As we get deeper into the school year, we are getting more comfortable teaching our structured program virtually. I know that this can’t last forever! My team and I have a nice groove of posting in our virtual classroom and using The Autism Helper digital resources. Whether you are doing full remote, hybrid, or in-person learning, I am sure you are working on play, independence, and gross motor within your classroom. We are doing this for gross motor and open centers using what our district calls “menus”. Let’s take a look at how and why I am scheduling these times in my virtual classroom and how I plan to bring them back to a hybrid and full in person model.

Our District Guidance

My district sent out a guidebook for each grade level. These guidebooks hold all of the directions and expectations for teachers, parents, and related service staff. Within the guidebook, we have a set of expectations for each part of our daily schedule. There are also length of time requirements for each part of the schedule as well as teacher resources. We are required to do live instruction at certain parts of our day, and our gross motor and open center times have pre-recorded menu requirements. At the preschool level, our schedule is:

  • opening circle (20 minutes)
  • small groups (40 minutes)
  • gross motor (20 minutes)
  • open centers (1 hour)
  • closing circle/read aloud (10 minutes)
  • office hours (15 minutes)

Gross Motor Menu

Our gross motor menu is a calendar of activities assigned to each day of the month. These will correspond with the length of each unit of study we are learning about. For example, the Ball Study is 4 weeks, so we have 4 weeks on the gross motor calendar. The tree study is 5 weeks, so we have 5 weeks on the gross motor calendar. Myself and a general education teacher have split the responsibility of creating this calendar for all 10 of us teachers. The other teachers (general education and special education) work on their small group lessons and open center lesson ideas. We are all working as a team to keep our instruction interesting and engaging! My co- worker and I create a slide with an image or video of the gross motor activity as well as directions on how to play. These are individual slides that are then linked to in the calendar. When a student or caregiver clicks on the link for that day, they open only one slide and know which activity to do for that day.

Open Center Menu

When we are in person, our structured classroom runs 1:1 and 2:1 small groups in place of open free play time. Too many open ended and free time options increase stress in our students.Our small group rotations in the classroom include work with related services, play with peer buddies, ABA programs, work on independence in functional routines, academic lessons with our TAs, practice and assessments with IEP goal, etc. In the virtual world we are in now, we call it an open center menu.

Within each of my Canvas courses (AM and PM), there is a table in the open center time slot. The titles of each column within the table are the student names, “STAR Play Lessons”, and “More Ideas”. Each learner has 4 lessons, activities, or programs to work on throughout the week listed under their name. The lessons in each column are individualized based on the alternate curriculum programs they are working on, their IEP goals, and academic levels. There are a mix of digital workbooks, digital homework pages, videos of myself and my son modeling lessons we want families to carry out with learners, Boom cards, etc. There are then 4 additional activities listed under “STAR Play Lessons” where I post Pivotal Response Training videos, expanding language through play videos, communication during play videos, etc.”More Ideas” has 4 more activities from ideas listed from my social worker, occupational therapist, and speech/language pathologist.

Putting it all together

Working virtually has been anything but easy, but we have been doing our best! My DT lessons aren’t perfect, but families are getting training on how to help with carryover in the home. There isn’t too much engagement during circle time and read alouds, but our learners get to see us each day. They are still getting exposure to academic lessons and are working on independence in some capacity. My TAs and I are available in our office hours during gross motor and open centers times where families can come in and ask for clarifications or voice concerns about the lessons and programs listed for the week. My goal for the rest of remote learning, and if this were to happen again is to be available, be welcoming, and be the smile and encouragement our families and learners need!

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