A group of pioneer families risk it all and travel to a strange land. They gratefully accept the help of the Native Americans who look different, speak a different language, have different cultural and religious beliefs. At first they are fearful of the differences, eventually they peacefully trade, share and learn from each other. The Native Americans welcome them into this new people and environment. But the Native Americans save the pilgrims from starvation (yea, corn, pumpkins, turkeys…) and disease (yea, the cranberry). Both groups still value their own cultural beliefs and traditions, but as neighbors they become an interdependent community which shares the hard work and sacrifice. Then, after a successful harvest, they do what every culture since the beginning of time does, they are thankful and celebrate.
As an early childhood teacher and special education professional I looked for ways to teach about cooperation, collaboration, and community. I looked for ways to include my students with special needs into the “normalized” (click here) holiday school programs and activities. I looked for ways to differentiate the curriculum so even the students with the most severe disabilities could partially participate.
Inclusion success stories for ALL children:
White Gifts for the Food Bank:
The entire school sponsored a “white gift” program for Thanksgiving. Each child brought in a non-perishable food item for the local food bank. The children decorated and wrapped the gifts in white tissue paper and put them into donated laundry baskets to distribute.
Thanksgiving Day Program:
I paraphrased and adapted the songs and dances so everyone could participate. We used the songs below in both large whole school programs and our individual class programs.
Bringing in the Community:
These were always crowd favorites. We would sing the songs, have someone dress up like a turkey and strut around. (One time it was the principal, one time a favorite music/gym teacher, sometimes a parent or a student from the high school drama club.) The turkey also lead the rhythm band for a couple songs. When we had a music teacher, she taught the rhythm band, after the cutbacks the teacher did it.
Each student made a picture for their families. If they were able, they wrote and read a sentence of what they were thankful for to the group. If the student couldn’t read, write or talk, they had a picture or the actual object they were thankful for (A picture of their family or a grandparent, a flower…) They might use a tape recorder, or ask their friends to say it with them.
For the grand finale, the class would line-dance to the traditional music of Turkey in the Straw and Old Joe Clark (the gym teacher helped teach the dances).
Finally, we ask the parents, brothers – sisters to join in for the Turkey in the Straw square and Old Joe Clark square dance classics.
The students created and colored/painted the programs, created unique tickets if we had limited seating, and they collected the tickets at the door. The words to all the songs were in the program so the children and parents could read and sing them together at home.
The day before the program we had everyone bring in a piece of fruit for each person who was coming, the class made fruit salad, corn bread and cookies for the refreshments. Extra parents volunteered the day we made the fruit salad, corn bread and cookies. We had about 6 different kinds of fruit and vegetable peelers. We set up “stations” with a parent as supervisor of each station. Everyone participated, or partially participated according to their abilities.
Disabilities were not the issue, it was how can this person participate.
The students decorated the room and bulletin boards. We made several large murals of fruit cornacopeia, or a farm or grocery fruit and vegetable stand, or garden….
During our group story time, we used poster board to plan what we would do, and who would be responsible. We divided up the chores. The children chose how they wanted to do it. We usually combined the farm,Thanksgiving, food and/or autumn thematic units so the bulletin boards and room were decorated at least a week ahead of time. All learning activities focused on the thematic unit, were tied to standardized goals and IEP goals.
Children Giving the Tour:
Before the program, the students gave their parents and guests a tour of the classroom explaining what we were doing, what they were learning.
After the program, the parents got to take all their child’s work home to show grandma and grandpa or other friends on Thanksgiving day.
On Thanksgiving Day
Many families told us the whole family sang the songs and some used the “On Thanksgiving” song as part of the grace at Thanksgiving dinner. It really was a nice way of bringing the families into our program and letting the children be the experts and teach the songs, games to their families.
Ole Mr. Turkey
Who’s that struttin’ round lookin’ mighty perky?
Looks like it might be old Mister Turkey.
Strut Mr. Turkey that’s a fancy way to walk
Strut Mr. Turkey that’s a fancy way to walk.
Gobble, Gobble, Gobble
I’m a mighty fine turkey and I sing a fine song,
GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE, GOBBLE, GOBBLE, GOBBLE
I strut around the barnyard all the day long and my head goes
BOBBLE BOBBLE BOBBLE.
TUNE: FRIERE JACQUES – Round
(In our school program, I took a song the children knew, rewrote the words, and chose one child to be the “conductor” for each part of the round. Another time in a whole school program, three different classes each sang a different part of the round.)
On Thanksgiving, on Thanksgiving
We are glad, we are glad.
For all the special blessings, all the special blessings
That we have, that we have.
(repeat 3 times)
TUNE: Turkey in the Straw
(I paraphrased the words so we could act it out.)
Oh, a turkey is a bird, just as proud as can be.
He struts around with his tail in the breeze.
He makes gobble noises at everyone he sees.
But thanksgiving is coming, and that’s not make-believe!
RUN TURKEY, HIDE TURKEY
Turkey in the straw, turkey in the hay,
Where oh where will the turkey be
When the table is set Thanksgiving Day? (rub tummy)
(Transition verse- putting on coats, getting in line….)
In winter when it’s cold and snows
I have to wear a lot of clothes.
If only I were like a bear
I wouldn’t have all this to wear.
Whatever weather she is in,
She grows her coat right on her skin.
What are some of your memories? How did the teacher include ALL students, including the students with disabilities in their activities? What were some of the lessons of that first Thanksgiving that apply to building community and celebrating diversity?
To avert our St. Nick kindergarten disaster, the next day I brought in the ingredients for our Building Community Mix.
With other groups, I’ve made stone soup in a crock pot or adapted the activity in a couple different ways. One time, I had everyone bring in a piece of fruit and we made a community fruit salad. But the biggest success was always making Community Building Mix.
Each of the children participated and added their ingredient into our community pot–which was a large empty popcorn tin. Each student took a turn stirring and then rolling the tin to “cook” the ingredients. We shared our “Soup” and filled an extra baggie to give to a stranger, a child they didn’t know that attended our school.
The actual recipe is just a takeoff of ole Trail Mix.
It becomes a community building activity when each person in the group brings in one ingredient for a shared experience of working together.
I have used this activity with all age groups: pre-schoolers, special education students, Boy Scouts, university students, teachers, senior citizens…. A friend even used it with her Ladies’ Church Group as their culminating activity of friendship and sharing after a month long Bible Study.
It has also worked well for many holidays: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Birthdays, Summer Camp…
Great Holiday Gift Idea
It also works great as a homemade gift.
Aaron, my son who has the label of autism and intellectual disabilities, gave this as his annual teacher gift (one to each of his teachers, school secretaries, bus drivers, job coaches, therapists….). Since we wanted to include and thank as many people as possible, and have the gift be something that would enhance Aaron’s status as a person with skills and talents, this was perfect.
Twenty years later, his high school teacher still talks about “the mix.” It was a great way of thanking all the people in Aaron’s school or work community. And he got to be an active part of making it.
Aaron would “partially participate” by picking out the items at the grocery (his favorite were M&Ms), dumping the ingredients into the large popcorn tin. (Tape the lid on the tin.) He would roll the tin around to mix it up. Aaron would also help put the sticker: Aaron’s Holiday Mix on the top of the small holiday tin containers, snack bag, paper cups or plastic containers.
Tommy would also help pick out the ingredients in the store (he favored Skittles). His job was to help stop Mom and Aaron from eating the M&Ms, as well as scooping the mix with a large ladle into the containers.
Since Aaron had fine motor issues and Tommy had great fine motor skills this worked out well. Each of the boys got to use their skills to make the mix.
Building Community Snack Mix
Box of Granola
Package of Mixed Dried Fruit Bits (found near the raisins in the grocery)
Can of nuts
M & M’s, chocolate chips, or Skittles
Other ingredients could be marshmallows, coconut, peanut butter chips, white chocolate, popcorn, cheese fish or crackers….
Invite your friends over and ask each to bring one ingredient.
Get out your biggest bowl, or put in a large popcorn tin (tape it shut). Combine all ingredients by shaking or stirring. Ladle into paper cups, plastic baggies, or in bowls. This is a great recipe for lunch snacks, parties, and teacher’s gifts. The mixed dried fruit bits are the magic ingredient.
Add Your Comments:
Have you used any similar experiences to build friendships, share gifts? Have you used “partial participation” to include others with various levels of skills? Is this an activity you can use?
This article is dedicated to Dr. Lou Brown, from the University of Wisconsin–Madison who died in 2021.
He taught us about “ecological inventories,” “Life space inventories,” “developmental twins,” “Pre- means never,” “functional curriculum” and testified in our court case that anything in the segregated handicapped-only school for people with severe disabilities could be portable and done in a public school. He made all the difference in our lives and helped change special education. He also told us to not let them teach our kids “dumb stuff”.
Aaron 3 yrs. old. Isn’t this cute, I’ll save it forever.
The first time Aaron brought home a hand-print turkey he was 3 years old and I thought it was adorable.
When Aaron was 25 years old and brought home the same hand-print turkey, I was livid.
Aaron 25 years old. Kill the Turkey!
What’s the difference? Same kid, same activity. Why is one turkey a treasure, another only fit for the garbage?
The difference is the educational and philosophical debate between “developmentally age-appropriate” and “chronologically age-appropriate” activities for people with autism and developmental disabilities.
In a previous post, I introduced Dr. Lou Brown’s ecological assessment tool the “Life Space Analysis” (click here) This planning tool for people with disabilities helps identify the when, where, who and what fills a person’s day and gives clues on a person’s quality of life–though this tool can be useful for all of us.
1970s: The Birth of Special Education
Back in the 70s when IDEA was passed and people with disabilities first got the right to go to public school, everyone was trying to figure out how people with disabilities learned? What were the appropriate activities and curriculum? If you want more information about this time period click here: Parallels in Time II.”
Dr. Lou Brown and his colleagues found adolescents and adults across the country playing with infant toys. The “what” in their Life Space Analysis consisted of meaningless activities repeated every day like coloring, stacking blocks, putting colored rings on tubes, playing with wooden puzzles, and generally keeping Fisher-Price in business. “Pre Means Never” is a short video with the main idea as only Lou can tell it.
The rationale was “these students were eternal children”. It didn’t make any difference what they did. There were no expectations. They had low IQs and were functioning at a preschool or early childhood developmental level. So teachers used materials and activities matching the student’s developmental levels. For example: If a person had an IQ of 50 and a developmental age of 5.2 (6 years and 2 months), then the person with the disability should do activities that matched what a normal 5.2 month old child would do. It didn’t matter if the “child” was actually 19 or 35, or 70 in chronological years.
2010: Adult Services
I have to admit, I thought the idea of developmental age was long dead. Aaron went to public school and had plans for his future as an adult (click here). He had a functional community-based curriculum, he had a transition plan, and he had work experience. Plus, the research in the whole field of special education and adult services, strongly supports the idea of chronologically age-appropriate activities.
So, again: What’s the Problem?
In my recent round of looking at adult daycare for people with disabilities and the elderly, I have been shocked out of my mind to find rooms with Fisher-Price toys. I know the toys are indestructible, but come on. They are NOT AGE-Appropriate! If the toy package says ages 3-6, then if you are over 6 years old, it is not age-appropriate.
Schools vs. Adult Day Care
The difference between best practices in the schools and best practices in adult services is the fact that the staff and teachers are licensed. They have the training and have studied the research literature about best practices. They have done student teaching and got first-hand experiences under mentor teachers.
The people who run and work in the adult day care systems are lovely people who have high school diplomas (or GEDs) and because the job pays little more than minimum wage, they get no in-service, no vision of what CAN happen. They have the reality of too many people with disabilities, not enough help, and no training. So making preschool turkeys, or paper plate pilgrims make sense to them. The materials are cheap and the activity matches their developmental ages.
I am thankful Aaron has someplace to go during the day. (Some states have nothing and the people sit at home.)
I am thankful these kind people don’t abuse and hurt Aaron.
I am thankful they take him to the bathroom, wipe up his messes, help him eat his lunch, and do their best.
But, they send home a paper plate bunny, toilet paper firecracker, macaroni Santa… And I am not thankful.
I don’t have an answer. I have tried to send in more age-appropriate materials and resources. I have tried to show alternative activities. And they are not thankful.
What do you think? Is my age-appropriate rant just silly? What do you think I should do the next time Aaron brings home a preschool craft? Do you think the types of activities make a difference to people with disabilities?
If this makes sense and you want to spread the word, please retweet or link to Facebook. We have a whole lot of people to reach before the Christmas and holiday crafts begin.
I would be thankful.
Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward
All my best,
Brown, L., Branston, M., Hamre Nietupski, S., Pumpian, I., Certo, N. & Gruenewald, L. (1979). A Strategy for Developing Chronological Age Appropriate and Functional Curricular Content For Severely Handicapped Adolescents and Young Adults. Journal of Special Education, 13(1), 81 – 90.
Don’t these chocolate covered strawberries look delicious?
For the Holidays, or any day, what about making chocolate covered treats or gifts for the people you love?
Chocolate Covered Fun for ALL AGES and Abilities
Parents, Special Education Teachers, Directors of Day Programs and Senior Centers: Everyone is looking for activities that are fun, age-appropriate, and allow people with all ability levels to participate.
Taking your favorite snack for a chocolate dip may be the answer.
The costs will vary according to the ingredients, but pretzels and marshmallows are cheap. Of course if you want to go gourmet, hey, yum.
“Partial Participation is Better than Exclusion from an Activity” *
Even if the recipe says, “Easy” that doesn’t mean every person can do every part of the activity.
For instance, Aaron, my son with the label of autism, wouldn’t be able to set the timer on the microwave–but he can certainly dip the pretzel in the chocolate sauce and choose the kind of sprinkles for the decoration.
Aaron can’t read the recipe with words, but he could follow the directions with pictures and though he can’t drive to the grocery, he can partially participate by picking out the pretzels and chocolate.
When Aaron was in school and had a speech therapist, one of his goals was identifying pictures of grocery items and finding the item in the grocery aisle. When he had a physical therapist, one of his IEP goals was pushing the grocery cart without hitting anyone in the grocery store. (Not a pretend grocery store in the classroom.) When he had an occupational therapist, one of his goals was to hand the grocery clerk the money to purchase the items and put the money back in his pocket. Aaron successfully learned these skills and practiced them every week in his functional community-based program and … every time our family went into the community grocery store.
There are lots of things Aaron can do to partially participate in every activity.
When Aaron is part of the group when he does purposeful, functional activities, he develops self-esteem, he is a doer. He is not just a passive observer. If he is treated as a baby, or as someone who cannot do anything but watch, then he loses his skills and his self-esteem. The people who think they are being nice and helpful to him, are not–they are actually causing him to lose skills/self-esteem.
This is a functional activity because if Aaron doesn’t go to the grocery to get the supplies someone else will have to do it.
If Aaron is actively involved in the shopping, the decorating, and gives the chocolate covered pretzels as a gift HE MADE–then this activity becomes much more than an easy activity to fill the day. It can become a learning and social enhancing experience. When he gives Grandma a package of pretzels he made, it is a joyful celebration for everyone. You should see his smile 🙂
*Dr. Lou Brown, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Be Creative: Lots of Ideas
Dip White or Dark Chocolate Ideas:
Dried Fruit (apricots, raisons…)
Fresh Fruit (strawberries, cherries with stems, apples (whole or slices)…)
Pretzel Rods of any size
Rice Krispie Treats
How to Make Chocolate Covered Pretzels:
Activity for All Ages and Abilities
Things You Might Need:
Microwave-safe glass or measuring cups
Bags white and dark chips (12 oz.)
Bag of pretzel rods (12 oz.) or other food
Small candies or sprinkles
You Tube Video Demonstration
Task Analysis or Recipe
Chocolate-Covered Pretzels with Sprinkles
Recipe courtesy Paula Deen for Food Network Magazine
Prep Time: 20 min, Inactive Prep Time: 24 hr 0 min
Cook Time: 2 min; Level: Easy
Serves: 24 pretzels
Place the milk chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl and the white chocolate chips in another. Microwave one bowl on high for 1 minute. Remove and stir with a rubber spatula. (The chips should melt while you are stirring, but if they don’t, you can continue to microwave for 15 more seconds, and then stir again.) Wash and dry the spatula. Microwave the other bowl on high for 1 minute, and stir until the chocolate is melted.
Dip one pretzel rod into the milk chocolate; use a spoon or butter knife to spread the chocolate about halfway up the rod. Twist the rod to let the excess chocolate drip off. Hold the rod over a piece of wax paper and shake sprinkles on all sides. Place the pretzel on another piece of wax paper to dry. Coat another pretzel with white chocolate and sprinkles. Repeat until you’ve coated all the pretzels, half with milk chocolate, half with white chocolate, and let dry completely, about 24 hours. (Cover any remaining chocolate with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.)
Copyright 2011 Television Food Network G.P. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/chocolate-covered-pretzels-with-sprinkles-recipe2/index.html
All Rights Reserved
Gifts and Favors, Holiday Variations
President’s Day, Halloween, Easter, 4th of July, Christmas Variations
All American Holiday
Gifts and Favors
Paula Deen’s Christmas Pretzels
Halloween chocolate covered pretzels
Does it make sense that an activity as simple as making a chocolate covered pretzel can be a learning and self-esteem project? Can teachers, parents and directors of day programs make this more? Can they blow the opportunity?