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The month of January is a great time to really get down to business when doing lesson plans, therapy sessions, or homework with children with special needs. Especially those who can certainly use the practice! During this month, many of us really get into “learning mode” and buckle down, especially if we live in a colder climate and stay indoors more.

Many of us have gotten our school routines down pat by now, and are looking ahead to the rest of the school year. We are also looking for ways of diversifying learning experiences for our children, expanding our own toolbox, and finding new ways to facilitate carryover of learned skills.

Toys, Tech and Therapy

As a strong advocate for the integration of toys and tech in treatment, I’d like to share with you four things that I’m thankful for. I’m grateful for having access to these tools and links which really help me provide children with special needs some great teachable moments. Ones that truly “stick” because of the “paper trail”, the value they add to learning, and the ease of involvement of both the family and school in sharing these resources and thus getting on “the same page”.

1. The Toys R Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids

This toy catalog has been around for 20 years and is available both online and in print. It’s designed to help parents and service providers select specific toys geared for different areas of development such as language skills, motor skills, and cognitive skills. This is one of the best play resources out there, for helping us all make sense of the plethora of toys available in today’s stores and schools!

2. The Friendship Circle’s Own Special Needs Apps List

As a long time supporter of iPad Apps use in treatment, I am known to enthusiastically, gleefully, and vocally sing the praises of many different kinds of Apps to address various IEP goals. Many of those Apps are found on this list because I am not alone. They are also recommended by a cross-section of parents and service providers in special education–all of whom have contributed to this wonderful resource!

3. eReaders and eBooks From Your Library

I cannot emphasize enough the responsibility parents/service providers have in the Digital Age to promote literacy and digital citizenship in themselves and in the children they care about. The library system is one of the best kept secrets in the United States! It is one of our most inexpensive and underutilized civic treasures! Libraries are keeping up with technological trends…. Are you? It has never been easier to borrow a book and read it on your tablet, and then share it with others!

4. Digital Images for Social Media Posts and Lessons

Today’s best practices in education include the creation and use of customizable, license free, electronic photos for school and home use, for a myriad of activities, including virtual mentorship. Photos and other visual supports can help children decipher their surroundings, their daily schedule, their experiences (and memories of them), and their “inner circle”. Photos can also be used to emotionally connect us to each other through shared inspiration and humor across the globe. That’s why I believe in the power of social media for parents and educators, not just business professionals!

It’s easier than ever to create and store some of these un-copyrighted images online “in the cloud” —  please make sure not to violate copyright infringement and that you understand the definition of “fair use! Use them later, share them with the IEP team, or even showcase them so others can see and learn from your ideas! Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter are just three of the visual-modality friendly and picture-rich social media sites I use, to share and extract photos; personally and professionally. Thanks to marketing and business folks, there are many forums, “cheat sheets” and examples out there to choose from. They can help us create our own digital images and distribute them. We need not reinvent the wheel!

I am thankful to be both a special educator and digital citizen in 2014, who is able to harness the power of toys and technology in treatment. Why?

  • More personally relevant and therefore interesting lessons to share
  • More customizable and environmentally friendly tools to choose from
  • Better treatment outcomes overall.