By Dawn Spence

Holidays can be exciting and overwhelming for anyone with all the lights, sounds, crowds of people, and excitement. Many companies and churches are recognizing the need for sensory friendly activities or events; but when so many people show up, those too can become overwhelming. 

 

When my daughter was younger we would create all the sights and sounds of the holidays in a way that she could enjoy them in our own home. I am sharing my top 5 five fun sensory friendly activities that the whole family can enjoy.

 

 

5 Fun Sensory Friendly Activities for the Holidays

 

1. Playing with Candy Cane Rice
This activity combines the smells of the holiday and looks like a candy cane. All you need is white rice, food coloring, and peppermint oil or extract. Half your bag of rice and put one half in a gallon size bag with food coloring and the oil/extract and mix it well. 

Then take it out the bag and place on a tray to dry out for a couple of hours. When dry, mix the white and red and let the fun begin. The smell and feel of the rice is fun for any age.

 

2. Making Play Snow
I love real snow, but we do not get much real snow in Houston, which means we have to make ours. It makes a great inside activity. I found this recipe and it easy to make and easy to clean up. You will need 3 cups baking soda and one-half cup of white conditioner.

Mix together, and have fun. For even more fun, use ice cubes to make igloos and add in some toy penguins.

 

3. Creating Holiday Scented Playdough
My kids love homemade playdough. Not only does it feel great but you can make unique colors and holiday scents. I got the recipe here.

After making my dough I would make peppermint for the pink or red. You can add a few drops of peppermint extract or oils. I used pumpkin spice seasoning to make my orange playdough smell like pumpkin. You can make cinnamon flavored and more. I suggest keeping in an airtight container. It also makes a great gift.

 

4. Enjoying the Christmas Lights
Going to a display of lights or events where you walk through tunnels of glowing lights may be overwhelming to your child. When my daughter was young, it was just too much to walk around in the crowds; but she loves lights. So we started our own tradition of getting on our PJs, grabbing a drink and snack, and driving around to see lights. We would play a Christmas themed movie in the car until we would get to where we were going. We still do this activity to this day.


5. Reading Books In a Blanket Fort

Sometimes our kids need the warm and cozy feel in the hustle bustle of the holidays. What a great time to build a fort and read some of their favorite Christmas stories. You can add some battery-operated Christmas lights to your fort. Make it fun and memorable.

 

Whatever you do this holiday to make it special for your family, may you enjoy the memories that you make. 

 

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By Dawn Spence

Am I the Best Teacher for My Child? This is a question that I still ask myself all the time. I know it is driven by two things guilt and fear. Guilt that I am not doing things perfectly and the fear that I never will.

 

Well I am right I am not doing it perfectly and I never will, but that is okay. I am learning that my kids don’t need a perfect mom or teacher. Instead, what they need is for me to keep going and never give up on them or myself.

 

Homeschooling is a journey of trial and error and finding out what works. Sometimes it is trying 5 different math curriculums before you find the one that is the right fit. Just because you make the effort to try each of those options and don’t give up is is what makes you the right person to homeschool your child. You kept looking and searching. No one loves your child like you and wants him or her to succeed like you do. You make it your mission to wake up every morning and help your child to do better to learn something new.

 

Teaching special needs children can be tiring when your child is not catching onto a concept you have been teaching for weeks. But you have the gift of not moving on because you are homeschooling and can set the pace based on the needs of your child. I would think I was failing my child because she was not learning to read or learning a new math concept, but I realized in the midst of that struggle that I am the best teacher for my child because I push her on and we work through it together.

 

My daughter has a learning disability and remembering things for her can be a struggle. We keep trying and working through lessons until she gets them. My heart takes it personally when she is not learning and the fear comes when I start to think I am not teaching her what she needs.

 

Momma guilt is real. Anyone can teach your child, but it’s your heart’s pursuit to teach beyond the struggles which will make your child soar. Just the other day, my daughter reminded me of this exact thing. While she was playing, and she looked up at me and said, “Momma thank you for believing that I am smart.” I melted. Then, I prayed. “God let me see teaching my children is not about me being perfect, but having a willing and open heart to teach them the best I can each day.”

 

So yes, I am the right teacher for my child and so are you.

 

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By Dawn Spence


When I taught public school, the one thing that inspired me to teach was creating units. A fellow teacher and I created a space unit for our 40 fourth graders, and the learning and excitement that our students expressed made teaching come alive.

 

When I started teaching my twin girls preschool, I knew that units are what I wanted to do. I created units on the ocean, fall, winter, and the zoo. It was the most memorable year of teaching. I still enjoy doing units with my kids with lots of interactive learning and activities.

 

Creating a unit is not hard but it does take some planning. When you write your unit you can use it as your only curriculum.

 

 

Planning Your Unit
 
Topic
First, plan out what excites you and your learner. If the learning is engaging and holds the interest of your learner, the learning will come. I found “fall” to be a unit that can be adapted to older and younger students. “Fall” also works will all types of learners. 

 

Map Subjects
Next, map out what subjects that you want to be included in your unit. You can easily involve your core subjects, but you can usually include much more. When I created my “fall” unit, I was able to include math, science, history, language arts, reading, and art. You can make the lessons simple or complex. I would draw a map out and under each subject, I would list out what I wanted to cover. 

Math using pumpkins was hands-on and everyone was ready for school in the morning. If your state includes Good Citizenship you can add that as well. Do not forget to add in field trips to allow your unit to become real life for your learner. Make sure also figure out how long you want your unit to last.

 

Develop Lessons
Third, it is time to develop your lessons. This step can be fun and overwhelming at the same time. There are so many activities that you can add to your unit and many places to get ideas. I started with Teachers Pay Teachers, File Folder Heaven, and homeschooling blogs. I would gather ideas and sometimes the activities that I saw inspired me to create my own. I have created a sample graphic organizer to help with your planning. (Click here to download the below image as a free document.)



Determine Assessments
Last, decide how you want to grade or assess their learning. You can create a lapbook, and at the end of the unit your student could present what they learned with a hands-on project or report. For more ideas on how to grade or assess you can read Amy Vickery’s article: Making The Grade: Strategies for Grading your Homeschool Student .

 

Units can be a great way to have fun while learning and can engage your student. I also found that I was able to see what my child’s interests were and what made them excited to learn. Have you created a Unit Study that you would like to share? If you have, comment below or share it on our resource page.

 

 


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By Dawn Spence

Over my years of teaching, I found one thing to be true, my students learned better if I could keep their attention and make learning fun at the same time. I have also found this to be true in homeschooling my own children.

One way of accomplishing this goal of keeping lessons fun and motivating is to combine learning with games or activities.

Here are 4 Examples:

Motivation Piece by Piece
Chutes and Ladders, puzzles, playdough, and building games such as Jenga work well to motivate the learner to complete a task. For instance, if you are using a puzzle, have your learner answer 1-3 questions. After completing the questions, allow him/her to have some pieces of the puzzle. Therefore, when the child has completed the lesson, the puzzle will also be completed.

This activity is a great way to use those games and puzzles that have been hiding in your closet. You can use any game your child is interested in such as Battleship, UNO, Kerplunk, Sorry, Connect 4, Perfection, building circuits, and LEGOS.

Build Focus Through Interest-Based Activities
It is best to use this technique when your student is confronted with a challenging activity. Not only do we use this technique at home, but my daughter’s therapists also use this technique to keep my daughter focused during her therapy sessions.

One way my daughter’s focus can be enhanced is if she is allowed to build a Jenga tower. She actually eagerly completes any difficult activities she is given so she can, in turn, build her tower. While in therapy, my daughter completes her articulation exercises at the same time she is completing a pattern with her Jenga blocks. In the teaching world, this is a win-win because the child’s focus causes learning to happen quicker and overall the learning process is seen as fun and engaging.

Motivators Matter
I can’t stress enough how important it is to use things that motivate your child while instructing him/her. If your learner loves to roll playdough, use that. If he likes to build towers and then knock them over, then use that. If she wants a sticker every time her work in done, use that.

When you use motivators you are not bribing your child to do school, you are instead giving them an incentive. Some children are very incentive driven, so if that is your child use that bend to motivate learning.

Set Clear Expectations
When you set your expectations out front with a clear directive, using “if/then” statements, your child will be less likely to expect any rewards before his/her tasks are completed. For instance, if you are using blocks as your motivator, tell your child that “if” he answers three questions “then” he will earn three blocks.

Depending upon the age of your child, his/her cognitive understanding, the motivation tool you are using, and the type of task you are asking your child to complete, you can change the rules and rewards to make learning more fun and motivational. Break down the puzzle or game into little chunks you are teaching your learner delayed gratification.

An Added Bonus
As you practice these techniques your student will also be developing two very important life skills, delayed gratification and the desire to be a lifelong learner. These bigger picture goals for any child are always worth the work, but isn’t it great that along the way they actually work to increase day to day learning as well?

 


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By Dawn Spence

Sometimes the best gift that we can give someone is being able to relate and give them compassion. What better person to give this type of understanding than one that has walked in their shoes?

 

My Journey
I have always had a love to teach and especially to teach those who struggle. I believe this love came out of my own challenges. You see I grew up with an undiagnosed learning disability believing that I was dumb and lazy. I could walk into any English classroom and the words would flow from my heart to my pen to the paper without a second thought but put me in a math class and I was almost paralyzed with fear. I was afraid to fail or struggle another time, but I always did. It started in elementary school and followed me to college. The worst part was that I felt stupid and I believed it.

So my senior year in college, I decided to get myself tested. For once and for all I needed to know what was wrong with me. Then on that sunny Friday afternoon, I finally had an answer. I was not stupid or lazy as those voices in my head had always told me. I found out that I had Dyscalculia. It is a learning impairment that affects mathematics.The label did not change who I was, but it helped me understand what my struggle was.

Important Lessons Learned
 
Knowledge Is Power
Understanding the glitches helped me develop strategies to work through my learning disability. I learned how to work through my mathematical challenges and continue to use these strategies to this day.

Labels Do Not Define the Learner
Having a label does not define you or your child but gives you a door into unlocking their full learning potential.Some parents struggle with getting their child labeled but labels can help you understand your child’s struggles and how to meet their needs.

Learning Disabilities Do Not Limit You

Even with an undiagnosed learning disability, I was able to graduate high school and college with honors. It was difficult, but I believe it made me stronger and able to help my own children with learning disabilities.

In my life, I learned that struggling with a learning disability can lead to resilience and determination.  It can for your children too.

 


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By Dawn Spence

This is the second article in my series on accommodations and modifications. In my first article, I explained the differences between accommodations and modifications.  But, now I am going to tackle the subject of math.

 

No one curriculum is one-size-fits-all, including math. Children with special needs and learning differences can make it a challenge to find a curriculum that meets all their needs. I have bought curriculums and then realized that my child was not able to complete the activities the way that they are written. That is when I have to make the curriculum fit her.

 

Math is an easier subject to accommodate and modify as it lends itself to use hands-on materials and can be done on a computer. Math is an abstract subject, but by using manipulatives or other accommodations, it provides a way to make it more concrete.

 

 

Accommodating Math
Here are some ways to accommodate your present math curriculum. This is how we teach our learners:

  • provide graph paper to line up numbers so that information stays organized especially helpful with long division (I printed mine free from www.printfreegraphpaper.com)
  • allow the use of calculators
  • provide visuals and stories to learn math facts
  • provide a list of the steps in written or visual form
  • use dry erase boards instead of pencil and paper
  • reduce the number of problems and even do some problems with your student before having them do it on their own
  • draw a picture of story problems



Modifying Math
Here are some ways to modify your math curriculum. This is where we are changing what we teach the learner and what they are responsible for learning.

  • creating work boxes that address a specific skill
  • using stamps for writing numbers for those that are not able to write numbers yet
  • making a math problem multiple choice
  • using stickers or hands-on objects to help your learner count
  • writing some of the steps for the learner and they have to complete the remaining steps 
  • use real objects to work out story problems

 

 

 

This list is a starting point to modify your math curriculum. If you have specific questions about how to modify or adapt your curriculum please see my page on the website for consultation information.

 

 


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