With the recent school closures, distance learning, and a possible hybrid models of schooling going into place, it is becoming difficult to provide instruction and practice for our students with moderate to severe disabilities. For some of these students, attending to instruction on a device, or interacting with activities on a computer are challenging. These student benefit from the presence of an adult to provide in-person interaction and prompting, as well as the ability to touch and hold materials. This year I am creating individual take-home boxes of materials for students to have at home that can be used to practice, maintain, and generalize skills.
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What Can Take-Home Boxes Be Used For?
To help provide hands-on activities at home or during distance learning, I am creating individual take-home boxes for students to have at home. Their caregiver/parent can utilize these materials to provide stimulating activities, instruction, or practice of previously taught skills. Once back in school, these packets can be sent home occasionally as homework, or just as useful materials to help students maintain and generalize skills from school to home.
During distance learning, these boxes can be used to give practice on skills being taught virtually. Teachers can even provide instruction or tutorials through video on how to implement the different activities. Parents can send video or do the activities during online meetings so teachers can see the students completing the activities. Teachers can then provide guidance and reinforcement, as well as take any needed data.
When school is operating as normal, I plan on sending take-home boxes home with students monthly to provide practice and support where parents see a need at home. This will also help generalize and maintain skills they are learning in the classroom. Students often learn a skill at school and then do not display that skill at home. This could be a way to bridge that gap by supporting parents with what they need to help students perform mastered skills across different environments.
What Skills Should be Addressed in Take-Home Boxes?
The activities you provide in your take-home boxes should address skills that students are close to mastering or have already mastered, so they can maintain these skills. You can also include activities that provide practice on their IEP goals. I also will include any materials to support needs that the parents/caregivers request help with.
Skills That are Mastered at School
As soon as a student masters a skill or goal in the school environment, include any materials and instructions in their take-home packet so that this skill can be maintained. If students do not get consistent practice on skills, these skills can be lost! It is so important to continue to provide exposure to practice of these skills even if they have been mastered. Also, just because a student is independent with a skill at school, they may not have generalized this skill to home or the community. When you send the materials and instructions home, the students’ family will be equipped to encourage a student’s independence across multiple environments. In addition to mastered skills, you can also send home materials to provide additional practice of skills that are almost mastered. Sometimes, when a student is close to mastering a goal, they just need a little extra practice in their day to get that goal mastered!
Activities to Provide Practice on IEP Goals
I do not recommend sending home activities the student is unfamiliar with, or that target a brand new skill. However, if you are already consistently providing instruction on a student’s IEP goals within the classroom, make doubles of any materials you are using to include in their take-home box. For example, if a student is using a visual schedule to wash their hands, send the same visual schedule home for parents to use with them. They will be washing their hands in both places so now we have increased the consistency of their practice on this skill, as well as helping to generalize across environments. Another example would be for a student learning sight words. You can make a second copy of laminated flashcards and a list of suggested activities they can do at home for additonal practice. If you are including academic tasks, I would try to make the activities for home fun and more hands on.
Skills Parents Request Help With
Talk to your parents as your are preparing your take-home boxes. Ask them what areas they struggle with at home. You can then include any visuals, schedules, or social stories that can help with these areas. Students may benefit from a visual schedule for home showing the order of their daily or evening activities. They may need first/then visuals to help parents be proactive with behaviors. Maybe a student would benefit from a turn taking visual and social story to help with sharing the TV with siblings. For students who are nonverbal, communication aids may be necessary to help express their wants and needs at home. Being a special needs parent is a hard job and we should provide any support and help we can!
How Many Activities Should be in a Take-Home Box?
You will need to take several things into account when deciding how many activities to include in each student’s box. First, how long can your student attend? If your student can only sit and attend for a few minutes at a time, I would include a smaller amount of activities. Just make sure there is a variety to choose from so they don’t get bored with the same activities. Another thing to take into account in the availability of your parents and caregivers to work with their child at home. Depending on their work schedules, number of other children in the house, and other factors that families deal with, some parents have more time than others to implement these activities. This is why it is so important to communicate with families and find out their needs. Will they be attempting to use these materials daily, once a week, or just on the weekends? Try to find a balance where you are giving families useful materials and support without overwhelming them. I would aim for an average of 5 activities so they have some variety of skills to work on. Make sure to check in and get feedback so you can add more or remove activities based on each family’s needs.
What are Some Examples of Activities to Include?
There are many skill areas that can be practiced at home through the activities you provide in your take-home boxes. Here are some examples of different types of activities and visuals to include:
Students may need a visual schedule to follow while completing work at home. This will help their parent/caregiver who is working with them to show the student what to expect and establish a routine for working at home. Students can also benefit from visual schedules when there is no “work time” involved. They may need a schedule just for a specific routine (i.e. getting ready for school, going to bed, unloading the dishwasher, visiting the dentist). Other visuals can be included such as first/then visuals, token boards, and other visual cues.
Inlcuding social stories provide an opportunity for reading together with an adult, as well as exposing students to a particular behavior, routine, or social skill they are working on. Social stories can help teach appropriate behaviors or prepare students for upcoming changes in their routine. These can easily be created yourself, but you can also find many resources for ready-made social stories online.
Communication Pictures and Communication Boards
Many of our students use varying modes of communication. Make sure have what they need at home to communicate, whether it is laminated pictures they can attach to a communication button or a communciation board for specific activities. I plan on including communication buttons for students that need them in my take-home packets. The ones pictured below are very affordable. They do not have the quality of more expensive communication buttons, such as the BigMack, but they are great for being able to share with families without breaking the bank! I add velcro to the top of the button so pictures can be easlity switched out as needed.
Flashcards and Picture Cards
Laminated cards appropriate for each student can provide practice with vocabulary, language, sight words, etc. Print these materials on cardstock and laminate them so they will be durable. A white board with velcro or magnetic clips to help display these items for the students is also helpful. An adult can then hold the white board up to make the materials more visually accessible, or use the board to provide varying numbers of choices. A personal laminator makes these smaller materials more durable as the lamination tends to be thicker than the large laminators at school. I have had great success with the one pictured below!
File Folder Activities
File Folders are a great way to provide practice and maintain skills and you can find tons of free file folder resources online. One place I have used gotten many file folder printables from is Chlldcare Land Pre-K. They have great, seasonal file folder and printable activities for free! I also make my own file folders with materials from my Unique Learning System units after the month is over. It’s a great way to recycle materials and continue to provide practice and maintenance of skills. Using multicolored file folders makes my pictures and icons more visible against the background. Library pockets are a great storage place for each folder’s loose materials.
Our students benefit from hands-on materials they can hold, touch, and feel. This is especially beneficial for students with more significant disabilities, or for students who do not attend well to computers or online activities. Manipulatives can include objects for vocabulary and language, items to use for counting and other math activities, sorting activities, and fine motor tasks.
For students with moderate to severe disabilities, shared reading experiences provide great exposure to all parts of the reading experience. There are great resoruces for adaptive books on Teachers Pay Teachers that you can print and put together yourself. You can also create your own adaptive books out of actual books you already have or by using the Leveled books provided from Unique Learning System (ULS). Below is an example of and adpative book from ULS I recently made.
IEP Goal Materials
Students make the most progress with repetition. Including materials that address specific IEP goals will provide them more practice as they work toward their goals. It also helps with generalization of skills across different environments and people. Make sure to only include items and activities that they are somewhat familiar with or have practiced with before. You do not want to include brand new activities in a student’s take-home box. These activities should first be introduced at school and then practiced at home. Think of what ways students can practice a goal at home, even if what they are practicing is only part of the skill. For example, you can send home a visual for starting the washing machine to practice that skill, or you could send home a sequencing activity to introduce the skill. Meet their needs at the point of instruction that they are at and gradually add more to these skills as they progress.
What Academic and Functional Activities Can I Include in the Take-Home Boxes?
You can provide materials to practice all types of skills in your take-home boxes. As you choose activities, consider the student’s independence level, where they are instructionally, and what skill areas are most important to their progress towards independence. Here are some examples of activities you can include for each skill area.
Letter Identification and Letter Sounds: laminated letter cards of various sizes, tactile letter cards, objects to sort by beginning sound, magnetic letters to match to sight words
Familiar books: appropriate books familiar to the student to practice independent reading, picture books or adaptive books, links to online books
Communication boards or vocabulary cards: use to discuss books with students and/or for comprehension activities, core vocabulary that can be used across multiple books and discussions
Pointers for students or an adult can use to assist with tracking while reading.
Writing and Fine Motor
Tracing or Copying Activities: provide laminated worksheets for practice tracing or copying (if laminated students can use dry erase markers and reuse the sheets)
Cut up sentence strips to put in the correct order
Materials and instruction for prewriting imitation (paper, white board, dry erase markers, crayons, etc.)
Cutting practice sheets (make sure to include adaptive scissors if necessary for that student)
Fine Motor strengthening tasks such as tweezers, clothespins, wind-up toys, etc.
Items for counting (make sure to use large enough items not to be a choking hazard) such as counting bears, erasers, blocks, etc.
Visuals for sorting, grouping, adding, and subtracting items.
File Folder activities targeting specific skills
Color sorting activities with pictures or objects
Materials for measuring (rulers, measuring cups, measuring spoons, etc.)
Money sorting or counting
Visuals schedules for specific activities (table work, reading a story, using the bathroom, etc.)
Simple activities to be worked on at increasingly longer times to increase time attending
Visuals for directions (sit down, come here, quite mouth, etc.)
Token boards and First/then visuals
Choice boards to allow students to choose the order of their activities, as well as reinforcers
Life Skills and Self-Help Skills
Visual schedules showing steps of specific activities (wash hands, brush teeth, load dishwasher, etc.)
Visuals or links to videos showing “how to” complete life skills activities such as folding clothes, safely using a vacuum, etc.)
Turn taking visuals
Communication boards for specific activities such as playing a game, sharing toys, playing outside, meal time behavior, etc.
List of suggestions for the caregiver of how to prompt during play.
Picture cards displaying feelings for students to idenfity or sort.
Cause and Effect toys
Social Stories addressing specific topics and issues relevant to that student
Visual cards displaying cues and rules to be used as reminders when needed.
First/then visuals with any needed icons.
Visual Schedule for various times and routines during the day
Visual schedules for specific vocational activity.
Visual task sequences for specific tasks.
Task boxes to practice skills (nuts and bolts, stuffing envelopes, restocking supplies, etc.)
Social Stories about appropriate behavior and social skills at work.
Communication boards, pictures, and/or icons.
Recordable buttons for students that need them.
Written suggestions and ideas for parents/caregivers to incorporate these materials into naturally occurring activities throughout the day.
Written or visual sensory diet to benefit that student.
Picture schedule of activities
Choice board of activities
Small items that provide sensory input: small box of tactile material (rice, moon sand, etc.), theraputty or playdoh, fidget toys, squishy balls
Noise blocking headphones if they don’t already have some at home
List of sensory activities for caregivers that do not require additonal mateirals (exercises, movement activities, heavy weight activities, etc.)
How Often Should I Change Materials?
How often you change out materials or send home a new take-home box for your students with disabilities will depend on your current school schedule, your students’ progress with the materials, and how often they are getting to work with the materials. If school has gone to a distance learning or hybrid learning model, I will adjust the materials more often. If I am using the packets to address current classroom content, so my materials will need to align with this content. During a regular school year, I will check in with parents each month to see which activities are still appropriate, which are mastered and need be made more challenging, or if any are worn out or getting overused and just need to be refreshed. Communication with the home will be key in knowing when to update materials, and what types of materials to include with each update.
How Can I Make Sure Parents and Caregivers Know How to Use the Take-Home Boxes With Their Child?
Provide detailed instructions for parents on how to implement each activity and use the materials you send home. This can be done by giving written instructions, which include specific scripts for ideas of what language to use. You can also write out scenarios as examples. Many of our activities can be done in various environments, so give examples for these. Online meetings are also a great way to provide guidance and examples on how to implement these activities.
Another way to help parents is to make videos showing how to use the materials or provide practice on a skill. You can make short videos specific to that student and their activities. It is much easier to carry out an activity once you have seen it in action. Even better if the parent/caregiver can see the student completing the activity with you, if you have that option!
I have created an Activity Guide for parents, containing planned activities for each day of the week with instructions. Visit my shop or click below to get these materials!
What Are Some Resources For Acquiring and Printing Materials?
If you need to make your own materials, there are several different programs to use. These programs can be costly, so check with your school/district to see what programs you may have available to you. Boardmaker is a commonly used software to create visuals and communication boards/pictures. If you are using Unique Learning System, they have a program called Symbolstix Prime. This is the program I use to make many of my materials. GoTalk also has a software for making icons to go in their specific devices.
You can also find pre-made items for free if you do a little searching. Here are a few sites that can be a great resource to get started:
SpeakingofSpeech.com– this site has many free items on their materials page that you can print for free.
Project Core: access materials for Universal Core Words, as well as modules for teachers
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A Few More Things About Take-Home Packets
Depending on how many or how large your materials are, you may need different options of what to put your materials in to send home. If you don’t have large items, you can use a large envelope or gallon size (or larger) Ziploc bag. However, with some of the hands-on materials we need, or if you are including small task boxes, you may need to get some plastic boxes. Whatever you choose, make sure all your materials will fit in one place. You don’t want to be sending home multiple bags and boxes or things will get easily lost.
As students master new skills, make sure to include materials to practice these skills in their take-home boxes! It is so important to generalize new skills across environments. This will get students closer to being more independent!
What are some activity ideas you have for practicing skills at home? Please comment below with your ideas!