First Day of School: Here We Go Again

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

Every year, it never fails. The last days of August go by and that tickly feeling in my stomach starts. Mine includes a little thud at the end of 20 seconds of elevated heart rate. The thud part is generally located in my mid-section. I have never seen a doctor for this phenomenon because I know it is an automatic healthy response to the coming of a new school year.

Daily Organizer

Over the years, I have developed a fail-safe to-do list that I review before I go in to the school building and tackle the job of putting my classroom back together again. Inevitably, well-meaning custodial staff have once again moved everything despite my explicit instructions not to. The floors will sparkle (careful here, they’re slippery). I’ve always wondered why they don’t mix sand in the wax; it would save many cases of sacroiliac joint dysfunction—this is a fancy medical term for “oh my aching back.” If you are smiling at this description, I have met my goal for the article.

The first day comes and goes, and not once have I experienced the cataclysmic disasters my fertile imagination produces each and every year. I don’t lose any students, the one-to-one aides are really great people and they don’t add work to my special education routine. We’re good to go.

At the top of my list are supplies (disclosure: this blog is a product of Achievement Products®, a wonderful one stop shopping site for all your classroom needs). This year, I’ve been taking a close look at allergen free products. Is it my imagination, or are kids coming to us with more violent allergies? Peanut allergies are common, and so many food products have been made in facilities where peanuts are used that it really pays to read labels carefully. Our kids have enough challenges without facing allergies in the classroom.

There are now all sorts of hypoallergenic markers, crayons, paints and glue for students to use. There are even hypoallergenic balls and other playground items. It’s going to become my practice to add the word “hypoallergenic” to every search I do for supplies no matter where I decide to shop. Better safe than sorry. And if you’re like me, the purchasing process in your district is so convoluted and difficult that you always use some of your own money to outfit your classroom.

It seems I see more and more kids with perceptual disorders. There are some thoughtful products for these kids at very reasonable prices. Here are some new arrivals for you to explore.

I’ve been adding to my collection of exercise items in the classroom. Even if I don’t have children with specific physical disabilities, I have many overweight children and students who rarely get outdoors for fresh air and exercise. It seems they are all playing video games. Video games can be good training for some children, but you must also get them up and moving.

Achievement Products has a carefully selected group of adaptive technology items for the classroom. There are also products for students with communication challenges.

So when you wake up on day one, don’t reach for Pepto-Bismol. You’re just having first day jitters—perfectly normal. I’ve put together some resources for new and experienced teachers as they face the all-important first few days of school.

New Teachers, New School


Practical Advice for Jitters

Survival Guide for New (All) Teachers

Creating a Teacher Mentoring Program

Special Education Teacher Support

Add to our list of resources, help guide this blog and tell me about your challenges. I may feature your class or school in upcoming blog entries.

Grant Name: Finish Line Youth Foundation Grants

Funded By: Finish Line Youth Foundation

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Program Areas: After-School, Disabilities, Health/PE, Special Education

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Website: Finish Line Youth Foundation

Availability: All States

Save 15% on All Air Cushions!

Air cushions are perfect for children who cannot sit still! These cushions provide the “squirmy” child with the means to meet his or her movement needs in a chair without disrupting the learning environment.

Through July 31, you can save 15% on all Air Cushions! The offer is good while supplies last so don’t miss out!

See below for more information!
email_07_17_13 1Check out more of our Active Seating product assortment and save 15% on your Air Cushion order before July 31!

10% Off Therapy Kits!


All Therapy Kits are 10% off through 6/30/13!

Achivement Products® has everything you need to get therapy sessions started! Check out some of our favorite new items!

Sensory Starter Kit – 34-piece set (APSENS34) – $99.95

Our Sensory Starter Kit includes many of our top-selling input products to help calm, soothe and inspire creativity! The set includes one Hairy Tangle®, two Fuzzy Tangle® Jrs, one Therapy Tangle®, a set of four 4″ Senso-Dot Balls, a set of 10 Finger Funs, 100 grams of Sensory Snow, Silly Squares, a set of 12 Rapper Snappers and two clear Angeles® Value Line™ Cubbie Trays (not sold separately).

Rock & Roll with Me – Vibration, Movement & Musical Starter Kit (APROCK) – $99.95

Our Rock & Roll With Me Starter Kit stimulates the senses with a variety of sensory input while allowing for creative movement, active sitting and imaginative play! Children will learn about and practice transitioning between activities using soothing vibration. This kit includes a Soothing Stars Vibrating Pillow, a set of three Flash Balls, a Band in a Box, a set of 12 Rapper Snappers, a small Sit Disc and a plush Pull & Play Tissue Box with 12 Scarves.

Oral Motor Starter Kit – Set of 7 (APOM8) – $46.95

Our Oral Motor Starter Kit is a great way to get started with oral motor therapy! The items included offer oral stimulation through chewing and biting, speech therapy and self-discovery. The set includes a Vibrating Teether, a Knobby Chewy Tube, a Yellow Chewy Tube, a Double-Sided Mirror and a set of three Infa-Dents®.

Engage the senses of your students with these wonderful Therapy Kits! Remember, the offer ends on 6/30/2013 so shop now!

The Benefits of Yoga

Every Occupational Therapist has his/her “bag of therapy tools” from which they can pull. This bag contains the individualized tried and true therapeutic techniques and activities that each therapist can use to address any given set of challenges. For a rapidly increasing number of therapists, one of the most frequently used “tools” in this bag is becoming the use of yoga.

Little Girl Doing Handstand

Yoga and OT are a natural fit as both disciplines focus on the individual as a whole person not just the part that may be a particular challenge. The use of yoga as a therapy technique provides many benefits for adults and children alike and the beauty of yoga is adaptability. It can be performed almost anywhere by almost anyone and the benefits can be long lasting. Yoga provides a medium for developing physical strength, flexibility and body awareness. It provides a medium for developing stress release and relaxation as well as focus and concentration. It can be a both a powerful social activity or an activity that can be performed in solitude with similar benefits.

Physical development is inherent in yoga as it is an active technique. However, the depth of the physical development goes far beyond muscle strength and flexibility. Yoga also works on motor planning skills as each pose requires a separate plan to execute. For beginners, physical imitation skills come into play as most often they are making their own bodies copy either a picture or an instructor. As the skill level progresses and familiarity comes into play, the individual can execute a pose based on the memory of the picture, the instructor in the pose or simply the name of the pose increasing the complexity of the motor plan and utilizing muscle memory. Yoga also allows the participant to develop better overall body awareness as executing and sustaining a pose requires intimate knowledge of one’s body in space to perform correctly.

Kids Instructional Yoga DVD

Yoga is one of the most powerful methods available for stress reduction and relaxation. The concept of deep breathing can itself be used without the poses to relax but when combined with the physical demands of the pose, the relaxation effect is enhanced. The focus and concentration required to execute and sustain the poses allows the individual to center their attention and thereby further their stress reduction or relaxation. Physical exertion in and of itself has been shown to have a beneficial stress reduction or relaxation power. Yoga provides a means of combining poses that require a significant amount of physical exertion with poses that are relaxing by nature. The combination of physical exertion and relaxation serves to provide deeper relaxation at the conclusion.

The power of yoga can be perfectly provided with the Kids Instructional Yoga Mat and DVD. This set provides the perfect method of engagement for any child. The soft textured mat is lightweight and easy to carry which allows for easy transport and use in a variety of settings. The provision of a non-slip surface allows for a safe work surface in almost any setting.

Kids Instructional Yoga Mat

The mat was specifically designed with appealing pictures of animals and the corresponding pose in order to capture the attention of the child and encourage engagement in the yoga activity. Each picture is labeled which provides a multi-modal learning method for the child. The inclusion of step-by-step instructions in the DVD in combination with the labeled pictures will help the child develop skills crucial for success in the educational setting, at home, or in the community such as following instructions, sequencing, and attending to task while providing another layer of multi-modal learning by engaging both the visual and the auditory systems. Overall, the Kids Instructional Yoga Mat and DVD are the ideal yoga companion for any child.

Take a look at these other yoga products:
Yoga for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents and Caregivers (AP84318)
“Bal Yoga for Kids” by Glenda Kacev and Sylvia Roth – Book with CD and DVD (AP9555)
Yoga Pretzels Activity Cards (AP97819)
“Frog’s Breathtaking Speech: how Children (and Frogs) Can Use Yoga Breathing to Deal with Anxiety, Anger and Tension” by Michael Chissick (AP84819)
YogaKids® DVD Set (AP9880)
Angel Bear Double CD Set (AP90063)

*This post was written by Scott Russo and was brought to you by Achievement Products®.

Activity Guide – Tactile Sensory Ball

The team at Achievement Products® asked our consultant, Occupational Therapist Scott Russo, to provide some activity suggestions for incorporating some of our favorite items into daily classroom activities or curriculum. Scott has provided some really great and creative ways to use items (that may have been originally designed for typically developing children), in special needs environments.

Today we will look at the Tactile Sensory Ball.

The tactile sensory ball is an excellent tool for the development of balance, core strength, and vestibular and proprioceptive stimulation with the added benefit of increased tactile input. This ball is perfect for the child or teenager who is challenged by an under-regulated sensory system or overall decreased body awareness. The ball is a normal therapy exercise ball with hundreds of sensory bumps which increase the awareness of both the ball and the body during activity.
Activity ideas:
All activities should be engaged in with a caregiver or teacher in attendance. Develop static (non-moving) and dynamic (moving) balance skills. Start by having the child or teenager simply try to maintain their balance while their feet are on the ground. Move the ball in different directions and have the child adjust their balance accordingly. Start with slow movements and gradually increase to more challenging movements.
  • Have the child or teenager sit on the ball and try to maintain balance with their feet off of the ground.
  • Lying on the belly, have the child perform wheelbarrow walks. Make sure their legs are together and supported as they walk forward and backward on their hands.
  • To increase upper-body strength, have students try pushups with their feet or legs supported by the ball. The pushups can be graded by having less and less of the leg supported as the child or teenager walks out on his/her hands.
  • From a sitting position, have the child or teenager perform situps while maintaining their balance, have them lean back as far as they can support themselves, or with a spotter supporting them, then bring themselves back up to a sitting position.
  • Use the ball as a chair for increased attention. The ball can be used at a desk or table during fine motor or academic tasks.
  • Use the ball as a balance challenge for gross motor play such as balloon volleyball or catch. For the teenager, there are a variety of resistance activities that can be done using the ball as the balance device while performing normal weight training movements.
  • For increased sensory input, have the child or teenager lie on his/her belly and use the ball as a roller, applying pressure over the back.

For more information about the Tactile Sensory Ball and other great items please visit

Focus Through Movement

Hello, my name is Bridgette Anderson. I am director of therapy at Developmental Therapy Center, a sensory integration clinic in San Diego. I have been working with children with special needs in school and clinic settings for over 12 years. Helping parents figure out how to help their child is one of my passions. I was excited when Achievement Products for Special Needs asked me to write posts for the Achievement Products for Special Needs blog to help parents find ways to help their children and to share my ideas with other professionals as well. Although I am compensated by Achievement Products for Special Needs for my posts, the thoughts and opinions are entirely mine.

As we all know, fall is a busy and stressful time with parents trying to figure out how to help their children adjust to the new demands school places on them. There are so many adjustments for children to make, whether it is returning to school after an active summer or a first school experience. Children of all ages are immediately expected to sit for longer periods of time, to concentrate and to work in environments which are much more dynamic than the peace and quite of a bedroom or study at home. Don’t get me wrong, I believe all of these are important skills for a child to learn, but frequently parents ask me, “What can we do to help?”

There are a number of suggestions that can help support a child through a school day. It is important to work with the teacher to be sure they understand how you are trying to help. I have found that most teachers are more than willing to add supports into a class to help children. In fact, frequently they are able to have others benefit from the supports as well. Without knowing an individual child, I can never make specific suggestions, but here are some simple ideas that it won’t hurt to try and that I’ve found have a pretty good success rate. All of the sensory tools I refer to can be found through Achievement Products for Special Needs. Remember, these are supports to help a child get through the day. If things get more and more difficult, I suggest you seek out more professional help specifically for your child.

For the child who has difficulty sitting still in class:

One tool for children who just can’t stop moving is to have them sit on something that allows the body to move and but does not disrupt the class (for many children this moving allows the brain to focus on what is being said). Here’s a simple way to test this idea: put a puff of air in a beach ball and have the child sit on it to see if it helps him pay attention better while sitting. If there is some success, but the ball is too mobile and tends to disrupt the class, then a “sit disk”, “posture wedge” or air cushion will provide the child with the ability to move his body enough to concentrate without disrupting others.

A different type of seating that is more effective for some children is a therapy ball (a large-diameter ball) which bends with the movement of your body –like a large yoga ball. In order to normalize this solution more for the classroom environment, provide the classroom with a therapy ball chair. The chair eliminates the possibility of too much rolling of the ball or of the child falling off the ball, and it provides some back support.

Another tip for helping a child who can’t sit still in class is to allow the child to use a “fidgit” like Finger Fidgets – Set of 10, basically a toy they can hold in their hand(s). As with all supports, it is important to set classroom rules for when and how the child may use a fidgit. It’s amazing how much it can support a child and allow her brain to focus on the academics while the fidgit is giving her body the information it needs. Fidgits can also be passed around the classroom or shared.

When selecting a fidgit, think about these questions: (1) what activities will allow my child to get in some movement (even if just with his hands); (2) can this movement be achieved without disrupting the class or creating too much of a distraction; (3) what type of textures and movements will work best for my child? For example, if squeezing and tactile stimulation is an activity that seems to promote calming for your child, you may prefer balls such as the Magic Gertie Balls – Set of 2 or Sea Creature Anemones. Other children will prefer a movement of the fingers or hands. This can be accomplished with an Super Mondo Inside Out Ball. Still, other children will prefer a touch or rubbing movement, with supports such as the Small Tactile Pillow or a Vinyl Porcupine Ball. Finally, there are the children who need objects that cannot be tossed, shared, or noticed. For these children I recommend various items which can be attached to a pencil or pen. Pencil grips–used to support the child with handwriting–can be placed towards the top of the pencil, and pencil weights can be moved up and down a pencil. Both provide the child with an opportunity to fidget in a much more inconspicuous manner.

Hopefully one or many of these suggestions are helpful for you, or you might find other items or ideas in the Achievement Products for Special Needs website or catalog. Work with the teacher as a team to support your child through a successful transition to the school environment, and to provide an increased ability for your child to concentrate on learning rather than on the effort to keep his body still. Remember movement is a child’s friend, so always provide lots of opportunities before and after school for children to get motor activity. This will help support their ability to focus in class as well as their general good health.

Music, Movement and Autism

I spent last week at the Counsel for Exceptional Children National Conference and Expo, where we exhibited our Achievement Products line to the educators, students and parents who strive to ensure children with special needs, and/or special gifts and talents, receive the appropriate educational services they require. The Expo floor is filled with products and resources to support their efforts, but the days are also filled with opportunities for learning through the wide ranging sessions offered. I attended a number of those sessions myself and, as always, came away with far more knowledge than I had going in.

One particular session made me wish this conference had taken place a week earlier, when I was asked by a customer about what music we had in Achievement Products for children with autism. In my reply a week ago I spoke about the numerous music CD’s we carry, that are used by therapists and teachers:

But at last week’s conference I learned about a study that showed musical instruments to be even more effective at engaging children with autism.

Alexandra Raber, out of Birmingham-Southern College, presented her study of 22 children with autism, and the effect that 5 music activities: songs with and without movement; action poems; songs with full body movement, and instrument playing, had on their lesson engagement as measured by their oral response, physical response, attention & eye contact. Of the 5 activities, only one resulted in full participation by all 22 students, and that was instrument playing.

As a buyer for the Achievement Products line I have noted that musical instruments are an important part of the line (Bead Drum, Rainbow Tube, Band in a Box, Concertina, Pat Bells, Music and Movement Set). Perhaps individual therapists, teachers and parents noted what Ms. Raber was able to quantify; that playing an instrument resulted in greater engagement by a child with autism.

Do you have a story to share about the effect music, or musical instruments, has had on your student or child?