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Good practice is good practice (Sensory Stories with Joanna Grace)

Joanna Grace is a special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities consultant who writes educational resources and sensory stories for individuals with SEN. Recently Joanna successfully ran The Sensory Story Project, to create a set of self resourcing sensory stories that parents, as well as teachers, could afford to buy. Orkid Ideas are proud to have been one of the backers of The Sensory Story Project. We invited Joanna to talk about the overlap between provision for children with special needs and provision for mainstream children and we’re delighted to share her thoughts with you here.

Good practice for children with special needs is good practice for all children

Many of the teaching methods and resources used in mainstream schools currently were originally developed for children with special needs. Classrooms have visual time tables, teachers think about the different learning styles of their pupils: visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, and nursery schools sign with their tots.

It makes sense that anything which amplifies learning for a child with special needs will also amplify learning for mainstream children. Meeting the challenges to learning for children presented by special needs enriches provision for all, it’s one of the wonderful effects inclusion has for all children.

I write sensory stories for individuals with profound and multiple learning difficulties for whom they offer the opportunity to engage with a range of sensory stimuli, develop their confidence, communication and increase their opportunities for socialising as well as giving their carers insight into ways of personalising their care. They’re a great resource and so much fun, and they work well with children who do not have any special needs.

joanna grace chocolate
Joanna touching a vat of hot melted chocolate whilst eating melted chocolate – one of her favourite sensory experiences!

Cognitive development, for all of us, relies on sensory stimulation. If we use our senses when we learn more of our brain is involved in our learning, quite literally more of it; and if more is involved then we’ve more chance of remembering.

A sensory story combines a concise narrative (typically less than 10 sentences) with a sequence of sensory experiences. I have written stories about the birth of stars in stellar nurseries, about the history of Victorian feminism, about fantasy adventures and about every day activities. I’ve written stories for Worldstories, Booktrust, Kensington Palace, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and lots more lovely organisations.

You can pack a lot of information into a small number of words; and you can also unpack all that information from a small number of words. When I revised for my exams at school I would take notes, and then take notes on my notes, and notes on my notes etc. Eventually I’d end up with a few sentences from which I could generate everything I knew about a topic. If those sentences had been accompanied by sensory stimuli I’d have been even more likely to remember them, and the process of revision would have been more fun.

It is good for everyone to recognise that communication isn’t solely reliant on language. Children who don’t have special needs can still struggle with speaking in public, or organising their thoughts into language. Think of that adage: a picture speaks a thousand words. Through using sensory stimuli to tell a story children who aren’t quite as adept at verbal communication can speak thousands upon thousands of words, through smells, tastes, touches, sights and sounds.

I’ve had lovely conversations with young people in mainstream nursery, primary and secondary schools, and yes – even a few universities, who’ve enjoyed learning in a sensory way and have begun to consider who these stories might have been written for. They can be a great tool for disability awareness.

The best thing about sensory stories is that they are fun. We all enjoy learning more (or escaping into that special place created by stories) if it’s fun. You can find out more at http://jo.element42.org

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Parent & Teacher magazine – Editor’s pick

Parent and Teacher Magazine Autumn 2013 (2)We’ve also been featured by

Saddleworth Independent newspaper

Prima magazine

Take a Break magazine

Love It magazine

The Guardian – Small Business Showcase

Daily Record – Scotland’s Newspaper

Trutex Back to School guide

Parent News

Primary Times

Families magazines regions BedfordshireBirminghamCambridgeshireDorsetEdinburghFifeGloucestershireHereford & Worcester, London West & London North West

TheSchoolRun.com

National Autistic Society – Your Autism Magazine

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Back to School – an essential A to Z

Whether it’s your child’s very first day at school or they’re just starting a new school year, here’s our A-Z guide to help ease you gently back into the school routine.

  • A is for ALARM CLOCK

Choosing a fun model and showing kids how to operate it is a great way to teach them good time-keeping.

  • B is for BUSES

Have you got an up-to-date timetable and a vaild child’s bus pass? Does your child know where they are going to be dropped off and picked up? Have a trial run so it’s not left to the first morning!

  • C is for CALENDAR

Think beyond the first week of school and put important dates such as parents evenings, inset days and holidays in your calendar now.

  • D is for DROP ZONE

Set aside a designated place where the kids can leave their bags, coats and school books so it doesn’t all end up in a heap by the end of the first week.

  • E is for EMPTY BAG

Make a clean start with an empty bag and clear out anything still lurking in there from last term.

  • F is for FIND A PARENT

Have you got contact details of another parent at your child’s school who you can ask about school events if letters /permission slips don’t make it home?

  • G is for GYM KIT

Have you got the right stuff for P.E. and perhaps a seperate bag to put it all in?

  • H is for HAIRCUT

If you still have time before the first day of school, make sure they get a good cut so you don’t need to drag tired kids out after school or at the weekend to get it done.

  • I is for INFORMATION

If your kids are starting new schools, it’s time to dig out any information books you have received from the school and make sure you’re familiar with their routine and policies.

  • J is for JOIN

Get involved with the school community and join the PTA or check out after school activities the kids may want to join.

  • K is for KEY

If your kids are older do they have a spare key? Get one now rather than wait until first morning back!

  • L is for LABEL EVERYTHING!

We can’t shout this one loud enough!! Iron, sew, stamp or write your kids’ name on all clothing, shoes & personal items otherwise your jumper will look like all the rest in the lost property mountain!

  • M is for MEDICAL FORMS

Make sure the school has up to date medical information for each child with details of allergies and emergency contact numbers.

  • N is for NOTES

Remind your child to bring ALL notes home from school and check their bag each night for anything lurking in the bottom!

  • O is for OUTDOOR COAT

Have you bought one yet? It won’t be long before those cold days and dark nights start creeping in!

  • P is for PLANNER

If your school doesn’t provide one, look for a suitable notebook or diary to use as a homework planner, an essential for those kids starting high school.

  • Q  is for QUALITY TIME

Don’t forget that school can be stressful and tiring and that kids need to spend time away from homework, TV and other electronic distractions. Try and set aside some time to chat with them each day so you can pick up on any worries they may have.

  • R is for RECYCLE

Donate old school uniform to charity or for good quality articles check whether the school PTA runs a second hand uniform sale.

  • S is for STATIONERY

Check with the school what items your kids need to bring and make a regular check to see if anything needs replacing.

  • T is for TOMTAG

The essential tool to help kids pack their bag to school!

  • U is for UNIFORM

Making sure you start the year fully equipped will avoid any panics later and help children to feel more confident.

  • V is for VISION

Find our if your school offers vision screening and if not, remember to get your kids’ eyes checked regularly as it’s important to pick up any problems as early as possible.

  • W is for WEBSITE

Check your school’s site regularly for useful dates, school policies and curriculum guides.

  • X is for EXTRA-CURRICULA ACTIVITIES

Let kids choose what they want to participate in rather than what you want them to. You never know what hidden talents you might uncover!

  • Y is for YEAR GUIDES

Remember to check your school website or ask at school for details of what your kids will be studying this academic year so you can stay ahead of the game.

  • Z is for ZZZZZZZ

As the nights draw in, get into a sleep routine for school. Just don’t forget to set the alarm clock!

 

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ORganised KIDs – top tips for back to school

New uniform to buy, school shoes to get fitted, pencilcases galore in every shop – it’s that time of year again when our thoughts must inevitably turn to planning for the new school year.

Last summer our own back to school preparations took on a whole new dimension. My autistic son Tomas faced the daunting transition from his much-loved mainstream primary school to our local secondary. Clearly there would be many challenges to face and one big worry was how Tomas would manage the extra organisational demands of dealing with lots of different subjects.

Organised paperwork

folders for organising school papeworkTomas was going to need a system to help him keep his paperwork organised and in one place if he was to stand any chance of keeping on top of things. We started with eight A4 ring-binders in different colours and labelled each one with a subject. We labelled the pockets of a plastic concertina file with the same subjects and labelled one extra section ‘letters’ to be used for permission slips, newsletters, etc.

I explained to Tomas that he must take the concertina file to school each day and bring it home again every night. Any notes, homework or handouts he was given had to be filed in it immediately after each lesson to prevent them from getting lost in his school bag or left at school! I then showed him how to empty the file each night. We talked through how we made the judgement about what should happen to each piece of paper. It if was needed for lessons the next day it could remain in the file, any homework sheets should be completed and returned to the file and some papers would need filing in the ring-binders for later reference and revision purposes.

Independence

The aim eventually was to have Tomas apply the strategy independently. Direct explicit instructions and plenty of practice are often all that is required to help children learn basic oTomas filing paperwork in a concertina filerganisational or other skills. This approach can be particularly beneficial for a child with organisational difficulties although it is appropriate and useful for most children.

One year on and I am delighted to report that the system seems to be working!  With lots of practice and the support of his teachers, Tomas can now collect, sort and file all his own paperwork from school. Now I just need to apply the same rigour to my own filing system!

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Organisational skills for children with SEN

The phrase ‘special needs’ is a very generic term. Children with special needs are not only different from their so called ‘normal’ peers but they are also different from one another. Each child with special needs presents with a unique profile of strengths and weaknesses.

Organisational skills

A lack of organisational skills is the one challenge that the majority of children with special needs face. Coats go missing. Books and lunch boxes are forgotten. Hours are spent each month searching through the lost property box at school looking for gloves, scarves, gym kit and jumpers.

Organisational skills are a challenge for most SEN children because they have limited and inefficient internal structure. They are generally unable to organise their belongings, prioritize their actions or utilize their time efficiently to meet deadlines.  They also struggle with temporal (time related) concepts so they have difficulty assessing, for example, how much time it takes to get ready for school or finish homework.

Daily struggles

These organisational difficulties can put incredible strain on a family. As a parent of an autistic boy I know how frustrating it is when your child has organisational difficulties. I’m also aware how upsetting it is for Tomas to be constantly scolded and reprimanded for behaviours that are mainly out of his control. Tomas does not forget things because he is lazy or unmotivated. He has a neurological condition that means he struggles on a daily basis to make sense of the world we live in.

School morning organisation

Getting ready for school in a morning is a real test of organisational skills for any child. For a SEN child like Tomas the morning routine can be a source of extreme anxiety. There’s so much to remember – homework, lunch boxes, gym kit. Parents are also under pressure to leave on time and ensure that everyone has the right equipment for the day ahead.

Like many SEN children, Tomas is extraordinarily visual. He needs to see things in order to remember and organise them. If things are out of sight they are out of mind. Tomas’s visual strength was one of the sources of inspiration for TomTag (that’s why it’s named after him!). As TomTag clips easily to any school bag it is always to hand and the problem of misplacing the list is avoided.

Confidence and independence

Learning to pack a bag for school sounds simple but it requires skills and self confidence. Using TomTag as a prompt, Tomas has been able to learn over the last few years how to pack his school bag for himself. The fact that he is now able to pack independently for high school is a real testament to the success of TomTag. By giving him a consistent external tool to use he has learnt to overcome his minimal internal structure.

Teachers and parents benefit from children learning to pack a school bag independently. Fewer items are left in the infamous lost property box, morning routines are less stressful and for children like Tomas they are not only ready for school but have acquired important organisational skills which will pay dividends later in life.

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Teach a child to pack for school

single tag sample
Choose a day when they only need a few items

How do you teach a reluctant child how to pack their own bag with all the right things they need for the day ahead and to bring it all home again?

Clare, whose own children learnt this important skill with TomTag, recommends the following simple steps:

1. Select one day when there are not many items to take to school. Use only one tag from the TomTag pack to make a list of the relevant items and activities for that day.

2. Set aside some time the night before to pack the bag with your child and attach TomTag to their bag. Praise your child for remembering and packing everything they need for the day.

3. Ask your child to repack their bag at school using TomTag as a reminder of what to bring home. Check their bag when they return from school and praise them when they have been successful in bringing the correct items home.

4. Ask the child to pack their bag on their own for the same day using TomTag as a visual reminder of what items are needed. Then check their bag for them. Praise your child’s success. If something is forgotten, refer back to the tag and repack.

5. Ask your child to repack their bag at school using TomTag as a reminder of what to bring home. Check their bag when they return from school and praise them when they have been successful in bringing the correct items home.

School bag packed6. Your child packs their own bag using TomTag as a visual reminder and does not have it checked. Praise your child’s success.

7. Choose another more complicated day and repeat the process. Gradually build up to a full week and using the full TomTag set on the child’s bag.

Packing their school bag independently, being organised and taking responsibility for their belongings are great life skills for all children to learn but are especially important for those with additional or special needs. TomTag uses only picture cues so it’s easy for any child to use.

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