Community Breakfast

Reaching the community. It’s such a difficult thing to do these days. My husband had an idea about a year ago. Let me tell you a little story.

In 2017, we moved into a home that was built in the 60’s.  Before that, the previous owners lived in the house for 40+ years! We learned very quickly that they had made a name for themselves in the community.  The neighborhood is full of home owners that have lived in this area of town for decades. And they all said the same thing. This couple that had previously lived in this house were kind. They were thoughtful. They knew how to treat their neighbors.

Shortly after getting settled, my husband (Justin) decided to start The Ahern Breakfast for the neighborhood to honor this couple that had made such an impact on others. The second Saturday of every month from 9-11 we invite people into our home for breakfast tacos and pancakes. We actually go door to door and hand out fliers. Justin posts it on the neighborhood website. It’s a staple announcement in the church bulletin.

And you know what? Every month I feel like we talk about how no will stop by and we will have a bunch of extra food. Or sometimes I wake up on a Saturday and think, ‘Maybe I’ll go to back to bed and Justin can entertain guests’ (that would’t even work anyway with 2 small children).  And don’t get me started on cleaning the house on a Friday night.

But every Saturday (even one weekend when it was raining buckets outside!), we have around 5-10 people rotate in and out for a little breakfast and conversation.  We have a couple of regulars every month like our 91 year old neighbor from across the street who occasionally bakes us the BEST banana bread. Or a recently widowed woman from our church who keeps us company and helps set the table. We also have had a lot of one timers and church friends who make it out.

And no matter how I felt before breakfast, I always feel (I’m struggling to describe an emotion here)….fulfilled.  And I don’t just mean with tacos. We made a connection.  It was a small group of people from all walks of life with different joys and struggles, yet we share experiences based on our similar location.  It’s almost strange to think how our weather, traffic, local events, and even code enforcement can connect us.  So….with that – cheers to next month!

What kind of community events have you planned?

 

Take a Peek at My Cart Companion

I have seen many rolling carts as SLP’s are quite crafty in traveling around a school building. Today, I will be showing you my therapy cart that stays right by my side. I realized after several years that I really needed my materials more organized are accessible during my therapy sessions. I seemed to have a shelf or cute decorative container that I pilled things in/on so that I could keep our table space simple and clean.

But no more!

Listen, we all know those rolling carts that were once used to carry big clunky t.v.’s from classroom to classroom are special. But now they can be used for all types of purposes. Here is how I’ve re purposed my t.v. cart – how about you?

 

 

This is the front. At some point in my career I inherited an old metal stand pictured here. It’s been incredibly useful as you can see. I have my speech therapy expectations easily visible for my students. That way throughout the session I can continue to refer back to them as needed. I also have my mini white boards, erasers, and mirrors (yay magnets!) readily accessible at all times. Oh! And the little notebook (thanks, dollar store) is where I scribble in lesson plans.

This is the back of the stand. I have an extra mirror, folders that contain very strong magnets so that I can place completed data sheets until they are ready to be entered into a database, and a random quiet prompt. I also have my blue pointer hidden back here because all the people want to play with it – all of ’em.

This is the shelf right under my metal stand. By the end of the week it’s a disaster and I have to give myself 15ish minutes to get it back into a functional state.  I always have crayons, a clipboard, and my binder of datasheets. You will also find it full of games and other materials when I am performing back to back therapy. And yes, there is also a clip chart. I don’t use it much, but when I do it’s more of a positive reinforcer than a negative. That’s probably another blog post at some point.

The very bottom shelf contains paper that I am using through out the day from craft directions to parent notes and the like. You will also see a mini binder stand that I just found at a thrift store (haven’t used it yet!), a second clipboard I use when I am going into the classroom, and plastic sleeves to write on.

Lastly, my little nook inside the metal stand. All my tiny items go here such as dot markers, scissors, glue, a counter, floss, a flashlight, and yet another mirror.

And that’s it! Maybe at some point I should post the disaster picture just for fun. How do you organize your therapy materials during your back to back sessions?

A Voice for Introverts

It has been a pretty fascinating development on how the internet has provided introverts a great platform to share their voices. There are A LOT of posts and articles out there about introverts. Some information has made me feel somewhat uncomfortable.  I have read articles almost seeming to ‘attack’ extroverts and/or making the introvert a superior type of person. I have come across writings that make the introvert seem absolutely unapproachable. Then there are the articles that make me think, ‘Isn’t this human nature? Don’t most people feel this way?’. So I am very picky when it comes to reading information related to introverts.

As a result, I want to share a book review that gives a nice work+Life fit to the idea of giving the introvert a voice.  I first heard Morra Aarons-Mele interviewed on the podcast, Extreme Productivity by Kevin Kruse. Her book entitled, Hiding in the Bathroom, described my exact actions as a Speech Pathologist in my first year! I ended up at a school that had not had good SLP support and so there were SOOO many questions from teachers – that I didn’t feel qualified to answer. Ergo, I found myself hiding in the bathroom to avoid some of those questions.

I thought her book gave such a good description in accepting yourself as you are, her own personal struggles, and how to put yourself out there. Even if you aren’t attempting to run a business, I thought it had some really interesting perspectives.

Here are few I really enjoyed:

‘Now that I’ve realized my anxiety is apart of who I am, and that, rather than fight it all the time, I embrace what it gives me, like excellent people skills, empathy, and drive”

‘Don’t think of crying in the bathroom as hiding – think of it as an opportunity to tune into what the crying is telling you’

‘Love your hermit self, but remember it’s not your entire self”

‘Just because your vision seems less ambitious than the stereotypical business powerhouse, doesn’t mean you can take it less seriously’

‘…kindness, caring, and pride in your work is one of the most powerful tools.’

‘…you should take as much pride in a teeny, low-paying, low-profile project as you do a a major one – and treat the client the same’

‘….bathroom hiders, counter intuitively, actually have a great advantage in negotiations, since we’re strongly attuned to both others and ourselves…’

‘Introversion, anxiety, and hiding in the bathroom are not weaknesses’

Have your read this book? What did you think?

My 5 Favorite Food Activities to use in Speech Therapy

I love using food in therapy. There are SO many skills you can address including social skills, life skills, sequencing vocabulary, directional concepts, descriptive language, answering/asking questions etc., etc. And to top it off, it’s highly motivating and memorable.

So here we go! Let me share with you my top 5 faves that are simple to execute, have only a few ingredients, and are kid friendly.

*It is extremely important that you know of ANY feeding issues, allergies, or diet restrictions from parent, teacher, and/or nurse before preceding with any food related activities!!*

Pudding

So simple. So cheap. My students love mixing up the TWO ingredients and seeing it change before their eyes.  It’s completely optional, but I occasionally add sprinkles to the finished product just because I always seem to have some on hand.

 

 

S’mores

Yes! Campfire, burnt marshmallows, fall weather….. making s’mores in a classroom, office, or clinic doesn’t quite have the same ambiance, but there is a simple way to get that s’more taste without starting a fire. Now, you could technically use a microwave, but I really prefer the method I share below because it’s less of a mess and there are no worries about anything getting too hot.

Here is the plan:

  • Talk about campfires, burnt marshmallows, and fall weather
  • Read books or show videos/pictures about s’mores and/or camping
  • Break a graham cracker in half
  • Spread the chocolate on one cracker
  • Spread the marshmallow cream on the other cracker
  • Put the two pieces of graham cracker together like a sandwich
  • Eat
  • Talk about the similarities/differences between s’more made over a campfire and the ones you just ate

 

Fish in the Ocean

You may have seen this one floating around (I kill me) on pinterest looking ah-mazing. I nailed it by super simplifying it to three easy-to-find ingredients. There are a lot of great ocean themed books out there but most recently I have been reading Way Down Deep in the Deep Blue Sea by Jan Peck. It’s really cute with great pictures to discuss.

And listen – you can buy the white icing and the blue food dye if you want, but if you need a cheaper/quicker way to crank out this activity to multiple groups you can purchase blue icing that includes sprinkles that LOOK LIKE FISH. I’m in love.

 

 

Cookie Decorating

I don’t think this needs much explanation but it can take two seconds to complete and two seconds to eat.  I usually break out this activity during a holiday such as Christmas or Valentines Day.  Which means I could surround this activity with holiday themed books and discussions. This is also a great time to prompt your students to give the directions to YOU. Then you must do it exactly as they say which can become a pretty hilarious exercise for everyone involved.

 

Popcorn

My FAVORITE activity is the hot. air. popper.  Around 9 or 10 years ago I purchased the hot air popper pictured below for around $15. I save it for the last week of speech therapy of the school year. It is a hit EVERY time. For some, they have never even seen one before – understandable in the age of microwave popcorn. My students who have been with me for multiple years, are still excited to see those kernels pop every May!

 

 

Ta Daaa!  There ya go. You now have 5 ideas to get your student/child engaged and ready to talk! What simple food ideas to you use in speech therapy?

6 Steps to Start a Diaper Bank

In 2014, I saw a news report about a diaper bank that had been robbed in North Carolina. Wait, what? A diaper bank? Why did I not know this was a thing?

Later, I causally mentioned to my husband that I would like to start a diaper pantry in our community.  He loved the idea and the rest is history.

Are you interested in doing the same? Check out some of my top tips below and feel free to ask any follow up questions in the comments below!

Get Educated!

Check out the National Diaper Bank Network and find out if there are already diaper banks operating in your area. If so, volunteer, donate, or communicate with the organization to find out what else they may need. The website is also chock-FULL of stats and info related to diaper need.

Find a Location

You’ve done your research and your eyes have been opened to the diaper need in this country.  Although diaper awareness is growing, there are still many gaps around the U.S. with diaper giveaway locations. It’s time to start asking questions.

Where are the families in your area that could benefit from receiving diapers? Start talking to your local organizations that may already be supporting families in various ways. Maybe you personally know parents struggling to purchase diapers. I received 100 emails from moms, dads, and grandparents asking for diapers the first month we opened the diaper bank in Kentucky. When you start talking about this, it won’t take long to find the need.

Where will you distribute diapers? We have done this twice now and both times we were able to do it out of church buildings. Many local churches and other service organizations are looking for new ways to help their communities, ask around if one of them might give you some space to get started. Where else might you be able to do to make this happen? Will your families easily have access to that location by foot or bus? Could you team up with another organization, say a group that provides food or medical services?

Build Up Supply

It’s now to time to GET diapers (and likely wipes and rash cream too). The first go around we spoke to several churches and charitable organizations (think scouting groups, community give-back programs at local companies, and service clubs like Kiwanis) in the area and asked for donations on a monthly basis. We asked each group if they could do a drive for us only once or if they could commit to doing so annually.

The second time we were able to team up with Hope Supply Company who serve as our primary supplier of diapers and feminine hygiene products. Each month they deliver our most needed sizes and supplies right to our door.

Gather Volunteers

Now, you can’t do this alone. You will need volunteers to greet families, provide hospitality, fill orders, and keep the bank stocked/organized. You can likely find volunteers through the same outlets where you find supplies, but also post on sites like Nextdoor, or just start with friends and family. You might even contact the nearest school to see if staff members, who are already invested in your community, might come help and invite students and parents to join in.

Advertise

It’s time to open! How are you going to let families know about it? Make simple fliers with the who, what, where, and when. Pass them out to local free clinics, WIC offices, schools (some schools have designated staff people who always looking for just this sort of opportunity), faith communities, day care centers, and other places where families with kids are likely to go.

Hospitality

Treat your families like VIP’s because they are. For example, at Diapers Etc. we provide free childcare for weary parents, offer snacks with coffee and juice, and encourage volunteers to show genuine concern for our guests largely just through listening to their stories. Depending on your context, it might also be helpful to find translators to smooth out the communication with guests who speak other languages than you. The goal here is not just to get diapers on kids, though that is important in itself, but to offer kindness and space for friendships and community to grow.

Bonus Tip: Ask What’s Next

Once you have done all that and your diaper bank is running smoothly, start asking what other items folks in your area might need. For instance, at Diapers Etc., we also provide feminine hygiene products, adult incontinence supplies, and an ever-expanding inventory of important goods like cleaning supplies and laundry detergent.

 

Have any thoughts or ideas you would like to share? Any questions you would like to ask? Please do so in the comments section below.

 

 

 

7 Ways to Start Your Speech Therapy Sessions

There are ALL kinds of ways to get your speech therapy started. It can really set the tone for the next 30 minutes. Here are some of my favorites!

1. Speech Expectations – This is my most common activity. I review it every. single. session. What’s great about this? My speech therapy expectations are clear from the beginning and it’s a great visual cue to keep students on track.  I also LOVE that after awhile most of my students can review the expectations with NO assistance.  I show them my file folder and let them lead the way.

 

Check out this product here.

2. Social Stories – Many of us use social stories for all types of behaviors in many settings. You may want to to put your speech expectations  in a social story format if that is most motivating for a particular student or group. The most common social story I use in speech therapy is to address  game playing behavior. There are quite a few free social stories I use on Speakingofspeech.com and I have used this one from Teaching Trove.

3. Folders – I only do this with a few of my students as it can be somewhat difficult to manage for a caseload of 50+, but I love having materials ready to go  As soon as my students enter the room they find their designated folder. We open it up and choose to pull out practice materials from the ‘Let’s practice this again’ side or ‘New Materials’ side. It’s that simple! And…if I am having one of those days that I don’t get my new materials in folders – no problem – we’ll be sure and use the “Let’s practice this again’ side for that speech therapy session.

4. Movement breaks – Y’all. Breaks. We all need them. Your student(s) may have been sitting at their desks for awhile and they NEED to move.  My students will do a few quick exercises such as jumping jacks, running in place, or touching their toes.  I will have therapy on a carpet in my room and allow them to sit in a way that is most comfortable. There are also great websites out there like: Go Noodle or Cosmic Kids. Whatever you choose, it can be quick and effective.

5. Mini centers – These are quick activities that I have chosen to review as soon as students walk through the door.  It must be something that can be completed in less than 5 minutes and that the students can use or set up independently or with minimal assistance. Once it is completed, we review the activity quickly, and the mini center is presented again in following sessions as needed. I have created some mini centers here and here for the /R/, /L/, and /S/.

6. Schedules and Work Systems: Some students really benefit from a very clear, visual system that says, ‘This what we are going to do, this how long we are going to do it, and this is what happens when we are done!’.  The most common systems I like to use are the faithful ‘First/Then’ and the ‘5 Point’ pictured below.  A student chooses a picture of a reward and then ‘points’ are awarded as they work through a particular activity.  Use clinical expertise and students’ values (hello, evidenced based practice) to assess how those point are given.

Hume, K., & Odom, S. (2007). Effects of an individual work system on the independent functioning of students with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37,1166-1180.

7. Let them talk! –  Just because you have a communication delay/disorder doesn’t mean you don’t have a lot to say! As professionals we can get so much out of this activity. We can observe their conversational speech, clarify their language (i.e. When you said ___, did you mean____), give turn taking cues, and ask questions. It really is satisfying to sit back and take the time to listen, engage, and learn more about what is important in their life.

How do you start your therapy sessions?

 

 

5 Things We Provided at the Christmas Toy Giveaway + DIAPERS!!

Today, Owenwood Missional Campus in partnership with Hope Supply Company held a toy giveaway for the community.

We wanted to provide an enjoyable and stress-free experience for parents and grandparents, fun activities for their children, and an welcoming space to the families of this community.  This was a time to build relationships and trust by meeting the needs of the neighborhood.

So…what did we do??

1. Nursery

Parents could shop for their toys without their little ones tagging along.

Our nursery was safeguarded by a mix of volunteers and our much adored Hope from Black-Tie Babysitting. It was typically for ages 3 and under, however, there were occasionally older children that joined as well.  And although this picture shows only 3 children, we had plenty that transitioned in and out every 20 minutes or so.

2. Cookie Decorating

            Parents with older children could stay in our auditorium and pile up as many sugary toppings on cookies as they could fit :). Many of the older children stayed in this area while parents picked out toys in order to prevent spoiling the Christmas surprises.

     3. Crafts

          After finishing decorating cookies, children could head to the next table and create ornaments.  Becky, our children’s minister provided  so many stickers, glitter, glue, beads, and much more to keep everyone busy for quite a while.

4. Coffee Station

 Right before entering the gym to gather the toys, parents and grandparents were able to stop by and doctor up a cup of hot coffee.

5. Wrapping Station

After choosing the gifts. parents could go and get them wrapped by a group of volunteers mostly made up of a local fast pitch softball team.

And of course my favorite topic – diapers. This was our 4th opening of Diapers, Etc. at this campus and we were able to give out 5,900 diapers (that’s 118 clean bottoms!), around 80 packages of wipes, and several bags of feminine hygiene products.  We even had a couple of families interested in volunteering.

It was a success, with no problems what so ever! Woo Hoo!

Uh..ok, well, we had one problem

An old pipe busted under a sink that was in the diaper storage area. Not to worry though, we had experts in house that corrected it before anything was ruined.  After a little (a lot!) of mopping and a shop vac we were back in business.

Have you ever been apart of a Christmas toy giveaway in your community? I would love to hear your ideas!