Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Odd One Out {An App Review}

Hi friends!

I'm back today to tell you about a new, simple app I've been using with my pre-schoolers! Many of my little ones have goals for sorting objects, identifying categories, identifying objects that don't belong, and/or understanding object function. Therapy Box, an app developer specializing in apps for people with communication, physical, and cognitive difficulties, reached out about me reviewing one of their apps, and I chose an app called Odd One Out to try out with my littles! Disclaimer: This app was provided to me in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed below are all mine.

When you first open the app, you can press the green button in the top left corner to change settings, learn more about the app, and learn about the Therapy Box team. 

You can alter settings, such as choosing the location where the character, Dubdub, fishes from, choosing the difficulty level (easy, medium, hard), and choosing how many words are given (3 or 6), as seen in the screenshots below. If you click on "Display," you can also choose whether only a picture is displayed, only a word, or a word and a picture.

Dubdub can fish from the beach, the boat, the dock, and more!

I choose the difficulty level and the amount of fish based on the ability level of my students. (Currently, most of my little pre-schoolers are doing 3 fish on the easy level!)

Below is an example of 3 fish on the medium level. Students simply tap the fish showing the item that does not belong (the "Odd One Out.") 

When they make the right selection, the fish changes color with a smile on his face.

When they make an incorrect choice, the selected fish changes colors and has a frown.

Below is an example of 6 fish on the hard level.

Each "round" consists of 20 trials. After 20 trials are completed, a short video is shown of Dubdub doing some kind of activity (dancing, flying an airplane, etc.) as a visual reinforcer. You can skip over these by tapping in the upper right corner, or you can turn this reinforcer off altogether in the settings menu.

Following the short video (less than 10 seconds), you are given the student's data and accuracy percentage. It shows you specifically which prompts they missed, and this data can be emailed to you or a parent.

Overall, this app is very simple to use and great for little ones working on identifying items that don't belong, object function, categorizing, and more. I love that it keeps data for you and gives you an option to email the data to yourself. I also like the visuals, as they are bright and engaging for my little ones. I would love to see an update that allows you to enter student names and saves student data across sessions. I would also love to be able to keep track of more than one student at a time, especially for those students I see in small groups.

Odd One Out sells in the iTunes app store for $1.99, and it's most definitely worth it!

Therapy Box has many other apps for both the iPhone and iPad!

Have you used Odd One Out in therapy? I'd love to hear what you think!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Mainstreet Memory {An App Review}

Hey friends!

I'm back today with an app review for Main Street Memory, an awesome app by Virtual Speech Center! Disclaimer: A copy of this app was provided for me to review; however, the opinions expressed below are all mine.

Main Street Memory is a great app designed to assist children and adults in strengthening skills required for auditory processing and recalling auditory instructions. The app is set in a downtown/Main Street setting, with three different stores to choose from. This theme makes the game feel a little more realistic, and helps students (and/or adults) understand why being able to recall auditory instructions is so important!

When you first enter the app, you'll see the screen pictured below. From here, you can learn more info on the app, adjust settings, and view reports. Or, you can click the START button to begin.

The Info page is a great way to learn how to use the app, and get additional help if you need it.

From the Settings page, you can adjust settings such as turning audio on and off, enabling reward, adding background noise, and others.

When you click START to begin, you are taken to a page to add and select students and choose the shop you'd like to use. Once you select which student(s) you'd like, as well as which store you wish to use, you can then make more specific selections for each student. I LOVE that you can choose several students to play at once and modify the specific selections for each student. For instance, one student can be working on 1-step directions, while another student works on 3 step directions. I've used this app in a group of 6 before, but you can use it for even more!

After you choose your students and the specific store, you can make additional selections for each student. For instance, for the Sweet Shop and Jewelry Store, you can choose how many items and modifiers you want to use, as well as add in temporal directions. For the Pizza Parlor, you can choose how many pizza toppings you'd like the students to work with. 

Below is a screenshot from Pia's Pizza. Users are given an order to complete, such as "I'll take a cookie and pretzel, please." Then the students drag the correct items to the bottom of the screen to complete the order correctly. If they need to hear the order again, they can tap the green speaker at the bottom of the page. 

Below, you can see a screenshot from Jin's Jewels. The user is prompted with an order, such as "I'll take a yellow bead with flowers and a green bead with blue triangles, please." The orders get progressively harder, and the user can't start fulfilling the order into the entire direction is given.

Here, you can see a screenshot of the Sweet Shop. Users are provided with an order that they must fill, such as "May I have an orange cupcake and red Popsicle, please?"

After 5 responses are recorded, users earn a game as a reward. You can choose to play the game then, or skip it by tapping the buttons in the upper corners.

The game is similar to Pac-man. My students love it!

At the end of the session, you get a Session Report. This tells you the data for each user. You can print the data, save it, or email it to yourself or a parent! This makes keeping data for everyone a breeze (especially during larger groups!)

By going back to Reports from the home-screen, you can pull up reports from each session on each user!

I currently have several students that are struggling with auditory processing and memory. This app is highly motivating for them, and has been an effective way of strengthening these skills. I especially like the fact that you can add background noise. You can choose between static noise, people talking, or birds chirping. This is especially effective for some of my students who do well one-on-one, but struggle in the classroom with the added distractions and noise. Overall, I love this app, and use it often! 

You can learn more about Main Street Memory and/or purchase it through iTunes by clicking HERE. This app is available for only $14.99! Be sure to check out Virtual Speech Center's website HERE to learn more about other apps they have available!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

10 Organizational Tips for SLPs

Hey, friends!

I hope your weekend was filled with just the right balance of productivity and relaxation!

The question I probably get asked the most is how I find time for everything. And I'm going to answer that question today. The answer is.....drum roll.....I don't. Whew. I said it. That was a difficult admission for a type A "do-er" like myself!

The truth is, no one has time for everything. But it is true that some people are, by nature, extremely efficient. I happen to love efficiency. Scratching things off my To-Do list right and left is just the best feeling ever! I also love organization, which is a good thing, because organization and efficiency go hand-in-hand. Of course, it also helps that I love my career, which makes work not feel like work (most days!)

Being a working wife and mom to a toddler is hard. Add in a second part-time job, 3 dogs and a cat, writing a blog, creating materials, exercise, meal-planning, daily chores, piano practice, and more, and it's a recipe for unorganized chaos. And the cold, hard truth is that there are days when I'm busting out tasks one after the other, and there are other times when I put my car keys in the freezer. It happens to everyone, and it's okay!

While hard work and motivation play a huge part in staying organized and efficient, following are 10 tips I live by to stay efficient at my full-time school SLP job (many of these carry over into other areas of my life as well!)

1. Have a place for everything. You simply cannot stay organized if you don't have a designated place for your things. This means establish a filing system, de-clutter and get rid of things you don't need, and generally clean up your life. It's hard to focus in and stay on task when there is chaos all around you, so designate places for your items that make sense to you (i.e. don't put your trash can on the other side of the room from your desk.)

2. Schedule a time each day to put things away. You know, a place for everything, and everything in it's place. I don't leave work until my desk is clean each day. This doesn't mean that I complete everything before I go home, but I leave my desk neat and tidy and ready for the next day before I go home. At the beginning of the day, everything is neat and clean. At the end of the school day, there are stacks of board games and artic cards on the tables, dry erase markers without tops on the floor, play-dough smashed in the rug, and a stack of files on my desk. I schedule 10-15 minutes before the end of my work day for cleaning and straightening my room. If I have extra time, I may set out the activities for the next day as well. If you don't schedule time for it, it probably won't happen.

3. Keep ONE To-Do list and calendar for everything. I used to have a planner for life and a planner for work. Then I had separate To-Do lists for work, my blog, home, and Teachers Pay Teachers. I was drowning in sticky notes that were easy to lose. When I finally organized one To-Do list and calendar for everything, I stayed much more organized. I personally like to have a "month-at-a-glance" calendar where I put my bills, appointments, meetings, etc., and then a To-Do list for the week, divided into "Must Do, Should Do, & Do Eventually (as time permits).

4. Pace yourself and plan ahead. i.e. write things down on your calendar and keep an eye on next week. This is where the month-at-a-glance calendar comes in. It helps me to see which IEP meetings I have coming up and stay ahead. I try to have my IEPs and reports written days before they are due, so I'm not stressed and my colleagues aren't either. If I know I'm going to have 14 IEP meetings in one given month, I start working on them ahead of time and pace myself, so I don't get behind. Whether or not you have to write lesson plans, having at least a general idea what you're going to do with your speech groups ahead of time helps as well. I try really, really hard to leave work at work and not take it home with me. Home time is family time. So except for extenuating circumstances, I find time during my work day to get my tasks accomplished so I don't have to stay late or take it home (even if that means sometimes giving up my lunch break.) But speaking of breaks...

5. Take breaks! In addition to physical exhaustion, mental exhaustion is real, and it can be a bear when it comes to staying motivated. Mental breaks are important, and they really do help you stay focused. I try to incorporate movement breaks into my day, especially if I've been doing paperwork at the computer for hours. This may be something as simple as walking to the office to check my mailbox. Or going ahead and straightening the room. Sometimes it's reading a new quick children's book to see if it will work for a group of students. Anything that gives my mind a quick break. Then it's back to work!

6. Don't procrastinate. Procrastinating and pacing yourself go together like peanut butter and jelly! It's not feasible to write 6 reports in one day, so don't have unrealistic expectations to begin with. Don't put off to tomorrow what you could (and should) do today. There are most definitely tasks associated with my job that aren't my favorite (medicaid billing, anyone?), but they've got to be done regardless. So keep it as painless as possible, and work on them all along. Don't put all of your unwanted tasks off to the last minute. You'll be stressed to the max and you'll still have to do them anyway.

7. Use checklists for repetitive tasks. You know, those things you do over and over and over again. Like IEP meetings and paperwork. I have an IEP meeting checklist that I run down each time before a meeting, with things like "update IEP and goals, update goals in Talk Trac, send copies to parents, update due-date list," etc. Even though I do these tasks frequently, having a quick checklist to run down before the meetings ensures I'm not forgetting anything, especially when I have 5+ IEP meetings in one week! Daily tasks, like taking out the trash, shutting down the computer, etc. can also be made into checklists. I have a daily checklist at home as well that I skim over each night. It includes tasks like "feeding the pets (I admit, I would forget this one often if I didn't write it down), exercise, take out trash, lay out clothes for tomorrow, prep meal for tomorrow," etc.

8. Set times for meetings and/or tasks and don't go over. We all have one in our life. It may even be you. That person that can turn a 10 minute meeting into an hour and a half. Please understand that I'm not suggesting that you rush through an IEP meeting and not give each topic or person adequate time. However, as a whole, IEP meetings or parent conferences should not take half of your morning. There are most definitely going to be situations that arise where an extended meeting is necessary, but those shouldn't be the norm. If you're not leading the meeting, let your colleague know that you have a group of students or another meeting coming up afterwards, so you need to be finished by XX time. If you're running the meeting, stay on topic, don't beat the topics to death, and offer parents the chance to ask questions or express concerns throughout the meeting. Meeting agendas help, but are not always practical. I keep a sticky note in front of me with the topics/examples I need to discuss, and try really hard not to chase rabbits. :)

9. Advocate for yourself and your time. This has just recently become more of a problem for me. Sometimes when colleagues or administrators look at my schedule, they see blocks of time without students and assume I can fill in or do something else during that time. While I absolutely love helping out my school, there comes a point when we have to become comfortable saying "no," followed by a reason if necessary. Just this week I had to explain to my administrator why I have "blanks" in my schedule. Even though I'm not seeing students during that 30 minutes or hour, I'm entering data, billing Medicaid, testing students, writing reports, writing IEPs, etc. That time is crucial to me being able to get everything done. Sometimes, it just takes a simple explanation, and they understand. I'm a "do-er", and I like to help out. But I've had to learn that never saying "no" only stretches me too thin, which in turn affects my students in the long run. Know your limits, and stick to them.

10. Disconnect and buckle down when needed. There comes a time in every SLPs life where she/he just has to shut their office door! I'm all about keeping the door open to portray friendliness and approach-ability, but there are just some times when I have to keep it shut. I always tell my colleagues, "if you need me, come on in!" But sometimes you've just got to shut out the distractions (including your cell phone), pull up your sleeves, and dig in. My Fridays are usually like this, when my schedule is a bit lighter and I have time to just crank out the tasks back to back. These days are needed from time to time! Turn the music to something you like (or don't if it's distracting to you), put your cell phone on silent, take off your shoes (if you're like me), and dig in!

So there you have it: My top 10 ways I stay organized and efficient! I should probably throw in a disclaimer here and say that my life is not always organized. It took me 3 hours to clean out my closet this weekend, and you should see my car right now! But it's a proven fact that the more organized and on-task you stay, the more efficient you are.

Feeling like you could use an organizational overhaul in your life? You can do it! You've totally got this! Now get to work! ;)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Pencil Grip Development Training Kit {A Product Review}

Happy Thursday, friends!

I'm back today with another product review, this time from The Pencil Grip, Inc! The Pencil Grip, Inc. produces several great pencil grips, including their 3-Step Grip Development Training Kit. This set of three different pencil grips helps encourage proper hand positioning for both children and adults. As a result, users obtain better penmanship while reducing hand cramps and sore fingers!

As a child, I had an "odd" pencil grip, and because it was never corrected, I still grip my pens and pencils incorrectly today. While my incorrect grip hasn't affected my writing in an extreme way, sometimes children's grips can be so poor that it affects their ability to write at all, and can even make them refuse to write altogether!

As an SLP in the schools, I see a lot of incorrect hand positioning during writing. I currently have a few different students on my caseload in particular who all but refuse to write due to their difficulties with fine motor skills and the inability to properly position their writing utensil.

The 3-Step Training Kit allows you to transition students from more assistance to less assistance as they progress with proper hand placement.

For my students who are really struggling, I started them with The Crossover Grip (Step 1). With the assistance of our school Occupational Therapist, we transitioned the students to Step 2, and eventually for those who were ready, to Step 3. Below you can see pictures of them writing/drawing with and without the Pencil Grips. We really saw a big difference!

Student One: You can see from the first picture that his finger position was incorrect without a Pencil Grip.

Here you can see how he started off the sentence fairly legible with the word "pirates," but then his hand grew tired and he stopped completing the words.

The third line down was again without the pencil grip. Now, he is using the 3rd-step pencil grip to write the sentence on the last line.

He was actually able to complete the entire sentence on the last line and stay fairly legible. I have no doubt as we continue to practice he will continue to improve!

Student Two: Student two was practicing tracing circles. He traced the first circle without a pencil grip and using incorrect hand positioning. The second circle is being traced using the Step 1 (Crossover) pencil grip, and he has much more control and pressure!

 The third circle is being traced with a Step 2 grip (The Pinch Grip)

 The final circle is being traced with a Step 3 grip (The Pencil Grip)!

You can see that he had much more control and pencil pressure while using the pencil grips!

Student 3: This student has the hardest time doing anything that involves a writing utensil of any kind (pencil, marker, crayon, etc.). In fact, he has very little motivation to even hold a writing utensil. Getting him to color takes a LOT of effort. You can see below that we put the pencil grips on bigger crayons, and they made a difference as well! 

This is his grasp prior to a pencil grip. He is very weak and barely holds the utensil in his hand. 

Here, he is using the pencil grip Step One (Crossover) on the crayon.

The first picture (of the sword) shows something he colored without a pencil grip. (Very light and barely noticeable).

Here, you can see what he colored with the pencil grip (much more pressure and control).  (Note: this student is still using the Step One Crossover Pencil Grip.)

You can also download a free pdf. printable on Correct & Incorrect Handwriting Positions like the one pictured below by clicking HERE! Find other free downloads on The Pencil Grip website HERE.  (This is really great info to show parents!)

You can order the 3 Step Grip Development Training Kit AND see other products available by clicking the links below! PLUS, use the code: YOUWIN15 for 15% off your total online purchase! (Offer good through 5/27/2017). 

Be sure to follow The Pencil Grip, Inc. on FACEBOOK and PINTEREST as well! 

What do you think? Do any of your students use these pencil grips? Do you have any students who could use them? Let me know! 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Doing Disney for Educators: Tips for Therapists, Teachers, & Parents!

Hi Friends!

I'm back today with a super fun post that I've been planning in my head for nearly a year! For Halle Jane's 3rd birthday, we decided to forgo the big birthday party and take her to Disney World! I'm a Disney fanatic and used to go all the time, but we haven't been since she's been born, because we wanted to wait until she was old enough to really experience it and remember everything.  I started planning the trip almost a year ago, right after she turned 2. It felt like it took forever to finally get here, but it was more than worth the wait!

While I know there are hundreds of articles and blog posts out there with tips and tricks for Disney (I read a TON of them!), I thought I'd share my thoughts and advice from an Educator-Mommy's perspective!

Before we get started with my list of 20 Tips for Doing Disney for Educators, here's a BIG tip that's not included below: Book your trip with a MY MICKEY Travel Agent! We used to go to Disney all the time and were familiar with it, so we never thought to book with a travel agent before. This time, I knew it had been a few years since we had been and several things had changed (hello, Disney Bands!), so I wanted to make sure we had the inside scoop. I contacted a local agent for a quote, expecting it to be really expensive. Much to my surprise, we actually saved money by booking with her! She handled the Disney resort, tickets, meal plan, fast passes, itinerary, character meal reservations, and much more. We talked about what was important to us, and she made it happen. She was able to make reservations for things that I couldn't have gotten on my own. And the best part? We paid a small deposit, and then made payments until the remaining balance was due 30 days before the trip. You seriously can't get a better deal than that! So use a My Mickey travel agent if you can. It's. So. Worth it. (PS: I highly recommend that you use OUR My Mickey travel agent. Her name is Ceciley Sircy and she's simply the best! Like get-an-award-from-Disney the best. She can plan your trip remotely and send you everything. You can check out her page HERE!)

Ok, so set your iTunes to Disney's Greatest Hits Album, strap yourself in, and enjoy the ride for 20 Tips for Doing Disney for Educators:

1. Make a Count Down Calendar: For kids (and adults) who are anxiously awaiting a trip, a Countdown Calendar is a fun way for them to see how many days are left before you leave. Our countdown was simple, and Halle Jane LOVED tearing off a strip every day!

2. Use Youtube and other videos to introduce characters and rides so they won't be scared: In the months leading up to Disney, we watched Disney movies, listened to Disney songs, went to local Disney plays, and read Disney books so Halle Jane would be familiar with the Disney Characters and have some background knowledge. We also used Youtube to watch videos of other children meeting characters and riding rides, so she would know what to expect and wouldn't be scared. I knew we would be ok when she saw a Youtube video of the Beast and said, "Can he hold me at Disney?"

3. Buy Ahead, and Pack Smart: Things like ponchos, stroller covers, bandaids, Ziplock bags, sunscreen, chapstick, glow sticks, and Disney souvenirs are certainly available for purchase inside the parks, but are much cheaper to buy ahead of time, like at the Dollar Store! Your kids won't know the difference, and you'll save money for more important things. Like Disney's Dole Whip Ice Cream.

4. Bring your home "staples" with you: If it's something you or your kids use regularly, bring it along. Kids toys, blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals can help to calm them and provide a sense of security in new places, like hotels. We brought along Halle Jane's pillow, blanket, and Disney toys for the trip,  as well as her EZPZ mats to use for mealtimes. (We were on the Disney Dining plan, but she was eating off of our plates. Having her own EZPZ mat made mealtime familiar and helped her stay focused on finishing a meal, despite the constant Disney distractions (especially with Disney Princesses and Doc McStuffins stopping by the table!)

(Click HERE to order an EZPZ mat with my discount. You won't be sorry!! They're my favorite thing we own!)

5. Utilize the My Disney Experience App: You can use the app to see park hours, find characters, load and modify Fastpasses, see ride wait times, set your itinerary, view and order photos taken by Disney photographers, and so much more. Ours was loaded with our meal reservations and Fastpass choices by our My Mickey travel agent, but if you're not using an agent, you can load them on your own. It is so much faster than going to the kiosks to reload Fastpasses or tracking down characters you want to see. It's like you're walking around with a Disney cast member in your pocket!

6. Set a treat/souvenir budget for your kid(s) and let them help you manage it: If you have older kids, I recommend giving them a Disney gift card loaded with a specific amount. Once they spend it, it's gone. For younger kids like Halle Jane, we had a set amount we let her take (we kept the money). When she found something she liked, we had a quick discussion about how much it cost, and we counted to see if she had enough. This was a great lesson on money management and saving for something you really, really want. In her case, she's ALL ABOUT Beauty & the Beast, so we knew a Belle dress was a must, as were a few other B&TB toys.

7. If possible, do the character meals: If you have little ones who are dying to meet the characters, I highly recommend you do at least one character meal. They can be pricey, but many of them count as a table dining service on the Disney Dining Plan, so they're included. Even if you don't have Disney Dining, they're worth it. Our absolute favorite was the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall. The food was amazing, and Halle Jane was able to meet Belle, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Ariel. Not only did they stop by the table to talk to her, but they have frequent "Princess Processionals" where they get to walk around and dance with the princesses. The princesses took time at our table and really talked with her, asking her questions, telling her Happy Birthday, and making her feel extra special! This is also a great time to practice patience and waiting your turn. For the character meals, they make their way around to each table, so Halle Jane was expected to eat her meal until they arrived to say hello.

8. Speaking of Characters, Practice character questions ahead of time: Our travel agent gave us a list of questions to ask/things to say to get reactions out of the characters. These were awesome suggestions! While we were waiting to meet a character, we would ask Halle Jane what she was going to say to them or ask them. Sometimes we helped her with an idea from the list, but other times, she came up with good questions on her own. (i.e. She asked Gaston if he and the Beast were friends now, and she asked Cinderella where Prince Charming was!)

9. Talk About Safety Frequently: For older kids, you should decide ahead of time where to meet and what time in case someone gets lost. For Halle Jane, we reiterated over and over how important it was for her to stay with Mommy and Daddy and not walk away. We also talked about what to do if she was lost (find another mommy or Disney worker), and we discussed the importance of staying in the stroller and holding our hand when appropriate. And I know this goes without saying, but don't let your kids out of your sight! (It's super easy to do with all of the distractions!)

10. Talk About Schedules Ahead of Time: We were at Disney for several days with a lot planned on each day. To make things easier for Halle Jane, we talked only about what we would be doing that particular day. This helped her to not become overwhelmed, and prevented meltdowns if she was expecting something that day that didn't happen. Each night in the hotel I mapped out our itinerary based off of our Fastpasses, showtimes, and our "must-dos" for the next day. This helped with minimizing stress, walking out of the way, and lost time while we were trying to decide what to do next.

11. Wear the Disney Buttons: If you're at Disney to celebrate something (birthday, wedding, anniversary, your first trip, etc), stop by Town Hall in Magic Kingdom and get a button. We wore them for our honeymoon several years ago, and Halle Jane wore one this time for her birthday. They will most definitely get a lot of attention from Disney cast members! She heard "Happy Birthday, Princess" a hundred times a day. She was treated to a cupcake and autographed birthday card at literally every meal, and when one of the cast members heard she lost one of her earrings in the park, he gave her a new set of Mickey Mouse earrings for free, and told her "Happy Birthday from Mickey and Minnie!" She felt so special!

12. Bring things to do while waiting in line: While we were extremely blessed with shorter-than-average wait times during our trip, sometimes waiting in line for rides or shows is inevitable. We brought a few books and coloring books along for the wait times, and Halle Jane even chose a Doc McStuffins book as one of her souvenirs. Side note-having Disney books with us also served as a great thing for them to autograph! We didn't do the autograph book, but when Doc McStuffins signed her book during lunch, Halle Jane was over the moon!

13. Take advantage of ride sharing: Disney knows how to make the trip enjoyable for everyone! They have an awesome option for parents who want to ride rides that their kids can't or don't want to ride. Simply show your child to the cast member at the ride entrance, and let them know you want to ride share. One parent goes on the ride while the other one waits with the child. Then, they switch, and the second parent goes straight on the ride. (Wait with your child in the air conditioned gift shop which is at the exit of most rides!)

14. Plan time for breaks: No matter how much fun you're having, Disney is exhausting. You do so much walking. And it's hot. The afternoons are usually the busiest times in the parks, so take that opportunity to zip back to your hotel for a rest, or take in a few air-conditioned shows. We went back during the afternoons to our hotel, and even though she didn't nap, Halle Jane rested in bed with a Disney movie on the iPad until it was cooler outside. Then we went back for dinner and fireworks!

15. Speaking of fireworks, take those glow sticks, bracelets, and necklaces you bought ahead of time with you into the parks at night: The parks at nighttime take on a whole new look. Everything is lit up so beautifully, and cast members are selling glow souvenirs before the fireworks and light parades. Bringing our own not only saved us a lot of money and gave Halle Jane something to do while she waited, but it was also a perfect opportunity for another lesson: sharing! We brought TONS of extras, and she passed them out to other children around us. The kids loved them, their parents were extremely grateful they got to dodge the glow cart purchases, and Halle Jane got to practice being a "kind and generous princess!"

16.  Take advantage of "teachable moments": Teachable Moments are everywhere at Disney! In the lines, walking down Main Street, on the animal safari, on the rides, during the shows, in interactions with people, while eating name it, you can use it! Several things came up while we were at Disney that we stopped to teach or explain to Halle Jane. We might have been right in the middle of sprinting across the park to meet our Fastpass deadline, but when a teachable moment arises, you've gotta take advantage of it! We talked to her about Walt Disney when we saw a picture of him, we talked about how some people from other parts of the world have different accents than us (this was prompted when a lady in the bathroom line with an English accent asked HJ if she had seen Minnie Mouse yet, and Halle Jane told her "You sound like Peppa Pig!" Thank goodness the lady replied, "I do, don't I! I love Peppa Pig! WHEW!) We frequently reviewed expectations for behavior, and pointed out how other children screaming and crying make their parents and people around them feel. We took advantage not just of educational teachable moments, but also vocabulary, manners and behavior, social skills, and many more!

17. Look for opportunities for play-based learning: Disney is exhausting, and it is hot in Florida. Luckily, Disney has many different areas for air-conditioned play. They've restructured the Dumbo ride, for instance, and you can choose to wait inside in an air-conditioned playground area. They give you a buzzer and you turn it back in when you're ready to ride. This was a great opportunity to let Halle Jane run free and play while we got a chance to sit down and cool off. She was able to interact with other kids and practice social skills and more. We also let her hang out in the play area of the T-Rex restaurant in Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney). It's a play area filled with sand, and the kids can use tools to dig for buried dinosaur bones. This was perfect for teaching vocabulary, science, and letting her practice getting dirty (something she is not into!)

18. Talk about the day to unwind at night: Each night, despite how tired we knew she was, our little one was still wound up from the exciting day. We would lay in bed and ask her follow-up questions about the day (i.e. What was your favorite ride? Who did you like meeting the most? What would you like to go back and do again tomorrow? What was the best treat you ate?) This was a great way to trigger her memory, help her process everything we did, and help her unwind. She was usually asleep before she could answer the last question!

19. A SMILE and KINDNESS goes a long way-even at the Happiest Place On Earth!: Disney employees (called cast members) spend their days with a smile on their face, calling kids "prince" and "princess", helping people constantly, standing in the heat or rain, cleaning up trash on the streets, and more. Customer service is paramount at Disney, and they do a very good job of staying in character-even those employees not walking around in character costumes. We tried to keep this in mind and be extremely nice to everyone we came in contact to. When they told Halle Jane "Happy Birthday, Princess," we made her stop what she was doing, look them in the eye, and tell them "thank you." Most of the time, our little social butterfly then asked them a personal question, which is her favorite thing to do (What's your name?, How many kids do you have?, etc). They loved talking to her! We thanked everyone over and over who helped us, made sure we allowed others' kids to get in front of us during the parade so they could see, struck up conversations with other parents in the lines, etc. We tried our best to pass along kindness while we were there, and other people responded back in the same way. We modeled this for Halle Jane, because we always want her to know that everyone is important and worthy of love and kindness.

20. Compile a video/scrapbook of clips and pictures to help them remember: I'm a big scrapbooker, but you don't have to be. You can compile all of your pics in a photobook on Shutterfly, or just print them and slide them into an album. I'll get to this eventually, but on the way home, I used the iPhone app "Fliptastic" to compile a quick video of our favorite pictures. Halle Jane has watched this 28 times a day since we got home, and it helps her remember the memories we made and talk about the trip with family back home who want to hear all about it!

Well, that's it! If you made it to the end of this super-long blog post, you're a trooper and definitely cut out for a trip to Disney World!

I'd LOVE to hear from you! What are your best tips for Disney? I may just add them to the list!