At Home Learning: What You Can Do

As we all know, remote learning and therapy have been anything but routine for our Spectra Centers students, families, and staff. Despite the hardship the last year has brought, we are astounded by the progress we continue to make. However, remote learning and therapy can only accomplish so much. So much of what we do at Spectra relies on hands on, physical engagement, and learning. Seeing as this aspect of Spectra has been lost since the advent of remote learning, we recently asked our staff to put their heads together and imagine some helpful exercises parents and family members can practice to continue progress and development at home! As remote learning continues for the next few months, this engagement will be more important than ever as we get ready to make the inevitable transition back to in-person learning and all of the acclimation that the transition will bring.

Speech Language: Activities and Strategies to Foster Language Development at Home


In a school setting, students who receive speech-language services receive anywhere from 5-60 minutes per week of direct, skilled services from a speech-language pathologist. When working with children with disabilities, it is important to remember that adults need to facilitate generalization of learned skills to a variety of environments in the child’s life. This means direct time with the speech therapist is not enough. We need the help of parents and teachers to aid in generalization of learned skills to further a student’s language growth. Listed below are strategies that speech-language pathologist’s use at Spectra and can be carried over into the home to foster language development:

Cooking

  • Choose a simple recipe to cook with your child. This can be something as simple as making a peanut butter and jelly, microwaving a snack, or cooking a full meal.

  • Strategies to use while cooking:

  • Narrate what you are doing, while you are doing it. For example, if you are mixing an item for 2 minutes, you might say, “I am mixing the vegetables. They are hot and sizzling and beginning to shrink as they cook. Do you like vegetables?” This serves as a language model, exposes your child to new vocabulary, and involves them in the cooking process.

  • Present 1 step or 2 step instructions for your child to follow and use words like “first, next, then, and last.” This targets a child’s receptive vocabulary and uses sequential concept words for them to learn. It also shows a natural consequence of the language being targeted (e.g. if the instructions are to first open the package and then pour it in a bowl you can clearly see if they demonstrated this action or not).

  • Engage your child in the clean-up routine. This signals a clear end of the activity and is a time to target following directions with your child. This exposes them to vocabulary that has a clear natural consequence (e.g. if you say, “first, we need to throw it away,” this is a clear action that shows understanding of this.)

The strategies listed above can be incorporated into any daily activity. Other examples of activities in which these strategies can be include your child’s morning/bedtime routine, time spent playing with peers or siblings, or taking a trip together at the grocery store. Implementing these strategies provides rich language exposure for your child.

Occupational Therapists: Improve Handwriting at Home

Does your student struggle with handwriting or write with either too much or too little pressure? Increasing hand strength and completing dexterity exercises can help to improve handwriting skills as well other daily living skills. There are also a number of modifications you can make to optimize your student’s performance in writing. Here are some helpful hints and ideas:


Finger and Hand Strength

  • Squeeze a stress ball, foam, or theraputty

  • Place rubber bands around fingers and open and close slowly

  • Pop bubblewrap

  • Play and shape play-dough

  • Use a hole-punch

  • Wring out a sponge or squeeze a spray bottle

  • Hand exercises – have your student make a fist as hard as they can, then spread and stretch fingers

Dexterity Exercises

  • Touch each fingertip to the tip of the thumb on each hand

  • Beading, threading, or lacing activities

  • Picking up small objects from a flat surface

  • Manipulating pencil or other small objects in one hand

  • Flipping from tip to eraser side of pencil without using other hand or table surface

  • Transferring a coin from finger tips to palm, and palm to fingertips

  • Rolling a bead or marble between fingers

Writing Modifications

  • Write using a mechanical pencil

  • Write using a liquid gel pen or marker

  • Pencil weights or weighted pencils

  • Try using a vibrating pen

  • Practice writing on softer surfaces

  • Use a pencil grip or thicker writing utensil

Teachers: Remote Learning

“Remote learning” is a distant term that is now commonly used in most students, teachers, and parents' lives. Moreover, it is a practice most, if not all, of teachers, parents, and students approached unclear, nervous, and overwhelmed. Fast forward to now, and some students have been participating in remote learning for almost a full year. Remote teaching looks different for each classroom and sometimes for each student. Servicing and teaching the special needs community remotely adds a new layer of complication but in the end we as teachers, parents, and other service providers are willing to go the distance to help our students and their families in all settings and through these weird and tough times.

So, you might ask, how does one teach students with special needs who might be non-verbal, have severe behaviors, or not be able to functionally use technology or not have access to said technology. This is where the teacher’s hard work and creativity comes into play. Here at Spectra School, we service a variety of students ages six to twenty-one and each classroom looks and functions differently. Over remote learning, we have had zooms with parents, zooms with all teachers, one on one zooms with students, and group zooms. We have sent work home through the computer, through the mail, or had work hand delivered by teachers and staff. We have created work packets with worksheets, file folders, task boxes, IEP goals, games, and much more. We have also utilized our online learning services such as BrainPOP, i-Ready, and Vooks. We as teachers know that we can help provide as many different resources as possible to parents but that still doesn’t change the fact that remote learning is hard. It is hard for everyone involved and has taken a real toll on students and parents.

This year has been tough. Not only are we dealing with the uncertainty of public health, there has also been extra weight placed on parents trying to work a full-time job from home while also teaching their child. This month we discussed a variety of tips and tricks help remote learning function more easily at home. We also all have to remember that we were, and still are, in uncharted territories. Life is different, hard, confusing, and overwhelming. Some days might be considered a success, some might seem like a failure, but the most important thing is that our students and families are doing their best, are together, and are staying safe.

To anyone struggling out there with remote learning, you are not in it alone. We will get through this difficult time, together.

Behavior Analysts: Using First/Then Strategies at Home

First you eat your broccoli then you can have ice cream, sound familiar? The Premack Principle, or first/then language, has been used across many environments for many years. This concept is an evidence based strategy that can be used across a variety of behaviors and reinforcers. The key to using this principle is finding a good motivator. The “first” statement should always be the direction or request, immediately followed by the “then” statement which should be a motivator for your student or child. In the real world, first go to work then get a paycheck. Using this structure to present directions can decrease resistance while immediately letting the child know what positive thing is coming next. First flossing then toothbrushing would not be an effective use of the strategy unless your child really enjoys brushing their teeth.


This strategy can also help to support students who have difficulty with changes in schedule or what’s coming next in their day. They are able to see and hear when a motivator is available and how they can access it. These statements should be delivered in a clear and concise manner; using a lot of extraneous language and unnecessary information can quickly confuse the person you’re talking to and has the potential to cause behaviors. First put your jacket away, clean up downstairs, and turn off the music while I cook, then we can play. Remember to match the amount of work to reinforcement, nobody wants to do 8 hours worth of work for $1. This strategy may seem simple but can have a major impact on a students behavior and motivation to complete requests or directions. First read Spectra’s blog post then get valuable information.

Mental Health

While we are in a time where most of us are at home either working or learning, telehealth can definitely have its ups and downs. It is important to be able to identify and practice self-regulation strategies and social emotional awareness in the home. While telehealth provides easy access to a mental health professional and an ability to process through tough situations and events taking place in patients lives presently, as well as an ability to talk about struggles related to ongoing social isolation for adults, this has proven to be incredibly difficult with younger clients who already struggle with maintaining focus for a 45-minute period. Bringing parents on board with what the child is learning and practicing is often necessary and has provided a great opportunity to incorporate family into sessions and give the therapist a better feel for the dynamics at home. In the classrooms at Spectra, we utilize the Zones of Regulation to help our students practice emotional awareness and identify coping strategies that they can use to address what they are feeling. This is something that can be incorporated at home too, even having parents identify how they are feeling and what Zone that places them in. School staff often help our students practice coping skills. This is also a way that parents, and siblings, can help their child in the home. If a child is struggling with identifying or using different coping skills, finding time to show or try coping skills with them can help! It is not easy, however, getting involved with your child’s therapy while sessions remain remote can lead to much more change and improvement overall.

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