Monday, July 18, 2016

Learning the Piano, One (Online) Lesson at a Time! {A Product Review of Hoffman Academy}

Hi Friends!

I'm back today with a review of Hoffman Academy....a website designed to teach piano lessons all online!

If you've been reading my blog for long, you know I love music. I'm always listening to music in the background while I work, and I use music in my speech therapy lessons every single day. I just simply can't do life without music!

I grew up playing the piano. My grandmother was a piano teacher, and my mom plays as well. But children don't always learn well from their parents, so my dad lovingly paid for about 12 years of my piano lessons. I enjoyed playing, but I didn't always love practicing. I had tons of things going on, and I didn't always put in the time I should have. Nevertheless, I managed to become pretty good at reading music. But I never learned to play by ear. Not even a little. Ok, maybe I could tap out the melody to songs I knew, but that was about it. No chords. Certainly no inversions. Just the melody! Because of this, if I didn't have piano music in front of me, my playing was virtually useless.

Fast forward about 10 years. I was in the work force and a new mom. I was super busy all the time. But I needed "me time." I wasn't playing the piano regularly. I didn't even have a piano at the time. I missed playing, and I wanted to start playing again. But this time, I wanted it to be different. I wanted to fill in all the "gaps" in my knowledge, and learn the theory, learn the harder rhythms, learn the chords and inversions so I could play by ear. I wanted to be able to play the praise songs from church and sit around and play while my husband was playing the guitar, just for fun!

So I started taking piano lessons again. My current piano teacher plays the keyboard for our church. She's incredible. I love listening to her play, and I love her ability to hear something and effortlessly recreate it on the piano keys. I've been taking again for about a year, and it's one of my favorite parts of my week. We're working on reading harder music, but she's also teaching me about the piano chords, inversions, and improvising....things I never learned before and things that definitely don't come as easy to me. I've thought often before about how if I had learned these things from the very beginning, it would have been so much easier than having to learn them now.

Me in my happy place!

Ironically, a few months after I started taking lessons again, Hoffman Academy contacted me about doing a review of their FREE piano lessons on my blog. In the art of full disclosure, I was hesitant at first. I had always thought it necessary to be sitting right beside your piano teacher....but I decided to do a little more research on The Hoffman Academy to see what it was about first.

The Hoffman Academy website is wonderful. I loved how it explained who Mr. Hoffman is (there are simply too many accomplishments to list here), his story, his teaching method, and his teaching philosophy. One of the first things I read was Ear Before Eye, and I was instantly intrigued. The website went on to explain that The Hoffman Method works on ear training, rhythm, sight reading, technique, improvisation, and music theory right from the start, so he can develop the whole musician. The comprehensive approach helps children (and adults) to truly comprehend music, not just play it. How much easier would it have been for me if I had learned this way from the beginning?!?! I instantly wanted to learn more and write a review!

Hoffman Academy is a website where ANYONE can go to watch short video lessons by Mr. Hoffman FOR FREE and truly learn to play the piano. There are 7 "Units" (the higher the number, the harder the lesson), and there are around 20 lessons in each Unit. The lesson videos are free for anyone to watch. You can purchase supplemental materials, including worksheets and music files for each of the units to dive deeper into the lessons.

 A sample of the information from Lesson One. 

Many lessons have worksheets included as supplemental practice! 

The videos are short and engaging...perfect for both children and adults!

My friends at Hoffman Academy supplied me with the supplemental materials for Unit 1, and I went through each lesson one by one. The lessons in Unit 1 do a wonderful  job of introducing the piano keys and notes, teaching beginning theory, and even teaching you to play a song! The lessons were simple, easy to follow, and fun. Mr. Hoffman is very engaging, and the supplemental materials made practicing fun!

Research shows music is very important for children. Music helps them learn. Music fosters creativity, critical thinking skills, character development, and much, much more. I often use music to reach the children I teach with special needs, and I am making sure to foster a love for music in my own 2 year old as well. Although my little one at home is a little young yet to start piano lessons, when she gets a little older, I'll let her start working through the lessons in The Hoffman Academy. Even if we still decide to use a traditional piano teacher, these lessons are wonderful supplements. Even I plan to continue working my way through them, as I'm sure there is plenty of material I can glean from the lessons even as a more experienced pianist.

Bottom line: I love what Mr. Hoffman and his team are doing at The Hoffman Academy. He had a heart for finding a way to make it possible for everyone to be able to take piano lessons, and he has done just that. Anyone can learn piano through his engaging, comprehensive,  and rigorous lessons! Even more so, I love that he is fostering a love for music in children and adults all over the world!

Want to give Hoffman Academy a try? Enter below to win a copy of Unit 1!

You can also check out Hoffman Academy online to learn more!

Do YOU play an instrument? Do YOU use music in your therapy lessons or classrooms? I'd love to hear how!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Wrapping Up The School Year!

Happy SUMMER, Peeps!

Yesterday was our last school day with students, and today teachers are busy reading their classrooms for summer cleaning and getting ready to head out for a much needed (and much deserved) break!

I, for one, am super excited about this summer. This will be the first summer since I graduated college that I haven't worked. When I was in the schools, I always worked summer school. And the past 2 summers, I worked at the hospital, so therapy continued over the summer. While I considered working summer school again now that I'm back in the schools, I had to remind myself that I have a 2.5 year old, and she's only going to be little for a short while. Eventually there will be another baby, and eventually they will grow up. So instead of teaching other kiddos this summer, I decided to stay home and enjoy teaching my own!

Halle Jane is a mover and a shaker. She probably gets that from me. She's always busy, always on-the-go, and always in to everything. Neither of us are happy relaxing with nothing to do for too long. I knew that in order to keep us both content, I would need to be intentional about planning activities for us to do throughout the summer weeks at home, and also be intentional about including down time as well.

I'll share a little more about our summer schedule of activities and how I'm keeping us on track in a later post, but for now, I thought we could all get started with a Summer Bucket List FREEBIE! We all know you can incorporate language and learning into ANY activity, and these activity suggestions are no exception!

You can download this Summer Bucket List FREEBIE by clicking the picture or the link below.

Hope you all have a wonderful summer! I'd love to hear what you all are doing this summer, and if there are other activities on your summer bucket list!

Monday, April 18, 2016

A Spring Time Freebie!

Hi again, friends!

If you're like me, you're so, so happy Spring has sprung! I don't do cold very well. In fact, I try not to do it at all. So warm weather, sunshine, and new life is my jam!

We're finishing up with State standardized testing tomorrow (FINALLY!), and then this speech room is moving OUTSIDE! I love doing speech outside in the warmth and fresh air....and *most* of my students do too!

I love using Chalk in therapy. There are SO many ways to incorporate speech and language goals into drawing with Chalk. We have recently been working on an "Imagination" theme, and the book Chalk, by Bill Thomson, works perfectly! This book has NO WORDS! The kids in the book find a bag of chalk near the playground, and everything they draw comes to life! I love getting my students to "write" the story with their own words!

If the weather cooperates, we'll go outside and draw after reading the book. If the weather is rainy, the students can draw with chalk inside on construction paper! 

I also created this quick FREEBIE to go along with this lesson. The students simply add to the shapes to create pictures. Then, I have the students share what they made, and we talk about how different people can see things differently, and there are no right or wrong answers!

Here's an example. I recently updated the FREEBIE to include a second page with added shapes!

 You can download this FREEBIE in my TPT store by clicking the link below.

Do you use chalk in therapy? How do you work on imagination? I'd love to hear! 

Tacos & EZPZ Play Mats

Happy Monday,  SLPeeps!

If you've been reading my blog or following along on any of my social media accounts, you know I have a major obsession with the Happy Mats and Bowls by EZPZ. I seriously believe they are the best thing ever.  EVER!

You probably also know that I have a 2 year old, Halle Jane, though I haven't talked much about some of the sensory/anxiety issues we've been experiencing with our precious toddler. As an SLP, I work in a school with Pre-K through 5th grade self-contained classrooms for students with Autism. The majority of my caseload is students with Autism or other special needs outside of just speech and language impairments. Most of the students I work with have sensory needs.

When I first started noticing a few "red flags" with my own daughter, I flip-flopped back and forth between believing there was something there, and thinking maybe I was over-thinking things since I see it all day long. In the end though, especially when others starting noticing as well, we all agreed that there was something going on.

Most of her sensory issues center around not wanting to get dirty. She wouldn't eat a doughnut without a fork. She wouldn't eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich unless it was broken up in bite-sized pieces so the jelly didn't get on her mouth. She didn't like to go outside without shoes. She didn't like to play with play-dough unless I cut her nails short so it didn't get under her fingernails. She didn't like band-aids or stickers on her skin, but loved to wear them on her clothes. She LOATHES tags on clothing, her dolls, her blankets. She pretty much just loathes tags in general. And she's terrified of loud noises (the vacuum, the flushing of an unfamiliar toilet, airplanes, lawn mowers, and anything that makes a noise that she can't identify.)

We've slowly but surely worked through many of these issues. We did a lot of playing barefoot outside, and we planted a garden. We covered her in stickers and band-aids. We played with a lot of play-dough and finger paint. We DID NOT cut ONE single tag off of anything, unless it was a particularly hard or scratchy tag. My mom took her to the airport to sit in an airplane. We flushed a lot of public potties. (so gross!) We vacuumed and went outside when daddy was cutting the grass. And we worked a whole lot on eating.

Eating was the one area that was killing me. We were fighting a battle at every meal, just to get her to eat a few bites. Part of the problem was that she just didn't want to slow down to eat. But she also didn't like getting her hands or mouth dirty, so eating finger foods or anything sticky would sometimes just about send her over the edge.

Enter EZPZ, and everything began to change, You can read my previous blog post on what the EZPZ Happy mats and bowls did for our mealtime HERE. But let's just suffice it to say that the mats made eating fun and interesting, which reduced her desire to leave the table, which increased the opportunities we had to work on sensory needs with eating.

Today, I wanted to show you another EZPZ product, and how we've used it to work on sensory needs while also fostering her independence and ownership in mealtimes: The EZPZ Play Mat!

While there are SO many ways to use the play mat (stringing beads, arts and crafts, finger paint, Legos, just to name a few, we've been using the Play Mat to let Halle Jane help make her own dinner or snacks. Instead of me preparing her food for her, she gets to help me "cook dinner" by fixing her own plate. Last week, we had tacos for dinner, and it was a HUGE deal to see her happily making her own tacos, getting her hands dirty, and EATING the tacos she made....THREE TACOS, to be exact!

She loved getting to do it all by herself, and this SLPMommy loved the mess she made! Side note: While she did have some spillage, the mess was contained to the mat. The beauty of these silicone mats is that they stick to the table, so they aren't knocked off, and when you're ready to clean up, you simply peel them off, and rinse with soap and water. They don't harbor bacteria, and they're also dishwasher safe. You can read many more "Pro's" to the EZPZ mats in a previous blog post by clicking HERE. 

We've also used the Play Mats for decorating cupcakes and sugar cookies with different toppings, making a bowl of ice cream with different toppings, fruit salad, and many others! Below, Halle Jane helped put strawberries and whipped cream on pound cake in an EZPZ bowl.

If I've made a believer out of you, and you want to order them for yourself, or your friends, or for baby gifts, you can use my link below for 10% off your order!

Are YOU using the EZPZ mats? I'd love to hear what you think! 

Stay tuned for another post coming soon on how I use them at school! 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Time Timer {A Product Review}

Hi friends!

I'm back today with a product review for one of my favorite tools ever....the Time Timer MOD!

For those of you who know me, I pretty much live by the clock. Organization and punctuality is paramount in my life, because so much of my day is planned out. Although I can be flexible and adapt if needed, I generally feel much more calm and efficient if I'm sticking to a plan. ;)

So I was SO excited to see this super cute timer at the ASHA Convention in Denver last November. The representative from Time Timer provided me a Time Timer MOD for free to review, but the opinions following are all mine.

The Time Timer MOD comes is a durable cardboard box, with a slate gray removable silicone cover. The silicone cover is easy to clean, and it protects the timer from falls! The glare-free lens also protects the timer!

I got a pink silicone cover to go with mine. Silicone covers are also available in sky blue and lime green! I was also given a Time Timer screwdriver to open the back door for the battery (one AA battery required and not included), but you can easily use any eye-glass screwdriver. 

The Time Timer MOD is small enough to travel with me, home, in the car, to swim lessons, to the bathroom, restaurants, etc. You name it, it's been there!

My early morning groups bring their 5-minute math drill work with them when they come to speech. They know they have 5 minutes to finish up, and then their folders go under their seats, and speech begins! I love that they are so accustomed to the Time Timer now that they come in, sit down, and turn it on themselves!

I compiled a quick list of 10 ways I use the Time Timer in Speech, but there are SO many other ways to use it.

Finally, here's 10 ways I commonly use the Time Timer at home with my 2 year old, Halle Jane. She's so used to it now, she regularly asks where it is!

Honestly, the Time Timer has become such an important asset to my life...both at work (therapy), and at home. I've even turned it on for myself before....only 10 more minutes of work left....then I can go home!

You can read more about the Time Timer MOD and other products from the Time Timer website:

You can purchase the Time Timer from the Time Timer website, or from Amazon! 

Click the link below to buy the Time Timer today! 

Time Timer MOD

 Have YOU used the Time Timer before? Do you use other types of timers? How do you use them?

Monday, February 8, 2016

Bloglovin and Other Ways to Follow Me!

Hi Friends!

I just wanted to take a quick minute to 1) thank you all so, so much for all of the love and support you give to my little blog, and 2) to highlight a few quick ways you can follow me!

First, you can get notifications of my new blog posts by following my blog through Bloglovin: Follow my blog with Bloglovin

You can also get an email of each new post by following my by email. Just type in your email address over on the right side of my blog!

You can follow me on Facebook by clicking HERE or the Facebook logo below:

You can follow me on Instagram by clicking HERE or the Instagram logo below:

You can follow me on Twitter by clicking HERE or the Twitter logo below:

You can follow me on Pinterest by clicking HERE on clicking on the Pinterest logo below:

You can also pin pictures directly from my blog by hovering over the picture with your cursor, and clicking on the Sun picture, shown below:

You can follow me on Teachers Pay Teachers by clicking HERE or clicking on the TPT logo below:

And, you can follow me on Periscope by clicking HERE, or clicking on the Periscope logo below:

If you did all that, you'll be totally up-to-date on everything new in my world, including when new products are added, products are updated, new blog posts with reviews and therapy ideas are up, and when I'm doing giveaways for FREE stuff!'ll be my best friend!

Hope you guys have an amazing Monday!

Friday, January 8, 2016

EZPZ Happy Mats {A Product Review}

Hey Ya'll!

I hope you guys had a wonderful holiday season! Ours was amazing....holidays with a 2 year-old are seriously a blast. But also completely exhausting! She was blessed with way too many gifts, so we're having fun playing with and learning about new things. (Look for a post coming soon on my favorite things for an SLP Mommy!)

Today I'm back with a product review of my MOST favorite thing right now for SLPs and Mommies: Happy Mats and Bowls from EZPZ!

I had the privilege of meeting the creator, Lindsey, and Dawn, the SLP, as well as other members of the EZPZ team at the ASHA Convention in Denver this past November. Lindsey explained to me that as a mom of young boys, she was experiencing lots of craziness (and mess) during mealtimes at her house. So she created the Happy Mat and Happy Bowl, made of silicone, where the plate and bowl are literally built in to a placemat. Because they are made of silicone, they don't slide or lift off of the table (unless you pull up under the sides, which isn't easy for the kids to do). As a mom of a 2 year old, this instantly had my attention!

Many of you have seen Halle Jane grow up on my blog and Instagram, but I haven't talked much yet about the fact that literally overnight, I had a problem eater. She went from eating everything and always wanting more, to eating 2 bites and wanting to be done. It was driving me insane. I'm an SLP! I do feeding therapy! This isn't supposed to be an issue with my own child! It wasn't that she was necessarily a picky eater. In fact, we still, to this day, haven't found anything she won't eat. (Including olives, which I find utterly disgusting!) She'll eat anything we ask. She just doesn't want to take the time to stop playing (or talking!) to eat. She'd rather drink all her calories throughout the day. So we cut way back on the milk. Switched to skim milk. (Side note...other than an occasional sip of sweet tea (thanks, Daddy!) she's never had anything to drink other than milk and juice, no soda, etc.) We stopped allowing her to walk around the house with a sippy cup of milk. We got rid of the sippy cups altogether. We constantly offered healthy snack options. Even still, she had very little interest in eating at the table. And I refused to start the bad habit of shoveling a bite of food in her mouth as she ran by pushing a baby stroller. We were still very intentional about making her stay seated with us during mealtimes until we were finished, so she'd learn that mealtimes are for sitting together as a family. We didn't force food down her throat, but we didn't let up on our encouragement for her to eat, either.

And then, after I came back from Denver with a "present" (the happy mat and bowl), eating was suddenly interesting again! She LOVED the "big pink smiley face plate" and loved even more that I introduced some food art into our meals. (It helped that it was holiday time and Pinterest is swarming with cute food ideas for the holidays). Suddenly, I was no longer nagging her to keep eating. I was asking her to finish her happy plate. I was no longer asking her to finish her strawberries and little hot dogs, I was asking her to eat all her Santas and Baby Jesus's! And just like that...our mealtime issues were pretty much solved.

For Christmas, Santa brought the newly introduced Mini Mat (that fits perfectly in most high chairs for your little ones, and is great for taking on the road). As you can see below, Halle Jane, insisted the smaller Mini Mat was for her babies. But Lindsey fixed that problem by sending lots of even smaller Micro Mats....which now means Mom and Dad were booted to the bar, and Halle Jane and her multitude of babies got the table. I'm also using the Micro Mats to introduce new foods (one cherry, one piece of artichoke, etc.) She even asked me to let her try a piece of onion last night...and she ate it without complaining!

So here are my Pro's:

-They are super colorful and fun, so kids love them
-They don't allow cereal bowls to be dumped, plates to be thrown, etc., so the mess is contained
-They are perfectly portioned (bowl is 8oz, Happy Mat is 4oz, 4oz, and 10 oz, Mini Mat is 2oz, 2oz, and  
       4oz and the Snack Mat is 8oz), so you know exactly how much they are eating
-The play mat is great for food (adding toppings to ice cream), small toys (legos), or arts and crafts
       (stringing beads, etc.)
-They're dishwasher safe (although I mostly just rinse with water and dish soap)
-They are easily stackable in my cabinet
-They are BPA and PVC free, so super safe
-They're hypoallergenic
-They don't harbor bacteria
-They are easily transportable (I take the Mini mat everywhere)
-They have worked wonders with my feeding clients as well, who either have no interest in foods, have
       sensory issues, or are really picky eaters
-They are super affordable

In addition to using them at home, I'm also using them at school with my 3 year old self-contained classroom. I'm in the room during breakfast and lunch, and use them for feeding therapy with several clients.

Seriously, friends. They will change your life. Order one. Order more than one. If I've made a believer out of you, use the link below:

Also, BIG NEWS! If you're home tonight, watch my EZPZ friends on SHARK TANK at 8 PM Eastern Time...I can't wait to see Lindsey blow the Sharks' minds with this amazing tool! (And also, if you're planning on ordering, you may want to go ahead today before the show...I'm expecting they'll sell out after the show tonight...the Mini Mats are already currently out of stock, but more are coming in February!)

You can find more about EZPZ on their website by clicking HERE. You can also follow them on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Youtube!

Finally, EZPZ's own SLP has a great blog with tons of great ideas for using the Mats in therapy and at home. You can see it HERE.

Have YOU used an EZPZ mat yet? I'd love to hear what you think!

Happy Friday!