When I first started in the district I am at - 3 years ago - I was both excited and nervous about the idea of having CI students. Turned out that the way the schedule fell I didn't have them - the other art teacher in my building did. To be completely honest I was disappointed, but mostly relieved. I was nervous about starting in a new district and I had NO idea what to do with kiddos in a CI program.
So I started to think about things I could do with my new students - and I realized that I really had NO idea what I was doing. I tried to look on the internet for things, pinterest... I looked for blogs. Honestly, I found little to nothing for art. I found tons of picture charts, adaptive tools for the grade level teachers - squat for me.
I dug out a textbook from college called The Special Artist's Handbook. This gave me some actual information I could work with. I was excited and also totally overwhelmed.
My first class with them, I was a nervous wreck - it felt like my very first day of teaching all over again (which it kind of was). I had read quick bios about each kid, but those rarely help me until I can put a face to the information. It is hard for me to understand that Jessica might bite if you are too close, and that Michael needs to be apart from Sally...... that is until I meet them - then it all makes sense.
I decided there was nothing more I could actually do to prepare other than to just jump in. It was time for some trial and error.
I have had the kiddos once a week since September and here are some things I have learned.
1) Baby wipes. Have a lot. Buy a container and then the HUGE packs of refills. A lot of my CI kiddos HATE being messy - even if it's just marker, they will want it off before they move on. So - have baby wipes. It's faster and easier than running to the sink every couple of minutes.
2) Be prepared to have a HUGE range of abilities. I have two separate groups and even within those groups their skills vary A LOT. In both groups I have students that are non-verbal. In both groups I have kids who will talk all class. Some kids can cut on their own and write their own name - while others need assistance to cut and write.
3) Be prepared to laugh and smile. The more I get to knows these kids the more I come to really appreciate and love their individuality. They tend to surprise me - not just in their artwork - but when they come to class in a super mood and are silly all class, or are extra helpful, or even how they communicate without words.
4) Music Videos. I'm not talking MTV - but Sesame Street, kidsongs, Harry Kindergarten. They love to move to the music - dance - sing!
5) Be prepared. I am still trying to find materials and projects that are both engaging but not too hard for my students. I often think something will take them 15-20 minutes and they will be done in 5. Or something I think they will enjoy for only 5 minutes will keep them engaged for the whole 25 minutes. Be prepared with a back up plan - and maybe your backup should have a back up.
6) Be Alert. Even though there are multiple adults in the room, with the door shut - they can escape. It amazes me how quiet and fast some of the kids are. I always keep my eyes and ears ready for certain movements or sounds. Not to mention some of the kiddos like to be in other kid's spaces - which often are the kids that don't like people in their space.....
7) It's a challenge. It is definitely a challenge - but I truly love my time with these kids. I am learning a lot about these kids, about society, about me. I am doing my best to embrace it and learn everything there is to learn.
8) Absent. At least with my kids - they are absent a lot. The kids are out for doctor appointments, or are kept back in the classroom because their choices and behaviors are too wild and inappropriate to venture to art..... Kids will be absent. I try and do one day projects because of this. It is hard to have 3 kids working on something from the week before while 2 others are doing something else.
9) Ask questions. I asked a lot of question up front. I asked about personalities, I asked about sensory, I asked about abilities - ask questions. Let people know you are open to suggestions.
10) Play. Take the chance to play. Today we were done drawing and danced around the room to What does the Fox Say? They loved it and so did I.
11) No Control. Be prepared to feel like everything is wildly out of control - even though there are many adults in the room - prepare for a Murphy's law day. Anything that could go wrong, will. When it happens - remember safety first, then clean up the mess.
I hope in the future to find someone or something that will help me on this journey. I feel like there is a whole ocean of information I could be using - but I haven't found it yet. I often feel like I am shooting in the dark - hoping things will work. I'd have to say, more lessons have worked than haven't - but I also don't feel like I am doing enough. I figure each class teaches me something new - don't give crayons to Erica (she eats them like carrots), Joseph likes to be in Abby's space - but Abby bites. Karley can use scissors on her own, but Brian needs help. Cathy likes to manipulate small items, but also likes to stick things in her mouth. Sally is always eager to share her ideas, and Riley doesn't talk or watch but somehow always know what to do. I could go on and on about the differences between my kiddos - it's great. They are great. They teach me more and more each class. I will continue to plan lessons and watch which ones work (puppets and bleedable tissue paper seem to be the biggest hits so far) and which ones don't. I will continue to learn about their abilities, their personalities, and how the communicate with the world. One class at a time.