their walking feet, greets them and listens to their quick stories about their day or comments on a new Paw Patrol shirt.

Music therapy adds something special to our classrooms. We all sing songs to our students, it serves an educational purpose and provides functional language, but there is something different about Music Therapy. The students are always excited to see Dan, they’re ready to sing the moment he walks in. Our quietest kids jump into “Hail Hail the Gang’s all here,” One of Dan’s welcome songs. Students call out their requests, and Dan finds a way to redirect or work in a new song or two. A towering teacher, Dan spends time on his feet, at eye level with the kids or works to control the gaze of students, willing to do what it takes to maintain that attention and push children to another level of focus. One thing at a time, Dan has all the time in the world to spend with each student until they give him something special for that day; a smile, a word, a sentence… Dan asks for a lot, but gets exactly what he needs before he continues.

We’ve seen shy kids open up, quiet kids yell, “busy” kids slow down and reluctant kids jump in. They throw curveballs at Dan and he throws them right back. “Z,Y,X,W…” Dan starts “his” ABCs. The children shout “NO!”, stopping his song. “That’s not how it goes” says a student who months before spoke in only grunts and groans. Commanding the attention and participation of a big concert of adults is cool, but there cannot be anything more difficult than getting a group of children to listen to your every word, chord or cue. Dan does it.

The exciting part about Music Therapy is that the same song is never really “the same song”. Either Dan plays it different, the children sing it differently, maybe the support staff adds a little something extra. It depends on the day, the weather, what the kids had for breakfast. Each session is exciting and each session ends too soon.

“Music time is over,” begins. Heads hang low, students sing along. Snack comes next, but they wont find solace in their Goldfish and fruit snacks. Dan’s time has ended, they have to wait a whole half hour to hear Dan’s songs blare in another classroom. Different again, effective again. They shout goodbye to Dan, they thank him. If only they knew how to ask for an encore, they would never let him leave. Music Therapy works and it is awesome to watch.

More than you think

by Michael Murphy

It is easy to say that kids will be kids. Easy to think that their silly actions are a step to growing up, a phase they will outgrow, or a gasp for attention. As the Friendship Academy teacher at Easter Seals’ Bucks County Division, I see a variety of behaviors and work alongside with numerous professionals to decipher what the children, some able to communicate and others who struggle, are trying to say. Each action is a message, a question, or a statement and all the adults have to do is listen. Imagine that, adults not using their listening ears!

When we ask a student to clean up the floor, they don’t know what that means. A nephew of mine was told to clean up the floor at home, and he actually picked up every single toy… and put it on a higher surface. The floor was clean… the table, tv stand, bookshelf and couch were not. However, he cleaned up the floor and actually showed an impressive ability to follow directions. As adults, we have to think about how we explain our directions. Children throwing toys during clean up time or continuing to play could communicate that they are unsure of what “clean up” can mean. Instead, at Friendship Academy, we give shorter instructions;

Now David, you’re not doing that right, you’ll be in trouble unless you clean up all your toys”

becomes “Put in bin, David.”

Think about a boss giving you directions as an adult. How long does it take for you to tune them out? Children are saying more than you think by not cleaning up.

Kids like to move! They jump off couches, run into walls and just won’t stay still. They are trying to tell you something, just listen! I like to think that I get a lot out of my kids when they’re at our circle time. Sometimes I can get up to 15 preschoolers of varying abilities sitting for up to 30 minutes, and its not by having them all sit still and quiet while I do the lesson that I wanted to do. I make THEM the lesson! Their ideas, their questions, their movements. I give opportunities to get loud, to move around and to be silly, and after that they are ready to listen. We assigned a portion of the room as the jumping corner, and that is not to punish the child who wants to jump and send them away, but it is a way to provide these much needed opportunities to students to help them wake up and refocus.

Again think about a long day at work, staring at the screens or dealing with customers over and over… sometimes you need to step away and shake it off. A child’s wiggles, jumps, claps… its not to ruin your day. It is saying more than you think. It is asking you to give them something to do to help them refocus.

No David stop doing that right now, I need you to sit.”

becomes “Lets jump (wiggle, clap…) ten times and then try this again.”

And yes, I’m that parent running up and down the aisles at Target because, frankly, I don’t like clothes shopping either.

Kids hit! They may do so out of internal frustration, external frustration, or just to get you to listen to them. My son gave my a shove to my chest today while I was checking my text messages, and I was about to get very upset until I realized that, from time to time, I’ll give him a pat on the shoulder when I know he is too into Fruit Ninja or Netflix. Kids learn more than you’d think from just watching us in action as adults. At their most extreme, students need to learn how to deal with their frustrations, but children don’t always hit out of anger, usually just out of frustration for not knowing or possessing the best words to use to solve their problems. At Friendship Academy, long before any kind of threat or punishment, we share some words to use. “Are you angry?” “Do you need help?” “Would you like to do something new?” These are all phrases we use when we observe an event getting ready to boil over. They are openers to allow students to begin a larger conversation and to help increase their available language. Sometimes we just have to provide some of the attention that that child is seeking. Children are well aware that their physical aggression will bring more attention than saying “Excuse me.” until they have their time to speak.

I cannot speak for every child, but I have seen students of varied cognitive and physical abilities respond well to shortened instructions, a respectful tone, an opportunity to do something THEY enjoy, and a simple opener to have their own time to talk. Children will grow to exceed your expectations, however high you hold them, they will do more than you think they ever could. The best way to get them to reach higher and higher is not to tell them what NOT to do, but to provide them with guidance towards what they should do. And always praise, even for failed attempts because when you try hard at your job, don’t you want some recognition too?