July 30, 2012

Joining the Newbie Blog Hop!

We are hopping on over to join the Newbie blog hop. We found it at Challenges Make Life Interesting, but it was originally hosted at Grade 3 is the Place for Me. This is a great way to find other blogs with great information, so check out the blogs below and join us!

The rules are to answer these questions:

1. What state are you teaching in: Texas

2. Your current teaching position: Orlanda - Speech Language Pathologist/ Kelley - Social Communication Resources & Services (mostly Autism, but any kids with social communication needs!)

3. What is your teaching experience: Orlanda -  10 years  / Kelley - 5 years teaching, 14 years as a therapist for children and adolescents

4. When did you start blogging: We started blogging about 6 months ago.

5. Share a blogging tip: Include lots of pictures and how-tos. 

How To Make A Sensory Tent For Small Spaces

For the past couple of years, I had a big, roomy classroom with plenty of space for everything. Because our school is growing so quickly, I knew that it was only a matter of time until I lost my big classroom and would be moved to a smaller space. I really did not want to end up having to share a room with a bunch of other teachers (been there...done that...doesn't work so well for my students!). I decided to offer to preemptively move into a small therapy area with the hope that it will be the last move for a while and that I will only share space with my Paraprofessional.  I knew it was going to be a big adjustment and that I would have to be very deliberate in what I chose to put in the space.

Sadly, I realized that my favorite tent was going to take up too much floor space. I took an inspiration picture from Pinterest (of course!) and decided to tweak it to meet my needs. Here's the inspiration photo from Sew Liberated.

Drum roll please..... Here's my new Sensory Tent!

It takes up much less space than the old square tent. The only addition I have left to do is add a piece of Velcro from the inside so the kids can keep the flap closed if they wish. Inside the tent I put one of my beanbag chairs and I'm on the hunt for a square rug to anchor the space. I also have a weighted teddy bear that the kids can take in the tent with them as well as a blanket.

 Here's the tutorial to make an inexpensive Sensory Tent!

1.    Gather your supplies: I chose to use an old bent hula hoop from my gross motor equiment. It is a child's size (about 30" diameter). You could go even smaller if you got one that is a 24" diameter.  Using a 50% off coupon, I bought 3 yards of 45" wide cotton fabric (the blue and white stars) and 3 yards of 90" wide bleached cotton muslin.

2.   Cut the hula hoop in one spot. I used my handy dandy PVC cutter that I bought for the therapy ball rack project and pvc screens. Check those out here. If you don't have one, just use a hand saw. Your hula hoop will probably be too hard to use scissors.

3.  Next, I cut my blue & white fabric into two sections (2 pieces - 1 1/2 yards each) and sewed them together using one 1/2" seam to make a long rectangle (1 1/2 yards x 90" finished). You can see the seam in the picture above of the hula hoop.

4.  I knew that the circumfrence of my 30" hoop would be about 96", so I was going to be a little short if I wanted the tent to be able to close. I decided it was important for the kids to be able to visually block out as much stimulation as possible, so I cut two 4" x 1 1/2 yard strips from the muslin and stitched one onto each side of the rectangle to now have the rectangle measure approximately 1 1/2 yards x 98". Sorry, I forgot to take a picture of that step!

5. I ironed in a 1/2" hem along the two exposed white edges and stitched.

6.  Next, I ironed in the bottom hem and stitched. I think I only did a 1/2" hem because I was trying to preserve as much length as possible.

7. Then I ironed in and sewed a rod pocket along the top. You will need to make sure you allow enough fabric to account for the diameter of your hoop plus a little for wiggle room. I made a 6" pocket which was more than enough. I probably only needed a 3-4" pocket. So, play with your fabric and see how much you really need.

8. Then I slid the cut end of the hoop through the rod pocket.

9. I taped the two cut ends together with duct tape. After taping, I rotated it around so that it would never be seen in the opening between the panels.

10.  After making sure the tent was evenly distributed around the hoop, I cut 4 evenly spaced SMALL holes in the rod pocket and ran a long piece of hemp twine through each one, knotting around the hoop. I already had the twine. If you don't, just make use of what you have (regular twine, heavy yarn, fishing line, etc.).

11. I decided how tall I wanted the "peak" to be and tied off all 4 cords into a tight knot. You can't really see it in the above picture, but it is underneath the white fabric.

12. Next, I took the remaining white muslin and cut a 90" square. I made a small cut in the very center that was just big enough to go over the knot in the twine. Once the fabric was over the knot in the twine, I ran the excess hemp twine through a 2" loose-leaf notebook ring and knotted again.

13.  Finally, I tied clear fishing line (a big thank you to my boys for letting me cut some off their fishing poles!) to the ring and ran it up to the cross joint in the ceiling tying it so that the tent fabric just skims the floor.

Once I had it hung, the untrimmed white square looked like this...

I used a ruler and a pencil and lightly drew a line about 9" below the edge of the hoop. Then I shortened the white topper with pinking shears to get a zig-zag edge. If you don't have pinkers, just use scissors.

I'm looking forward to hearing the kids' opinions of the new tent vs the old tent. I have my fingers crossed that they will approve!

Cost breakdown:
hula hoop   -   free
blue & white fabric (using 50% off coupon) - $9
muslin (using 50% off coupon)  -  $9
hemp twine, ring, fishing line, pvc cutter -already owned

In case you don't know, you can easily get JoAnn Fabrics coupons by signing up for text alerts, by mail, or by downloading the JoAnn app for iPhone. I NEVER pay full price for anything. I also watch RetailMeNot for free shipping codes if it is something I need to order.

If you have any questions about this tutorial, please email me. I'm happy to help. We would love for you to follow our blog or join me on Pinterest!

Now.... I'm off to start packing for our family vacation. We are heading to St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. Yes, I'll be the one on the lounge chair under the palm tree with a little umbrella drink in my hand and my nose in a book! Here's to summer vacation!   ~ Kelley

July 20, 2012

Toys to Talk About--The "Hoberman Expanding Sphere" Toy

Hello all! I'm still here! (And, quite frankly, my brain has REALLY been enjoying summer vacation!) I don't know about all of you, but when I shut down my computer after the last day of school, I think I literally switched "work mode" to "sleep mode". I have really been enjoying my time off from school, and my six year old son recently declared, "it's unfair for summer vacation to be shorter than the school year." (I didn't really have a good argument for that one.) So, aside from perusing Pinterest for new and fresh ideas to incorporate into speech therapy, I have made time for another favorite hobby. . . . .THRIFT SHOPPING!

I have always found that shopping "on a dime" has helped me find some great deals on "Toys to Talk About". Now, this has become an interesting topic at home with my kids (who happen to also serve as my own personal guinea pigs). I have lots of fun engaging with them to see just how many words and phrases ONE toy can elicit, it's like a game to them and me!

The first toy I found this summer was on my "wish list" and was inspired by one of the SLPs that I supervised this year during her Clinical Fellowship Year, Katie Ruffin. I observed Katie as she provided therapy to students in middle school and high school. We spent a lot of time brainstorming and developing ideas for many students who had minimal verbal skills and we spent a lot of time focusing on developing "Core Vocabulary" (future post on this important topic is yet to come). It was during an observation of her working with a student that I came across her using the Hoberman Expanding Sphere Toy and I knew that I immediately needed to get my hands on one myself! (I have to admit, I didn't know the exact name of this toy until I researched it for this post, but now I can give credit where it is due!) Here are a few pictures of the toy that I am talking about:

Retracted Sphere

Expanded sphere and Retracted Sphere

Now, I knew where I could go and buy one of these toys online or in stores, but I got lucky when I found mine for only 25 CENTS at a Yard Sale! So, not only was I excited to get my hands on this new toy, but the price made it SUPER EXCITING!

So, let's talk about how this toy became a "Toy to Talk About". Some of the words and phrases that I observed it used for in a speech therapy session included:

  • BALL (of course)
  • OPEN
  • IN
  • OUT
  • I WANT
  • MINE
  • ON
In order to facilitate communication with this toy, a communication board was also used with the student. This board could be used with or without voice output depending on the needs of your students. Also, I observed this in an individual therapy session, but it can certainly be just as engaging and useful for language in a small group therapy session! Here is an example of a communication board that might be used in a session with this toy. Go to this link to grab this board from the Boardmaker Share Website: Core Vocabulary--Go-Talk-20. For a younger student, I would likely cover the unnecessary pictures or cut them out and use them as picture exchange versus pointing.

Here are some photographs of how this ball was used in a therapy session that I observed:

"The bird is IN" the ball."
"Put the bird IN."

"The bird is OUT of the ball."
"Take the bird OUT."
In addition to playing with the ball in the ways pictured here, the SLP and the student also played a game of "catch" and also incorporated other objects to throw the ball into and to take in/out of the ball. While I was researching this toy online, I also came across an image of a much larger version that looked like this:

Boy, wouldn't this be fun!?! The language opportunities would be endless! I envision using it to teach and learn positional words and many other vocabulary words, and this would be great fun for turn taking and building social communication skills too! Guess I'll have to add the "kid size" version to my wish list now!

I hope you find this toy will create "something to talk about" in your classroom! I'd love to hear how you might use this toy with your students! How many more words and phrases can you think of to teach to your students using this toy?

Looking forward to Saturday morning Yard Sales!