Thursday, April 26, 2012

A semi-homemade preschool calendar station (with some AAC flair)

Maya has become suddenly interested in calendars.  Well, not completely suddenly.  About a month or two ago she started showing an interest in the calendar, touching the boxes, etc, but it seemed to be mainly due to the fact that she likes to count things.  (She taps each box and we say the numbers for her.)  I thought Oh, I should set up a calendar for her but I was newly pregnant, sick and exhausted, so it got pushed to the back burner. 

I remembered the calendar project this week, when she started to navigate within the talker to say the days of the week.  She liked saying the days, so on Monday morning, during breakfast, I told her "Today is Monday" and showed her where the Monday button was.   About ten minutes later I said "Hey Maya, what day is today?" and she turned to the talker and tap-tapped and I heard Monday.  Smart girl :)  I shot this video at breakfast on Tuesday:

I'm all about supporting her interests*, and so this morning the calendar went up. 

*I'm in no way pushing her to memorize anything here, or suggesting that every home should have a calendar area.  But she's into the calendar and I'm doing a push with our AAC stuff right now, so this came together rather intuitively. 

I'm going to give you the basic plan first (which would work for anyone) and then follow up with the communication/AAC stuff.  Here's what I did:

1. I went to Lakeshore Learning and bought a pocket calendar and then a cute monthly calendar bulletin board kit (which they don't sell online, so no link).  If you're feeling super crafty you could make this stuff, but I'm not super crafty.  I'm functionally crafty.

2. I attached velcro strips to the wall to make sentence strips.  This may mess up your wall.  I'm planning on leaving it up for a while, because we can do all sorts of things with velcro, but I'm fully expecting that paint may get ripped off when I take it down.  That doesn't bother me much, but if it bothers you then you might want to try some other method here.

3. I made laminated cards to use on the sentence strips.  One set talks about the day of the week, so that we can say "Today is Monday."  The other set talks about the weather, so that we can say "The weather today is sunny."  Our cards are a bit fancier than usual, because they incorporate Maya's symbol language.

This is where it's going to get a little speech/AAC oriented, so if you're not interested just scroll down to hit the pictures.  But really, if you have a minute, check this out, because it's really interesting.

In the world of communication apps/devices, words are generally represented both in text form and with a picture.  Different systems use different "symbol languages" (pictures to represent the words)--Boardmaker uses PCS symbols, Proloquo2Go uses SymbolStix, Speak for Yourself uses Smarty Symbols, etc.  If you have a child who uses (or is going to potentially use) a symbol language, it can be beneficial to incorporate those symbols into your environment, as kind of an immersion into the language. (That's just a general best practices thing, I'm not making it up.)  And so, when I started planning the calendar, I knew that I wanted to include Maya's symbol language into the words and labels that I put up, for reinforcement purposes.

In Maya's communication app (Speak for Yourself) almost every word is represented by two pictures (a handful are said by just pushing one button instead of two).  For example, the word dinner is said by touching the eat icon on the main screen, and then the dinner icon on the secondary screen.  Each word card that I made (Monday, Tuesday, sunny, weather, etc) would include both symbols, so that it would be a visual representation of how she would use her device to say the word.

This is all kind of abstract in words.  Let me show you.

Here's the card for dinner:

If Maya wanted to say dinner with the talker, she would first touch the button on the left, then the button on the right.  See?  It reads like a sentence. 

I printed the images out (using this app), cut them, and affixed them onto an index card with a piece of tape.  Then I printed the word underneath and ran the cards through my trusty laminator.

Then I re-cut them and put a small square of velcro on the back of each one (these words aren't all for the calendar, clearly, I have a few other projects in the works).

finished cards

I rearranged the alphabet hallway to make room for a calendar area . . .

which looks like this.

I left the pocket calendar almost completely alone, with 2 exceptions.  I added a card at the top that includes the symbol language for the month, and I glued the symbols onto the yellow days of the week cards:

For the sentence strips, I used the cards with printed words and symbols.  One envelope has the extra days of the week and one has the extra weather-related words. 

This sort of thing could be done for any topic, and with any symbol language.  For now, we'll just play with the idea of putting up the day and the weather.  Once she's used to that routine, we'll start doing it with the talker, and I will model saying the sentence on the wall with the device.  Then I'll start helping her to do that. 

It's practice with the device, it's some nice text-rich pre-literacy stuff on the wall, and, most importantly, it's supporting an interest that she expressed to me---I'm not trying to engage her in something that she doesn't care about.

Disclaimer: I'm not a speech therapist or AAC therapist, just a mom who has done a solid bit of reading, researching, and harassing real professionals via email and Twitter to get their guidance when I have questions.  If any speech/AAC folks are reading this and feel like you have something to add on, or that I've made any errors, please feel free to chime in.  Thanks!



Paula said...

Just curious if you're doing any sign language with Maya. Does she have enough fine motor skill to learn hand shapes? The days of the week are all pretty easy to learn and might be a nice supplement to the talker.

Carole said...

Doing the happy dance here! I love the idea of building on someone's interests. Isn't that how we ALL learn best?! Did something similar with a little AAC friend who was 'developmentally too young' for calendar according to his teacher. We had a blast making little stories using PPT for the days of the week (e.g., Mon: Mommy goes to work, Nana comes to stay. Maddie goes to school, but I get to play!). We read it using his word approximations and AAC during his therapy and he learned way more than anyone expected. If we keep teaching, they'll keep learning. Love the integration of visual supports and AAC apps, too. Thanks for a(nother) great post!

anne said...

Dana, you are so incredible. I am in awe. You are the best preschool teacher out there and Maya is such a smart student!