Hi! I’m Haley, and I blog at Teaching With Haley. We are going to discuss setting up a job skills program in a dog daycare, but first let me introduce myself. Alyssa is one of my very best friends, and I am constantly learning from her about being a mom, a teacher, and a better person! I’m so excited to be doing a guest post for her. If you’d like to learn more about me, I typically blog about supporting young elementary students with social-emotional skills. I also frequently blog about my amazing 3.5 year old daughter. You can find me at TeachingWithHaley.com.
Today I wanted to share about something I am SO passionate about. My family owns a doggie daycare, The Wag Shack, and about 6 months ago I started helping them manage it. I love supporting my family with their business, and I’m loving getting to stretch my creativity and entrepreneurial skills.
A few months ago we got a phone call from a local mom who was looking for a job opportunity for her 21-year-old daughter. For the sake of her privacy, I’ll call her Annie. Annie is finishing up her last year of high school in their transition program, and they were looking for more opportunities to work on job skills, life skills, and social skills. Annie also happens to be super passionate about dogs, so The Wag Shack is a great fit for her.
I was thrilled at the opportunity to support Annie in this way, and also use my teaching skills that I haven’t been able to use recently. Today I’m going to share how we set things up for her. I have a second blog post with tips to make your job skills program successful. You can find that here.
Set Up An Initial Meeting
Before we set up everything at The Wag Shack, we met with her teacher to go over her current skills and areas of interest. It really helped me in determining job tasks for her, because he was able to explain what skills she was currently working on and enjoyed doing.
Prep Your Staff
Before we had Annie start, I chatted with all of our staff members. I wanted to make sure they understand the partnership, and could ask me questions. I also took this time to share some things they could talk to her about. One of the benefits of job programs is interaction with staff, so I wanted to make sure they were equipped with conversation topics. For some of our staff, it was a new situation, and I wanted them to feel comfortable and prepared so that she could have the best experience. We also took this time to set a really clear expectation that she was important to us, and we really wanted to her to have a good experience.
A few things. you might want to chat about:
- the students’ job tasks and expectations
- behaviors they might see, and how to handle them (seizures, stims, etc).
- comfortable conversation topics
- your expectations of other staff
- changes in routines/set up
We have run into a few hiccups with our staff, because things are set up in a special way for her. For example, she gets to use “puzzle toys” during each shift with one of our dogs. But the staff put them in a different place (trying to help clean up) without realizing how important it is was she had her materials readily available. All of them were super easy to fix, it just required extra communication and a little bit of prep.
Determine The Tasks
Before you can set up your space, you’ll need to determine which tasks they’ll be doing. This took a bit of trial and error for us, because I didn’t completely understand her support needs. We changed some things up so she had a better chance of success.
We have a list of about 9 tasks that Annie can complete. I typically choose 4-5 depending on the day and what we actually need done. Some things only need to be done every few weeks, so I just choose the tasks before she comes in. However, she is familiar with all of them and we routinely go over the steps and expectations.
The tasks she completes include:
- restock water
- restock toilet paper
- restock paper towels
- fold towels
- move towels from the washer to the dryer
- wash towels (put them in the wash, add detergent)
- set out bowls for dinner
- sort/pour treats into Tupperware
- give a boarding dog a “puzzle toy”
Some other tasks that would be ideal for a student with lower support needs would be:
- refill water bowls
- prepare dinner (measure, pour)
- take pictures of the dogs
- write the dogs names on their boarding suites
- take out the trash
- take dogs who need to separated on walks
- prepare treats and “pupsicles”
If you’re not sure what tasks they should complete, use their current goals to determine the best fit. You might also find out what things they enjoy completing at home for some ideas.
With each task, we consider a few things.
- What will support Annie in her job skills and foster independence?
- Is this safe and comfortable for Annie?
- Is this safe and comfortable for our dogs?
- Is this safe and comfortable for our staff?
Everything that she works on meets those criteria. It’s important that we don’t put Annie or any of our dogs in a dangerous situation. She only works with specific dogs, and usually we use my dog, Tucker, because he is very trustworthy, food motivated, and not sensitive to movements, sounds, etc.
Set Up The Space
After we figured out which jobs would be best for Annie, I got our space ready for her. It was important that we had a set place for everything she would need to support independence.
We found an empty wall that she could start at each day. I didn’t have any sentence strips, so I just taped and laminated some sheets of cardstock together to create her list of tasks to complete each day. Her teacher and parent decided she’d earn a Coke at the end of her shift. She’s also paid. At this time, her school rules don’t allow us to pay her. However, her parents always give us money we give to her. I’m hoping in the near future we can pay her for her hard work!
I keep the job cards in that little Ziploc baggie so they don’t get lost. It’s not very cute, but it’s functional and easy for everyone to put things back. I would love to add additional students to our job program, and I would use a different color strip for them. Annie’s favorite color is blue, so it was an easy choice!
Near each “area” I stapled directions for each task. She takes the job card off her “to do” list and puts it on the “done” card. In between each job, we go back and get another card. Some students might be able to take them all at once, but it works better for us to do them one by one.
Each job has a specific direction card. One day, we might be able to remove these, but they are working really well for us currently. In the past, I would have used cute clipart for these. But I realized that’s for MY benefit. Real photos of the ACTUAL space are what will actually help her build independence.
Examples of Tasks
This is an example of a task that she needed a bit of support with to complete. She didn’t have the hand strength to open these wrappers or tupperware, but I wanted her to have as much independence as possible. I quickly opened each bag and set it in a tupperware so she could work on multiple at once independently.
We haven’t used the “Extra Tasks” yet, the jobs we give her take the entire time she’s with us. However, they are available in case we finish early!
You can learn my tips for how to make ANY job skills program successful in this blog post.
Any questions or suggestions? Leave them in the comments!
Happy teaching! 💜
Need more real world ideas for your life skills classroom? Check out Kate’s post on her classroom food pantry here.