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Alternative Seating in the Classroom

aWhat do you envision when you think of a typical classroom? Typically, growing up we all sat in perfectly even rows of individual student desks. Although its true that our classroom set up and our teaching styles have changed over the decades we are still only using the same desks and chairs. So where does this put our fidgety children, how do we get them to assimilate into the classroom and learning if they can’t stop moving around? Special education providers and parents are moving more and more towards alternative seating options.

Alternative ‘Chairs’ (alternative seating)

Occupational therapist are increasingly recommending using balance ball, or more commonly known as exercise balls, as seats because it allows the student to move in the same spot without disrupting others. You can even find balance balls chairs (already made) to better control the movement. This alternative seating option has spread to offices and other settings as well because of the added health benefits: helps align the spine and relieves pain. This school year I have even seen some creative teachers put the balance balls into plastic crates, which is the more economical version of the already made ones.

Other therapists and teachers will recommend wiggle cushions. Wiggle cushions can be carried in the students back pack and travel with them to wherever they may be going so its much more financially efficient.


An increasingly popular seating arrangement in classroom is no seating! This must sound like pure chaos to some parents but with the proper procedures in place, teachers are implementing movement seating with great success. Movement seating is just as it sounds, its allowing students to move around as they do their work. Students can walk around the class library space as they’re reading or stand up against a wall to do their math. It allows for the students to find their comfortable position so that their entire minds can focus on learning.

Floor Time

Floor time has been around for our preschool and kinder little ones for decades; you’ve probably heard of ‘circle time’ which is the same concept. However, older grade level teachers are now incorporating this into their classrooms as well. Floor time lets the students sit “criss cross,” or on the knees or bellies. This is my personal favorite for my own reading and studying.

What do you think your child or students would prefer in their classrooms?

Photo by: Eden, Janine and Jim


Memory Aids: Visuals

One thing that many special needs children struggle with is remembering what they are taught in school.  If you think about it, the majority of school involves recalling and using information you have learned in the past.  To excel in math, you must first memorize your numbers then understand and remember addition and subtraction before you can move on to multiplication and division.  Almost every subject requires the ability to build upon former knowledge.  So if a child struggles to remember things, it just makes school that much harder for him.  There are several ways you can help your child remember things easier.  The first memory aid is the use of visuals.

Why Visuals?

A visual is any  image or picture that goes along with what your child is trying to remember.  Visuals can be especially helpful for a child with a speech or language problem.  Every person remembers things that they see better than words they hear or read.  How many times have you been able to picture a person, but not remember their name?  For special needs students putting a picture with a concept can give them a mental attachment to the thought which will help them remember it.

Using Visuals

You can use visuals in many different ways as you work with your child.

  • Printed pictures – As you teach or review subjects like history or science, find pictures online or in books that apply to what you are covering.  You could even print out some of the pictures and use them in activities.  For example, if you want your child to remember the main events of the Civil War, print out a picture for each event.  Then have your child practice putting those pictures in the correct order.
  • Child-drawn pictures – Let your child draw small doodle type pictures next to notes on the information they are learning.  Remember the pictures don’t necessarily have to make sense to you, just to the child.  If you want your child to practice their multiplication facts, you could let them doodle a different pictures next to each fact while they are studying.  When you quiz them next, reminding them of the doodle when they forget a fact may help them remember it.
  • Cut up words – Old magazines are a great resource for usable visuals.  Your child could cut out pictures about what you are learning, but they could also cut out the printed words and use them.  For example, if you are studying prepositions in English, have your child make a preposition collage.  Let them cut out all the examples of prepositions they can find in a magazine and glue them onto a large sheet of paper.  Hang the paper somewhere they can see it often.

Putting ideas into picture form can make the difficult task of remember information much easier for students that struggle with language.  In the next post, we will discuss using motions as a memory aid.

How do you use visuals to help your child recall information?

Photo by:  studio tdes


Reading with Dyslexia

Dyslexia is a learning disorder that affects the way that children see letters and numbers on paper.  They see all the letters and numbers, but they see them out of order and jumbled.  Many people with dyslexia describe it by saying that the letters seem to float around the page.  Because reading requires that a child sound out letters in order, children with dyslexia have a difficult time learning to read.  If your child struggles with dyslexia, here are some strategies that may help.

Point to Beginning Letters

As your child reads, have them point to the first letter of each word they come to.  Be patient as they practice this skill.  It may seem simple to you, but remember if the letters are out of order in their minds, it will be difficult for them to repeatedly identify which letter comes first.  Pointing to the first letter of each word will help them remember to start sounding out the word with that letter.  That in turn will help them sound out the word correctly.

Highlight Each Line

It can also help for children to be able to focus on only one line of writing while reading.  You can do this in several ways.  One simple way to do this is to hold a bookmark under the line they are reading.  Their eyes can then follow the edge of the bookmark so that they don’t get lost in the page.  You can also purchase a reading guide strip for them to use.  The guide strip has a colored strip in the middle that fits over one line of printing.  The child reads only what is in the colored area and then moves it down to the next line when they are ready to continue.

Experiment with Colors

As weird as it may seem, experimenting with various colors of both backgrounds and texts can benefit children with dyslexia.  You can change both the background and text colors within reading programs on computers and tablets.  You can also buy tinted plastic reading sheets that change the color of a printed page.  It is different for each child, but you may find that a certain combination of colors gives your child an easier time reading.  Play around with different combinations and see what works.

Dyslexia affects each child differently, and it does make reading challenging.  Not every strategy will work for your child, but you can help them learn to read efficiently.  What other strategies do you use to help your dyslexic child read?

Photo by:  Lori Greig


Attention Deficit Disorder and Studying

A child that has attention deficit disorder (ADD) will often have trouble focusing enough to study efficiently.  By definition, having ADD means struggling to spend long periods of time studying and working.  However, there are little changes that your child can make to his study routine that will help him get more out of his studying.

Take Breaks Often

You may feel that children should work on school work until it is completely done.  For a child with ADD though, prolonged study periods with no breaks will just cause them to lose focus even more.  A better plan is to spend a set amount of time studying and then take a 5 – 10 minute break.  For example, spend 20 minutes studying for that History test and then let your child have a 5 minute break to run outside, have a snack, or even play a level of a video game.  If you are homeschooling, do one subject and then take a longer break (10 to 20 minutes).  True, the work may take longer over all, but your child will remember more.

Switch Between Subjects

If your child has several tests or quizzes to study for, it may help to switch back and forth between the subjects.  For example, if your child has a Spelling test and a History quiz, spend ten minutes studying the Spelling words.  Quiz him on the words and mark the ones he gets wrong.  Then switch to studying History.  After ten minutes of History, go back to studying Spelling.  Spending long periods of time on one subject can mean that your child loses his focus and is really just staring at the papers while thinking about other things.  Switching back and forth will keep their focus on what you want them to study instead of other things.

Find a Quiet Place

One of the best things you can do for your child with ADD is to set up a quiet place for them to work or study.  Remember they are easily distracted so any noise and chaos just pulls their focus away from their work.  Find a quiet place in your house where they can work.  Make sure they turn off any music, television, or video games.  It doesn’t have to be a whole room.  It could be something as simple as a beanbag chair in a bedroom that nobody else will be in.

You can help your child with attention deficit disorder study more effectively if you let them study for short time periods in a quiet place.  Studying is hard work for children, but it is important.  What have you found that helps your ADD child study better?

Photo by: Practical Cures


Kids that Fidget

It can be hard for any child to sit still in classes all day long.  Let’s face it – it would be hard for most grown-ups to sit still that long.  Even with breaks, lunch, and recesses, kids are still expected to be still and quiet for long periods of time.  This becomes even more of a struggle for kids with special needs like ADHD or autism.  There are some resources that will give your children an outlet for them to fidget in a calmer manner.

Pencil Fidgets

Kids that have to be doing something with their hands with appreciate these pencil toppers.  Each of the four kinds has a long piece that fits on the pencil.  The long piece holds a shorter piece that can move up and down.  A child can sit in class with their pencil and still be able to move their hands without distracting other students or the teacher.

Stress Balls

Another help for kids that fidget is the common stress ball.  In this case, the stress ball is not just to relieve stress.  The purpose instead is simply for the child to have something to do with their hands.  Squeezing the stress ball allows children to release energy in a less active way.

Chew Objects

While some children need to move or fidget with their hands, other children need to chew on things.  If not given something specific, these students tend to bite their fingernails, chew on their pencils, or even suck on their hands.  If you child is a student like this, it may help to give them something that is specifically for them to chew on.  Companies are making chewing objects for kids that are fun and cute accessories.  Boys will like the dog tags while girls with feel pretty in a beaded necklace.

So if your child needs to fidget in class, try out one of these toys.  Maybe they need to hand movement or feeling in their mouth to help them concentrate.  Maybe the need to move or chew is completely out of their control.  Either way, these toys are resources that can help.  What other sensory toys does your child like to use?

Photo by: Kids that Fidget


Helping Children Deal With Anger

Anger can be a real issue for children with special needs.  Whether your child is on the autism spectrum, has a reading disability, or struggles to pay attention because of ADD, frustration and anger can cause them to want to quit on their schoolwork.  It is important to teach your child to deal with their anger in healthy ways.  They may always feel angry about circumstances and events in their life, but they can learn to manage the anger instead of acting on it.

Take a Break

One of the best ways to keep anger under control is to take a break from what is causing the anger.  You could teach your child to walk away from a situation and go to a quiet place (their room, the kitchen table, or a certain spot in their classroom).  Teach them to stay in this spot until they feel calmer.  Remember though that this is something you want them to learn to do on their own.  It is not a punishment.  You can encourage your child to walk away, but don’t try to force them to stay in the chosen spot.  If a special needs child feels like he is being punished, the anger will probably get worse, not better.  You can also ask your child’s teacher if your child can take a break from a subject that is frustrating them and go back to it later in the day.

Use Their Words

One problem that can cause anger is the inability for some children to put their thoughts and feelings into words.  Imagine how frustrated you would be if you were trying to talk, but no one could understand you or you didn’t know how to tell someone what you were thinking or feeling.  During times when your child is not angry, have them practice using their words to talk about their feelings.  Role play possible situations that would upset them and have them tell you in words how they would feel or what they would tell their teacher about the situation.  It could also help to give them a special feelings journal.  Tell them that they can write in the journal anytime they want or about anything they want.  Encourage them to write down things that bother them throughout the day.  In addition to just writing in the journal, you could look at the journal with your child every night and talk with him about what bothered him during the day.

Think From the Perspective of Others

Many special needs students have a hard time putting themselves in the place of others.  Because they tend to focus only on themselves, it can be difficult for them to understand things like why a child refused to give up a favorite toy or why they didn’t get to use the blue marker first.  When you talk with your child about things that have made them angry, try to get them to see what made the other child act the way they did.  (You may not be able to do this until your child has calmed down quite a bit.)  Ask your child what he would have done if he was the other child.

Anger is a real problem for some children, but with your help your child can learn to control his anger.  What other strategies do you use when teaching your children to manage their anger?

Photo by: greg westfall


Motivating an ADHD Student

It can be hard to keep a student with ADHD motivated and working hard.  They are so prone to daydreaming that keeping them focused can be a challenge.  Their are some tricks you can use to help keep them focused and motivated as they work.

Break Work Into Smaller Chunks

Sometimes long worksheets or a whole page of math problems will overwhelm an ADHD child.  When they feel overwhelmed, they shut down and become less focused on their work.  You can solve that problem simply by splitting the same assignment into smaller sections.  Use a piece of construction paper to cover up the bottom two-thirds of the page.  Then tell your child that they can have a short break when they finish that top section.  When they finish, give them a 5 minute break before having them do the next third of the page.  Just shortening the amount of problems they have to look at all at once can help an ADHD child focus better.

Time Their Work

You can also have them race to beat their own time on each section of the paper.  As they start each section, start a timer somewhere that they can see it.  After the section, write down their time for that section.  Time them on each section and encourage them to see if they can beat their own time.  You may want to keep an eye out though for how they react to the timer.  For most children, seeing the timer will motivate them to work faster.  Some students, however, may get distracted by the timer and actually work slower.  If you find this to be the case, try putting the timer in a place that they cannot see and just telling them their end time for each section.

Give Them Caffeine

This may sound strange to say about a child, but a small amount of caffeine before an assignment or class can keep them more focused.  Of course, I don’t mean that you should give them a full cup of coffee before every class!  But if you notice that they are getting more and more distracted, give them a mini candy bar or a chocolate kiss.  You could also give them a soda during lunch to help them focus during those long afternoon classes.  The jolt of caffeine stimulates their brain and allows them to stay involved in their work instead of sleepy and daydreaming.

It is difficult to force an ADHD student to pay attention through an entire day of classes, but there are things that can help.  Talk with your child’s teacher about possibly implementing some of these ideas.  Or teach your child to use these ideas on their own.  You will see a difference in their attention before too long!  What other tricks do you use to help your ADHD student focus on their work?

Photo by:  Practical Cures


Sometimes, it’s good to be a little different.

Sometimes, it’s good to be a little different. We know that you, as a parent of an exceptional child, have your hands full.  We know how special your child is and also how special you are as a parent. You have been given a unique gift, one that causes a lot of work, a lot of focus, but mostly a lot of love.

We wanted to share this free poster with you so you can remind yourselves how fortunate you are to be living the life you have been given.  No-one can do what you do for your child.  No-one knows the real effort it takes for you to mentally, physically, and emotionally support your child, the rest of your family, and yourself.   Take a break for just a few minutes to download this free poster, print it out (or send it out to be printed) and put it where you can see it everyday.   Or… use it as a screen saver on your computer or smart phone.

Enjoy the free poster with much love from

*Click on the photo below to download the full size poster!*

Be Different


Summer Activities for Students with Learning Disabilities

As summer is fast approaching, many students are thinking about fun in the sun, family vacations, and summer camp.   Students may consider it a time to stop learning, but research has proven that if students do not spend any time in educational activities then their learning loss can retract by, at minimum, 2 months.  This means that a student leaving the 2nd grade and entering the 3rd grade will still be on a 2nd grade level.  This is especially important for students with learning disabilities.  This loss can put the student even further behind their classmates.


There are many fun ways that fun time, family vacations, and summer camp can be intertwined with learning.

Learning at the Beach

A trip to the local beach can be filled with learning opportunities for a child.  Children love to play in the sand and romp through the waves of the ocean.  While playing with children at the beach, they can learn about what sand is made up of, the importance of the ocean to the environment, and the math behind building the perfect sand castle.

The summer is also peak turtle nesting season.  If you are fortunate to live in a sea turtle nesting area, you can go on a nest hunt.  The nests will be marked off in the sand with information to learn about protecting the nests.  Children can then learn about the different sea turtle species, their nesting habits, and hatchlings.

Websites for Learning at the Beach

  1. Enchanted Learning Beach Activities – great activities and crafts for younger children to do while at the beach or about the beach
  2. Frugal Activities at the Beach – list of great low-cost ideas for hands-on projects while at the beach
  3. EPA – great website for parents/teachers to learn about the beach to then teach their children/students

Historical Family Vacation

If you are going away this summer, it is easy to tie in history by visiting some of the famous landmarks around the United States.  I recently went on a school trip to Charleston and Savannah where students learned about American history by visiting various historical attractions.  The students enjoyed having their ‘history book come to life.’ Many cities around the country offer educational tours of the museums, landmarks, and attractions that include the historical importance.

Websites for Historical Family Vacations

  1. TripAdvisor History & Culture Trips in the United States – top vacation options including information on places to visit in the top 16 cities for history and culture
  2. Learning Vacations for Kids –  includes tips for parents traveling with kids to encourage learning while on vacation

Summer Camps

Many local summer camps offer fun hands-on learning and activities for the summer.   Many camps also make accommodations for students with special needs.  Traditional camps are typically provided through school districts, museums, and city recreation centers.  Also look for other options at local nature centers, parks, or research other options in the local newspaper or online.  Camps are a great way for students to learn, be active, and participate in activities with children their age away from the formal school setting.  While your children will be learning things that can tie into academic curriculum, they will also be learning social skills.

Websites for Finding the Perfect Summer Camp

  1. Choose a Camp – Choose and compare camps based on location, activity, or even special needs
  2. Computer Summer Camp – Use for information on camps all around the U.S. geared toward technology and computing
  3. Choosing a Camp – great website that provides information about the different types of camps for kids and their strengths and weaknesses

Article by Laura Ketcham

Picture by Loimere

Free Teacher Resources | Special Education by MangoMon by MangoMon


The Impact of Common Core Standards on Special Education

Last summer the federal government moved away from the educational standards provided in No Child Left Behind into a new set of standards called Common Core Standards.  Common Core Standards, commonly referred to as CCS, provide a basis for standards at each grade level for reading, language arts, and math that are to be followed by all states.  Previously, each state was able to determine the standards, how they would be implemented in the classroom, and how they would be assessed at the end of the year to provide the data to the state and federal government to show academic progress.  The rigor and standards for each grade level were not consistent across the states.  No Child Left Behind left room for much interpretation including as to how special needs students fit into the academic puzzle.  An additional document released with the standards addresses the needs for special education students and adaptations.


CCS’s Impact on Special Education

The Council for Exceptional Children has an informative article about how the change to CCS will impact the special education classroom.   The CCS will be the same across the grade levels for special needs students as it is for the general education classrooms.  The goal is to hold all students to high expectations of learning gains based on college and career readiness.  However, for special needs students there are specific adaptations, accommodations, and assistive technology provided for students to be able to attain those high standards.  The documentation provides information that struggling students should be provided with interventions and that the standards should be read in a broad manner that allows for adaptations to help students with special needs to achieve mastery of the standards at the highest level possible.  The broad interpretation opens the way for changes that can be determined at the state and local level.

This change in standards with increased levels of mastery for special needs students will come with some growing pains.  Special education teachers, along with general education teachers who teach special needs students in the general education setting, will need to be provided professional development opportunities to learn about scaffolding ideas, helping struggling students meet high standards, and how to meet the needs of special education students in the general education classroom.   The states, districts, schools, and teachers are challenged to find the means that works best in their environment to teach the students to gain mastery in those standards that are outlined.

Reading & Language Arts Standards

The Reading and Language Arts Standards provided in the CCS are not solely for the language arts and reading teachers.  The standards promote literacy across all classes.  There are specific standards for reading in history, science, technology, health, and mathematics.  Each grade level is broken down into various higher level categories like reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language standards.  Then, it is broken down into grade-specific standards that help to achieve the goal of college and career readiness.

Math Standards

The CCS Math Standards focus on the students being able to understand math rather than just solve equations.  Ideas like understanding the problem, reasoning, and modeling are integrated into the standards.  The math standards do not directly address the accommodations for students who are struggling or special needs students except for the fact that they should be provided access to the high-level of standards with accommodations or assistive technology as needed.  The standards are broken down into clusters and domains to outline the various mathematical concepts that the students should learn at each grade level.

Article By Laura Ketcham

Picture By hashmil

Free Teacher Resources | Special Education by MangoMon by MangoMon


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