Surviving December in Special Education


I get it. All the other classes are putting on Christmas plays, assembling their own Polar Express train out of candy bars, and watching every Christmas movie ever made. You, on the other hand, are stuck in your classroom with students, who this time of the year, more than ever STRUGGLE. Our students thrive with regimented routines, and this time of year, even at home, that all seems to go out the window. And as the teacher, you are faced with more frequent and more intense meltdowns and behaviors that threaten to derail your best-laid plans.

Let’s face it, December is TOUGH. And, really nothing I can put on this page is going to make it magically smooth and peaceful. But, I can give you a few tips so you know you are not alone. It also gives you permission to not do what every other teacher may be doing this year. It is totally okay, and preferred, to keep things as normal as possible during this somewhat crazy time of year.

Here are 5 things to keep in mind.

1. Give yourself (and your students) some grace

Going into the month of December with the idea that you will do the best you can, and to accept the bumps in the road goes a long way in setting you in the best possible mind frame. It is okay if things do not run as smoothly as normal. A lot of this is out of your control. There are changes happening at home with the holiday season, that often results in our students being less tolerant and more excitable. Knowing you have students coming to you in the morning in this state, can help you mentally prepare for a more hectic day. Does that mean you should lower your expectations? I, personally, do NOT think so. We still hold our students to the highest of standards. Just do not abandon the entire lesson if you feel your students are not completely “with you.”

There is a lot of talk about mindset when it comes to students and helping them perform at their best. But, it works for us as well. Re-framing is a powerful tool I have recently discovered. When something happens that would normally really upset or anger me, I take a step back and ask myself “why did this just happen? Is there something I can learn from it? How can I just move past it?” See all the focus on what I can do? Don’t focus on why a person did what they did to upset you. You can only control how you feel, your reaction, and your actions moving forward. It is not easy, but trust me, with purposeful intention, this has amazing power to restore peace and positivity to your life.

2. Talk with your parents

During the holiday season, we all try to be respectful of each other’s traditions and celebrations. However, when you teach in a classroom filled with students who have significant communication challenges, it can be difficult to figure out how they celebrate the holidays at home. So, I suggest, going right to the source and ask the parents. You can even send them home a quick form to fill out. I even have one you can download HERE that is editable, so you can tweak it to best fit your needs.

3. Keep you regular schedule (as much as possible)

This is probably a no brainer to many of you. But, trust me, you will be tempted to spice it up and maybe even go a little easy this time of year. Some of you may be in a classroom with students who can handle having class outside as a special treat, or have the regular schedule abandoned for a fun holiday time. And yes, your students can still learn a lot in these scenarios. But, for most of us, this just is not possible. I am here to say it is OKAY to keep doing math at 10:00 and social studies after lunch. It will be so tempting to join in all the fun extra-curricular activities, but if your students cannot handle that much change it is totally, 100% OKAY to just keep doing what you always do.

4. Add the holiday fun stuff into your regular lessons

Does all this mean your students cannot experience any of the fun holiday traditions? Of course not. But, you do need to be mindful of how you weave them into your math, spelling, science and even social studies lessons. Try to keep the subject topic the same if possible, and weave in holiday symbols or connections. For example, if you are studying the scientific method in science, you could find an experiment using candy canes that would totally reinforce what you are learning. But, if you are doing cells, then perhaps you want to find a way to build a model of a cell using holiday candy or supplies.

Luckily, special education teachers are great at things like this. We can tweak just about anything to fit a format our students can not only access but learn from.

I have a great spelling activity for Christmas that you can grab for free in my store. Just click HERE to head over and download it.

5. Spend time focusing on social skills

The holidays heavily revolve around social situations. Many of these situations our students may truly struggle with. This is the perfect time to work on some of those.

Here is a list of some skills to consider addressing:

  1. Exchanging gifts
  2. Opening gifts (I have a blog post with a free download related to this topic!! Read more HERE.)
  3. Saying thank you (even if you don’t like your gift)
  4. Going Christmas caroling
  5. Having to give up your bedroom for family who is visiting
  6. Visiting friends and family
  7. How to say no-thank you to a food you don’t like
  8. How to pass food at the table
  9. What to do if it gets too loud
  10. Where to go if you need some quiet time
  11. Appropriate holiday greetings
  12. Understanding some things are not yours (I have a FREE social story on this in my store, click HERE)
  13. To hug or not hug a family member; is it okay to say “no?” (the answer is always yes!!)
  14. Personal space with friends and family
  15. How to deal with changes in routine/schedule
  16. When things change at the last minute
  17. How to act appropriately in public spaces
  18. Visiting Santa (if young enough)
  19. Staying with others and other public safety concerns
  20. Telling others you need a break

Surviving the holidays is not easy for any of us, but it comes with a different set of challenges for our students with communication, sensory, and behavior challenges. It can also be a challenging time for family members who may not be used to interacting with these special kids. But, with a lot of understanding, preparation, and education we can all have a better holiday.

One last gift for you… Download this free social story on Surviving the Holidays to share with your students or send home to your parents. Just click the button below.





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