There is literally nothing that makes my blood boil more than walking into a high school special education room and seeing a big ole’ 17 year old sorting plastic colored bears into color coordinating cups. You know which bears I’m talking about. They are durable and adorable and great for color sorting – in a preschool class. Because they are a preschool toy. Not appropriate for my teenager friend. That’s fine if you want to work on sorting by color. Sort paper clips, colored pencils, bottle caps, – literally anything but those dang colored bears.

Some my rant on the colored bears comes from my passion and insistence that things need to be age appropriate in every single classroom. In our world, it sometimes can be tricky to accomplish this. Many times we may have older students who are working on more foundational level skills. When finding resources to teach those skills, materials tend to be focused on younger grades and may look babyish. My first few years teaching, I really struggled with this. I want to work on basic phonics, vocabulary, coin identification, etc but every worksheet I found was plastered with smiling sunflowers and labeled Kindergarten or First Grade. It didn’t feel right handing that to my 8th grader. Enter self-created resources and my TpT store and finding materials became a lot easier.  So many of my resources came from me not being able to find anything age appropriate for teaching that specific skill. I figured if I was struggling with it, other teachers probably were too. Here are my go-to tips and guidelines for staying on the age appropriate bandwagon:

Check out same grade classrooms (regularly).

This one may seem obvious but it’s nothing something we always remember to do. Check out the classrooms’ of your grade level peers. Note the look of the room. What is on the walls? How much decor is there? What’s the layout? You won’t be able to replicate everything but it will point you in the right direction. If the other 7th grade room doesn’t have a big birthday bulletin board, your 7th grade room shouldn’t either. Even if you have been teaching for a while, it’s always helpful to keep this practice up and keep yourself in check.

Change the content as kids get older.

As kids get older, think about switching up the content or theme of the materials you are using to teach a skill. If you are working on categorizing, target sorting items by the room of the house for older students so you can expand functional household vocabulary. The goal is for things not only to look like the gen ed peers but also be meaningful for that age level.

Materials matter.

When it comes to the age appropriate always goal (we can call it the AAA goal), materials do matter. The colored bear example annoys me so much because those materials are specifically made for young kids. So when the line has been pushed from 3 or 4 year old to 17 year old – it’s not okay. It’s not oaky because there are other options. Colored bears aren’t the only way to practice color sorting. Check out 4 different ways to work on this skill. You can quickly see how each task would be appropriate for different age levels.

Work to find new reinforcers.

The question I get a lot related to this topic is – What if my student only likes/wants babyish toys? I get totally get it. I had a high school client who was obsessed with the wiggles (who are maybe the creepiest people ever). While respecting that the wiggles was something he liked and was a big reinforcer (remember – we can’t pick reinforcers for our students), we also worked at giving the student exposure and opportunities to experience to new potential reinforcers. We watched different superhero movies, tried new fidgets, and offered a range of work incentives.

Sasha Long
Sasha Long

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