When selecting resources for special needs students, it is important to follow the objectives outlined in the child's IEP (Individualized Education Plan). If clear, manageable objectives have been chosen for the student, you will have the beginning of a useful shopping list for materials.
Since students have often met with failure in traditional classrooms, the special needs environment needs to be supplied for success. A good, basic classroom will include these basic elements.
- Use safe, comfortable furniture arranged for a suitable traffic flow. Each child should have his personal work area at his level. For some students, a study carrel keeps distraction down. The room should have at least one horseshoe-shaped table, where the teacher can sit in the middle and have one-to-one contact with several children at once. Round tables work well for centers with a basket of materials in the center.
- Low shelves make nice partitions for centers, with the materials and games on the shelves. You can create privacy and still see what's going on.
- For TV use, a large screen mounted on the wall works well. With a projector and pull-down screen, you can view video clips from your computer's media player. The best source for instructional programming is your local Public Broadcasting station. You can use their website to download and print materials on all subjects. You can get VHS or DVD copies of programs. We like Nature!, NOVA, American Experience, and all the children's shows. As an added bonus, these materials are free. When we use public broadcasting, we help the community.
- For computer use, study carrels provide quiet and less distraction. I like several software programs. Jumpstart, Reader Rabbit, and School Zone work well for younger children. These software programs provide games that children enjoy and experience success with, while developing reading and math skills.
I like the Cosmi and Edmark products for older students. They offer typing instruction as well as software to develop 'thinking outside the box!' Edmark makes Astro Algebra and Cosmic Geometry; these programs have students design objects using the higher math skills.
The Nancy Drew series teach problem-solving, memory, sequence, cause and effect and observation skills. I like the Carmen Sandiego series because it introduces students to different cultures and teaches history and geography in an exciting role-play and espionage format.
- Several websites put out free resources for students and teachers: KidsDomain, Wondertime, PBSkids, Crayola, EricEc, FamilyFun, and Enchanted Learning. Math.com, Hotmath.com and Freemathhelp.com offer all sorts of math resources. I also like a website called Allaboutlearning.com; the moderator has designed all sorts of hands-on materials in this site. He has developed math units using the Lego brand blocks, and has also put together a program that teaches children how to design software.
- Each room should contain a quiet area, a reading area with pillows, a listening center, a math area, an art area, a writing area, an exploration center, desks or tables for large group work and personal space. Your room should be equipped with a TV mounted on the wall or cart, along with a VHS- and DVD-player. A projector for viewing materials from the computer is helpful, as is an overhead projector with transparencies.
- Quiet area: This is a place where students can go for a time out. A chair facing away from the group is sufficient.
- Reading area: This area should have many books on all subjects, grouped by theme, author and subject accessible to students. Pillows and a rug make it comfy.
- Listening area: The listening area can be in with the reading area, if there is a place to write. A tape player is kept here with books on tape or listening activities. Headphones for students are helpful. Teach students how to store and operate the machine. Keep instruments here also.
- Math area: This includes a table with chairs and shelves with math manipulatives (items students can use to comprehend math assignments). You can use a horseshoe table for small group work. Here are some good products, many available from Learning Resources and through Scholastic Books Services. You and your students can order reasonably priced materials and get lots of bonus items for your classroom.
- Clocks with movable hands.
- Fraction cubes and circles.
- Cards, dice and wrap-ups for practicing addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
- 100s charts.
- Wall mounted number line with decimals.
- Place value pocket chart.
- Cuisenaire rods.
- Items to sort and count (buttons, colored teddy bears, linking pattern beads, and blocks).
- Geometric solids.
- Balance scale.
- Box with rice to measure and pour.
- Pegboards, puzzles, and fine motor skill builders.
- Pre-made 'shoebox math' games (book available from Scholastic).
- Art Center: All the basic art supplies can be shelved here. It's best to have a table or several back-to-back easels. A shelf for displaying a work of art and a bulletin board would be good. Keep a plastic tablecloth or shower curtain on the floor if you don't have a tile area. Use plastic placemats for artwork. Keep aprons and old shirts available.
- Crayons, markers, chalk in caddies.
- Drawing paper and scrap paper.
- Recycled items for collages.
- Tempera paint and hair brushes in caddies.
- Clay and utensils.
- Exploration center: This is where you put your science or social studies unit materials. Set out items kids can touch and look at based upon what you are studying. A rug on the floor can indicate where the things must stay. Here are some units and materials. Put out a basket of books related to the subject.
- Animals (use plastic animals, fur samples, footprint models, class pets).
- Light (flashlights, mirrors, magnifying glasses, microscope).
- Jobs (set out different hats and uniforms to try on).
- Plants (tend plants).
- Any interactive materials (many 3D models available from Scholastic).
- Artifacts from other countries.
- Writing center: One or more computers would be good for kids to practice on publishing software. Keep a large tablet of lined paper on an easel; you can write stories with the class. Special needs students can dictate their stories.
Keep the environment neat and organized and cheerful. This should provide many resources for your special needs students.