Establishing Beginning of the Year Baselines in Your ECSpEd Classroom

I love new beginnings.  As much as I hate to leave the lazy days of summer behind and start working again, I am always enamored with the promise that a fresh new year brings.

One of the ways that a new school year brings promise is the potential for growth that is possible in each student.  My team this year has already noticed some growth in the returning students that we had last year – we can hardly imagine where they will be at the end of this school year with nine months of additional intervention.

One way I document this progress is to to establish and record some beginning of the year baselines that we can refer to at the end of the year.  These are instances where my students are asked to do a specific task, and we see how they do on them all by themselves – with no physical prompting or hand-over-hand help at all.

These are tasks that each student is asked to do, no matter what their IEP goals are – they are are just basic tasks that each demonstrate some basic preschool-appropriate skills.

Here are some of the things that I take baselines on during the first two weeks of school:

Writing their name:

name two
Write Name

Copying their name:

copy name

Drawing Mat Man (as I play the song):

mat man one
mat man two

Cutting a wavy line:    



As you can see, some of these “first week” samples already show some potential, and some still have a long way to go.  However, this gives them lots of room for improvement over the next nine months.

Each of the baseline samples gets scanned and “tucked” in each student’s Evernote folder (more on this later), kind of like electronic time capsules.  Then we get to work on the skills needed to complete these tasks.

Brown Bear Freebie Title

Friday Freebie: Brown Bear, Brown Bear Story Strip Visual

As I have mentioned before, I like to use as many visuals in my ECSped classroom as possible, and song/story time is no exception.

That’s why I came up with this “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” visual, and it is my Friday Freebie for today.

brown bear freebie full page

As you can see, there is one picture for each animal in the book, as well as for the teacher and children.  I simply hand the strip out before we play the song (or read the book), and then encourage the Little People to follow along by finding the part of the book as it is mentioned.

I copy them on white card stock, cut apart, and laminate before using.

There are two versions of this freebie.  One is 8.5″ x 11″, and one is 11″ x 17″.


Working Ahead to Be More Appreciative of My ECSped Teaching Team

Well, here we stand just around the corner from a new school year.  I have one more full week before I have to report back to work, and believe me, I’m working hard to make the most of these last few days.

As usual, my summer time has been split between trying to rest and unwind, and trying to do some things to make the upcoming school year easier.  However, the closer it comes to the beginning of the new school year, the more I think about the new school year.

One thing I have been thinking about is making sure that I show proper appreciation for my teaching team during this upcoming year.  I have a really great set of aides in my ECSped class, and this year I am going to work with a new speech therapist who I am hearing great things about.  Knowing how valuable a great team is,  I want to make sure that I show them appreciation for all the work the do for me and for our students.

Instead of just leaving this to the last minute and hoping I actually get them done, I have decided to plan ahead for several appreciation gifts.  My first step in doing this was to gather ideas that I liked on Pinterest, which led to this board:

Follow Teaching the Little People’s board CoWorker Appreciation Gifts on Pinterest.
There are lots of additional things out there on Pinterest that are also fun, but this collection of ideas has enough to help me do one small thing for my team a month.

After I gathered the ideas, I made my plan of when I will give what.  Here’s what that looks like.

(Incidentally, to the best of my knowledge, none of my teaching team reads my blog.)

coworker gift list

Next, I made up a shopping list of things I will need to get for these gifts, with the dates included of when I am planning to give them.  Actually, my goal is to get as much of the non-perishable materials this week as possible, to avoid all mid-school year stress about this.  I also am planning to print out my coordinating tags this week, too, and do any prep needed for them.

Here is my Evernote Shopping List, which is where I am keeping all my links and downloaded pdfs for all the projects:

evernote coworker

Finally, I am using the “Reminders” feature on Evernote to schedule email reminders to buy the perishable goods throughout the year.    (When you click the reminder button, it lets you select a date of when the email will be sent.  Hurray!)

evernote coworker gifts

So there you go.  Through all of this, I am planning to be very appreciative this year.  Will it work?  We shall see.  It certainly can’t hurt to try.

pete the cat title

Friday Freebie: Pete the Cat Song Visual

pete the cat title
One of the things that I find most important in my Early Childhood Special Ed. classroom is having as many visuals available as possible.  Visuals for our schedule, visuals for expectations, visuals to remind the Little People how to do things – I want them everywhere in my room.  In addition, I love to involve my students in songs and stories using visuals as much as possible.

Today as a “Friday Freebie” I am offering one of my favorite song visuals – a “Pete the Cat” story/song strip.   Actually, I have two different ones.  One of them just show s the progression of the shoe colors:

pete the cat all parts

The second one shows the sequence of events of how the shoes got to be the way they are. (Although I admit that I still feel this way about Pete’s shoes.)

new pete the cat strip

I don’t give a lot of explanation for these strips – I just hand them out just before we start the book/song and if the students don’t seem to “get” the visual, I ask them if they can find a certain item as the song goes along.  (“Oh, Pete’s shoes are blue now.  Can you find the blue shoes?”)

This year I plan to make them readily accessible to the Little People during free play time, as well (perhaps in the library) so their usefulness can extend to this time, as well.

As you can see, these come 5 strips to this page…

pete full page all elements

…and four to this page.

pete full page shoes only

These visuals come formatted in both 8.5″ x 11″, and 11″ x 17″.  Enjoy!

New Products in the Teacher Stores – 50% Off Until Monday

Hurray for new items in the teacher stores!   This set includes 6 different activities centered around a “Color Bears” shared reading poem. This predictable-text verse focuses on color matching and choosing favorite colors.

In this set you will find files for:

  • One 8.5” x 11” full-color Color Bears book
  • Pocket Chart with interchangeable color bears to add favorite color on  the last line.
  • Interactive Pocket Chart where students can match the bears to each line of the text.
  • Materials for an 8.5” x 11” interactive class book
  • Two 1/2 page black and white Color Bears student books
  • Full-color printable graph materials for 2 different sizes of a “Favorite Bear Color” class graph
  • Graph response page where students can record results of the “Favorite Bear Color” class graph.

You can find these items in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store and my Teachers Notebook store – they are 50% off until Monday!

Color Bears Thumbnails page one - Copy
Color Bears Thumbnails four

Color Bears Thumbnails two

Color Bears Thumbnails Three - Copy

You Can Take the Teacher Out of the Classroom (for the Summer), But….

 …can you take the classroom out of the teacher? This thought has gone through my head the past few days, which have been my first few days of summer vacation. Even during these first few days of “freedom” there have been several school things that I really have wanted (and managed to) work on.  Here are two:

1) Sort out the “brought-home” boxes and bags. Fortunately, I get to keep the same classroom again next year, so I did not have to bring all of my possessions home for the summer like I did last summer. But despite this, I did still manage to bring home a van full of boxes. And actually, I went through all of the bags and boxes the day after school ended. While I would like to say that this had mostly to do with wanting to start my summer with that job behind me, I admit that a big part of it was because I had a few half-full coffee travel mugs and a handful of food products in there somewhere from the last few days of school.  However, despite my anti-bad smell motivation, it felt great to have those boxes sorted out. Notice I say that they’re sorted out.  Are they put away?  Well, no. They are sorted and piled, which we all know is  precursor to being put away.   But they’re ready to be put away.  And they don’t smell like spoiled coffee or neglected fruit.  So there you go.

calendar four
calendar four
2) Fill out my desk calendar for next year.

calendar two
 I actually bought my desk calendar for next year a few weeks before this school year ended.  And I sat down just last week and filled in all of my student birthdays and IEP dates – using these cute little color dots that I got from the Container Store.  So far, blue dots are students birthday, and orange dots are IEPs.
calendar pic one
Why so soon?  Well, it’s probably a mixture of two things.  First, I always end the school year feeling frazzled and feeling like I’m just barely getting the tasks done.  And as a result, I end up berating myself as I work:  You should have been working on this MediCal billing way before now.  You could have started these DRDP assessments weeks ago.  And from this emotional self-criticism comes the desire to do it better next year.  To plan ahead more.  To mark more notes to myself on my calendar to get started with things that I know are due at a certain time.

Secondly, I just like fresh starts.  Out with the old.  In with the new. The files of my old students (whom I love and wish the absolute best) move on to their new kindergarten teachers.   The files of the new students come in, and I start figuring out what they need.   All with the impetus of doing it all better next time.

I do hope that I do it all better next year.  But at the same time, I am very glad that I still have about eight weeks of time off before I have to.

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.


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:

We 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.

        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:


 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.

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