Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Z is for Zeitgeist, Zeal & Zips

Well this is it - the final post in the A to Z Challenge for 2015 - this year held in memory of Tina Downey of Life is Good blog!  
I hope everyone has had as much fun as I have in participating in it:)

Part of my Challenge theme this year has been blogging about resources and activities that may be of help in special needs education but today I deviate slightly to look at the bigger picture that surrounds special needs education.

Zeitgeist - this is a particular favourite word to me - it simply means the defining spirit of an age.  Last year during the Challenge, I blogged about Y is for Yesteryear and looked at the way in which special needs education and society's views had changed through the centuries and wondered what the future held particularly with the new U.K.government proposals coming in.   A year on, I am even more concerned with what the Zeitgeist of this decade will show for children who need that extra help and support.  Many authorities appear to be putting the responsibility for it all working on the schools without giving any extra support themselves.  Facts and figures are tweaked to show success when the reality is that the children are not learning or being supported to learn.  Many of these children and their parents do not have sufficient knowledge or ability to challenge the system and do not realise what is actually going on.  I wonder how much they can actually be enjoying their education and also what the outcome will be for these children once they move out of it and into the real world?   

Zeal - the majority of teachers and assistants working in the special needs field are extremely dedicated and hard-working.  They strive to provide the best education for their students and give 100% to this goal. However, this takes its toll when they are also having to battle with those higher up who have other perceptions and demands.  

I have always been very proud of the fact that anyone who comes into contact with me has seen me as a teacher with a great zeal and passion for her students and education.  So it is with a very heavy heart, that I have come to the conclusion that I cannot continue in my present role as it is beginning to be more noticeable to me that it is taking a greater toll than is healthy for me.  I feel I have tried my best and I have loved every minute of working as a teacher to those wonderful students who have crossed my door but I cannot continue to work within a system I am now so at odds with and I have fought too many battles over.  One or two of you out there may have noticed this and I am so thankful for the support you have shown through blog comments - they have made a world of difference :)  I have handed in my notice and will now be able to concentrate on a new part of my life without all of this conflict. I know I am very lucky to be able to do this and not have to worry about where my next pay cheque will be coming from.  I need a break and then I will decide what I want to do.  Other opportunities await me and I feel quite excited and with a new zeal for life about to begin.  I am also so pleased not to have to be zipping about the country between two homes anymore.

I feel in my heart that I will always be an educator of children whether with special needs or not, whether in a school environment or not, so I am not going to change my blogging profile from one of teacher just yet.  I also hope that I can continue to contribute to others still working in this field - I certainly know I will be making more resources available on TpT that I have used in my teaching life and blogging about them.  If I can do anything for any special needs teachers, I will always try :)

but now onto the other part of my blog - and for my final "craft" post for the challenge I have chosen:

Zips - many people seem to struggle with zips and putting them in but I have to say I have always used a zipper foot on my sewing machine and found it quite easy.  Now days there are great youtube videos available or blog posts with lots of step by step pictures that will take you through the process. So if you have been struggling with finding other fastenings rather than by zipping it, why don't you give it a try next time - it's just not that hard!!
Click on the photo above to go to this very thorough blog post :)

My freebie for Z is this Zip length activity

Simply download and ask the children to cut out the zips and stick in the correct order of length!

And that my friends completes this final blog post in the 2015 Challenge - now for some rest I think Zzzzzzz :)

Y is for Yoga, Young friends groups & Yarn-Bombing

This is it folks, we are down to the final two letters of the challenge and they are tricky ones!

Young friends groups - another initiative I have introduced at my school and which I am particularly proud of is the running of a Young Friends Group that takes place once a week after school.  This started due to my collaboration with one of our school health nurses and has proved to be very successful not only for those children from my own school but others in the area.  My school donates our school hall for the group to use and I stay behind to provide a separate room for those parents who wish to stay and have a cup of tea or coffee whilst the school health team work with the group of up to 12 children.  All of these children have been referred due to emotional problems and particularly in making and keeping friendships and are aged between 9-11.  It is particularly important for some of these children to have access to this program before they begin secondary education. 

The children play games and discuss issues affecting them working on a particular topic each week. They are given "homework" to do with their families and to bring back for the following session.  We have run two 8 week courses so far and have been delighted with the results we have seen.  Once again my own students have made me so proud of the way in which they have greeted the other children from different schools and have made them feel so welcome:)  Some of the other parents have been so overcome in telling me how much their child has achieved by even week 2 of the program and how they can't quite believe how my students have been able to make their child feel so much better and yet my students are supposed to be ones with problems!!  On the back of this program we have also begun to set up parenting workshops (once again delivered by the health professionals) for our more "nervous/cautious" parents.  The aim is to spread the message that we are here to help not judge and that EVERYONE sometimes needs a bit of support in their life and if as a school we can do that then we will :)

Please let me know if your child has participated in anything like this and whether you think schools should be offering more support in conjunction with other services such as health?

Yoga - I have to admit this is not something I have had personal experience with but I do know other teachers who have found this to a be another way to help children with special needs. Relaxation techniques can modify anxiety and stress issues and a deeper knowledge of controlling their bodies can help those with ADHD.  I can speak from personal experience of the effect I am experiencing myself now that I take part in a monthly pilates lesson - I can visualise my body and how to "move" various muscles and I get a really pleasurable almost out of body experience when doing some of the relaxation/cool down exercises.  If I was still teaching PE classes, I know I would be incorporating some of these movements into my lessons.  
I have found a good set of articles on the benefits of yoga for children (if you wish to read further) at this website:

Obviously, it would be great if anyone who does yoga would like to leave a comment about what they feel is the benefit to them or what they could potentially see for using this technique with children :)

Yarn bombing - you should know me by now - I like visual things so check out the yarn bombing that happened in my local area :)

Yarn bombing as you can see is a type of street art and involves individuals and groups making knitted things which transform normal objects in the street such as bollards, lamp-posts, gates and trees to name a few.  It has even been used by police as a way of reducing fear of crime and communities feeling more in control of their own areas.  Although technically it is illegal (as it is a form of graffiti) it can be easily removed if necessary and most people seem to enjoy the effect it brings on their surroundings.  I have a secret wish to join a yarn bombing group and carry out this illegal type of behaviour - so keep an eye out for photos later on this year as there may be other yarn bombings coming to this blog!!

Is there anything you have a secret desire to do (please not too rude!!) and may get involved with this year?  Let me know!

Freebie for Y is my:  Yo Ho Ho Odds & Evens game

Hope you enjoy :)

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

X is for Xtranormal, Fragile X syndrome and X-stitching

Yes - we've now made it to that letter probably most of us fear the most in this awesome challenge!
Xtranormal - I know I might be inciting a few strong feelings if I mention this particular video making site as some of the videos made and available on youtube featuring special education are rather controversial (although for some us they probably ring true - - I want to TEACH children with special needs rather than fill in paperwork!!) However, the concept of being able to easily make videos with their characters speaking can be extremely useful in a special needs scenario and some English teachers in particular have cited great lessons using it.  It is yet another avenue to giving struggling children a voice.  At the present time, it looks like the Xtranormal site is being over hauled however other companies are now advertising this type of program so it might be something you could find useful for your teaching?

Fragile X syndrome - I mention this syndrome as I once worked with a child that I was struggling to understand their difficulties and how to overcome some of them as their teacher.  They had no diagnosis and although were on the SEN register at that time children just stayed on the register with very little outside support.  I came across Fragile X syndrome and thought some of the characteristics could be seen in this particular child so I tried some of the things they put forward as ways to help - I never suggested to anyone that this was what the child had but some of the things did seem to work a bit and it was definitely better than doing nothing!!  Some children go through their whole school life without having their problems given a specific diagnosis so I think that as long as teachers are trying different strategies with the aim of helping that child then that is better than waiting for a professional to finally give the need a name!!
For those of you interested in learning more about this condition then you can read more about it>HERE

X-stitching - I know this may be seen as cheating but X is a difficult letter in the world of craft!!  So let's look at in visual terms with X representing a Cross :)
I have loved doing this type of stitching - mainly because most works are relatively small so they can be done anywhere and then stashed away and there are so many beautiful designs around.  
I have in the past designed my own and even at one point in my life (before teaching) toyed with the idea of producing and selling my own kits.  You have to remember this would have been in the olden days before all the easy access to printing and supplies from China.  So when I took some of my designs to a shop to see whether they would be interested in purchasing any kits (that I would have had to make up by hand etc etc and way before I'd really thought this thing through)  I was totally thrown when they said they would and would like to know if I could deliver in quantities of 100!!!  I obviously ran away from the whole idea then!!

Anyway, I have done loads of x-stitching when the children were small and I spent time at home but now days due to the time involved I often only get chance to on holiday and I still have quite a few projects unfinished.  I thought you might like to see a couple of the pieces I have done (most of my pieces are somewhere yet to be unpacked and put somewhere I can find them!!) and of course I'd love to know if you have done any x-stitching and which was your favourite piece or any stories behind what you've done :)

Freebie for X is:       X Marks the Spot
Which is one of my most popular PAID products on TpT but which I will give away free to any of my fellow A to Z Challengers during the remains of this challenge if they send me an e-mail requesting it :)

Monday, 27 April 2015

W is for Waiting time, Whisper phones and Wool

It's the last week of the A to Z Challenge!!

Waiting time - Teachers can find that the pace of their lesson slows when asking children questions and they can rush children on or pass by a child slow to answer.  However, by factoring in Waiting time which means simply directing a question to a child and telling them they will come back for an answer in a few minutes allows that child the thinking time necessary to formulate a reply. I have certainly found this useful (and not only for those children on the Special Needs register!)

I could also write about the Waiting time involved in getting any action taken for children with special needs but I feel I would begin to rant and rage and become rather despondent if I did, so I Won't!!

Whisper phones - I was told on one of the first phonics courses I attended that whispering helps with enunciation which is why sometimes you will find teachers whispering to their class in such lessons.  The whisper phone allows a large number of children to practise their phonics out loud without interfering with others and allowing the noise level to become excessive. 
Thank you to for the photo

The funnel allows sound to be directed straight to the ear as well as reducing background noise.  As you can see in the photo above, they can also act as a very useful tool for children to be able to read out loud in the class but in a more private and quiet environment.  This is also important as it focuses attention on what the reader is actually saying and helps with understanding, fluency as well as reducing distractions.  Children also actively like using them!
Of course with any education tool they can be expensive to buy for a whole class so some smart teachers have come up with ways to make their own for a fraction of the price so head over to:   
if you would like to find out how!!

It would be great to know if anyone else has had experience of using them either at home or in the classroom so please let me know?

Wool - I think this picture says it all!!
I hasten to add this is NOT my wool stash because I do not have the time to gather all of the wool up that I possess from all the places I have stashed it in my house - so thank you to Nikki from for sharing this pic :)

I have two reasons for why my wool is hidden all over the house:
  1. I don't have a room in the house where I could store it all together
  2. I certainly do NOT want my husband to actually see the amount of wool I have!!!!
I would love to own a wool shop and be able to gaze at all the different wool in all of its different shades and textures - I might not actually be able to sell any of it to anyone unfortunately as I might become a bit like Gollum and begin saying "my precious" as I go around stroking all the skeins and balls!!!

Let me know your thoughts - I know through this challenge that some of you are amazingly passionate about your craft materials so what makes you go weak at the knees!!

W Freebie is my Walk 'n' Talk onset and rime activity which helps children write words using the initial sound (the onset) combined with the remainder of the word (the rime) - we sometimes call these word families :)

Hope you like it :)

Saturday, 25 April 2015

V is for Visual communication, Visual timetables & Vintage knitting patterns

Can't believe we are down to the last 5 posts for this challenge!!

Visual communication-  Very few children in the mainstream schools I have worked in have been unable to communicate vocally so my practical experience of visual communication cards such as PECS is limited, however, friends working in special schools use these type of systems extensively.  A story sticks in my mind from one of them that a child for snack time was always offered verbally a choice between two drinks - blackcurrant or orange - and was just expected to nod for the one he wanted and he always chose orange. My friend new to the school and a great advocator of visual communication printed out two cards she had made - one for orange, one for blackcurrant and asked him to point to the one he wanted - very slowly he pointed at the one for blackcurrant and it became clear that because of his delay in being able to nod he had always ended up being given orange!!  Suddenly and for the first time in ages this child was able to communicate his actual preference!  This really made me think again about using more visuals in my own classroom particularly for younger children who might not realise exactly what is being spoken about.

I'd love to know if anyone else has stories of how the simplest of things unlocked something profound for someone :)

Visual timetables - I have found these to be very useful in a classroom not only for the children who need them such as those with autism or ADHD or any other anxiety problems but also for the rest of the class - it certainly helps get rid of the problems of continual questions of what are we doing next?  There are lots of websites now that offer free schedules and picture cards to download.  I have found sparklebox to be a really good one -
It is then simply a case of printing out, laminating, attaching velcro to the daily lesson strip and the backs of the picture cards and away we go & they last for ever!!  This means once done each classroom can have one and they can be re-used the following year :)

Have you used a visual timetable in your classroom or do you have other ways to help children understand the structure of their day?

Vintage knitting patterns - because I am now able to do many more knitting projects I have been in search of patterns and have been extremely surprised as well as dismayed to see how much brand new single knitting patterns now retail for!!!  Luckily, many talented knitters are willing to share some of their patterns on the internet free of charge and I have also found that charity shops are a good source of older patterns too.  This has now led me into the world of vintage knitting patterns - some of which I obviously may use (see my H is for Hats post) but some just because they invoke such nostalgia.  I picked up this Woolworth's pattern book not so long ago
 and was immediately transported back to my childhood (no wonder I like colour so much!!!) of this type of vivid knitwear.
I have also been given my grandmother's special knitting book I can always remember which we believe dates back to the 1940s

It brings back lots of cosy memories of looking at it and thinking how elegant the ladies were in it and how I would wear things like that when I grew up!

Let me know what you think :)

V is for Viking freebie
I made this resource in response to the situation facing another special needs teacher over in the USA, Jannike over at who is a definite Viking!!  Sometimes when things aren't going well we all need to be able to vent as well as send each other a hug over the internet. 
 I think once again those in special education are all struggling to square the circle between the wonderful students who keep us amazed at their grit and determination versus a school system that sees everything in terms of "academic grades" on a very uneven playing field :(

Wishing everyone a very restful and enjoyable weekend :)

Friday, 24 April 2015

U is for Unfair, Uncomplicated and Unpicking

Almost there but now we are on to some of the trickier letter of the A to Z Challenge!

Today's post is also combined with
just so I don't neglect my teaching blogger buddies :)

First - my little April Shower numbers - although it has to be said that April has been a lovely month so far!!

I am currently undertaking the A to Z Challenge so I have been busy again this week :)

Unfair- I often hear this from children "It's so unfair" or "It's not fair" when something happens they don't agree with.  I really like this quote:

So this is what I explain to the children - if someone has something someone else wants - would that person want EVERYTHING that someone had e.g. same hair, same lunch, same mum? because that would make it fair getting everything the same - children do stop & think and once again I am so pleased to report that even young children soon learn that unfair does not exist because there is always a reason in MY class why we do not have the same as everyone else and therefore we are FAIR to everyone!!

Uncomplicated - I will hold my hands up and say that I often have to think hard on how I will explain something because often what we as teachers take for granted can be too complicated for some children to take in.  Trying to teach in an uncomplicated manner is difficult at times but we need to try to rethink how others might perceive what we've said and how they might get the wrong message or not understand it.  Seeing these problems before they happen is something we get more familiar with the longer we teach but we always need to be aware that some children may be struggling with a concept because we have not been uncomplicated enough!

Unpicking - I know this seems to be the opposite of crafting something but as many will attest when something goes wrong with your sewing, embroidery, knitting etc then finding ways to undo the things you have just done is a craft in itself!!

A stitch ripper is a very useful piece of kit
I find when dealing with problems caused by sewing machines - e.g. when I managed to sew three layers of material together when making curtains!!!  Sewing machine stitches are quite solid and tight to the stitch ripper allows the thread to be cut far easier than with a pair of scissors.

Using a bodkin needle is also something I turn to when unpicking wrong stitches on tapestry, cross-stitch or embroidery mainly because I sometimes find an ordinary needle will unfortunately tear the thread whereas a bodkins rounded tip does far less damage :)

With knitting I'm afraid I have no special tips - it's just take it carefully back to the mistake and then try to pick up all the stitches carefully back onto your needles!

What helpful hints do you have when things go wrong in your craft world?

Freebie for U is :
click on the button above for this new clipart to keep off those April showers :)

April is a busy month this year with very special birthdays for both my dad and my son :)  I was going to make both of their cards but ran out of time before my dad's - I might still be able to for No. 1 son before the post on Monday?

St George's Day yesterday so lots of red & white flags and stories of dragons - hurray!!

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

T is for Targeting, Time and Tapestry

I don't know why this post has suddenly decided to appear on Wednesday rather than Thursday - I will try to sort it out if I can!!

Targets - For some children there are so many gaps in their learning that it necessary to focus on just a few at a time to stop everyone becoming overwhelmed.  Individual Education Plans (I.E.P.s) are a good way to let everyone know what these targets will be over the next 6 weeks and allow opportunities for extra learning sessions, differentiation to be enabled and progress plotted.

The most important factor is that the student sets or at least chooses their targets whenever possible as it is far easier to achieve goals if you are interested and have a stake in them!!  I have also found in the past that being able to teach small groups also allows more precision teaching of lessons that can take into account personal targets for each child or in some cases where children may have similar targets for learning a particular thing - e.g. number bonds to 10 - blocks of lessons can be tailored that give plenty of repetition and access to new ways at looking at something.

Some children like to have their targets printed on separate pieces of card clipped on a key ring that they can then have on their desk to show which target they are working on - this helps others to focus on that too (e.g. teacher & support staff)

What are your views on how targets can be achieved?  Or how they are set?

Time - I often wish that I had more time to share with my students (when I was a full time classroom teacher home time often over ran because as a class we were doing something we didn't want to stop - although I was always careful if it was raining - don't want soggy parents!!) because I rarely have children that do not want to have that more individual teaching, or chance to talk or simply be in someone's company.  

Another useful tool when helping children who are struggling with emotive issues is Time Out - this allows a child to leave the learning zone and retire to their own special place - often to calm down - and then they can return when they are ready to learn again.  This is of course difficult to manage if you are a single teacher in a classroom and are still expected to ensure that that particular child's learning of the lesson is not affected!!  It works far better if there are additional adults in class who can give the extra support needed.

Tapestry - I love skeins of tapestry wool - they come in so many beautiful colours and feel soft and bouncy in your hand :)  I have had a go at various tapestry kits including this one based on a Mary Queen of Scots coin:

but one of the easiest and therefore quite relaxing ones to do was using a bargello stitch - 
As you can see the stitch just goes top to bottom and once you have your first line established the rest just fits in.

How has anyone else got on with using tapestry wool and what did you make?

T is for Time freebie - I have quite a few games to buy with a learning to tell the time theme on TpT but my freebie combines language learning with starting to tell the time in French :)

S is for Singing, Swimming & Sewing

So Sorry - Speedy & Short - Special "S"ircumstances!!

Singing - I have been a Sing-Up trained teacher for a number of years and have found songs to be an excellent way for children to learn facts, become more socalised as well as have a great time singing :)  It doesn't matter if you are not the best at singing because performing is so much more than that and those children with special needs can be those that light up a stage by their sheer enjoyment and whole hearted pleasure in singing with others.

Swimming - is an excellent way for some children to gain more independence, have greater control over their bodies, improve breathing etc particularly if the swimming can take place in very small groups and in a hydro-therapy pool - ask your local special school if they have one and if so are they willing for others to use it - I did and it has reaped great rewards!

Sewing - this is such a useful skill.  It allows for the replacement of a button, the joining of material, making your own clothes, mending your own clothes, creating stuffed animals and other gifts and all it takes is a needle and thread.  I was going to show you some of my sewing that I have done over the years but I have just realised I cannot take any photos at the moment so that will have to wait until sometime later.

Freebie is a book - I have allowed it to be editable so please feel free to add or change things - I'd love some pictures - let me know what you think?

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

R is for Repetition, Reading and Rag Rugs

Repetition - it sounds so boring - right?  But it is essential for certain learning to take place so the aim of the game is to make it fun, make it different - allow children to repeat and practise things without becoming bored by it.  That's why I like creating games, making a child competitive so they strive to beat their score, suggesting they'll never be able to do this even better this time!!

It's difficult to get the balance right - repetition so they can learn how to do something and master it and this brings it's own reward but without them becoming bored or turned off.  I think that's why we need to be flexible - if a child asks to do something again let them and if another child says they've had enough then don't flog a dead horse - but this does mean we need a flexible timetable - which is becoming harder and harder as more demands are made on teachers.

I can remember being at school and afternoons often being times when we could choose what we wanted to do (the perfect time for repetitive play/learning to take place) nowdays afternoons are spent teaching all of the rest of the curriculum because maths and literacy are taught in the morning so there is little time for children to practise any of their skills and feel confident in their learning.

Sorry this seems to be turning into a RANT!!!

READING - possibly the most important skill any child could learn.  And following on from the above - children need to repeatedly read to maximise their potential as you can see from this
amazing graphic.

This comes from an outstanding teacher's blog post - please visit to see the full post

And just think how much we learn when we read - I know just by taking part in this challenge and reading 10 new blogs a day I am amassing loads of new information and I consider myself quite well educated!!!!

Rag Rugs - I have made a number of rugs (some were maybe mats because they were small) over the years - using french knitting, latch hooking, tapestry and weaving to accomplish them. However, I would love to make a rag rug!!  So far I have bought the hessian and a number of garments that will become shredded to make the rags - I just need to get myself a "rugger" and I will be away - 
                                        (Photo courtesy of

I was hoping to get started before Christmas as it seemed a traditional "sit-by-the-fire" type of craft but I wasn't organised enough so hopefully this will be a craft I can look forward to as we come to the end of this year (which will help me feel better as the weather gets colder and the days get shorter).

I wanted to share some pics of what others have done and what maybe I could aspire to :)

I think I would like to do one in yellows and reds to go in my sitting room - what colours would you use if you made a rag rug?

Finally - freebie for R is this Rabbit Writing set that features different writing pages - which I am not securing in pdf so that you can size it precisely for what you need - as I know it can be really annoying if you can't make it how you would like for your class/student.  Please enjoy :)

Monday, 20 April 2015

Q is for Questions, Quotes & Quilling

And a big hello as I return to internet connectivity!!  I now realise I was a wally and forgot to hit publish so my blog posts didn't appear last week, however they are now all there for any comments to be made retrospectively - a big thank you to those who have already :)

Questions - I have found through working with children on the special needs register it is really important to listen to the questions THEY ask - this often gives a really big insight into the way they see the world or where their learning problem lies.

But you need to give children the power to ask questions as often they think that asking a question is a sign of weakness and inability that shouldn't be shown in front of their peers.  That's why not only do I regularly reward children who ask questions and give them plenty of praise for asking but I also try to teach asking questions.

Work at the start of a topic can be about what we want to find out so we need to think of questions we will investigate the answers to in order to learn new things.  When we are learning we can find out how others learnt this or how they remember things by questioning our partners.  We can swap roles in the classroom and a child has to elicit knowledge from the class - so they have to ask the questions - and boy can they drill deep at times!!

Due to this ease of asking questions nothing is then off limits so a child who asks "How did you know to put the number there?" immediately alerts me to the fact that they do not understand something fundamental in their maths working or "Why do we say Big Elephants Always Understand Small Elephants?" lets me know they haven't got the principle of mnemonics for spelling.  Even bigger things sometimes spring up like, "How do I know which way to start writing?" - possible dyslexic tendencies or even "Who's going to be here tomorrow?" - possible hard of hearing problems/short term memory difficulties.

A short pack containing questions based around dinosaurs is my freebie today - so have a look it may contain something useful for your pupils :)

Quotes - last year this was one of my most popular posts on the A to Z Challenge - mainly because I think a good quote speaks volumes and some of the pictures that go with them are wonderful.  So here are a few new ones I've come across that have a link to special needs :)

and finally one that probably should be my mantra :)

Quilling - over the years I have had chances to have a go at this craft - at drop-in sessions at craft shows and once when talking to a very nice lady on a craft stall raising money for Macmillan nurses.  I have only really seen it used for cards such as this simple one I made
but when I was looking to see examples of better cards I came across loads of earrings made by quilling -
These examples are taken from an amazing quilling artist - Erin Curet who can be found at:

so maybe I will have a go at doing some of these - don't know how robust they are though???

Q is for Questions with a Dinosaur Twist!!
Click to download