Friday, December 21, 2018

Reading Your Way to Christmas: A Christmas Book Advent Tradition

Hi Friends!

If you're like me, you're super busy this time of year. Whether you're teaching in a classroom, doing therapy, or being the best stay at home mom you can be, life is busy, especially in the weeks leading up to Christmas. As much as I try, it's sometimes difficult to slow life down enough to find the joy in the season. I've been guilty of packing so many things into the month in an effort to "do all the things" that I've just ended up stressed out and exhausted.

In the last year or so, I've found freedom in saying NO. No to others and no to myself. Even though my intentions were good, I've found that when I let myself get pressured into saying yes to others or when I put pressure on my own self to do too much, I lose sight of the things that matter the most. As someone who is as Type A as they come, it's never been easy for me to say no. But I learned the hard way that I needed to learn how (especially with two little ones at home). And let me tell you a little secret about saying no: Once you do it a few times, it gets easier every time!

This is not to say that I never say yes, or that I quit doing a lot of things. But I basically quit doing anything extra that didn't give me joy. I still go all out decorating my house for Christmas, because it still brings me so much happiness. I still wrap elaborate packages for my kids and family to rip into and destroy in seconds, because wrapping gifts in front of the tree while binging on the Hallmark channel and drinking coffee is one of my favorite things to do before Christmas. But I stopped putting pressure on myself to bake all the things homemade, because I really don't love baking. I stopped making sure my house was cleaned to perfection because, well, that's just never going to happen while my roommates (a husband, two kids, two dogs, and a cat) live there with me. I stopped volunteering for everything that came my way. I learned that when I stretch myself too thin and give my best to everyone outside of my home, those who live in my home that matter the most don't get the best of me. They get the leftovers. And nine times out of ten, the leftovers are never as good as the fresh stuff.

Traditions are really important to me. But not only that, traditions are really important to children. They give a sense of belonging. A sense of security. They build memories, vocabulary, language skills and prior experience. In today's world, a quick search on google or Pinterest will bring up thousands of fun traditions if you're looking to start new ones (which I also think is important). While they all seem super fun, it's impossible to do them all. Instead of getting caught up in making sure you do all the Christmas things, choose a few that are most important to you. And if life happens and they aren't exactly the same every single year, don't sweat it. Sometimes when you change them up a little bit, the new version is even better than before!

One Christmas tradition we established with our little ones is the Christmas Book Advent. Each year at the end of November, I wrap 25 Christmas books and label them 1-25. I buy a new book or two each year, but most of the books are the kids' favorites from the previous years,= and even a book or two that were mine and my husband's when we were little. You can also check books out from the local library or borrow from your personal classroom library! Starting on December 1st, our kids open one book a night for us to read as a family under the Christmas tree. The last book (#25) is always a book about the birth of Jesus, and it's the first thing opened on Christmas morning. We read it first before we start opening presents.

My little ones get so excited to open a book each night. As my daughter (5) learns to read, she is able to practice reading some to us, and my son (1) is learning to sit and listen, while pointing out pictures on each page. The SLP in me loves passing on a love for reading in my children (with a few 'wh' questions thrown in there too), and the mom in me just loves the sweet simple time together as a family. It's one tradition that I hope never changes!

Sometimes, I use washi tape and simple numbered tags to mark the books. Other years, simply a fat crayon will do! If you'd like to use the gift tags, I have a FREE set for you HERE.

Whether this is a tradition you use in your home or not, I hope you're able to slow it down enough this season to find joy in the simple moments with family and friends. Getting everything in isn't what's important. It's the quality time, the laughter, the music, the simple traditions, the love, and the togetherness that you and your family will remember forever.

Are there any simple traditions you do year after year? I'd love to hear!!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Kicking off Christmas!

Hi Friends!!

It's not quite December, but the holidays are in FULL SWING!! We're busy decorating for Christmas, planning fun Christmas activities for school and home, and trying to finish up our Christmas shopping! We had family pictures made for our Christmas card over Thanksgiving break, so that's one thing I can scratch off the to-do list!

It's true that this season is filled with lots of things to do. It's easy to get caught up in the business of the holidays and forget to relish the small things, the time with friends and family, and the memories just waiting to be made. I have to remind myself regularly to slow down and focus on being present instead of focusing on buying or wrapping all the presents! I created this Winter bucket list a few years ago that we keep on the fridge to remind us of what we should be focused on: spending time with the ones we love! We don't always get through the whole list, and that's ok! You can download a copy for free by clicking HERE. 

Because I work with students in pre-school through fifth grade and have a 5 year old and 1 year old of my own, I get asked A LOT about what kinds of books and toys I recommend for gifts. I put together a quick compilation of some of my current favorites for the holidays.

Many of you who follow along on social media know that I live for children's books, and every year we wrap 25 Christmas books up at home for the kids to unwrap and read each night. They love this tradition, and it's one I hope we can continue for many years to come! I usually wrap some of their favorites, and add a new one or two each year. Besides some of the toys that are currently at the top of their lists and some great options for therapy too, I also included some of our favorite Christmas books that may help you add to your collection. Everything included on my Amazon page are items that I have personally used and stand by!

This link will take you to my Amazon affiliate page where you can see my suggestions for items perfect for kids during the Christmas season. There are also pages there with my game and year-round book favorites too.

I hope this helps you spend less time looking for awesome gifts for your own kiddos, family members' or friends' kiddos, or even your therapy room this Christmas, and instead gives you more time to spend with those you love!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Down on the Speech Farm

Hey Ya'll!

Many of you know that I live for therapy themes. I'm at an elementary school with both gen ed and Pre-K through 5th grade self-contained classrooms, so I have a pretty wide range of ages and abilities. I personally find that using themes, even for my 4th and 5th grade students, keeps me much more organized and on track. I prep any new materials the month before so I stay ahead, and have activities targeting all of my students' goals that somehow relate to the current theme.

Perhaps my favorite theme to do all year is the farm. I grew up on an Angus cattle farm and spent many years traveling to cow and pig shows and helping with both the animals and the garden. (See the below picture)! I live in South GA, so farming and agriculture here is huge. It's important to me for my students to not only know where food comes from, but to also have an appreciation for farmers and how hard they work. Though I sometimes change up my theme calendar from year to year, the farm theme always has a place, and this year, I carried it on for 2 1/2 weeks because there was so much to do! Take a look at some of the activities we did below!

Me and "Annie" 

The first thing I did this year was decorate my speech room. Though I don't normally decorate for themes, I decided to do so this time, and I'm so glad I took the time to do it. My students were coming off of 2 weeks of state testing. They were tired and over it and needed something to excite them about learning again....and boy did this do the trick! I covered my book cases for the barn and silo, and just used bulletin board paper to make the scenes. I covered Pampers diaper boxes with yellow bulletin board paper and drew lines on them to look like hay, and raided my kids' rooms for farm stuffed animals and the stick horse! It took about 3 hours of work after school, but it was worth it....I had some of the best engagement all year! 

I knew I wanted to do a "Speech Orchard", as I wanted to make sure I taught the kiddos that some farms are fruit orchards instead of just animals or row crops. I used bulletin board paper to make the trees and printed out and laminated the different fruits. Then I put sticky magnets on the back of the fruits, and used a dry-erase marker to write words with target sounds on them. Since they're laminated, the dry erase marker wipes right off, and new words can be written. (Just a note-if you're going to do it this way, make sure your white board is magnetic. If it's not, you can use tape!)

The kiddos loved "picking" their fruit, saying their word/phrase/sentence, and putting their fruit in the baskets (bought for $1 each from the Dollar Tree!)

This homemade garden was probably my most favorite activity of all! I used bulletin board paper, a cardboard box top, and cut pool noodles to make the dirt! Then I printed, cut, and laminated the veggies and hot-glued popsicle sticks to the back! The shovel, rake, and watering can came from the Dollar Tree. The students had so much fun planting, watering, and picking the veggies! We used these for sequencing, vocabulary, sorting (by size, color, fruit/veggie, etc.), describing, and more! 

This adorable "Feed the Cow" activity came from Ms. Gardinia's Speech Room.  It's editable, and the students loved picking a piece of grass, practicing the target sound in words (my language students made sentences or described the word), and feeding it to the cow. (PS: Keurig cup boxes make the best boxes for these animal feeding activities.)

We also used these adorable interactive books from Panda Speech. They were perfect for Pre-K and Kindergarten!

We used quite a few other farm books as well. These are just a few of my favorites!

My Pre-K and Kindergarten students loved using these Playdough Smash Mats from Simply Speech!

This Melissa and Doug egg set paired perfectly with a stuffed hen (swiped from my son's room at home) for matching colors, requesting, following directions, counting, sequencing, and more! 

We used the fence and farm animals to practice prepositions, basic concepts, and following directions.

And Uno Moo and Big Roll Farm Animal Bingo worked great for this theme too as reinforcers!

I probably couldn't survive my themed therapy units without No Prep activities. This time of year (well, all year, really), I am swamped. I don't have a ton of extra time, and having No-Prep packets ready to go helps me address student goals and even progress monitor to determine any new goals that need addressed. My Farm No Prep packet is one of my favorites. You can see example pages below, and see it on Teachers Pay Teachers by clicking HERE.

Older students practiced verbs, writing, comprehension, describing, comparing and contrasting, and more, all with activities from the No Prep packet.

And sometimes, simple coloring pages work great for eliciting authentic language samples!

I also had my Farm Vocabulary and Comprehension packet prepped and ready. This packet has both prep and no-prep pages and focuses on vocabulary, describing, following directions, sorting categories, comprehension, and more! 

And what's a theme without crafts? These EASY farm crafts paired with writing/coloring pages make the perfect functional decor for your speech room! 

At the request of many, I bundled all three of these activities together in one money-saving Themed Therapy Farm Bundle. You can find it by clicking the picture below:

And if you know me at all, you know I incorporate books into almost every therapy session. The Day Jimmy's Boa Ate the Wash is the PERFECT book for Farm week and is so wonderful for targeting comprehension, sequencing, and cause and effect! You can see my book companion for the book below! 

If you made it to the end of this super-long post, you deserve a treat. And here it is....a real-life quote from a real-life therapy session when I was being observed! (At least our job is never boring!)