Thursday, December 15, 2016

Easy Accessible Christmas Activities

Hello Friends!
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah!

I know it may seem that I have been gone from my blog but rest assured, I haven't! Here is a big post with all the recent projects I have been working on. I recently put together ideas for an accessible Christmas for toddlers to school age kiddos. Check back next week because I have something for middle and high schoolers that I am doing this week. The original ideas all came from Pinterest and Wonderbaby. I do site the original site on each idea.

I also recommend that you read the article, Holiday Survival for Kids with Sensory Impairments on  (link: I also recommend Tactile Holidays over on Thomas Marshall Does it All blog (link:

Here are some of my favorite Christmas and winter holiday activities:

What’s in the stocking Christmas game?

Accessibility options:
· Trade objects found around the house to objects specifically pertaining to Christmas such as an ornament, mitten, candy cane, Christmas lights, mistletoe, etc.

· Game option 1: Ask kids to go find a few small items in the house and bring them secretly to me so I could put them into a Christmas stocking. Then I added a few common items myself and invited the kids to sit with me. We took turns passing the stocking and reaching in to identify an object with only our hands.

· Game option 2: Play a match style. Have two sets of objects. Velcro one set of objects to the stocking and place the other set of objects around the walls of the house (to work on trailing) or place objects on the floor with you.

· Use objects that teach about Christmas such as a bow, candy cane, gingerbread man, mini nutcracker, jingle bells, little present, garland. The stocking can be a lesson by itself!

· This can be a fun game to talk about Christmas concepts. It also can promote discovery of objects, object permanence and introduce specific things about Christmas.

The Sweet Smell of Christmas

·  Can be purchased from any bookstore or Amazon for $5.64.
· this book is a scratch and sniff book that can also use objects to teach about concepts of Christmas.
· Scent is a fun way to teach about the holiday season.
· You can use the stickers for smell.

Objects to add to the story (these are items that are discussed during the story):
· Pine cone
· Tinsel
· Candy canes
· Garland
· Gingerbread cookie cutter or gingerbread cookie
· Orange
· Hot chocolate
· Presents
· Mini Christmas tree

Christmas Tree Discovery Bottle Activity

·  Source:

· Voss water bottles (can be purchased from Smiths)
· garland
· ornaments
· mini lights
Great for babies
Easy to switch out materials
Fun I Spy game
Make more than one!

DIY Portable Light Box

Many kiddos with vision impairments like using light boxes (or light tables) but they can big to carry around to holiday parties.

Make a portable one!
Small clear container (buy them from Walmart or Target)
Battery powered lights
Window clings (encourage family members to have them at their house. They are a cheap and fun way to play on the light box). 
**I've made so many of these!! They work great and so many other kids use them!**

 Holiday Scent Jars

Scent jars is a fun way to work on sensory efficiency development.
They are great for little ones that a sensitive to touch or have lesser motor control.
They are easy to make!

Essential oils
Cotton balls
Scentsicals (scent sticks that can be purchased from Walmart or Michaels for about $5).
Empty shaker jars or sandwich bags.

You can match scent to true object (see picture above) or you can have just the scent jar.
*Be careful to not introduce too many scents at one time. Introduce scents one at a time.
It’s okay to really make a strong scent. Subtle scents may not provide enough to catch attention.

Magnetic Christmas Tree Activity
Have some fun decorating the tree! You can also swap out the tree and make a present or a gingerbread man.

The lights are added for some visual attention for little ones who are attracted to lights.
Add an outline to the shape using puff paint or pipe cleaners for little ones with no vision. Remember to be careful for visual clutter. Pick simple colors that don’t have too much patterns.

· Cookie sheet (buy the cheap ones for about $1)
· Bows and ornaments (I used bows because I worried that little ornaments might be a choking concern).
· Magnets and hot glue
· Battery pack of lights taped on the inside ledge of cookie sheet

My Christmas 5 Senses Book
 I took out the word “I” so that we can focus on the sense and not on any potential limitations. Even if a sense is limited, it still can be discussed with little ones.

-Cardstock (I laminated it for issues with drool and to make it more durable. They do make non glare laminate)
-Hot glue

**I've made so many of these books and they turn out great!!**

Christmas Photo Tree Activity

Butcher paper Christmas tree activity
Can use pictures of items or people that your little one will see during the holiday.
Use objects such as ornaments, pieces of garland, candy canes for little ones with no vision.
Outline the tree with garland, pipe cleaners or anything that can provide a tactual outline.

Butcher paper (or construction paper)

Sensory Centerpieces
Have some fun things to explore during the holiday season. Make sensory centerpieces or table decorations that can also be an activity, too!

-hurricane vases or large plastic bowls
-battery powered lights
-ornaments, pine cones (with scent!)

 Winter Activity

Christmas isn’t the only thing to talk about during the holiday season. Winter has many sensory opportunities!
Some little ones may not be able to touch ice or snow easily. Bring the winter activities to them!
Teach about ice, frost and snow:

-Frosted window activity using contact paper (use the sticky side), painters tape, hot glue snowflakes, snowflake ornaments, cotton balls
-Head to Michael’s and get some flocked branches and mini trees. Cut them up and let them compare and contrast flocked trees and evergreen trees
-freeze some items such as cranberries, wreaths, pine cones, etc and discover items.

 Christmas Tree Sensory Bags
· Source:
These can be used on the light box too!

The Christmas tree in the original idea doesn’t have enough contrast. I took a pipe cleaner and glued it to the outside of the bag to provide better accessibility.

The bags focus on the sensory opportunity so allow your little one to squish, pat and grab the bag.

Don’t forget about the feet! Some little ones don’t like to use their hands just yet so let them stomp with their feet or lay on it with their head or other parts of their body.

**I've so many of these, too! They are so fun! I used different scented gels and aloe vera gel.

-quart or gallon bags
-hair gel
-sequins and buttons
-pipe cleaners

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Braille Sundae

I was hanging in one of our preschool classes with my new fave preschool teacher, Annie, to co-teach with her. She had a fun lesson for dipping apples into different toppings. We did a quick brainstorm and turned her lesson into a Braille lesson with a few quick changes. Next thing we know, we have this fun ECC lesson and are making Braille sundaes. 

Annie's lesson started like this:

And became an Expanded Core Curriculum lesson:
We added an APH tray (any tray will do though) and arrange the toppings into a Braille cell. 
Easy update!
For instruction, we reviewed the Braille cell and the corresponding numbers. 
For example, (look at the picture above), the chocolate chips are "dot one", the caramel sauce is "dot 2", etc.  
Students took turns selecting toppings but had to request it by the number (to teach the number configuration of a Braille cell). It was a success! The students did great requesting using the dot numbers. For example,  "dot 6, sprinkles".We did a quick but direct instruction on the Braille cell to set the students up for success in the lesson. 
This wasn't just a Braille lesson though. We incorporated much of the Expanded Core, too! 
We addressed other areas of the ECC such as:
Independent Living Skills: cooking skills at the preschool level
Orientation & mobility: positional concepts 
Self-determination: making choices, trying new things and making opinions about them
Social skills: turn taking, eating etiquette and conversation.

These were the areas that also received special instruction during this Braille lesson. We had each of these areas in mind during instruction (that's the secret to implementing ECC!). This was a preschool lesson so the whole lesson was about 30-35 minutes. My favorite part: listening to these sweet little preschoolers request their toppings using it as a Braille cell ("dot 2, caramel sauce!"). 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Fall for the ECC

Happy fall y'all! I hope everyone's fall is off to a great start and you have your Halloween costume ready to go for next week. This school year I am putting together ECC kits about a variety of different topics. My first kit is for teaching the fall season. I thought I would share the materials and the lesson plan examples. 
I bought my materials from Joann Fabrics and Walmart. Both places ended up being treasure hot spots for ideas. I wanted to find a way to teach about the fall season and not just the individual holidays of Halloween and Thanksgiving. 
The fall kit materials allows more concrete objects to be used for instruction. I also combined core curriculum areas (math, social studies, science) and all Expanded Core areas. I also loved finding all the theme window clings because I can use them on light box. I found both Halloween and fall themed clings. It was a fun way to use the light box. 

Here are some of the items included in my fall kit:
The autumn candy mix (used for counting, filling in a Braille cell template to make letters, your turn/my turn).
Small gourds and acorns:
A bale of hay:
I loved these cinnamon scented pine cones! They had the strongest scent. I bought these at Joann Fabrics. 
I really wanted to provide a variety of ways to integrate the concept of fall in all ECC areas. I bought all kinds of spices such as cinnamon sticks, nutmeg and pumpkin extract to use in cooking activities, sensory activities and art activities. 
I also just found some fun items like the cookie cutters. I used these with APH's The Littlest Pumpkin activities. I also used them for teaching big and little. 
It was also important to me to include real items so I purchased Indian corn, the acorns, leaves, pumpkins and gourds. Leaves can be tricky because they can be delicate. I did find some pretty realistic artificial leaves from Walmart for super cheap. They came in two sizes so I was able to incorporate more comparison of big and little and possibly colors. Below are all the items in a sensory table for discovery play in our preschool classroom. 
The final pieces that did not fit into my actual kit (I used medium sized containers that could be easily shared between classrooms). I was out at pumpkin farm with my kids picking pumpkins, playing in the corn and in the maze and the staff were showing these huge sunflowers. They were just giving them away!! Look at these beautiful sensory sunflowers!! The smell! The taste of the seeds! The touch of the flowers! The sweet staff clipped some flowers and I happily took them to our classrooms.  They also had a sweet deal on gourds (3 for $1!!). I bought all kinds of fun textured gourds. 
Here are some examples on how the fall kit teaches the Expanded Core Curriculum: 
·      Compensatory: speaking and listening using fall vocabulary, pre Braille (tactual discovery activities)
·      Orientation & Mobility: understanding locations & directions (leaves fall from up on a tree down to the ground), inside compared with outside, body parts
·      Social interaction skills: participating in fall activities (such as fall games, pumpkin picking)
·      Independent Living Skills: Cooking activities (using cookie cutters, making apple cider, preparing fall trail mix, etc.)
·      Recreation & leisure: participating in fall activities; learning new leisure activities to do during the fall season
·      Sensory efficiency: using all senses to learn about fall season (touch, smell, vision, taste)
·      Assistive technology: use of AT devices to develop concept understanding of fall season
·      Career education: participate in activities that teach about work roles that have a connection to fall (farmers, stores that specialize in fall); jobs that students may do around their own home during fall season (raking leaves, setting the table for Thanksgiving, etc.)
·      Self-Determination: Make choices/express preferences for fall activities, foods, etc.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Wild About Mobility for White Cane Day 2016

Happy White Cane Day 2016!
We had another amazing celebration of White Cane Day here in Utah. It was my biggest event ever! Many, many thanks to the Utah's Hogle Zoo for hosting our special day. This year the theme was Wild About Mobility!
I will share our highlights with tips on how you can pull off your own special event at the zoo. I know you might have reservations initially about going to the zoo with students with vision impairments and students who have multiple impairments. I'll admit the zoo isn't the first place I thought of as the most exciting place for our kids. BUT, think again because the zoo can be a fun place for every child--our kiddos included. It requires a little creativity and support from the zoo. Utah's Hogle Zoo has a special education program director dedicated specifically to working with kids with disabilities. Vision impairment, as you know, is a low incidence disability so it can be tough to find adaptations that meet our kids unique needs. Nevertheless, it can be done!

The first thing that I did to get our event going was to reach out to the zoo about this idea. This is what led me directly to Elise Plumly, special ed program director at the zoo. She had already some of our kids come to the zoo for her special Zoo For You classes and had monoculars and textured items for our kids to touch. That was helpful but I also had to think of White Cane Day and how to make this a blend of zoo interaction and mobility instruction. I emailed our faithful mobility instructors and we all met at the zoo. I did a walk through with Elise in the morning and then met the mobility instructors that afternoon and we walked the zoo! They took notes, discussed instruction and we really looked at the zoo through mobility eyes. We wrote a mobility challenge course for White Cane Day. 

I also am very aware of the difficulties that our kiddos with multiple impairments and are in wheelchairs have about coming to public events especially when it comes to changing needs. I am a big supporter of updating ADA or accessible restrooms for people that have unique toiling needs (such as changing a brief/diaper). Those little counter top changing pads are meant for a toddler not a 14 year old young man. I know that many families struggle with this so I made sure that not only did we have an accessible restroom, it was an accessible restroom with a large changing pad suitable for an older child. I brought a large mat that I have designated as a changing pad and we converted the restroom to accommodate my larger students that would need to be changed. This is important for these students and I wanted them to be part of this activity. 

I wanted my students to have something that would help them remember or follow up on their special trip to the zoo so I organized experience book packets for each student. Inside the packets had an information page about making an experience book (with a link for more information on experience books at Paths to Literacy), fabric pelts (I bought every type of fabric pelt Joann Fabrics had!), 65lb card stock paper and pictures of animals. Teachers could customize the experience books based on their students needs and vision. One teacher made animal foot print stamps out of different textures for art while making their books (see picture above). What another fun way to discuss animals! I loved it. 

Students had the option of coming for the whole day or just for the mobility challenge for White Cane Day. I took the mobility challenge notes that the OM instructors wrote and turned them into different challenge courses for students. We then donated the large print copies (the font was in Arial 28 size) and Braille copies to the zoo for other kids with vision impairments who may come to the zoo and want an activity. 

The Hogle Zoo made arrangements for seven different animal interaction stations throughout the zoo. This was a huge help and what made learning about the animals a true learning experience. Each station was identified for White Cane Day and had many artifacts that could be touched, animal facts and environmental facts to learn about. These stations were awesome! Take a look at the station pictures. There is an actual elephant ear, a rhino horn, skull and cast of footprints---so many ways to learn about the animals. I also encouraged the zoo to provide other things to help with concept development such as touching the food the animals eat and a measuring stick or rope that show how long or tall an animal is. 

I also included our birth-three program with the help of our early intervention division. We had a special area of the zoo designated for them and then invited them to walk through the zoo to see the stations and older children with vision impairments. Our early intervention station had all kinds of sensory activities to participate in with an experience book for them and plastic animals to interact with. 

Our students had the best time at the zoo! We learned about mobility, animals, environment and had the best ECC day. Can you see all the areas of the Expanded Core Curriculum that we covered in our White Cane Day at the zoo?  Here are some examples:
Compensatory: using a magnifier device (monoculars and magnifiers), read Braille signs and information, understanding how animals are organized, using different communication modes
Orientation & mobility: we had tactual and large print maps made for the zoo--reading maps, scanning, identifying different environments, 
Social skills Development: interaction with zoo staff, public, friends, eating lunch with new people at the zoo
Independent Living Skills: gracefully eating lunch in public, accessing public bathrooms, keeping personal items organized during the zoo rotations.
Recreation & Leisure: Enjoying the zoo! 
Career Education: Learning the roles of the workers at the zoo from husbandry to gift shop employees
Assistive Technology: Utilizing  a variety of AT devices to access information
Sensory Efficiency Skills: So many ways to use all the senses to enjoy and learn about the zoo
Self-Determination: Making choices, understanding abilities and relation of self in an activity. 

The zoo is a real possibility for children with vision impairments. I hope parents are encouraged to get out there and see what possibilities are there with a little creativity for being in the community.
I can't end this blog post without giving a huge shout out to Elise from Hogle Zoo, Becky Weeks (faithful staff who cut all the fabric for experience books and helped assemble them) and all of my colleagues from the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind who came out to support for the celebration of White Cane Day 2016!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Pete The Cat for the ECC!

Pete the Cat for children with vision impairments

If you haven't heard of or read Pete the Cat, you are MISSING out!!I fell in love with the series a few years ago because it was the first book my son could read by himself (Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes). It a fun series that has grown from one book to many with several activities, songs and Braille copies available. The stories are catchy and kids (and adults) just love them! 
Many classroom teachers have jumped on the Pete wagon as well so many of our kids have  had a chance to hear/read Pete stories. Many of the books have a central theme that teachers can naturally use to introduce concepts to. They are a great balance of core and expanded core curriculums.

I love that the Pete the Cat series also has repetitive passages which helps with anticipation and language support for elementary age students. I have many students that are echolalia (repeats language and doesn't initiate it). The passages repeat in a way that my students can anticipate the passage and will say it. When I know that they know the passage, I stop talking to allow turn taking to occur.

I first started using Pete the Cat to teach the Expanded Core Curriculum with I Love My White Shoes. Pete teaches all areas of the ECC! With I Love My White Shoes, I did a great hands on lesson that touched on all ECC areas:
compensatory (reading in accessible print, interact appropriately with print)
assistive technology (iPad for students, multimedia with video or CCTV use)
 independent living skills (cooking)
sensory efficiency (touch, taste and smell)
social skills (engages in group activity, learning the social skill from the story)
orientation and mobility (Pete steps "in" a pile of..., walking through things, spatial awareness)
recreation and leisure (reading for fun, discussing the activities in the story)
career education (finishing the story, talking about people/places in the community)
self-determination (giving opinion about liking/disliking books)

If you are not familiar with the book, Pete steps into mud, piles of strawberries and blueberries and then water (that turns his shoes white). I used coordinating foods: Nutella (mud), strawberries and blueberries and whip cream (white). We read the story and then used our foods when it came up in the story. I included real pictures of my activity so you can see that although my lesson was successful, it's not always pretty :)

activity for blind children with the book Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes
This is a popular activity with the I Love My White Shoes book. Many teachers have done this activity. I want to point out that this is the ECC in the classroom!

activity for blind children with the book Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes

activity for blind children with the book Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes

Another of my fave Pete the Cat ECC lessons is Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses. I love using this one to teach about feelings. It once again incorporates many areas of the ECC especially helping with social skills. It's a great way to talk about different feelings. I love to have sunglasses as a tactual item to use while we read. 

Other popular Pete books that teach the ECC is Rocking My School Shoes, Groovy Guide to Life and My Four Groovy Buttons. 
I have used the YouTube videos and the free audio track to incorporate more accessibility. You can get videosand audio here: and
I have put it on an iPad by making it a PowerPoint book for my kiddos who have multiple impairments or CVI. I love using PowerPoint because I can highlight things/reduce clutter and add motion to pictures in PP. To do this: I took pictures of the book and imported them into PP then added highlights/motion/other needs. You can import the audio track easily to PP books too! 
I also have multiple copies of the book, manipulatives, buttons, etc. while reading with a small group.  This allows our kids to have a smooth read every time we read. There are the traditional stories and early readers of the Pete series to match reading levels of your students. There are also many new Braille versions that are becoming available. 
Parents you can read Pete the Cat at home and do these activities, too! No need to let the classroom teachers have all the fun. Here's a way that you can support both curriculums at home. 
The sky is the limit with teaching Pete the Cat. As always, look to see how it naturally incorporates the ECC (it always does!). Check Pinterest and the internet for lots of Pete the Cat ideas. He is one groovy cat!