Making a Train Track Template for Your Early Childhood Sped Classroom

train track template

There is no question that wooden train tracks are a great toy to have in any preschool classroom.  Most Little People enjoy them, and not to be sexist, but my personal experience is that Boy Little People really love them.  However, I find that they can be kind of problematic.  Primarily, the Little People can find it difficult to figure out how to make a concise track layout that doesn’t sprawl every which way and that – well, actually connects.  (To be completely truthful, I sometimes find this hard myself.)

To combat this, I decided to create some train track templates for our trains at school.  Basically, I wanted to provide an easy-to-follow model that the Little People could use their matching skills on while helping them be successful in making a functional track.

My base material was clear vinyl.  I got mine at our local hardware store, where they sell it on the roll by the foot. (I have also found that you can buy a package of it in the fabric section at Walmart.)  I bought several yards, although the piece that I used for this template was just about two feet wide.

Here’s how I made the model.  First I laid out the track that I wanted using the actual wooden pieces.  For this track I just chose a simple loop.  Once I had it laid out as I wanted it, I made color copies of all of the pieces.  You actually want to copy the top of pieces of your track, since the copies will be taped to the bottom of the clear vinyl.  After accidentally copying the wrong sides once, I built the track again and placed a post it note on the side of the track that I wanted to copy.  Then when I took the pieces to my copier I took the post it off at the last minute and placed the marked sides down on the printer.

The next step in the process was to cut out the copied pieces, and lay them next to the actual piece that they go with.


As you can see my track had a hill on it, and as you might imagine, it was impossible to color copy the hill and be able to show the dimensional aspect of it (well, at least without the color copy being extremely blurry).  Instead, I just used a copy of a flat track piece that was actually the same length as the base of the hill.


To indicate that these pieces were actually hill pieces, I drew these arrows on the color copies to indicate that they were pieces that went up.


I then put pieces of scotch tape onto the hills and marked them  on the tape with a Sharpie the same way as the copies.track

Next, lay your cut-out copies directly on top of the wood pieces.  Using scotch tape, tape the copies together at the ends, using the connected wood tracks as a guide.


Once you have all the pieces tapes together, you can remove the wood pieces, leaving you with your connected template.


Next, turn your paper track over (wrong side up) and tape it with clear tape directly to the vinyl.


Turn over, and voila!  You have a model for a train track.


I usually only put out  the wooden pieces that actually go on top of the template. This makes it easier for the Little People to use their matching skills to place the wooden pieces directly on top of the template.


Another way to further modify the templates for those who really have a hard time matching the track pieces with the template is to sticker-code the pieces.  Simply put a distinctive, matching sticker on each of the template pieces and the coordinating wooden pieces.  I don’t have a picture of this, but this would make it even easier to match the pieces to the copied template.

I am also planning to make several other track formations as templates, to provide some track variety.  For now, however, this has provided a great model for the Little People to be successful in their track-building skills, while at the same time using matching and connecting skills in the process.


In the EC Sped Classroom: Setting Expectations (IEP-Related) for Fun Projects

My Early Childhood Special Ed. classroom is largely an activity-based classroom.  What I mean by that is that we try to meet the student’s IEP goals in a naturalistic, preschool setting, as opposed to setting the students down at table to complete tasks that don’t really fit in a regular preschool day.

Or, at least, I’m trying to have my classroom be this way.  Most of my guidance in this area I am getting from the book An Activity-Based Approach to Early Intervention, by Diane Bricker, Ph.D.

As a result, I find myself trying to find ways to make “regular” classroom projects platforms to help students practice the skills that they need accomplish.  This is not always easy, but it can be a very rewarding way to approach these skills.

One problem that I find with this method is that occasionally a “fun”, child-directed activity will not produce enough activity to really practice the skill, or to gauge a child’s skill level.  For example, you may be wanting the child to string beads to work on fine motor skills.  However, if Suzy is in charge of the bead-stringing, she might be done after two beads.

To offset this, I try to offer projects that are fun for the Little People, but also have some set parameters that enable me to get enough work out of them to accomplish my goals with the project.

For example, take this beaded pumpkin:

bead9We made these a week or two ago for Halloween.  I wanted each Little Person to put on enough beads to actually put some real effort into their fine motor practice, but also enough to actually make a pumpkin.

I prepped the activity by stringing one bead on one end of the pipe cleaner to prevent the beads from falling off during the stringing.  (Believe me, there is no deterrent to sufficient stringing like having all your beads come off in the middle of the effort.)



I then used a Sharpie to mark the spot that the Little People to fills the beads up to.  Of course, I could have just said that they needed to put on 30 beads, but since most of my Little People can’t count that high, the black mark made more sense.

bead3        Another alternative to make a single black mark would be to color the entire section of pipe cleaner that you want covered by beads.  This would be more appropriate for students who need to see the whole “Put Beads Here” section more clearly.


By doing this, you establish an minimum expectation for the task with a visual marking, enabling the students to do the amount of fine motor work that you need to see.

At the same time, the students get to make a bead pumpkin – so it’s a win-win for everyone.



mat man

The Many Looks of Mat Man

Mat Man is a vital part of our classroom.  He’s a room decoration, he’s a learning tool, he’s a song. For the most part, he hangs out on our easel/white board at the corner of our large group carpet.  Most of the time he looks like this, as he was made to look:


However, from time to time his body part are knocked askew, or a Little Person takes on the task of taking down his parts and making him all over again.  Sometimes we’ll play the song as he is put together, and sometimes they just assemble him without music.  As soon as the Little Person is done, we take his picture with his Mat Man creation and post it on the wall beside the easel.  Kind of like a Mat Man Gallery:


While a good majority of the Little People put him together as intended, some just – don’t:


However, this in no way seems to decrease their pride in their own Mat Man creations:

And then there are those times that I look up and discover Mat Man in a completely new way.  Here are some examples:


mm6 mm7 Who knows in what form we’ll find Mat Man next?  Whatever way it is, it will be a product of participation, and pride, and learning, which makes Mat Man a favorite no matter how he ends up.

123 visual

My EC Sped Classroom: What Worked and Didn\'t Work in Week #11 (Freebie)

In every classroom, no matter what kind of classroom it is, when you come to the end of a week, you can always look back and find some things that worked, and also some things that didn’t.  Here is one thing that worked well in Week #11, and one thing that did not.

What Worked:  This “Consequence Counting” Visual

Here’s one thing that has worked for several weeks so far – this counting visual.

123 visual I use this as a partner with the counting I do with one particular student to give him a chance to change an undesired behavior.   As you can see, each number card is attached to the back with Velcro.  As I count, I pull off that number on the card.

123 3 visual


123 3 visual

As each number is pulled off, the consequence behind is gradually revealed – in this case it is a time out.

123 1 visual

Perhaps it is the dislike of timeouts, or the rather severe sound of the Velcro being separated, but counting with this visual has proved very effective for this particular student.  I actually keep it attached to my name tag lanyard so it is with me all the time during the school day.

I adapted this idea from a Freebie generously offered from The Autism Helper.  Instead of the pictures that she had on the front of her card, I made cards with the numbers I was counting.

You can download my version here:

What Didn’t Work this Week: This Sharing Visual

I have a student who has a hard time sharing.  Well, actually, I have a whole classroom of students that have a hard time sharing.  However, this particular Little Person has a really hard time.  As a result, we are having to work on practicing sharing, with as many helpful visuals as possible. What will happen is that when Suzy actually needs to give someone else a turn, we set the Time Timer on my phone and keep it in view so she can watch it while it ticks down.   However, I was still interested in something even more abstract, so I came up with this visual:


The top oval-obscured spaces have the pictures of the two girls in my afternoon class, as these are the ones who most often take turns sharing objects.  The pictures are part of the card – you can not pull the pictures off and add other ones.  The bottom squares have Velcro spots to add a timer card and an object card.  The idea behind this is that the girl who has the desired object has the ball (or other object) picture under her name, and the waiting girl has the timer visual under her picture.  Then when the timer is up, the pictures are switched.

This was all well and good, until we went out to the playground with the general ed. playground – and one of the general ed. students also wanted a turn with the treasured ball.  And while I was tempted to say, “Sorry, Sally, but you are not on the sharing card.  No ball for you,” I didn’t think that was in the spirit of what we were trying to accomplish out there.  So then I was stuck.

In hindsight, I’m thinking that the visuals could just be my non-sharer and then a general picture representing another person – perhaps one of those dark mysterious profiles meant to just represent someone?  Of course, what if three people were sharing the same thing?  Sigh….I guess I still need to work on that one.

Happy Birthday to Me: Organizing the School Cabinets

It is no secret that I love containers of all kinds.  Especially clear plastic ones.  However, even greater than my general love of containers is my love of finding the perfect container for the area I’m wanting to organize.  “Perfect” to me generally means just the right size, with enough space at the top to either put the lid on, or to have a little open space to be able to slide objects in without having to pull the container out.  But not too much leftover space, of course.  I want 90% of the available space filled up with the container, and no less.  Obviously, the container must be clear.  In addition, it helps for it to not be too expensive, although I have to admit that I will splurge for just the right one.

In fact, this year I used a good bit of my birthday money to purchase a bunch of “just-the-right-size” containers to organize my cabinets at school.

I started with cabinets that looked like generally like this:

g h

I then used my new containers to turn them into this:

a c dBehind these containers are either paper boxes, or an assortment of clear plastic shoe boxes to organize those things that I don’t need to be right at hand.  I labeled those out-of-sight things like this:

So, basically, I now have some well-organized cabinets, which is hugely valuable.  However, I have the even greater joy of having them organized well and attractively.  And while this is not necessary in the grand scheme of things, it does make my days at school a little more fun.


My EC Sped Classroom: What Worked and Didn’t Work in Week #10

In every classroom, no matter what classroom it is, when you come to the end of a week, you can always look back and find some things that worked, and also some things that didn’t.  I’m a little behind in the telling of this, but we had some things work well for us in Week 10 (the Week of Halloween) – and of course several things that didn’t work so well.

What Worked in Week 10:

One thing that worked was our pumpkin exploration.  We started out with a small real pumpkin and a small “play” pumpkin that was very sparkly and obviously not real.  We talked a lot about “real” and “not real”, and I must say that this was quite tricky for my Little People.  Then I brought in several large pumpkins, and we opened them and carved jack-o-lanterns.  We even discovered that some of the pumpkin seeds are already sprouted in the pumpkins, which we promptly put on display:


A day or two later we put these in dirt and now we have this:

pumpkin sprout 2

The Little People had an especially good time working with the jack-o-lanterns after we made them, attempting to put the cut-out features back in the pumpkins, like a big, real-life Pumpkin Puzzle.


It was a really fun experience, and was a very language-rich learning opportunity, which is the kind we like the best.

What Didn’t Work This Week:

What didn’t work?  Well, one thing I didn’t think to do while buying the above-mentioned pumpkins was to put them down on a flat surface to see if they would sit up.  Alas, one of them did not:


And actually, in this picture you can see that the non-flat pumpkin is being propped up by a box.  In reality, his natural position was really more like this:


Which gave him this thrilling view of the class ceiling:


Of course, while this unbalanced and completely lopsided pumpkin was a bit sub-optimal, it was not a deal breaker.  We just propped it up in a bucket for balance, and off we went:


So, the whole pumpkin experience was kind of a “Worked” and “Didn’t Work” all wrapped up together.  However, I would have to say that the “Worked” part won out.

And really, that’s mainly what we ask for with the Little People.

ribbon 16

Making Inexpensive and Easy Wrist Ribbons

So, there are these wrist ribbons at school now.  Actually, they belong to the gen-ed preschool class that we mainstream with, but they are terribly popular with my afternoon class of Little People.  Almost every day there is some conversation/clamoring/squabbling about them, with the most attention of all focused on the purple ones.   (Coincidentally, out of my 11 students, the only two girls I have are in my afternoon class.  And while I have seen boys wearing the wrist ribbons, none of my personal morning class boys have paid them much mind.  However, the two afternoon girls love the ribbons…)

Sadly, the number of purple wrist ribbons has sadly (and mysteriously) dwindled even these first few weeks of school, and at this time there is just one purple wrist ribbon available.  So, I decided to humor the Wrist Ribbon Lovers and make some more.

My first thought was that I could just make some identical to the ones from Lakeshore..  (Actually, my first thought was to buy some more, but I dismissed that quickly because – you know – I’m cheap that way.)  Then I started thinking about how to replicate the Lakeshore ones.  They look like this:

ribbon 5

I bought a roll of wide purple ribbon for the wrist band, and a roll of thinner ribbon for the streamers.  I even got to the point of sewing the long ribbon wristband together….

ribbon 10

…and then I figured out that sewing it this way sewed the streamers into the inside of the wristband.  But  before I started all over, thought – surely there’s a better way.

So instead I went to the Dollar Tree and bought this pack of hair bands (although I should have bought two so I would have an even number of each color):

hair bands

I took six thin ribbons (each 18″ long) and sewed them together at one end:


At this point, you will either want to zigzag the ribbon edges well (as I did not-so-attractively here)…

ribbon  1

…or you can squirt on some fray check.

ribbon 8

Next, place your hairband at the end of the sewn ribbons:

ribbon 2

Fold the sewn edge over, and pin as so:

ribbon 9

Next you want to sew across the ribbon below the hairband, being careful to not catch the hairband in the sewing.  Sewing the ribbons onto the band will mess with the elasticity of the band.

ribbon 6

ribbon 11

Once you have sewn across it, you will want to also use fray check on the loose ends of the ribbons so they don’t fray.

And voila!  Now you have super-inexpensive and easy to make wrist ribbons.

ribbon 12

But wait, you may say.  What about just gluing the ribbons instead?   As I was making these I, too considered that it might be just as easy to glue the ribbons.  But alas, it is not, for several reasons.

First of all, if you glue the ribbons, you want to put glue between each layer of ribbon wherever you are gluing.  For example, once you get to this stage shown below, you want to be sure and glue all the ribbons together at the point shown in the picture.

ribbon 17Otherwise it will be like putting all of your hair in a ponytail except for a few stands here and there – those loose strands are not necessarily going to cooperate with the rest of the secured hair.

Also, making these with glue is just kind of messy.  I tried making the wrist ribbons both with hot glue (ouch) and tacky glue, and I by far liked the sewing method best.

**Wrist Ribbon Update - There’s an Even Easier Way**

It was not until I was all done with the sewn wrist ribbons when it occurred to me that there was an even simpler way to make them.  First, you need to double the length of each ribbon streamer, and cut half as many.  (Instead of cutting six 18″ ribbons, cut three 36″ ribbons).  Double each ribbon, and feed the midpoint of the three ribbons through the hairband.  In the picture below I just fed one ribbon through for clarity:

pic 1

Then feed the opposite ends of the ribbons through the open loop that you see in the middle of the hairband.  Pull the ends through, tighten up, and there you have it – the most simple wrist ribbons of all.


pic 2

Granted, the knots might loosen up and need to be tightened from time to time – but they’re as easy to make as they get – and they’re cheap, too.


new books

Someone Help Me! I Can’t Stop Buying Children’s Books!

I think I have a problem.  I cannot seem to stop buying children’s books.  It’s not that don’t have any. In fact, I have more than three tall bookshelves just brimming with children’s books.  However, in the past, these at-home books were always my “back up” books, used to supplement an extremely substantial book library that the Child Development department that I worked for supplied.

Now, however, in my new Special Ed. classroom, my personal books are the only ones that my students have access to.  (Except for our school library, of course, and while it has some good picture books, the majority of the books are geared for elementary children).

As a result, I feel the responsibility of keeping the Little People supplied with current and suitable picture books lies squarely on my shoulders.   And I am taking this responsibility very seriously.

In fact, I think about this responsibility every time I go to Target.  Or Walmart.  Or notice a Scholastic book club flyer.

Here are some of my new purchases:

new books

The left column are Scholastic book club purchases.  The middle row are books from the very handy, front-of-the-store supply of Halloween books at Walmart.  The far right column are Target purchases.

You may notice that all of these books are board books.  With some of my Sped. students having dexterity issues, I am finding that board books are the easiest for them, especially with the hot glue/baby powder fluffers put in:

board-books-3 board-books-2


Is there an answer to this excessive book-buying dilemma?  Probably not, but books are the best.  And my Little People need them.  And until I find a source to supply us with classroom books, I will keep buying them…and one day my future grandchildren (and/or a future teacher) will appreciate this.



Making “Line Up” Dots from Duct Tape on a Roll


It took me about 1.5 days into the school year to realize that I needed some “line-up” dots in my room to help the Little People line up.  Being super-young Little People that had never really lined up before, any attempt to leave our room in an organized manner turned into a a huge melee of pushing and shoving, with at least one of them falling over on the floor and/or walking out the door at any given time during the process.

So I decided to make some line-up dots for the floor.  While initially tempting, I didn’t want to go with the “tape down paper dots with packing tape” method, since this usually leads to curled-up packing tape edges around the dots.  And curled-up packing tape edges on line-up dots only leads to various Little People bending over to pull up the curly edges even further, which can compromise any semblance of a line that the dots might have helped exist in the first place.

What made the most sense to me was to make dots out of duct tape.  Obviously, the easiest way to do this would have been to use those nifty duct tape “pages”, which would have worked well, but they cost at least $2 per page, and since I wanted at least to have enough tape to make around 20 dots and I am cheap, I wasn’t very happy about this idea.

However, a whole roll of duct tape was only $3, so I bought that and made my own duct tape sheets  - which I cut circles out of to be line-up dots.

The key to “making” your own duct tape sheets is creating them on a cuttable surface that allows you to peel the duct tape off without problems.  Some good examples of this material is sticker backing, or the long, shiny paper that glue dots come on, or label backing.  Even better would be the backing that you peel off from Cricut or Silhouette vinyl/transfer sheets, and usually just discard.

Fortunately, I had some address label backing that would work.  Well, actually, I have a bunch of computer labels that I found super-cheap at a yard sale that I used, but any of the above options would work just as well.


My label pages had already been divided into strips, so my first step was to tape the back of them together to make one complete page.


Turned over, it looked like this (the smooth, glossy side is up.  This is the side you want to put the duct tape on):


I then layered the pieces of duct tape on the paper, overlapping the edges. (If you do not overlap the edges, you will have trouble with your circle going to pieces when you pull it off the backing.)


I decided that my circles would be about the size of a masking tape roll, so I traced them on my paper:


duct-table-2 After I cut them out, I just peeled the circles off the backing and stuck them to the floor.    I probably need to space them out a little bit more, but basically, they are sticking very well.

Of course, I also wrote the numbers from 1 to 8 on them with a Sharpie, which I thought would be sneakily educational…but sadly that led the Little People to argue over which numbers they get to stand on.  (“I’m 4!”  “No, I’m 4!”)

So now we assign the Little People a specific number to stand on.  (“Yes, I know you’re 4, Johnny, but today you get to stand on number 6.  And good job knowing what the number 4 looks like, by the way.”)

So the good news is that yes, you can use a roll of $3 duct tape to make nice line-up circles for your room.  The bad news?  It doesn’t automatically make lining up trouble-free.  However, it does make it a little easier, and sometimes with Little People, that’s the best you can ask for.

Photo by Anssi Koskinen

Random Drive-By House Envy, and Other Signs of Stress

It just occurred to me that one year ago today, I was still a part-time preschool teacher teaching general ed. preschool.  A year ago from this upcoming Tuesday, I changed jobs and stepped into the whirlwind world of teaching full time in a preschool inclusion classroom.  I started working at a new school with a very large new team, and a whole new type of job.  Then, eight months later I moved to the job that I am at now – at another new school with more new people, and a whole new different new job.  Whew.  That’s a lot of change in one year’s time!

I am delighted to report that I am finding my teaching job this year much less stressful than the job last year was.  Last year was just – hard, anyway you look at it.  I found myself stressed and tired most of the time.  Which led me to almost-daily Drive-By House Envy. What is this, you ask?  During the past few years of my adult life, I have discovered that when I get tired and stressed, I become an avid Drive-By Random House Envier.  I find myself out driving, say, to work early in the morning, and as I drive by some random house, I will think:  I’ll bet the people in there are having a nice morning at home.  I will picture them sitting in their quiet, perhaps lamp-lit living room, cozy with a cup of coffee and the newspaper or a book, just enjoying the morning.  In this vision, their living room is always picked up, and is also quite attractive, with clean, spotless carpet and perhaps a lamp and some trendy throw pillows from the Pottery Barn.  These happy, calm people are just settling in to enjoy their day at home – they aren’t due to be anywhere anytime soon.  Perhaps later they will do a favorite project, or putter around in their garden out back.  It really has nothing to do with the house itself (although neat and attractive houses are more likely candidates than houses with lots of trash and/or faded-out Little Tikes toys in the front yard).  What I’m really jealous of is the made-up life that I am envisioning inside the house.

Yep.  Some people eat when tired and stressed – I make up peaceful, desirable scenarios in other people’s houses.  Actually, I eat when stressed as well, too, but that’s sadly more of a daily stress.  I know that when I find myself envisioning this sort of life in random houses that I am really tired.  Or when I drive by hotels longingly, thinking, I would just love to check into a hotel and enjoy that comfort of “climate-control-included” nothingness for awhile.  When things get really bad, I will secretly find myself a little of jealous of people who are sick with a fever.  Not serious, Ebola-type fevers obviously,  but instead just those people who have simply developed a minor cold with the obligatory “must stay home” fever for a day or two – because then they get to sleep/rest all day without any guilt at all.

Of course, I do actually realize that most likely, most of the people in those houses are not really lounging comfortably around their house as I envision them to be.  Most of are probably on the way to work, grabbing a broken pop tart on the way out the door, headed in a frazzled manner to their stressful jobs just like the rest of us.   I get that.  It’s not a rational thing, any more than Fever Envy is.  It’s just a sign for me that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get a little more rest, or take an evening off from doing school things and just hang out with my family on our big brown couch.

So, here’s to Drive-By Random House Envy, or whatever other signs we exhibit that let us know to take it easy on ourselves.  And here’s to jobs (like my current one) that make it easier to do just that.

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