September 5, 2018

ABC Sensory: Creating an inclusive preschool classroom

Creating an inclusive classroom often requires we get comfortable being uncomfortable. It's comfortable to teach lesson plans as they're written. For many learners, taking this approach may prove effective. To reach learners with diagnosed or suspected special needs, we learn to embrace uncomfortability (yes, it's a real word). Uncharted or unknown territories are often opportunities for fun and growth that we enjoy only if we're intentional. Otherwise, it's just an annoying experience that you learn nothing from. Perspective matters.

When I launched Jackson Education Support in 2012, the inclusive preschool classroom wasn't on my radar. Preschool games, teaching the alphabet, and early childhood education in general were not included in my list of specialty areas. I had no desire to become proficient in this area until the challenge was presented by a client. I couldn't say no. I had to give it the old college try. In supporting clients in early literacy growth and mastery, it was necessary to create custom early literacy activities to personalize the learning experience. The first product uploaded to Teachers Pay Teachers has been downloaded nearly seven hundred times and rated as an all-star resource by educators and parents.

 Jackson Education Support develops more independent learners of all ages.

Kindergarten readiness is a big concern for parents and educators. Parents want to ensure children arrive to daycare or childcare prepared to learn, and educators want to meet the challenge of including preschool age children in meaningful learning activities - no child left behind is the goal. It seemed appropriate (and felt great) to stretch myself through professional development in order to meet the unique needs of early learners. Now, Jackson Education Support empowers and equips preK-12 and adults (with and without special needs) to transition into more challenging environments. 

What is an inclusive classroom?

In short, an inclusive classroom is an environment wherein students with special needs effectively learn alongside students without special needs. In order to create this kind of learning experience, we have to think critically about a number of factors (e.g., individual strengths and weak areas, achievement gaps within the group, available learning materials, curricular requirements, time management, evaluation criteria). 

 Accommodations and Modifications: A How-To Q&A with Nicole Eredics of the Inclusive Class

In many instances, a team labors year-round to ensure student success. Since clients usually find me when there's a missing piece or disconnect between planning and outcomes, I've learned a great deal about curriculum adaptations. Adaptations is an umbrella term that includes accommodations and modifications. "Accommodations" refer to changes to learning environments to make curriculum more accessible, to ensure students understand content; examples include eyeglasses, hearing aids, seating students at the front of the class. I set out to improve cognitive ability, to specifically effect learning, so accommodations are usually outside the scope of services that I provide.

Creating an inclusive preschool classroom

Curriculum modifications are my strength. Modifications are the bridges that make learning possible. A modification requires both a change in curriculum and learning outcomes. This second type of adaptation helps educators and parents meet students at their level. We aren't 'dumbing down content'; instead, we're offering an age-appropriate bridge so students can participate in classroom learning experiences at a level they can understand. Modifications include substitutions, deletions, and additions to an existing curriculum.

Creating an inclusive classroom using ABC Sensory curriculum supplement

One example of a preschool age modification used to create inclusive preschool classrooms is ABC Sensory, a curriculum supplement that allows preschool educators to bridge learning in the classroom as well as strengthen home and school partnerships and homeschooling outcomes. ABC Sensory Handwriting Journal and Flashcards are designed by Jackson Education Support as early literacy tools for automating letter identification and expanding alphabetic knowledge as well as improving phonics, print concepts, vocabulary acquisition and use, and word recognition. 

Benefits of ABC Sensory as a curriculum modification tool

The ABC Sensory system was created for clients and perfected over the course of dozens of private tutoring sessions with feedback from educators, students and their families. Hand signals for each letter of the alphabet improve recall and are ideal for teaching the differences between similar letters like b, d, p, and q. Preschoolers and special needs populations learn the alphabet with ease; they're also equipped to participate in an inclusive setting while growing toward mastery.

 ABC Sensory, curriculum supplement for inclusive preschool classrooms

ABC Sensory establishes a common system of learning the alphabet for learners with language acquisition challenges. By implementing this tool, parents and educators maintain rigor while bridging the learning gap for students with special needs. Examples follow.

  • Olivia cries uncontrollably during carpet time letter identification activities. She sings the alphabet song along with other children, but becomes visibly emotional it's her turn to shout letter names. An effective modification involves ABC Sensory Flashcards: instead of shouting the letter names, Izzy participates with her peers by showing the hand signal for letters.
  • Mason roughhouses with neighboring classmates after drawing on handwriting practice sheets (instead of tracing and writing the letters). An effective modification involves ABC Sensory Handwriting Journal: most handwriting practice sheets have 30% guided writing and 70% blank space for freehand writing whereas the ABC Sensory curriculum supplement takes advantage of the opposite rule (70/30) to provide much needed guidance to strengthen weaker fine-motor ability and muscle memory. With reminders to follow the guides from an adult, Mason experiences greater confidence and becomes more invested in handwriting practice.
  • Izzy shuts downs when tasked to use a mobile device to play an ABC game that requires her to listen to letter names and choose the correct letter from several. An effective modification involves ABC Sensory and an adult: the adult shows hand signals for letter names spoken in the app as Izzy taps the correct letter on the screen. In this way, Izzy completes the same activity by leveraging her strengths.

Jackson Education Support is actively seeking ABC Sensory partnerships with individuals and organizations that educate preschoolers age 3 through 5. We're offering free training with purchase for a limited time. All clients that use this system improve performance and enter the classroom with greater confidence. 


You're invited to become an ABC Sensory partner by 
emailing an interest letter to the learning center: 


August 15, 2018

Cultivating Grit Testimonial: A Parent's Perspective

I am an active parent like most of us but especially when it comes to my kids’ education. From inside the home and classroom to extracurricular and community activities, I am all over it! So, I quickly jumped at the opportunity to educate myself on ways that I could be beneficial in their learning process.

My Middle Schooler and Kindergartner
Both Jeniya and Chase are generally happy, energetic, outgoing and charming individuals. They establish and maintain healthy relationships with other kids and adult figures relatively easy. 
  • Jeniya, being in her preteen phase, places a lot of emphasis on friendships and fitting in. She is a “people-pleaser” who wears her feelings on her sleeves. I find that she can be aloof at times… the happy-go-lucky type. Academically, Jeniya tends to be less enthusiastic. She loves to go to school but mainly for the social aspects. She is extremely creative and focuses on art, dance, acting and the like. 
  • Chase can be a quiet storm. He is laid back and easy to please - usually calm and goes with the flow. He is initially shy and reserved when meeting new people but “warms” up pretty quickly. Academically, he is keen and eager to learn, constantly spouting off and sharing everything he was taught in school. He also often takes the initiative at home to read books, count, review shapes and colors, etc. without being prompted. Overall, each can be described as adventurous, determined, strong-willed, respectful, persistent, thoughtful and adaptable in their own right.

 Jackson Education Support Community Engagement

Cultivating Grit Testimonial
I was absolutely blown away while reading Cultivating Grit written by Jillian Smart. Her methods and approach are resourceful for students of all ages and grade levels, which is an added bonus for parents with single or multiple children at different phases of their academic journey as well as for educators whose primary focus is a particular grade level or subject area. This guide can be revisited and reapplied time and time again. 

Further, the overall approach conveyed in the book is adaptable and flexible; and, the strategies suggest steps that permit me to efficiently customize a plan for my kids' success in school. Also, it is helping me strengthen their minds in a way that promotes overall mental well-being when life throws us curve balls. The reflection activities are extremely helpful in applying the concepts. From learning how to say motivational things and exploring character strengths linked to living a positive lifestyle. I received thorough “training” and practice that is shaping my mindset as a parent, thereby allowing me to translate and refine the same skill set in my children.

 Cultivating Grit: An approach to increasing confidence

Initially, I was overwhelmed by feelings of guilt and sorrow when I started reading Cultivating Grit. I could see how my current approach to parenting and subsequent actions were self-sabotaging and inefficient at times. The book opened my eyes to the role that I play as caregiver and role model in my children’s lives. Jillian Smart gives a structured and disciplined yet encouraging approach for us parents and our students. 

Each stakeholder has to be accountable for our roles in the process in order to see favorable results. As I progressed through the book, I began to feel a greater sense of empowerment and relief. I noticed my very own level of confidence and determination increase with each section and reflection that I completed. I no longer feel insecure or self-defeated; I have started to use the tools that I learned from the book and execute a plan that suits our lifestyle and personalities. This is why I feel compelled to share my experience with other parents.

Benefits for Cultivating Grit Readers
The layout and organization of Cultivating Grit is impeccable. This book is a very quick and easy read with its workbook-style format and clear and concise concepts. I read the entire text including engaging in all reflections (except the Grit Fish activity) in about two hours. However, if you are short on time, the various sections and reflections allow parents to stop or take breaks as needed. After which, you can simply and seamlessly resume the lessons where you left off. 

 Jackson Education Support Community Engagement

I would recommend this book to any parent that wants to delve deeper into the psyche of your child in order to assess and understand how they are motivated academically. Whether you have noticed your child struggling academically or if you want to take a proactive approach before issues arise, you can benefit from reading the text and engaging in the exercises within Cultivating Grit. The ideal reader should also be willing and open to receiving the strategies offered in addition to actively and consistently implementing them. This requires us to maintain a healthy level of self-confidence and self-awareness as well as strive for excellence in our lives in the same manner that one would want the student to perform.

One of my favorite aspects of the book are the motivational quotes. I found that they really correlated with the concepts and set the tone for each section and reflection exercise. The quote “I’m going to do it. That’s it. Period.” resonated with me the most. As detailed in the book, I agree that two of the greatest obstacles to increasing confidence and cultivating grit is training your mind and changing your perspective to focus on positive and practical acts that aid in attaining your goals and ambitions. I’ve learned that I have to create objectives and commit to them whether it seems like a slam dunk, whether you can foresee challenges, or whether I’m in the dark forging new pathways.  I started preparing by being determined, all the while thinking and truly believing, “I’m going to do it. That’s it. Period.”

 Jillian Smart Amazon Author Page

Jillian Smart, M.Ed. has outlined an approach to increasing confidence that surely delivers on its promise! Instead of describing the theory of encouraging, supporting, motivating and instilling confidence, Cultivating Grit is a comprehensive guide for not only understanding these vital notions but it also provides a proven framework to create and implement a successful action plan for my kids based on their individual needs. This was time and effort well spent for me and you won’t be disappointed either.


Sharee J. Smith is a dedicated working mom of two children. 
Jeniya is a sixth grader and Chase is a kindergartner.

August 11, 2018

IEP Teams and Families: 3 Best Practices for Student Success

As an educator and special needs mom, I have a unique perspective on the importance of collaboration between parents and teachers of students with IEPs. Students with special needs are more likely to experience success when there is a strong partnership between school and home.

 Life with a Side of the Unexpected

Following are three best practices for collaboration between families and IEP team members to ensure student success.


The goal is for parents to be informed of challenges or successes children experience at school. There may be a need to reconvene as an IEP team if something needs to be changed and a parent has the right to request a meeting at any time. By starting off with positive, personal communication, it will likely be much easier to collaborate in the future.
  • Families: Request a check-in protocol to maintain open lines of communication. This could take many forms and the needs of the individual child dictate how often this should occur. Teachers may complete a daily checklist or a weekly communication email. This should be established at the beginning of each school year and documented in writing in the IEP.
  • Educators: It is a good idea for teachers with IEP students to be proactive and build relationships with parents early (even before the actual school year starts). After reading the student’s IEP, contact the parent and ask for input. Ask questions like: “What are some of your child’s outside interests?” or “Tell me how he feels about school.”   


Educators need to know when to simply listen to parents and when to problem solve. Parents rely on communication from teachers to keep apprised of how children are performing in school. Case managers are the special education “expert” within the school. They are the member of the IEP team responsible for collecting data and managing goals. This person should always be included in any communication with other teachers. They are the liaison for all of the teachers and should be the IEP student's best advocate.  
  • Families: It’s important to remember that no decision should be ever be made without input from all members of the IEP team, including you as the parents. In other words, the school team should never hand you a ready made IEP and ask you to sign it. IEP meetings should be collaborative meetings where the team crafts the document together.
  • Educators: Sometimes it is necessary for parents to simply have a discussion with teachers in order to feel reassured that their child is being successful. In these cases, save your suggestions, comments and attempts to solve any problem and be an active listener instead. 
 Back to School Tips for Parents of Children with IEP's


The school regularly collects and analyzes data. It is common practice for teachers to meet and discuss how that data will inform their instruction. There may come a time where you do not agree with the school’s summary of your child.
  • Families: It is essential to communicate with the team and share any outside data you may have from experts in the field. You know your child best and it is important for you to paint a picture of the "whole child" to ensure school programming is tailored to meet his/her needs.  
  • EducatorsWhen you have data to share with parents, remember to communicate sensitively. Parents of children with special needs are inundated with constant reminders of their child’s limitations. Be mindful of sharing in a way that highlights growth and includes the child’s strengths.  
Communication, utilizing a team approach and considering the whole child are best practices for both school staff and parents to successfully collaborate. A strong partnership between parents and educators contributes greatly to student success, especially for students with IEPs.  


Laurie McLean has more than 20 years of experience in public education as a certified reading specialist, supervisor of curriculum, and administrator. Laurie is also the mother of a 13-year old son on the autism spectrum. Learn more about Laurie's work by visiting her blog: