Top Sensory Bin Fillers for the Classroom

When it comes to sensory bin filler materials, not all are created equal!  This is especially true in the classroom.  Oobleck and pudding mud may offer amazing sensory input, but they can be a challenge to manage in a classroom sensory bin.  Don't get me wrong... I am a huge fan of messy sensory play but I keep those activities separate from my sensory bins.

 I find that my favorite classroom sensory bin fillers have 2 things in common:

1. They are dry - Dry materials last longer than wet materials.  The only exceptions I make in my classroom are water beads and the occasional water table.  Other than that, you will probably only get 1 day of use out of most other wet materials.

2. They are reasonably priced - Let's be real.  I would love to fill my sensory bins with fresh water pearls and Mulberry silk scraps but my budget won't allow it.  I like use items that will fill my bins for just a few dollars.

So do you want to know what filler materials are at the top of my list?  Well here ya go!

1. Rice
2. Colored Rice (use food coloring or liquid watercolor
3. Black Beans
4. Kidney Beans
5. Colored Pasta
6. Macaroni Noodles
7. Ditalini Pasta
8. Couscous
9. Dried Chick Peas
10. Cut Up Straws
11. Colored Sand
12. Shredded Paper
13. Colored Salt
14. Aquarium Rocks 
15. Water Beads (not dry... I know!) 
16. Easter Grass
17. Pom-Poms
18Kinetic Sand
19. Popcorn Kernels 
20. Bird Seed
21. Cotton Balls
22. Oats
23. Lentils
24. Split Peas
25. Poly-Pellets
26. Sensory Pellets (a little pricy but fun!)
27. Pony Beads
28. Fuse Beads

Are there any other fillers that you love to use that didn't make my list?  Please share!  And if you want to learn more tips, tricks and ideas for implementing sensory bins into your classroom make sure you check out my sensory bin blog post round up!
(this post contains Amazon Affiliate links)

3 Tips for Storing Monthly Sensory Bin Materials

Figuring out an efficient system for organizing sensory bin materials can be overwhelming.  But don't worry... I've got ya covered! Below you will find 3 tips for storing the activity cards and pieces from the Monthly Sensory Bin Bundle.  If you want to learn more about how I store all of the filler and goodies, check out this post.

I like to use the square plastic adhesive labels from the Target dollar spot to store the prices for each activity card.  I found a similar set on Amazon.  I attach them to the back of each card to store the pieces.  TIP! - If you want the pages to stack nicely when you store the materials, alternate where you put the adhesive label.  I like to alternate between all 4 corners. 


I store each month in these zipper pouches.  I found these at the dollar store, but you can also pick them up at most office supply stores or Amazon.  I recently got another pack from Amazon and they are SO MUCH sturdier than my dollar store set!  They also ended up being less expensive, which is always a win in my book.  They are able to fit 15-20 activity cards and pieces.

I have seen these clear pouches at the Target dollar spot, the dollar store, and Amazon.  This is a great option if you don't want to laminate all of the boards.  You can keep the entire month's worth of board in this pocket and quickly swap out the activity cards as you need them.  The activity pieces can be stored separately in a ziplock bag or envelope.

What about you?  Do you have any tips for storing sensory bin materials?  If so, share them in the comments! And if you want more tips, tricks, and ideas for sensory bins check out my Sensory Bin Round-Up blog post for all things sensory!
*This post contains Amazon affiliate links. 

Sensory Bin Round-Up

I don't know about you, but I love sensory bins!  Over the next few weeks I will be sharing some tips, tricks, and ideas for using sensory bins in the classroom.  I will link all of the posts here, so make sure to bookmark this page to keep updated on all things sensory!

How to Create A Focus Wall in a Special Education Classroom

Faded photo with large letters reading "Focus" with 4 posters below listing objectives for: letter, essential question, behavior, and math

One of the biggest benefits to teaching in a special education classroom is having the flexibility  to meet the students where they are at. Everything is specially designed to build upon their skills and make the content accessible.  With that being said, this focus on individualization can make it a challenge to create common learning targets for all students.

"Focus" written in large letters on a white board, 4 posters underneath  listing objectives for: letter, essential question, behavior, and math

I like to keep my overall classroom learning targets general, and my small group learning targets more specific.  For example, as a class we may be focusing on fractions and my 3 small groups could have more targeted objectives ranging from identifying whole objects to adding fractions with like denominators.

Large letters reading "learn." Below are 2 smaller subject cards and objectives, reading 1  I can match letters to sounds, reading 2 I can read CVC words.

Since my main classroom learning targets are general, I only have to swap them out once a week or once a month.  I find this far more manageable than trying to update our big focus wall daily.  The other time saving step that I take is pre-planning all of my weekly objectives.  I create a scope and sequence each year with all of the "big ideas" that I plan to teach.  I use this document to create my focus wall cards.  You can read more about how set up my scope and sequence HERE.

White literacy plan on a blue and green folder. Blue and green flair pens are placed on  the upper left corner of the document.

I like to print off all of my focus wall cards over the summer and organize them in the order that I plan to teach the topics (this is where that scope and sequence comes in handy!).  Since the cards are in order, it takes me less than 30 seconds to swap out the cards each week.  You heard that right... less than 30 seconds a week!

4 posters  listing objectives for: letter, essential question, behavior, and math

For my focus wall I typically include a weekly essential question, letter of the week, math focus, and behavior focus.  The letter and math cards are included in my Focus Wall Bundle, and I use the editable cards from the file to type out my essential question.  These questions align to our district's general education reading curriculum.

I created the behavior cards to align to Autism Adventures' Behavior Basics program.  The program is amazing and provides multiple levels of social stores and activities for 60 different behaviors and social skills.  It is well worth the investment.  If you are using the program and would like focus wall cards that align to each of the behaviors... you're in luck!  Mellissa from Autism Adventures was kind enough to allow me to share the cards with you!  You can pick up the exclusive download HERE.
2 pictures, on the left is a behavior poster for body language, on the right is the cover of a behavior mini posters with the word freebie above
Are you ready to set up your own focus wall?  Well I have some great news!  I have pulled together all of my focus wall products into one big discounted bundle and you can find it HERE.  Not a fan of the blue and green that is in my classroom?  Not to worry! I recently updated the file to include 27 color options.  I hope that this makes it easier for you to create the focus wall of your dreams!
a collage of 27 color pallets, three types of editable pages, and an alphabet card bonus freebie  
Do you want an even closer look at the product? Check out the video preview!  Have a great school year!

Create Personalized Student Labels in Minutes!

Faded photo of blue and green bins labeled with students' names and clipart

I love for my students to feel at home in our classroom.  Part of the way that I make that happen is by posting their names throughout the room.  I label their desks, binders, folders, cubbies, sticker charts and book bins.  I know what you are thinking... who has time to create personalized labels for EVERYTHING!?!  Well, it doesn't take as much time as you may think.

Square student labels with names and clipart next to sticker charts

I use The Ultimate Set of Student Labels to create personalized labels for all of my students.  And the best part? It only takes a few minutes!  Don't believe me?  Let me show you how I do it.
A description of how The Ultimate Set of Student Labels works.  Type names once and they auto populate onto the matching labels.
Type in your students' names once, and they autopopulate onto every label!  So simple! Just print, cut, and you're done!  I told you it was quick! 

Personalized student labels on a binder and sticker chart

There are 5 sizes of labels, each of which can be used in multiple ways.  I love to use the full sheets for my students' work binders and communication folders.  I use the half sheet size for their cubbies.  The long strip (which fits in the long adhesive pockets from the Target Dollar Spot) are perfect for name tags and binder spines.  I use the larger square for their sticker charts and the smaller rectangle for the front of their bins.  The larger squares fit perfectly in the 3 1/2 inch adhesive pockets from the Target Dollar Spot, or you can find this huge pack on Amazon (affiliate link).
4 photos of the student labels in various sizes.  8 inch fits inside cubbies, 3 1/2 inch fits in the square pockets from Target. 7 1/2 inch fits in the long target label, binder spines, and also words great as a name tag. 2 1/2 inch fits in the small pockets on most book bins (Target, Lakeshore & Michaels).
What about you?  Do you use personalized labels in your classroom? If not, I encourage you to give it a try! Your students will love it!  If you want to check out the pack that I use in my classroom you can find it HERE.  Have a great school year!

Unconventional Ways to Recruit Help in the Special Education Classroom

Seriously, this job is huge.  There is no possible way that you can do it alone. (If you can... send me a message because I want to learn your ways!) You need help. More often than not that help does not come in the form of staffing.  You need to actively seek out an army of volunteers.  Check out my 6 out of the box ideas for getting volunteers into your special education classroom.

1. Middle School/High School Helpers - Many districts have a community service requirement for middle school and high school students.  What better place for them to give back than in your classroom?

2. Transition Students - Does your district offer a transition program for students age 18-21? If so, consider collaborating with the instructor to see if your classroom can serve as a job site.

3. College Interns - There are many opportunities to open your classroom to college interns, not just official student teachers.  Reach out to local colleges and universities to see if they are looking for additional classroom placements.

4. Military - Did you know that many branches of the military have school liaison officers who serve as a link between military families and schools?  While their primary role is to support students and families, they also support educators with training and resources.  Consider checking with your local school liaison officers to see if they can coordinate volunteers to support military students in the classroom.

5. PTA - Are you running short on parent volunteers from your class?  Check with your PTA to see if there are any parents from other classrooms who may be interested in helping out in your room.

6. Boy Scouts - Do you need help with a specific project? Check with your local boy scout troop.  They are often looking for service opportunities within their community.  Building furniture, designing adaptive equipment, and supporting their peers are all worth while projects that the Boy Scouts may be willing to take on.

Do you have any unconventional ways to recruit help in your classroom?  Please share!

Prioritizing Your Special Education Workload Using Google Keep

Over the past few years Google has slowly been taking over my life.  I use Gmail, store all of my files in Google Drive, use Google Calendar to schedule all of my meetings, and use Google Forms to collect data (for more info about how I use Google Forms, check out The Simple Way I Track Behavior in My Class... Digitally!).  What's the one area where I continue to use a paper and pen?  Lists!  I love a good to-do list and have a bazillion sticky notes to prove it!

Last week I talked about using the 4-square method for prioritizing your work load.  You can find the post HERE.  It is basically a simple way of mapping out the level of importance and urgency of each task.  It is often done in a grid with the level of urgency across the top and the level of importance down the side.  If you like the paper version, you can pick up a free copy HERE.

If you are more of a digital note taker, or you want to become one, Google Keep is a great option.  It is a simple application that lets you customize digital sticky notes.  The great thing about Google Keep is that you can access it from nearly any device.  This is a huge bonus if you are working on your to-do list outside of the classroom.

Assuming that you already have a Google account, you can access Google Keep for free.  To find it, click on the Google grid in the upper right corner of your Google Drive.  If you don't notice the app in the menu,  click on the option to check out more from Google.
Once you have access to Google Keep, you can start designing your notes.  Just click on "take a note" and start typing.  I prefer to have one note for each quadrant of the 4-sqare, and I add the heading of the quadrant to the title of each note.

Important and Urgent
Important but Not Urgent
Urgent but Not Important
Not Urgent and Not Important
Google Keep gives two options for viewing your notes - grid view and list view.  Grid view gives you more of the "4 quadrant" feel, however, it adjusts the placement based on the screen size so it often puts 3 notes across.  I prefer list view.  This stacks the notes so I can put them in order of priority.

Google Keep also gives you the option to add checkboxes.  This is a no-brainer for me.  Of course I want checkboxes.  I am notorious for putting super simple tasks on my to-do list just so I can check them off!  To add check boxes, just hover over the note and click on the 3 dots.  Choose - show checkboxes.
Are you into color coding?  Find the paint palette in the tool bar at the bottom of each note and select a color.  You can also add a picture, but I never use this feature as it tends to take up way too much space.

Google Keep also gives you some more advanced options. You can set a reminder or add a collaborator from the tool bar in each note.
Google Keep also allows you to add labels to your notes.  This are handy when you have a bunch of notes to keep track of.  The labels serve as keywords.  So, you can have multiple labels for the same note.  You will see you labels off to the left.

Have you used Google Keep to help you stay organized?  Do you have any tips or tricks?  Please share!