Special Education with Care

MVA Special Education Department Update

January 2021

Hello wonderful MVA parents,

It is so hard to believe that winter break is over and 2021 is upon us! We hope that everyone had a safe and relaxing time with their families. We are excited for a new year and the sense of renewal it brought with it during these challenging times. Once again, we are so grateful for all the students and parents that bring joy to us on a daily basis.

In This Issue

  • Did You Know: Renewed Commitment to Organization;
  • Feature Teachers: Meet your Education Specialists/Case Managers;
  • Academic Resources: Science Notebooks;
  • Behavior Bits: Social Stories for Navigating Covid-19;
  • Sensory Corner: Sensory Strategies for Learning;
  • Caught On The Net: Helpful Websites and Apps
  • Transition Services Corner: Transition Newsletter


What is it about the new year that brings about this instinctual desire to do better? We all want a fresh start in our new year. There are so many great ideas for goals in our independent study school setting, but recommitting to and revisiting your learning organization with your students should set a solid foundation for a successful second semester in school. Here are some tips to help keep you on track.


My name is Cristin Blazek and I teach Specialized Academic Instruction in the area of reading comprehension and writing for TK-2nd grade students. We use the Handwriting Without Tears (HWOT), Building Writers and Reading A-Z Curriculums. During our writing sessions we practice letters, word and sentence writing within the HWOT curriculum. We use a variety of the HWOT tools including: model videos, wet-dry-try, wood piece practice and writing in our workbooks. During our reading sessions, we listen to or read-aloud stories. These activities would typically be followed-up by a hands-on activity where students "click and drag" pieces, sequencing the story or complete a worksheet answering questions from the story. I love working with my students and getting the opportunity to see them excel in their reading and writing abilities!


Science Notebooks

Keeping a science notebook encourages students to record and reflect on inquiry-based observations, activities, investigations, and experiments. Student scientists record their observations, ideas, drawings, and other illustrations such as charts, tables, models, and graphs, along with their questions, ideas, and reflections in a running record of their thinking. A notebook may follow a general organization, but the contents can vary from student to student.

Model how to use a science notebook before, during, and after a science experiment or observation. Writing frames for science notebook entries modeled by the teacher and co-created with students provide excellent scaffolding for struggling students. The use of visual entries such as drawings, charts, graphs, diagrams, models, and so on also allow students to make entries even if they are struggling with writing.

Take dictation related to these drawings, and so forth, for students to model the writing down of their observations and ideas. A list of the science vocabulary needed for the notebooks can be posted in the room and each student provided with a copy, and materials used for the science notebooks can be labeled so that students can copy the words into their notebooks when needed.

Writing frames for science notebook entries can look as such:

  • "I observed...."
  • "I (saw, smelled, felt, heard)...."
  • "My (experiment, investigation) was...."
  • "I found that...."
  • "I think this because...."

While each science notebook organization will vary according to the grade level, interests, abilities, and individual needs of the students, here are the parts of science notebooks to consider:

Big picture

Practice the Science Notebook skills with your student using these Virtual Lab resources:

Free Science Reading Resources Your Students Will Love!


Social Stories for Navigating Covid-19

Social stories can be used to teach children about a new skill or situation using simple language and pictures. They can be especially helpful for preparing children with autism or other developmental delays to navigate new social expectations or situations. During the Covid-19 pandemic, adults and children are being asked to observe and follow several new guidelines, such as staying home as often as possible, social distancing, wearing face masks, and communicating with family, friends, and teachers over the Internet or phone instead of in person. You can find different videos and materials on Covid-19 for children online and choose the ones that suit your family the most. We have provided some useful links below. Here is an example of a social story about wearing a mask and may be helpful for your student in navigating these unprecedented times:

Wearing a Mask - Coronavirus Social Story


Sensory Strategies For Learning

In our last edition, we discussed Sensory Processing challenges and their characteristics. Now, we would like to share some tips and tools for students with sensory processing needs in the independent study environment. While you may not be able to integrate all of these strategies, if you can simply use a few new tools each day to help your child regulate and make sense of the sensory world around him or her, your homeschooling day will go more smoothly.

Sensory Mover Tips:

If you have a mover and shaker who is constantly on the go, loves loud noises, new textures, and bright lights, you most likely have a sensory seeker. This child craves movement, sensory experiences, and activity. For this type of child, it’s important to incorporate specific sensory input into the learning routine. Use the following list of sensory strategies to help you match your child’s input craving with the right product or learning strategy.

  • Do then teach! Allow your sensory seeker to be active in the learning process.
  • Touch as much as possible. A firm touch, bear hug, massage, or added weight will help your seeker be able to focus.
  • Monitor and limit noises, visual stimuli (such as lights and bright colors on walls), and temperature.
  • Opportunities for exercise and heavy work are key, especially before learning. Try carrying, pushing against a wall, wheelbarrow walks, biking, jumping on a trampoline, etc.
  • Use manipulatives whenever possible to engage the body in the learning process.
  • Engage the senses of taste and smell — chew gum, use smelling markers or crayons, use food in a lesson.

Sensory Avoider Tips

Sensory avoiders typically thrive on structure and familiarity, are rigid and rule-oriented, become overwhelmed by sensory inputs and feel it more intensely, are often irritable and startle easily. Sensory avoiders react intensely to sensory input including sound, touch, smell, and sight. If you have a sensory avoider, it’s important to control the sensory inputs so you can help them process their environment. Using the following list of sensory strategies will help you match the environment’s inputs with the right product or learning strategy:

    • Monitor volume, temperature, activity level, visual stimuli, etc., closely.
    • Use headphones, weighted blankets or lap pads to help your child attend BEFORE learning.
    • Create a visual schedule and stick to it! Predictability is key.
    • Give your child plenty of space to move, and avoid unexpected touch or noises.
    • Allow your child to choose clothing, the place to sit, etc. Share power!
    • Teach your child to self-assess and verbalize his or her feelings and sensory needs using a feeling or sensory chart.

              Whether your child seeks sensory stimulation or avoids it, you will benefit from having a sensory kit ready and waiting to help your child regulate and engage his or her senses. Here are some inexpensive products and strategies that work for all kids who need sensory support before learning:

              • Olfactory and oral input (smell and taste): scented crayons and markers, scented bubbles, cinnamon, gum, chewies jewelry or pencil toppers, scented candles;
              • Tactile input (touch): fidgets, playdough or moon sand, felt or VELCRO® strip under the desk, a sensory box with sand or rice, Koosh or squeeze ball, tennis ball for throwing, etc.
              • Visual input (see): lava lamp, Spirograph, spinning tops, etc.
              • Auditory input (hear): musical instruments, egg with rice inside, clickers, quiet classical music, etc.

              CAUGHT ON THE NET

              Helpful Websites and APPs

              With so many educational resources available online it is at times challenging to decide which ones to try. In each Newsletter issue, we will highlight several free educational websites or apps that support the core academic subjects as well as behavior and come from reputable organizations. We hope you will find them helpful!