5 Simple Ways to Support Communication in the Classroom

Visuals!

Place visuals for core words and phrases students can use around the classroom. They serve as prompts for what to say. Students who are non-speaking can point or hand over the sentence to request or comment.

Do you have a student who uses an AAC device? Print a large version of their homepage so everyone can access it. I’m lucky enough to have a poster printer at school but you could also have this done at a local print shop.

Talk about different ways people communicate

Read books and discuss! Here are a few favorites!

AAC Device, Picture Cards, Repeating what they hear, Voice
Different Languages
Sign Language

Sesame street has some great videos about communicating in different ways

Sesame Street Video – Different Ways to Say Hello with Julia and Rosita

Buddy Device

Have a student that uses an AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) device? If you can, get another device with the same communication system that can be used by a buddy!

Model

We often use the buddy device to model language for the student. I can sit next to the student with the device and model language. There is no pressure for them to copy what I said. They can just look and listen or they can try it too! It’s so important that children feel ownership over their own device and it is respected as their words – no one else’s. Getting a buddy device means that I don’t have to borrow theirs to model langauge. I know this is definitely easier said than done. You can also print out the home screen of the device (take a screenshot or a photo) and use that to model.

Peers

Peers can use the buddy device too! Depending on age and familiarity with the device, they may also use it to model. In our preschool classroom, we allow other students to explore the device. Why keep it a secret! All students can use it to communicate (again, the student with the dedicated device never needs to share) It also makes them a natural part of the classroom.

MODEL, MODEL, MODEL

Model language!

Honor all attempts at communication

One of my biggest pet peeves is when a student communicates by pointing to something they want or approximating a word and we say, “Tell me on your device” or “say ____”. That student expressed their needs and we’re asking them to do it again even though we know what they want. I have most definitely been guilty of this but I cringe every time I think of it! How exhausting to have to repeat yourself again and again. Allow students to communicate through gestures, pointing, bringing you to somethings, approximating words, using sounds, using visuals, and on and on. Honor their communication and model, model, model. When a student points to their cup, you could instead say, “You want the cup.” “want cup”

Teach peers to also look for and honor other kinds of communication. “I see Connor pointing at that block. It looks like he’d like to play with it.” Kids will often jump in and bring over the blocks so everyone can play. A fun circle time game is practicing communication in other ways.

Visuals for the Adults in the Room

We can all use daily reminders to use core words in the classroom. Sometimes it works to remind us to jump in with modeling and other times it gives ideas of what to say! For new staff members and visitors it can be easy to fall into questions mode….What color is it? How many do you have? or focus on the fringe words instead of core. Having visuals of phrases to use takes the guess work out of it. The more our staff practices using core words and phrases, the more it will become a natural part of the classroom language. Lots of times we have family visitors and substitutes in our classrooms too. It is a learning tool for them too!

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Favorite Toys for Inclusion and Diversity

Kids need to see themselves and others represented in all areas of the classroom – books, toys, visuals, songs. Creating a classroom community that embraces and celebrates inclusion does not stop with our attitudes. It needs to be infused into all areas of the classroom. Check out some of my students’ (and my!) favorite inclusive toys and classroom supplies.

Cre8tive Minds Marvel Education Friends with Diverse Abilities Figure Set

Kids love playing with people figurines! Add people to your dollhouse and block area.

Or these!…

Constructive Playthings Wooden Community Helpers

I Never Forget a Face Memory Game

Preschoolers who are 4 and 5 are really starting to get into playing games. Start with just a few pairs for beginners and work your way up to the whole set. The illustrations are fantastic!

Constructive Playthings Expression Babies Plush Dolls

Super simple and soft. Great for talking about emotions! When our dramatic play center is a house, there never seems to be enough babies to go around! Now everyone can take care of a little one.

or these!

Snuggle Stuffs Basket of Buddies

My Family Builders Friends Edition

Kids love to mix and match the blocks to make different people. Put these block out at table time/morning work or add them to your block center.

hand2mind See My Feelings Mirror

These mirrors are so cool!! Flip up the feelings discs to practice the facial expressions. Use them to talk about hair color, eye color, skin color, etc. Great for an All About Me unit of study.

Inclusive Art Supplies

Inclusive art supplies should definitely be in your classroom and used on a regular basis!

Free Printable 2022-2023 School Year Calendar (Editable too!)

I’ve updated my school year calendar freebie! I use my to send home snack calendars, upcoming events, etc. I also printed a copy for our classroom bulletin board so my team and I could keep track of when one of us would be out, when I had IEP meetings, and when there were special events. A quick and easy way for us to communicate with one another and helped me keep track of assemblies, parent volunteers, meetings, due dates, and so on and so on and so on….

Click here to go to my TPT page to download.

All Time Favorite Preschool Toys

These are the things my students love every single year. They are always the most used, no matter how many times we set them out. These toys are the magical materials that catch everyone’s attention. As I was putting this list together I noticed that every one allows for open-ended play and imagination. There are no directions, no rules, and no screens. Your students will love them!

Magna-tiles

The MVP. These are always a favorite. The edges of each piece are magnetic for building all kinds of structures. Play with just these or add in other toys like cars, animals, or Little People. The link above is for the 100 piece set. Here is a link to the starter set.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Play dough

probably my favorite. I put playdough out almost every single day and it is always a busy table. The kids love to smash, roll, and smush. We switch it up by changing the color and rotating cookie cutters and materials. Homemade is my favorite! Tinkerlab has the best recipe I’ve found! It stays soft and silky for months!

Giant Soft EduBlocks

Who can resist building a tower taller than you?! The kids love seeing how tall them can make the tower and knocking it down, of course! They are a soft foam so are safe for building up high but sturdy and tough enough for any preschooler.

Legos

Best for 4 and 5-year olds. Make sure you have plenty of people and wheels. The kids let their imagination run wild! They build houses, boat, restaurants, cars, trucks, trains, and on and on.

Water!

Put it in the sensory table, large containers, or just fill the sink. It’s free!! and always a hit. They love scooping and pouring and splashing. Take it outside on a warm day.

Panda Village

The kids have to balance the bamboo and shapes to create buildings and towers. It’s a great lesson in persistence and spatial awareness.

Little People

You really can’t go wrong with any of them! The kids will find ways to play with just the people. The school bus and the airplane are definite favorites.

Jumbo Pegs and Pegboard

Students explore colors and patterns. It never fails…the kids love to make birthday cakes and we all sing Happy Birthday!

10 Supports for Students during Free Play

Each day my students enter the classroom, they wash their hands and choose a table for “Table Time”. Others may call it a soft start or even center time.  Each classroom table has an activity for them to engage in.  I’m always sure to include at least 1 fine motor activity, 1 sensory activity, and 1 activity that involves preschool academic concepts. Sometimes they relate to our unit of study and sometimes it is just a fun toy from our shelf.  I am all about making things fun and engaging but easy on myself too!! The writing center and library are always options too and depending on the interests and needs of the students, we might also open other areas too.

Many students love the free exploration and creativity of this time. There are many choices, students are free to move from table to table as they wish, and it’s a great time to be social. For other students, this is a very challenging time. They crave structure and require prompting and support to engage with the toys. Without support, these students often end up wandering the classroom, flitting around from table to table without engaging in any play, or dumping/pulling out other materials. We can make adjustments in the classroom environment build their engagement, independence, and play skills.

Here are 10 different ways to support them!

1. Favorite Sensory Items

I have students who LOVE water! Put water in the sensory table with anything…sea creatures during an ocean unit, clothing and brushes during a clothing unit, dishes and soap for a food unit, water beads, floating blocks, cups and utensils anytime! Students who love squishy sensory items – playdoh, shaving cream, floam, slime. Do you have kids that love

2. Choose toys that match the child’s developmental level

Mix in toys of different levels. Part of our Table Time is promoting independence. It’s a busy time as all of the children are coming into the classroom. I’m greeting everyone, checking backpacks, taking attendance. I want to build the students’ independent arrival and initiation skills. If you only have one of a particular toy, put out a few similar toys or make it a turn taking game too. Some of my favorites are:

Peg Color Sorting / Inset Puzzles / Pop Up Toys / Put in Sorting / Fish Tank / Piggy Bank

3. Use Fascinations and Interests

Have a student that only wants to play with cars? Add cars to one or all of the activities. Cars with Legos, cars with playdoh, add car stickers to the writing center, car books in the library, car puzzles, etc. Or give them a few cars to take with them from place to place.

4. Use Play Scheme Visuals

Create visuals with the play steps. Use your phone to take pictures, use Boardmakers, or check out these freebies.

5. Make Play Videos

Record yourself playing with a toy. Use simple phrases and steps. Play the video for the child before they begin to play. I recently started using this strategy and WOW! My students really benefited from this! I saw play skills develop quickly.

6.  Make a Visual Task Schedule

Some students need help choosing where to play when given so much free choice. Set up a visual schedule for this time. Depending on the needs of the student, I might use real photos, Boardmaker pictures, or other icons like these colored squares. Students match the colored squares or visuals to a spot at each table.

7. Let favorite play areas be a part of ‘Table Time’

I have a student now who loves to paint at the easel. It is by far her favorite thing to do. Rather than redirecting her to a table multiple times a day, we decided to just make it an open option during ‘table time’. Other students love it too! It has become one of the most visited places and everyone is happy and engaged.

8. Make a Visual Choice Board

Use visuals! Some students have a hard time filtering out all the visual stimuli in the classroom to see the activities. Present them with a visual choice board. Here are a couple I use in my classroom.

9.  Coach peers on how to help their friends

Talk with students about how to invite a friend to play. They could ask, “Do you want to play with me?” but it could also mean bringing a toy over to a friend, offering to share a toy, showing a visual to their peer, or even following their friend to see what they want to do without using any words. Model and practice!

10. Use visuals for social starters

Make conversation cubes to give students ideas of what to talk about. These have questions to ask about their favorites.

How do you support students during unstructured times?

5 Favorite Hello Songs….and a freebie!

I love fostering a joyful and social classroom community. One way we do that is to meet together at circle time at the start of each day. We begin by having the ‘song helper’ choose a hello song. I have scoured the internet to find hello songs that I enjoy. There are just some kid songs that I cannot listen to. These are 5 that the kids LOVE and the teachers love too!

I’ve included the YouTube links here for learning the words and actions. In the classroom, I play the songs from my Spotify list. I have found that the kids are much more engaged and will participate in doing the actions if there is no screen to stare at.

Oh Hey Oh Hi Hello By Jim Gill

I usually get some funny looks the first time we sing this one but then the kids love it! They really get into making the silly faces.

Hello, Hello by Nancy Kopman

Teaches following along and body parts!

Bread and Butter

This might be the All Time Student Favorite. Once we’ve mastered it, I have the kids give suggestions for how else we could say hello – like a: mouse, monster, robot, lion. The list goes on and on.

Hello Hello by Super Simple Songs

Simple actions and gets the kids moving in the morning!

Everybody Clap by Nancy Kopman

Another one with simple actions to get us moving!



Check out my Spotify Playlist here!

What are your favorite hello songs?