I never get tired of reading the following Christmas books.    I shared new titles that I added to my library last.   But these titles are some of my favorites from Christmas past. And there is no such thing as too many Christmas books.   Since these books are not the newest titles, you can find most in your school and public libraries.

Silver Packages:  An Appalachian Christmas Story
by Cynthia Rylant
illustrated by Chris K. Soentipiet

A Christmas train travels through the Appalachia Mountains each year on December 23.   A rich man tosses presents from the train to the children who wait for the train on the special day each year.    More than once, I have cried while reading this beautiful story.

Santa Calls by William Joyce

Since it is set in Abilene, Texas, this holiday book is a must read for all Texans.   But anyone who is a fan of Christmas adventures will love this book.  Children Art, Esther and Spaulding are invited to the North Pole by Santa himself because he needs their help.    This captivating story never ages.

Too Many Tamales 
by Gary Soto
illustrated by Ed Martinez

First off, who can possibly resist tamales at Christmas?   The strong traditions of Maria's family are front and center in this book.   All is going well, until Mama's beautiful diamond ring goes missing.   The solution of eating the tamales to find the missing ring sounds like a good idea at the time to Maria and the kids in her family.  Warning:  you may crave tamales after eating this book.

Tree of Cranes by Allen Say

The beauty that Say is able to create with his words and illustrations is flawless in this book.   No matter who I read the book to, their reaction is all the same.   Two thumbs-up from students on the story of a young Japanese boy who experiences unconditional love.   As a follow-up, students love learning to make their own origami paper cranes.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
by Robert L. May
illustrated by Antonio Javier Caparo

The story of Rudolph is perfectly accompanied by Caparo's illustrations.    There is just something magical about a red-nosed reindeer coming to Santa's rescue and flying the skies on Christmas Eve.

How the Reindeer Got Their Antlers
by Gerald McCaughrean
illustrated by Heather Holland

Because the reindeer is ashamed of her "ugly crown" she retreats to the North for thousands of years. But the reindeer prove to be quite helpful to a man with a red suit and white beard.    

The Christmas Wish
by Lori Evert
photographs by Per Breiehagen

Little Anja's greatest wish was to be a Christmas elf.   Anja's journey is photographed for children to experience the magic of Christmas.

Welcome Comfort by Patricia Polacco

It is my belief that Patricia Polacco simply cannot write a bad book.   Her rich background of storytelling is alive and well in this holiday title.    

Bear Noel by Olivier Dunrea

When winter arrives, the animals begin looking for Bear Noel who always shows up in time for Christmas.   Animal fans will love the gorgeous illustrations of the woodland animals.

Hope you enjoyed this look at some wonderful Christmas books!

Hi, it's Amy.   I am sharing some of my new read-aloud books for the library during the month of December.  Naturally, I have my favorite books that I love to read each and every year.   So to mix it up, I like to add some recently published titles to my library.   

New books you'll want on your Christmas list!

I hope y'all enjoy the crazy, wonderful times that December brings!

Note: this post contains affiliate links, which means that if you buy, we may get a small commission at no cost to you.

First up, The Snowy Nap is the magnificent Jan Brett's newest title! Hedgie the adorable hedgehog returns for a stunning new book.   This book is perfect for those who prefer a more winter-focused title, rather than full-out Christmas story.   Little Hedgie does not want to nap through winter this year missing the snowflakes, frozen lakes, icicles and snowmen. Be sure to read with Brett's companion, The Hat for all things Hedgie!

Let's get sparkly with A Unicorn Named Sparkle's First Christmas by Amy Young.   It is not Sparkle's fault that he would rather play than shop for Lucy's Christmas present.   I mean, he is a unicorn!   Find out what happens when Lucy purchases unicorn horn polish, a box of rainbow ribbon candy, and a stuffed unicorn for her best friend.   And Sparkle does not purchase anything on Lucy's long list of suggested gifts.

I have a gorgeous book for those who are looking for a wordless book.   If you love using The Snowman by Raymond Briggs to teach storytelling, try Richard Johnson's Once Upon a Snowstorm this year.  A father and son live in the woods and become separated from each other as they walk in a winter snowstorm.   The woodland animals quickly accept and care for the boy.  Animal lovers will love this 2018 publication.

Elfie the Elf by Cheryl DeVleeschouwer is a such a cute book.    A grandmother tells her grandchildren the "secret" story that she has never told anyone about when she was a little girl.   A lost blue elf needs her help to be reunited with Santa himself.

Zetta the Poinsettia is a fantastic way to celebrate Poinsettia Day on December 12.   Author Alma Hammond explains the flowering plant is one of the most popular purchases around the holidays.   Little Zetta wants to be purchased from her store so she can enjoy all the holiday festivities with a family.

New Books Coming Soon

Hugs & Kisses for The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle
Publisher's Release Date:  December 18

Carle's famous ladybug is timeless.    Here is a new book by Carle with his signature collage style illustrations and message of friendship.

Penguin Flies Home by Lita Judge
Publisher's Release Date:  January 15

Penguin heads back home to the South Pole to teach his friends how to fly in his very unique way.    But, of course, there is a problem.

Teaching Bible truths is a key part of special-needs ministry. Effective lessons require repetition and addressing learning and physical needs. Here are 6 ways to teach students.

Address special needs while teaching Bible truths

#1 - Use The Bible

God's Word is The Bible. Always use The Bible. This shows children that you are reading or speaking from the truth.

#2 - Supplement with kid-friendly resources

We have The Storybook Bible. I love the language and pictures in it. It's more appealing to children who like color and want to look at pictures. 

Wait, what? Didn't I just say to use The Bible? Yes - that's for you the adult. It's hard for many of our children to sit at the table with nothing. We give them things to look at.

Another resource we use is interactive books. The children can look at pictures and text. They also get to move the pictures to match the story. 
Use interactive books in ministry to help children learn Bible truths.

#3 - Repeat, repeat, repeat

It can take up to 10-50 (!) times to learn a new word. Repetition is important. With different child-friendly Bibles and story supplements, it's easier to get in repetition. 

The adult reads (or paraphrases) a verse or short set of verses from The Bible. Then, volunteers point out what the child-friendly Bibles and supplements say.

The NIV version of Ruth 2:17-18 from the picture above says: So Ruth gleaned into the field until evening. Then she threshed the barley she had gathered, and it amounted to about an ephah. She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gathered. Ruth also brought out and gave her what she had left over after she had eaten enough.

There is a LOT of vocabulary in those verses that my children are not going to understand or relate to. Gleaning, threshed, barley, and ephah? So I'm going to take those out.

While holding and referring to The Bible, I would simplify the language to: Ruth worked in the field until the sun went down. She took the wheat she gathered. She took the wheat to her mother-in-law Naomi. They had food to eat. God took care of Ruth and Naomi.

The changes don't change the meaning of the verses. The changes just mean that I am using language that the children can understand and relate to more.

Next, we'll look at the child-friendly Bibles and the interactive books. I'll describe the pictures and read the text in the interactive books. I'll repeat "God took care of Ruth and Naomi" with each child.

For those two verses, I've now gotten in the Bible verses and 2-8 repetitions. Yeah, I know that's not close to the 10-50 repetitions we need - that will be in the next blog post. It's a start.

TIP: If you have volunteers who are new, hesitant, or competitive, tell them what you're focusing on, in this case, "God takes care of Ruth and Naomi" or "God takes care of me." Give the volunteers a pen and paper. Tell the volunteers to make a tally mark every time they hear a volunteer say the Bible truth of the day. New and hesitant volunteers will be appreciative for something easy and useful to do. Competitive volunteers will start trying to get tally marks, which means tons more repetition for students!

#4 - Ask the children to repeat the Bible truth

After the story, I'll tell the children, "God took care of Ruth and Naomi. He gave them food to eat. What does God do?"

The children will say, "God takes care of me."

Got a child (or children) who won't say it? Yeah, me, too. 

For nonverbal children, say, "God takes care of YOU," while emphasizing the YOU and pointing to them.

For children who are limited verbally, have them complete the Bible truth. "God takes care of..." and wait for them to say, "me!" If they don't respond, finish it for them. It's Bible instruction. We want to make it fun, positive, and practical, not force children into doing things they don't want to yet.

It's easy to give up when a child doesn't participate like you think they should. Don't give up! Keep trying. Most will eventually get what you're expecting and respond. Even if the children don't respond, they're getting lots of repetition and understanding.

#5 - Allow fidgets

We let children have one fidget each. I mean, how hard is it for us as adults to pay attention without clicking our pens, changing our seating positions, or looking around?

Be sure to set expectations for the fidgets - one per child only, and eyes must be on the teacher or resource, not on the fidget. You'll want to have things like squishy balls and different textures of fabric that feel good but don't want to make the child look at them.

#6 - Look at seating

Our ministry is lucky to have a PT (physical therapist.) I'm always amazed with PT/OTs walk in and say, "That table is too high/low" or "He needs a bigger/smaller chair." We are able to adjust our seating for comfort, but our special-needs children are not always able to do that or tell us they are uncomfortable. 

It's amazing how much changing the table height and other small adjustments can make in student participation. Find someone who knows about motor skills and use their suggestions.

Whew! That's a lot! Here's the recap:
#1 - Use The Bible
#2 - Supplement with child-friendly resources
#3 - Repeat, repeat, repeat
#4 - Ask the children to repeat the Bible truth
#5 - Allow fidgets
#6 - Look at seating

If you want to come back to this post, just pin this image: 
Address learning and physical needs in special-needs ministry
Thanks for reading. Next time, we'll talk about activities that get in more repetitions with Bible truths.

Other blog posts in this series:

If you're interested in the interactive Bible books, you can click HERE. Disclaimer: I make and sell these books through a Teachers pay Teachers store, All Y'all Need

Special-needs ministry. Where to start with this? How about at my story's beginning? And I'll share with you what I have learned. Yes, you read that right. The first lessons in serving begin with what God taught me.
Hi, I'm Laura. In August 2016, my youngest was headed to college. I was looking forward to doing empty-nest things with my husband. And then, Jim volunteered us for special-needs ministry.

What?!? I wanted an easy ministry. I'm an SLP (speech-language pathologist) in the public schools, and Jim is a middle-school counselor. How about a ministry without kids? In fact, how about an adult Sunday School where we just listened and participated?

Yep, you know the answer. God had other plans.

And here we are today, in a bright and shiny suite - with space, toys, and sensory items - designed to serve.
Oh, there were things in the middle of volunteering and where our ministry is today, lots of things.

When I first showed up, I'm sure a had a deer-in-the-headlights look. The special-needs room was not built for the ministry. There was also some transition going on - the program was growing, some children were heading towards the teen years, and new children with more needs were moving in.

And, our church was getting ready to totally remodel all of the children's wing.

One of the volunteers graciously started heading up the special-needs ministry. Our church leadership recognized the need and created a position. Another volunteer started working with the teens. More children started attending. Without our church leadership recognizing the need to minister to children and families, we would have gone nowhere.

Lesson #1 - Church leadership has to be invested in the ministry.

With anywhere from 15-20% of children having a disability and 1 in 7 being on the autism spectrum, ministering to children is no longer an option. It's a must. We can do a lot as individuals and teams. Without support from church leadership, we are spinning our wheels. The leadership at my church recognized that and put a lot of thought (and money) into future plans.

Lesson #2 - We needed a plan.

Another early lesson learned was - we needed a plan. From safety issues to medical issues, each child had varying needs. Our director set up input forms for parents that included information about the child's needs and preferences and contact information. Many entry forms are long, and they should be, so we can best serve the children. I've made you a free form for first-time visitors. It's only one page, gets the basics, and isn't as intimidating for parents and guardians used to filling out mound of paperwork. You can get the About Me form by clicking HERE.

Lesson #3 - God gave me skills.

As an SLP in public schools, IEPs are my life. At church, I could play, I could love, I could talk. I didn't have to worry about IEPs. But then I found that speech therapy skills transfer over into my life. One Sunday, our lesson was about Esther. When a child played with blocks, I talked about Esther being a queen and living in a castle, and that's what we built. Other volunteers picked up on that, which led to a discussion about our children needing repetition. And I've learned from others. It's a team effort. God didn't give just me skills, he gave us all skills. We need to recognize that and use our skills, not hide them.

Lesson #4 - The Purpose.

One thing I personally struggled with was - what's our purpose? Is it to take care of the children so parents can worship without worrying? Or is it to teach Bible truths to the children? Well, yes. Part of our mission for His Kids (the name of our ministry) is: "It is a time for families to participate in Sunday morning church, for students with special needs to learn about Jesus in a loving and supportive environment..."

WHEW! Not exactly the easy empty-nester ministry I had been hoping for. The ministry moved to a portable for several months during renovations. There wasn't much space, there weren't ideal toileting facilities, and it was kind of a "make it till the remodel finishes" time.

But now we have a wonderful space, thanks to our director and church leadership! Let me show you around.

An entrance just for special-needs families. It's near the accessible parking. Children who feel overwhelmed walking through crowds can use this entrance. The doors lock so that we can monitor who comes in. And, they can also lock for safety in the case of runners or people not in the ministry.
We have materials to teach Bible truths with.
My favorite part is this cozy corner. With crash pads and weighted blankets, it will be a good calm-down space or comforting place for a child who needs it.
The lights in this room can be dimmed so that sensory objects can be used for calming or engaging with children.
There's also a fun light table.

Here is our space for children as they get older. The couch and "hang-out" atmosphere are more age-appropriate for children who have moved past the toy cars and Legos.

We now have age-appropriate bathroom stalls and a changing station.

To summarize, here are the lessons learned so far:
1) Church leadership must be invested in special-needs ministry.
2) A plan is needed for safety and medical concerns.
3) Use the skills God gives us.
4) Set up the room for the purpose of ministering to the children.

Want to come back to this article? Pin this picture, and you can come right back to this post from Pinterest!
Getting church leadership invested, setting up a special-needs church room, and using God-given skills are important lessons.

Thanks for reading. I'll be back soon with the next post in this series, Teaching The Story.
Happy Summer! Time for resting, beach time, family, and SLP life. Yep, being an SLP never ends. That doesn't mean it has to consume us. Here are 3 tips to help you through the summer.

1) Rest

The end of the school year is crazy! We've been cramming in meetings, staying up late to write reports, and getting all the service time in.

Take some time to enjoy life without an alarm clock, a night where you're not wondering what the next day's therapy will bring, and all the bathroom breaks you want! Don't feel guilty about having some time to recharge. The summer is a factor in choosing to work in the schools in the first place. There are many days that you are making more withdrawals in your personal bank account than deposits. Feel free to make a few deposits.

2) Stop searching for balance

Speaking of freedom, here's a big one - there is no such thing as balance.

Searching for balance is an impossible task. You'll never be able to even out family and work. Summer break is not going to balance out all of the work we do during the school year. If we try to do that, we are going to be exhausted. 

That's not to say there aren't priorities and responsibilities. I still have the responsibilities to take care of chores and bills. I still have priorities during the day.
But balance? Counting time and making sure everything is even is for the birds. It's a myth. Once I stopped searching for the elusive balance and focused on responsibilities and priorities, a burden was lifted. 

3) You're still an SLP

We keep learning during the summer. Whether it's CEUs, reading about best practices, or working with our own children, we are still SLPs. And vacation? My family has simultaneously told me to leave my "SLP mind" at home while asking about nearby children they are concerned about. That situation even led me to this blog post of princess names.

If you're getting together with family and friends, be prepared to have an observation ready to go when someone asks you, "Do you think my child needs speech therapy?" It's just something about our field. I don't offer my opinions unless asked. I'm happy to discuss concerns and questions as they come up.

I've taken CEUs during some summers and totally taken off other summers. It depends on what the topics are, the dates (I won't change vacation dates for CEUs), and how many hours I need. Last summer, I got in hours during the ASHA Connect conference with friends - it was a wonderful combination of relationships and CEUs!
From left to right: Mia from Putting Words in Your Mouth, me, Pam from Chit Chat and Small Talk, Mary from Old School Speech, Annie from Doyle Speech Works, Tracy from GoldCountrySLP, and Carly.

This summer, I don't have any CEUs scheduled. I'll have to be more aware of getting in my hours during the school year. Fortunately, TSHA offers great sessions!

Rest, prioritize instead of balancing, and keep up your skills. Here's to a wonderful summer!
Rest, stop searching for balance, and keep learning

Ah, summer!

Time for going outside, swimming, vacationing, and... practicing communication skills!

The Frenzied SLPs are hosting a linky party with LOTS of ideas for speech and language practice during the summer.

I know what you're thinking because I'm thinking the exact same things. First, I'm seeing a lot of progress with many students at right now, and I want that to continue, so I'm sending homework to parents.

Also me: Parents don't do the homework during the school year, so why would I expect them to during the summer?

And me: Kids should just be kids during the summer!

I have little experience with my own daughter. Yep, I'm an SLP who named her daughter a name that STARTS with /r/. It wasn't the first choice for her name, but when that didn't work out, the /r/ name was the only one my husband and I agreed on. I blame the fact that I had natural childbirth, and not by choice. No one believed me when I told them I was in labor and it was too late for an epidural.

With my daughter R, I quickly found out that working on artic all day was not going to cut it. We agreed to work on it only in the car - win for me since those were the days of driving to dance and baseball. And you know what? She worked on /r/ in the car, I didn't worry about it the rest of the time, and everything worked out nicely.

Our Students NEED to Practice Their Skills During the Summer

So students don't practice during the week. They are still getting therapy. During the summer, that's 2-3 months with no therapy. Practice is important!

Calendars provide an easy visual for parents, a short time for kids to practice communication skills, and they are easy to keep track of.

I use summer homework from A Perfect Blend. I like the calendars and the ability to print in B&W and then copy onto color paper. The colors will make the packet stand out to parents, and they can just post the calendar on their refrigerators!

Frenzied SLP Schoolhouse Talk has some free calendars that come in color and B&W for articulation and language. Again, having the option to print in B&W and copy onto solid color paper is a big plus!

TIP: Wanna make sure the homework gets home? Copy the final progress report onto color paper and staple it on top. Students are more likely to take home report cards.

That covers getting the homework calendars home and letters to parents stressing the importance of practicing.

Kids Should Be Kids!

I totally agree with this. Summer is a time to rest, experience new things, and have fun. That doesn't mean summer is a time to stop learning.

I took both of my kids to the local library for summer reading programs. They loved picking out books and getting prizes like stickers and ice cream at local restaurants. The library also had programs with exotic animals and magic tricks. My kids didn't even know they were still learning because it was so much fun!

I loved having an indoor summer activity with A/C!

It's summer easy - we just had to sign up, and it was free. Check with your library and see if they have a program. Then pass the word to parents.

Be sure to click on the links below for more ideas!
Matching games, Memory, Concentration - whatever you call it - can add some fun and are a good alternative to solid drill and kill. There can be some problems in mixed groups - the artic students get the cards without their sounds, the language students can't remember where the matches are in a large visual field, and there is always one student who snatches up all the matches in half the therapy time.

I'm left without good data, extra time in therapy, and unhappy students who didn't get enough turns.

I need more control in these games.
Much like board games and balance games, I've turned matching games into cooperative games.

I'm not against competition. I am all for using therapy time efficiently, and the usual Memory rules mess that up. I always have one student who gets a match and then runs through the rest of the matches. Artic students don't want to say words if a another student gets their match. Some students immediately give up because there are too many cards to remember.

My first solution is to halve the cards. It's pretty easy to do so with cards from Super Duper Inc. because they are numbered and lettered, as in 1A, 1B.

These cards are also easy to separate because there is a word on one side and a question on the other.
speech therapy memory games
After the cards are separated, I can control which one students are looking for. I distribute one pile to the group. This works well in mixed groups. I can give the /s/ cards to the artic student. I can choose the vocabulary words the student needs to work on. Students are matching cards containing their IEP objectives. I get data.

By passing out half of the piles, the visual field is automatically reduced. Students who are easily frustrated by a tableful of blank white cards can breathe easier. There aren't as many cards to remember.

The next adjustment I make is that students only get one turn at a time. Even if a student gets a match, we move on. That way, the one student with the perfect visual memory isn't sweeping up all the cards.

Once a student finds all of the matches, a small reward is offered - a smelly smiley, a sticker, or high five. By taking one turn at a time, the group usually finishes the game around the same time. If the group is having trouble waiting for turns, I make the whole group wait until everyone finds their matches before giving a reward.

Don't be afraid to run very small matching games. In self-contained rooms, I've given students 1-2 cards to match. For students who have a primary eligibility other than speech, a big matching game can be too much. By giving them a visual and only putting 2-4 upside down cards on the table, they can work on turn-taking while also having fun "finding" their matches.

If you like these tips, be sure to pin this post for future reference.

 How to turn matching games into cooperative games in speech therapy to address student IEPs and work efficiently
I've also turned other types of games into cooperative games. Read more at:
How to Turn Board Games into Cooperative Games
How to Turn Balance Games into Cooperative Games

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