Mrs. O gave the Superhero Summer Camp its name to highlight the idea that students can learn to be their own superheroes by communicating effectively. To stick with this theme, Mrs. O is beginning each day of summer camp by introducing an Unthinkable Villain taken from the Superflex program by Michelle Garcia Winner. The students must overcome these villains by channeling the skills they are learning—their superpowers! When working with a high energy group of individuals, such as a group of 5- to 9-year-olds on summer vacation, it can be very helpful to establish the importance of staying focused right off the bat.
Meet the Brain Eater. He is a monster who gets in students’ heads and causes them to become distracted from the important parts of a lesson or speech therapy session. Last Wednesday at camp, Mrs. O and Mrs. M showed the students how the Brain Eater can disrupt their learning with a skit. Mrs. O and Mrs. M were having a conversation in front of the group when Mrs. O suddenly blurted out that she could see a dog in the distance, throwing the conversation off track and causing both Mrs. M and Mrs. O to forget the important topic they were discussing. Once the kids understood the problems that the Brain Eater can create, the group brainstormed ways to combat the evil villain like pausing and taking a deep breath or asking their conversational partner to help them understand the message.
Later in the day whenever the students got distracted from the camp activities, Mrs. O and Mrs. M were able to remind the students to stay focused with the simple mention of the Brain Eater. We will continue to see Mrs. O teach students abstract skills such as attention and emotion management by embodying their counterparts in villains throughout the Superhero Summer Camp. Together we can take down the bad guys with skillful communication strategies!
Last week during the first day of Superhero Summer Camp, the students were introduced to their first villain, the Brain Eater, who steals the students’ focus. This week the students learned about Rock Brain and Glass Man. Rock Brain makes the students become inflexible with what they are doing or thinking, like when they want to continue playing even when their parents tell them it is time for dinner. Glass Man makes the situation even worse, causing kids to “shatter” when they are upset like when they are told to do something they do not want to do. To overcome these villains, the students learned how to stay calm in stressful situations and use their expressive language to communicate their emotions rather than throw a tantrum. Above is a picture of Mrs. O showing the students what it looked like when Rock Brain and Glass Man get into their heads.
If it was not already clear, this week’s superpower is self-soothing! Mrs. O asked the student’s what kinds of things they do to calm down when they feel frustrated or upset. Some of the answers were taking deep breaths, listening to music, counting to 10, going outside to get some fresh air, and petting a favorite pet—like Sophie the WonderDog! Another helpful strategy to turn a frustrating situation into a productive one is by expressing those thoughts and emotions. Mrs. O told the students to pause and ask themselves, “How am I feeling right now?” “What do I need?” and “Can we reach a compromise?” Then tell their conversational partner the answer to these questions. With this method, there are three steps to calm down: pause, think, and communicate!
The first step of remaining calm includes that whole list of strategies the students discussed earlier. The problem is, Rock Brain does not always let the students remember those strategies! To help the students remember, Mrs. O had them write down or draw out some of their favorite things that can help them calm down before Glass Man causes them to have a meltdown.
Rock Brain and Glass Man love to attack during social situations, like when kids play together but run into a disagreement. Rock Brain causes the kids to not be able to see the other’s side, while Glass Man makes emotions difficult to control. Mrs. O decided to do another key hunt this week to practice cooperation and teamwork since the students had a blast with the treasure box activities last week. This time, the students were paired up so they could work on one-on-one communication and emotional self-control while searching for keys hidden around the playground. After each pair had found a key and unlocked one of the locks, the treasure box opened to show materials to make personal stress balls for each of the students! Stress balls and fidgets can be beneficial in helping children and adults pause and think—the first two steps of calming down—by reducing stress levels and giving their nervous system something to focus on while their minds settle down.
The last step to taking down Rock Brain and Glass Man is to clearly communicate those negative emotions. To show the students that both their words and their body language can express emotions, I showed them some American Sign Language to the song Firework by Katy Perry. Not only did this song fit perfectly with recent holiday, but it has some great references to self-expression! The students were allowed to feel the music and “dance it out” during the opening verse which mentions feeling like a “house of cards one blow from caving in.” Sounds like Glass Man may even be getting to Katy Perry sometimes! Then I showed the students how to “let their colors shine” using sign language when the chorus came on. While none of these students use American Sign Language as their primary form of communication, it is important for them to see they can express themselves through means other than just words. In addition to spoken communication and body language, Mrs. O and Mrs. M showed the students that they can also express themselves through art. Painting is a wonderful way to put a pause on the overwhelming emotions caused by Rock Brain and Glass Man while also facilitating communication with a visual message!
This past Wednesday was the first ever day of the Wonderbus Superhero Summer Camp, and it was a blast! Mrs. O’s goal for the camp is to give her students an extra push on their language, expression, and social skills. The day started with a yoga circle and some breathing exercises led by Mrs. Mihaljevic, a yoga instructor and special education teacher, to get the group’s blood flowing and their minds clear and ready to learn. While in the circle, Mrs. M and Mrs. O introduced the students to the lesson of the day by asking them to share out who their superheroes are. The student’s answers ranged from teachers, to moms, to cartoon characters, to their pets and best friends. But what about when those heroes are not around to help us? Mrs. O explained to the students that each of them also had their own superpowers and that they could be their own superheroes. Social and expressive language skills play a huge role in self-advocacy and problem solving, this first day of summer camp was just the first step to transforming these kids into their own heroes!
To become a hero, the students first have to understand how to recognize superpowers—the skills that help them successfully communicate. To get the students brainstorming about what their ideal superhero would be, we started off with some good old-fashioned arts and crafts. The students got to get creative with markers, colored pencils, and paint to imagine what their superhero would look like while being encouraged to discuss some of the traits of their heroes. Not only did this bring attention to the types of skills that are important to the students, but it also created a great opportunity to practice concept imagery and expressive verbal skills. Concept imagery involves the ability to create and express a mental image to understand and think about an idea or concept. This skill is particularly helpful in reading and auditory comprehension. Getting crafty almost always inspires creativity and imagination!
While on the WonderBus, students practiced receptive language and teamwork skills with a scavenger hunt breakout box game. Mrs. O hid keys around her bus and gave the students cards with riddles about where the keys were hidden. The students worked together to solve the riddles and search for the keys to open all the locks on a treasure chest! In the picture above, a student is checking the window after reading a card with the following riddle: “This is the glass that you look through to see outside. Look around, where might the key hide?” Even though the students put all their heads together to solve the riddles in the end, they were first encouraged to take turns and allow each student to try to find one key by themselves. This was great practice for learning when it is appropriate to help others and how much assistance to provide when helping. The riddles themselves also provided opportunities for the students to practice skills in inferencing and abstract thinking, which will come in handy in the limitless sticky situations that a hero may have to do some rescuing for!
Contents of one of the challenges for the older students to practice recognizing facial expressions and receptive language.
The older students also played a breakout box game with the treasure chest, this one focusing more on pragmatics and social language skills. The students had to work together to find 5 baggies that were hidden around the playground. Once they used their communication skills to work together to locate the baggies, they had to complete challenges that were inside the baggies to earn the key to unlock the treasure box. Each challenge presented the opportunity to practice recognizing and applying social language skills like facial expressions and tone of voice. One of the challenges had students role play scenarios where the same sentence could present different meanings based on which word was stressed. For example, the utterance “I didn’t SAY you stole the money,” communicates something different than “I didn’t say YOU stole the money.” Another challenge involved matching a written emotion to picture representations of the physical look of an emotion, as shown in the picture above. Body language and tone of voice provide ample amounts of crucial communicative information. The students are learning how expressive and receptive tools like these can extend their communicative superpowers beyond the word level!
Hello! My name is Jill, and I will be in charge of the Wonderbus Blog this summer. The plan is to follow Mrs. O around and tag along on all of the exciting things she has going on with the Wonderbus like individual speech therapy sessions, picnics, and the SuperHero Summer Camp! I will be keeping you all updated on some of the activities Mrs. O does with her students while on the Wonderbus and describe some of the benefits of this style of speech therapy delivery.
The Wonderbus is a mobile pediatric speech clinic; basically, it is a classroom on wheels! Students will climb aboard to receive speech therapy while on the bus as well as in outdoor spaces that the bus will park at, like the Liberty Grove park and Lincoln Elementary School. This is an up-and-coming way to deliver speech therapy, there is only a limited number of other mobile speech units across the country. I cannot wait to pick Mrs. O’s brain about the inspiration behind her idea to create the Wonderbus!
To share a little bit about myself, I am an undergraduate Honors student studying Communication Sciences and Disorders at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan—but my hometown is right here in Plainfield, Illinois! This blog is the output of my Senior Project, shadowing Mrs. O and all her adventures throughout the summer. I aspire to be a speech language pathologist myself. While I have not yet decided what setting I want to focus on, some of the things that interest me the most about speech pathology is the brain’s role in both speech and language (neurology), the way our mouths move to form different sounds (articulation), and the unspoken rules of speaking (pragmatics)!