Archive for the ‘organization’ Category

Today, we are taking a day to clean out the bedrooms and homeschool area.  I am blessed with kids who are easily overwhelmed by clutter, seems that it isn’t a trait that only affects our autistic son.  ūüôĄ

It is amazing now much it can influence the productivity each day.  The house isn’t too bad, we just realize that we have more than we need.  For the kids, it is harder to maintain their bedroom and play areas.  By cutting their toys and such down to what they actually play with, they will be able to enjoy their play time and not feel overwhelmed when it’s time to clean up.

I am clearing out the homeschool area.  I see no benefit to keeping so much.  Books and supplies that we are not going to be using this term or next term are being purged out of the house.  Some will be donated, depending on the condition.  Rest of it will be  trashed.  I know that some readers may be hyperventilating at the thought. Homeschool families are in general are a hoarding lot when it comes to educational materials.  I know many families who have rooms with walls of filled bookcases.  It works for them.  It doesn’t work for us.  We prefer the simplicity of only storing what is necessary.

Little Miss is completely embracing the clean out.  She has attacked her area with gusto.  She is so happy about it as well.  Her whole demeaned over the project is light. 

I can’t wait for the project to be done.  Once these areas are complete, I will be doing the same to every other room.  Loving it!!!

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Today, I started working on the storage totes of homeschool supplies.  What a task this will be!  A few years ago, I had purchased a heavy wire shelving unit to hold the 18 gallon totes as well as other homeschool materials.  This afternoon, I finally got a chance to start making space for the new curriculum.  My organizational method for homeschool supplies is pretty basic.  Here is a quick description of how I store everything.

On the bottom of the 3 shelves, I store the following:

Art Tote Рthis is a 10 gallon tote that holds any art/craft supplies that are not used on a regular basis.  This includes things like air-dry clay, chenille stems, beads, ribbon, feathers, construction paper, and much more.

File Folder Games tote – a large Sterilite “show-offs” file tote in which I place any file folders games that I have put together for Pookie. ¬†I categorize them by subject to make them easier to find when needed.

The middle shelf contains:

Pookie’s Curriculum – For curriculum, I use a large plastic tote typically used for hanging file storage. ¬†It is about the same size as an 18-gallon tote. ¬†In this, I store lapbooks and unit studies that are printed and ready to use, extra practice workbooks, and a file for the activities in the Letter of the Week curriculum he will be using.

Little Miss’ Curriculum – Her materials are also kept in the same type of tote as Pookie’s curriculum. ¬†For her, the tote holds not only the workbooks, but unit studies and teacher’s manuals.

The top shelf of the unit has smaller, flat locking totes to store general office supplies.  I have these sorted by category.  For example, one contains items that are only used occasionally such as brads, binding rings, and circle punches.  I also have a comb binding machine that is stored on the shelf as it is used at least once every couple of weeks.  A small 3-drawer container holds extra pens, pencils, and such that I use on a daily basis.

I have plans to add a couple of shelving units to the homeschool area as soon as we are able to. ¬†One will be a 9-cubby unit to be used as Pookie’s workboxes. ¬†I love the idea of how Montessori uses the cubbies with trays or baskets holding the individual activities. ¬†This may make it easier on Pookie to transition from one to the next. ¬†For him, if something is out of his sight, then he doesn’t look for it. ¬†So, having his activities in the drawers/workboxes didn’t work too well overall. ¬†This method should, in theory, work far better with him.

The second shelving unit will be one of those tall narrow ones that looks like a series of cubbies stacked into a column.  This will make a great place to store notebooking binders and readers that Little Miss will need regularly.  Pookie will have a shelf for storing a few extra supplies as well.  For him, there will be favorite books that he enjoys looking through or puzzles.  Additional shelves will be used for storing their pattern blocks, cuisenaire rods, and other manipulatives that are used throughout the term.

The 10-drawer unit that was set up this past term for Pookie’s workboxes will be turned into a supply cart for the most often used school and art supplies. ¬†This will make it far more convenient for Little Miss as well. ¬†As any homeschooling family can tell you, it takes time to find what works best for your family. ¬†Whether it be curriculum, teaching methods, or organization techniques, it all is a process of evolving. ¬†What works for a while, may need to be tweaked as the kids get older or circumstances change. ¬†It is a fun journey of discovery on all levels.

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Hard for me to believe that I haven’t posted on the blog for nearly a month. ¬†We have been finishing up our homeschooling for the term and in the midst of it all, we have been dealing with a lot of illness. ¬†First, Pookie was sick, then we all took turns with variations of illness. ¬†Hubby had bronchitis, Little Miss and I had bad colds with a lot of congestion, then Pookie ended up going to the ER due to sinus infection and upper respiratory infection. ¬†It was the only time this winter season when we were all hit with illness like that. ¬†Thankfully, we have all recovered except the residual cough that is hanging on.

We ended up getting out tax returns filed and am thrilled that we don’t owe anything. ¬†The refund we receive will be a welcome blessing. ¬†In the middle of all this, we also found out that Pookie is once again eligible for full disability and that will be starting up soon. ¬†I am SO happy about that. ¬†We will now be able to get him some therapy equipment to use here at home in between his weekly sessions. ¬†There are many things that they use in the sessions that we cannot get through the medical insurance. ¬†This is where his disability check will be a blessing for him. ¬†I can set up an area for a small gym to help build up his strength and aid him in developing his core muscles. ¬†He also struggles with gravitational issues that the equipment that promotes balance will help to overcome. ¬†One item is a rocking board that requires him to balance while doing simple activities on the board. ¬†A small indoor trampoline will help build up muscles in his legs. ¬†Not to mention, there are many occupational therapy related activities that I will be able to buy the supplies for.

I have been working on purging the house of excess a little each week.  The end goal being that we only have the most essential of items remaining.  Living in a small house, storage is a premium.  Especially when the house was built without any built-in storage of any kind.  The goal is to have the purge done before we begin our new school term in May.

I have been writing a little about the purge in my Simplicity by Choice blog.  It is taking longer than I would like, but going at a speed Pookie can handle.  Make too many changes, too soon, and he has trouble coping with it.

One change that he is doing very well with is communication.  Over the past couple of days, he has been using sign language spontaneously and without any prompting.  This happens mostly at meal times, but I am thrilled with what we are able to get.

Little Miss and I are working on new projects together.  She is wanting to learn to do an art journal, so that is now becoming a daily part of life.  We are practicing various art techniques as backgrounds for her to doodle and journal on.  She absolutely loves it!  I am just pleased that she finally found a way to enjoy writing.  LOL


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With our school term approaching its end in a couple of months, I am starting to go through all of our homeschool books and supplies.  Our homeschool convention is typically held the end of April and I am planning on buying new curriculum and supplies for the upcoming new term.  I cannot even consider buying anything though until I have purged the no longer needed items from our shelves.

I know that to some homeschool families, that is akin to blasphemy to say you are getting rid of anything homeschool related.  Alas, when living in a small home, you have little choice in the matter.  As many homeschoolers can attest to, the shelves can become quite overflowing in a very short time.

I started with one bookcase today and have bagged up 2 large paper grocery bags of books to be donated elsewhere. ¬†There are still 2 more bookcases to go. ¬†The smaller of the two is stocked with children’s books that Little Miss has outgrown and Pookie has no interest in. ¬†I am going to be weeding through that one very soon.

The fact is, the curriculum that Little Miss uses comes complete with any readers needed for the school term.  She is also very keen on getting her own Kindle Paperwhite. With that, her book collection will greatly increase without needing extra storage.  She will still be keeping the books she loved the most, but there are many that she has simply outgrown.  Pookie likes to look at books with lots of colorful pictures, but is more picky about it.  There are some that he loves to look through and those will be kept.  Almost all the remaining books will be donated.

In the area of curriculum, there are materials that I have purchased and used for Little Miss that are still in like new condition. ¬†I made sure that the teacher’s guides and readers were kept in great shape so that I could sell them when we were finished. ¬†The money that we get from selling these materials will help cover the cost of buying new curricula for the kids.

As I go through the materials and supplies, I am taking note of inventory. ¬†I have the list of what was purchased last year and am comparing it to what is still left over. ¬†This will help me greatly when I go shopping this year. ¬†I can preplan the purchases and take advantage of sales as they come along. ¬†I am debating on whether I will purchase curriculum at the convention or not. ¬†Last year, I was very disappointed to discover that many of the vendors did not bring product, but samples only. ¬†If you wanted to buy from them, you had to place an order. ¬†I am someone who likes to receive the purchase right away. ¬†So, I am going to find out from the convention sponsors if they know what the vendors will be doing. ¬†If I have to order the materials, then I may as well do it early and avoid the delays caused by the convention schedules. ¬†When I go to the convention, my purchases would then be focused upon the “extras” needed to round out the lessons.

By far, the shelving that needs the most attention is Pookie’s OT shelves. ¬†I have a shelving unit just for storing the various OT therapy activities for him. ¬†These are things that mirror the activities he does during his weekly occupational therapy sessions. ¬†I am going to be adding more activities to the shelves, as well as possible another shelving unit. ¬†The activities are stored in containers according to the activity. ¬†For example, I placed all the wooden lacing beads in a container along with several items to string the beads onto. ¬†In this case, a wooden dowel with a wooden wheel glued on one end to act as a stopper, a length of clear plastic tubing, a pipe cleaner, and finally a shoelace.

I am converting a 10-drawer caddy into a basic supplies storage.  Each drawer will contain a different type of supply.  The hope is that this will make it easier to locate what we need easily.  I especially like that Little Miss will be able to be a bit more independent in this area.  It will also cut down on what she has to store in her 4-drawer storage tote.

If what I have already sorted out is an indicator, I will be cutting out supplies down by nearly 2/3’s of what we had. ¬†It feels great.

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As you can tell, I am on a Montessori theme lately.  One of the adventures that we have been undertaking with Pookie is to incorporate activities that he does in Occupational therapy into his homeschooling experience. It seems a natural fit. Any parent who has a special needs child can tell you that the more practice their child gets at home, the better the progress in their therapy and development. One of the things that I quickly noticed is that many of the activities that he is doing at his OT sessions can be adapted into a Montessori style activities.

Marie Montessori’s methods of teaching a child involved allowing the child to experience the world around them without a lot of interference with adults telling them what to do. She felt that the child’s natural curiosity would lead them in their learning. Having an autistic child, I know that leaving him to follow his own interests without guidance would be a disaster. Pookie gets bored way too easily and honestly doesn’t seem to have the natural ability to look at a toy or activity and start using it. Put him in a room full of toys and he will either sit down to do nothing or he will wander in circles. He doesn’t interact with toys the way a neuro-typical child would. He never has. You have to literally teach him over time how to play with a toy or do an activity. This is why I refer to what we are doing as Montessori-style homeschooling.

In a typical Montessori learning environment, a child is given a selection of activities to choose from. The child then picks and chooses what activities interest them. It gives them the opportunity to explore what draws their attention. The problem is, Pookie would likely not learn anything that way.

I love the hands-on nature of the Montessori activities. That is a good fit for the way Pookie learns. He is also very tactile driven and will seek out things that have an interesting texture or feature. Items that have movement, such as a puzzle board with hinges, are another interest of his. Cause and effect puzzles are especially helpful in teaching Pookie. A favorite at his OT appointments is when he is putting together a Melissa and Doug puzzle with sound. Each piece of these puzzles makes a noise that corresponds to the puzzle piece. Exploring his world through the activities provided will help Pookie to learn as well as simply have fun while building his fine motor development.

In our home, I am making activities available for him just as a Montessori learning center would have. The only difference is that because of the nature of his autism, I also have to provide a visual schedule to guide him through the activities. This is where the Montessori style becomes more like a TEACCH environment. In TEACCH, the child follows a visual schedule as they move from task to task. In the homeschool setting, the routine and structure of following the visual schedule is a necessity for Pookie to be able to function. It gives him a sense of beginning and end to each activity as well as being an aid in transitioning from one activity to another.

So, with all of that in mind, I have been planning out Pookie’s work station or what Montessori would call a learning center. I am on the hunt for a child size table that will be adjustable in height so that it will grown with him and serve as a school desk later on. I am also looking at options for shelves to organize his daily tasks on. I thought about using trays, but may use shallow, plastic bins instead.

I am designing a communication board to place on the wall. I have been debating on whether to continue will using Velcro to attach the PECS pictures to the board or maybe use magnet tape instead. I finally decided that I am not going to get Velcro anymore. The cost is definitely a factor. So, I am going to get him a magnetic white board to use as his communication board. On this, I can arrange his daily schedule. Self-adhesive magnet tape will work well on the backs of the laminated PECS pictures. This will be an experiment to see how well he does with them. He is really getting good at using PECS and does well with them at his speech therapy sessions.

Unlike the more traditional Montessori setup, Pookie will have 10 -12 activities each day to work on. Some may be as simple as a puzzle, while others will be more challenging. The key idea for me is to give him activities that will help him with his fine motor development as well as teaching him. Offering a variety of things to do will go far in helping him to progress.

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Now that the New Year’s holiday has passed, it is time again for people in the US to begin thinking about tax season. How can this be important enough to post on a homeschool and autism blog? ¬†Easily! ¬†You see, we fall into the tax bracket that allows us to take a $1000 tax credit for each of our two minor children. ¬†It also means it is time to start planning the purchases needed for next year’s curriculum.

My husband and I both feel that since we receive that credit due to having the kids, then that amount of the tax refund we receive should go towards their homeschooling.  This gives me a $1000 to spend per child.  On average, the curriculum for each child can cost about $500 when I include all the consumables and readers that go along with their curriculum.  The balance of the money is spent on other school related items.

I begin by evaluating the curriculum that we have been using. ¬†Was it effective? ¬†Were there any concerns? ¬†Did it cover as much information as it should have or was it weak in some areas? ¬†All of this is taken into consideration. ¬†If there are any true concerns, I then start the process of finding something that will be a better fit. ¬†As a part of this process, I take into account our children’s strengths and weaknesses. ¬†What learning style do they respond to the best? ¬†How can I use their natural talents and interests to help enhance their learning experience?

This year, I had to face a truth that I was not really wanting to. ¬†Even though I would love to have both Little Miss and Pookie using the same publisher’s materials for the homeschooling, it just isn’t a good fit for them. ¬†Little Miss and Pookie both thrive on hands-on activities in their education, but Pookie is far behind Little Miss when it comes to what he is able to do. ¬†For Pookie, he needs and thrives on two things, Montessori approach and lapbooks. ¬†He absolutely needs the hands-on activities to learn. ¬†If it requires writing, then he cannot do it at this time. ¬†He still lacks sufficient fine motor control to write. ¬†He is capable of showing knowledge in others ways however. ¬†That is where we focus at home. ¬†Pookie also loves to look through books. ¬†With that in mind, I have tried lapbooks with him. ¬†He is receptive to it and likes to look through them later on.

For Pookie, we will be continuing the Letter of the Week curriculum written by Erica of Confessions of a Homeschooler.  This has been a blessing to have for Pookie.  I purchased the download version of the curriculum and love it. The activities are brightly colored and get his attention.  I print out the pages needed and laminate any puzzle or game pieces.  If a page is for drawing or writing on, I put it in a sheet protector to make a dry-erase page.  Some pages, like the do-a-dot activities, I print several copies since they are a fun activity as well as being good OT style activity in developing hand/eye coordination.

Pookie’s lapbooks are from free resources on Homeschool Share and also some purchased ones by Knowledge Box Central. ¬†Both are excellent resources. ¬†I am currently choosing lapbooks that match readers that we have. ¬†These help to reinforce what he learns. ¬†One item that I love to include is sequence cards or pictures to help him to recall the order in which things happened. ¬†For now, I use them to retell a story, but eventually he will be able to put them in order on his own.

The Montessori activities that i use for Pookie come from a couple of resources. ¬†First, his OT therapist, Miss Amanda, is always a great sounding board for me to use in coming up with ideas. ¬†I also pay close attention to what she does with Pookie at his sessions and try to incorporate those activities into his homeschooling. ¬†The second resource in Pinterest. ¬†A search for “Montessori preschool” gives you a wonderful selection of activities and websites that provide free activities to print out. ¬†There are also websites which sell Montessori style activities as well.

For Little Miss, we will be returning to the My Father’s World curriculum. ¬†She will be starting the Exploring Countries and Cultures program. ¬†This program has a lot of hands-on activities to nurture her love of that style of learning as well as just enough writing to fulfill those goals. ¬†She loves to read, so any reading required is never an issue. ¬†She is really excited to start learning about other countries. ¬†It is a great overview to prepare her for the subsequent four years in which she will be having a world history focusing on 4 time periods. ¬†Each time period will be a curricular year long study. ¬†The time periods are: Creation to the Greeks, Rome to the Reformation, Exploration to 1850, and finally, 1850 to Modern Times. ¬†At the end of those years, she will repeat the Exploring Countries and Cultures on a deeper level in 8th grade before starting her high school courses the following term.

For Math and Language arts, both of which are courses not included in the ECC program, she will be using Christian Light Publishers materials.  After using Singapore for the past two years, I am liking what I have seen of the math program that Christian Light makes available.  Their language arts program is also a very sound one that will serve her well.

Once we purchase the curriculum materials for the kids, there is always funds left over. ¬†I use the surplus to purchase a year’s supply of art supplies, paper, pencils, glue, scissors, and any other basic school supplies that they will need in the upcoming school year. ¬†By the time I am finished, I always have fully stocked supply bin and don’t have to buy anything else for the entire school year.

I generally will take an inventory of the supplies on hand that are unused from the previous year. ¬†Then, once I have purchased the curriculum, I look through the lessons to see what art supplies or other extras will be needed for the hands-on activities and lessons. ¬†Using this information, I plan out my shopping list for the basic school supplies and extras needed. ¬†This is a tremendous help to us later on during the school term. ¬†I don’t have to rush out to buy something last minute.

Once those items are purchased, I use the remaining funds to purchase family season passes for places like the zoo or children’s museums within reasonable driving distance that will be fun for to take the kids to on multiple visits.

The pre-planning is always a help when this time of year comes along. ¬†I already have my purchases planned out before homeschool conventions begin. ¬†At convention, I am often able to purchase materials at a discount. ¬†As soon as stores start their back to school sales, I am ready to shop and make the most of it. ¬†This takes a lot of the stress off since we don’t have to worry about how we will be able to purchase everything. ¬† Maybe it is an idea that will help others who homeschool as well.

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I have been wanting to make changes to how we are eating as a family for a while now.  For a long time, we were eating a nearly vegan diet, but life happens and we got off track.  In part, we had family members living with us while they worked to get settled here after moving from another state.  Then, my meat loving husband came home from the road and got a local job.  Soon, life became busy and I found it easier to just go back to the processed foods we gave up before.

Fast forward to today, I am not happy with my weight.  Nor am I happy with the way we are eating.  Thankfully, my husband is completely on board with me changing our diet back to a mostly vegetarian one.  The exception being that about once or twice a week, we might have some fish or other lean meat like grass fed beef.

With the way we had been eating, the kids were wanting to snack a lot. ¬†Not because they didn’t have a good meal, but simply because we only ate the basic 3 meals a day. ¬†With an average of 5-6 hours between meals, the kids got hungry. ¬†This led to unhealthy snacking habits. ¬†Instead of just wanting a little something to hold them over until the next meal, they would eat a much larger amount. ¬†With the vegetarian diet, we eat 5-6 times a day. ¬†It ends up with eating a small meal or healthy snack every three hours. ¬†This allows us, including the kids, to not feel hungry from one meal to the next. ¬†By having the meals and snacks scheduled, we have far less snacking issues. ¬†They know that a snack or another small meal is coming, so are not fussing for anything.

One of the keys to making this work is that I am planning out all meals, including snacks for each day. ¬†I am making healthy snacks to replace any unhealthy choices. ¬†Where before the kids had a pantry shelf that contained a few snack options, they will now only have the one snack planned for that time. ¬†This alone will help us out a lot. ¬†Pookie is a kid who loves to graze between meals. ¬†He goes into the pantry room and searches out something that he wants to eat. ¬†It is frustrating at times. ¬†Since the entry to that pantry doesn’t have a door, I sometimes want to buy a baby gate just for the pantry’s entryway. ¬†I have raised older children and never had one who loves to eat the way Pookie does. ¬†Think a teenage boy in a 6 year old body. ¬†Funny thing is, he and Little Miss are thin like their Daddy’s side of the family. ¬†I know that unless I can teach the kids to eat healthy now, there is a chance that the eating will become a problem later in life.

So, I started checking around. ¬†Pookie is a carb fiend. He loves them. ¬†Doesn’t matter what it is, bread or potato, he loves them. ¬†I decided that the best choice that will fit the entire family is to do carb cycling. ¬†We will be alternating between a day of having low/no carbs and a day of moderate/high carbs. ¬†With this in our meal plan, along with eating smaller meals more often each day, it is a great way of eating for all of us. ¬†The more frequent, smaller meal is something that is often recommended to those who are diabetic. ¬†It keeps their blood sugar levels more consistent. ¬†Both of my mother’s parents were diabetic, so that is always going to be a concern to watch out for. ¬†With me wanting to lose some weight, the meals/snacks will help keep my metabolism at a good rate as well. ¬†The one part that will take more effort for me is the high protein portion of the eating plan. ¬†Some days, I will be using quinoa as a protein source. ¬†On low carb days, I will be making a low carb protein bar, protein shake, or eggs to provide the protein that day. ¬†The kids love the protein balls that I make using peanut butter. ¬†I will be making a batch of those soon as well.

Something funny that happened with the kids today was that Little Miss was eating a chunk of lettuce as I was putting together our salads for lunch.  Pookie started following her around the room as though she were the Pied Piper and gesturing to her to give him a bite of the lettuce.  Such a good indicator that the kids will enjoy this new way of eating.  On a different note, I have been thinking about all the belly issues that kids like Pookie often have.  In blogs and autism related websites, I often read that kids with gluten issues will often crave them.  Pookie has never been diagnosed as having gluten intolerance or other problems by a doctor.  I have often noticed that he becomes very gassy when he eats too many carbs that are gluten based.  Too many is a relative term.  For him, it means that he can get gassy just from eating a plate of spaghetti.  I tested my theory once by making him spaghetti squash with the exact same spaghetti sauce as I typically use.  On that day, he did not get gassy.  Yet, when I made spaghetti with pasta, he did get a gassy belly.  For that reason, I think that the carb cycling will benefit him as well.  When he does get carbs, they will primarily be from sources that do not include gluten based flour or grains. If this helps him with his belly, then that is just one more plus to the decision.

I have been looking on Pinterest for healthy snack and lunch ideas.  The Bento lunches are a great idea for our meal plan.  You can always find ideas that use foods other than a sandwich.  I love how versatile the ideas are.  A Bento with rice can be made with quinoa or brown rice in place of the more starchy option of white rice.  Sure, you may not be able to make the cute shapes with it, but it is much healthier.

The best part is that you can get your kids involved.  At the store, give them some healthy options and let them choose what snacks sound good to them.  Once home, allow them to help measure out and pack the snacks into their baggies or containers.  Getting kids involved will help them to be less picky about eating the healthier snacks.

One idea that keeps popping up for me is to get some small serving size containers and fill them with fresh fruit or other snack item.  These can be stored in the refrigerator or on the pantry shelf, depending on the item.  Preparing the snacks ahead of time can be as simple as getting a box of the snack size baggies and filling them,  A snack size baggie will hold about 1/2 cup of food.  This is a typical serving size.  If what you are preparing has a 1 cup serving size, just use the sandwich baggies.  Here is a partial list of what we can put into our snack size baggies.

Trail mix
Homemade granola bar
Grapes or berries
Cut up fresh fruit such as a melon
Homemade Gorp
Pretzels (gluten free)
Homemade baked corn chips
bite size pieces of cheese
veggie crisps (see recipe below)

Homemade Veggie Crisps

These are one of our favorite snacks of all time. The instructions for the various vegetables are very similar. Just start checking them after 1 1/2 hours to test to see if they are crisp enough for your tastes.  This is a basic recipes that I have seen on so many websites that it is hard to know who originated the recipe.

Bag of frozen green beans, thawed and dry
Olive Oil
Sea salt

Toss the green beans in a bowl with just enough olive oil to coat them. Spread the green beans onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt.

Place the baking sheet into a preheated 225*F oven. Bake until crisp, about 4 hours.

For veggies like very thinly sliced zucchini, sweet potatoes, carrots, and beets, sprinkle the sliced veggies with a very small amount of salt to draw out any water (carrots won’t need this step). Let set for 10-15 minutes. Blot off the water and place the veggies onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Lightly brush the veggies with olive oil. If using seasoning, add it sparingly. They won’t need salt since you already salted them in the earlier step. Just remember that dried vegetables will shrink, which will intensify the flavor of the seasoning. Place into preheated oven and let bake about 2 hours or until as crisp as you want them.


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I wanted to touch on an idea that I am using with my family. Those of us with a special needs child knows that there are often items that our children need that are out of the ordinary. Maybe it is a therapy related item or a toy that can help with building a skill that your child is needing to be improved upon. Let me share with you an idea that I have been using with our kids.

Amazon has a great wish list feature that you can customize. You can create as many wish lists as you want, each having it’s own privacy setting. You can make the lists private for your viewing only, public, or view-able only by those whom you give the direct link to.

This year, I set up a wish list for each of our children. Pookie’s wish list contains toys that are not only ones that interest him, but also are skill building. These are often based upon the activities that he does with his therapists are the therapy center. Often, a family member may not know what to get your special needs child. Toys and such that are the typical age appropriate choice for a child without a disability are not always the right choice for a child with special needs or developmental delays. That is where the wish lists come in handy. Once set up, you can share the link with family members who ask for gift ideas. Then, they can either make note of the items listed, or they can make the purchase through Amazon.

This idea isn’t only beneficial for special needs children. Little Miss has her own wish list as well. Her list contains the things that she is interested in. Like with Pookie, the link to her list can be shared with family who are looking for ideas.

These wish lists are also a help for me. Once the lists are created, I am able to go to the lists and choose items as we have money for them. I don’t have to use the search feature to find the gift ideas. They are already organized and ready for me.

If you homeschool, you can set up a list for homeschool related items that your children need as well. There are no limits to how you can use the wish lists. For family who live a distance away, the lists can be especially helpful.

It is an idea that works for us. Maybe it can help others as well.

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Recently, I was asked why we use the workbox system for our homeschool. It is a question that I have been asked often enough that I feel the need to blog about this.

When I first was introduced to the workbox system, it was through Robin’s blog on Heart of Wisdom’s website. Being that I prefer things to be very organized, I gravitated to the various blogs on Robin’s links page. I was surprised to see just how varied the families chose to implement the system in their homes. Little Miss was a preschooler at the time. Even at that age, she was very self-driven. If I had all her activities laid out for her, she would go through them independently. The thought of organizing them onto a bookcase appealed to me. We were given a couple of old school desks for the kids by a neighbor. I set one up next to a bookcase and loaded it up with the shoe box bins as suggested in the book, Sue Patrick’s Workbox System: A User’s Guide.

For Little Miss, this worked out great. For me, not so much. I love books and I tend to get a bit cranky when I find damaged ones. Seeing the workbooks develop a curl in them from being in the shoe box started to grate on my nerves a bit. I ended up tearing the pages out of her workbooks, which wouldn’t have been my first choice, but the workbooks were not all curled up. Using the system with Little Miss was a great learning curve for me. I will always be grateful that I learned about the system long before I began homeschooling Pookie.

With Pookie, the system has been a life saver. Autistic children tend to crave a strict routine in order to function well. This is especially true when it comes to educating them. In order for Pookie to be able to focus on his homeschooling, he needs the routine to be a constant that he can count on. If I decide to mix it up a bit, he doesn’t always respond well. This does not mean that he has to do all activities in a specific order. It only refers to the idea of using the workboxes only part of the time. If I have him using the workboxes and suddenly stop using them for a few days, he doesn’t tolerate it as well. He finds it harder to focus on the activities he is doing. I believe that he needs the consistency of using the workboxes to stay on track. While the activities in each workbox may change from day to day, there is a consistency in the fact that his work is always stored in the workboxes. As he works through his visual schedule and completes the activities as outlined on that schedule, he is able to manage ti without a meltdown.

Many families without an autistic child use the system successfully with their children. It provides a means to teach kids how to manage their time and have self-discipline. On the various blogs out there, you can often find cute printable workbox number tags and cards for the visual schedule that you can print for free. These are really cute and you can make them in any theme you want. You can print out themed tags and cards that appeal to each of your children. This can make workboxes fun for little ones.

For Pookie, I found that the cute factor doesn’t help him any. He can become distracted by the pictures on the tags and schedule cards. His cards are pretty generic. The workbox tags are plain numbers with no pictures. Where we do use graphics is in the visual schedule. Intermingled with his number cards, he has little cards with pictures of his various therapy toys and manipulatives. For example, I made cards with pictures of his pattern blocks, sort & stack set, lacing beads, and puzzles. The number cards on his schedule are a duplicate set that match his workbox tags.

There are several aspects of the system that I especially see as being beneficial to Pookie. First is the visual schedule. The schedule is one of the foundational elements for Pookie. It allows him to not only know what is coming up, but he can have a certain level of independence. He takes each activity in sequence and is able to move through his daily assignments. All the while, he is able to visually see that there is a stopping point. Adding the check in/check out card also gives that sense of knowing when his school time starts and stops.

Next, I look at the ‚Äúwork with Mom‚ÄĚ cards. These little gems are a great way to let the kids know when they need to come to me for further instruction or aid in an assignment. At this point, most of Pookie’s workboxes are requiring my help. Gradually, the level of assistance has been dropping. I help him set up the activity and get started, With certain activities, he has been doing them long enough that I am able to step back and he will continue on his own to complete it. With Little Miss, these cards let her know when I am needing to give her more information or discuss a new concept. Once the instruction is done, she works on her own to complete the assignment.

The ‚ÄúHelp‚ÄĚ cards that I give to Little Miss are a great motivator in teaching independence. These cards are used for those times when your child is capable of doing the assignments on their own, but they want you to help them instead of figuring things out for themselves. One good example of this is a behavior that Little Miss had a couple of years ago. She was capable to doing her worksheet on her own. The instructions on the worksheet were very clearly written at her level of understanding. She kept coming up to me to ask what to do each step along the way. When I would ask her what the instructions said, she could tell me clearly what she was to do. She just wanted me to tell her instead of her reading the instructions for herself. In situations like this, the Help cards are terrific. Given 4 of the cards at the beginning of the school day, she learned quickly to do as much work on her own as possible. Each time that she comes to me for help (excluding when there is a Work with Mom card along with her assignment), she has to give me one of her Help cards. When she runs out of Help cards, she can no longer ask me for help. She quickly learned to save those cards for when she truly needed the assistance.

One of the ideas in the system that Pookie’s Occupational Therapist, loves is the extra cards for the child’s desk. Having an ‚ÄúI’m ready to work‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúQuiet‚ÄĚ card in a little stand on the desk are valuable tools. They are visual reminders to the child of what they should be doing. It is also good non-verbal way to address the issue of a child non focusing on their work. The example in the book mentioned that if a child zones out, you can tap or draw attention to the ‚ÄúI’m ready to work‚ÄĚ card and help them to refocus without having to give verbal instruction. In a classroom setting where there are other children present, this can be very important. In the homeschool setting, if you have one child who is distracted when you are speaking to another child, the non-verbal approach is also a benefit.

So, how does all of this translate into our homeschooling? I made for each of the kids a picture card. It is an index card with their photo on it. After breakfast, they take their card and place it into a ‚ÄúSchool’s In‚ÄĚ pocket I have set up for them on a wall chart. They then go to their work stations and begin going through their visual schedules. On the schedules, there are workbox number cards as well as a few activity cards that are ones done away from the desk. I also have 2 snacks and a lunch card on their schedules as well. They work through their schedules until all of their homeschool assignments are finished. Lastly, they take their picture card and move it to the ‚ÄúSchool’s Out‚ÄĚ pocket. One new card that I am making for each of the kids is a ‚Äúclean work station‚ÄĚ card to have as their last item on their visual schedule. This reminder will help to ensure that the area is cleaned and ready for the next day before they go off to play.

Having the set routine, Little Miss is able to complete her work in a more timely manner. It wasn’t always the case, but as she learned to manage her time, she has improved on this considerably. A very helpful item for her has been the use of a kitchen timer. I am looking into buying a visual timer for them to use instead. There are some really nice ones that are like a traffic light. It starts with green, then as the time is nearly up, the yellow light comes on. When time is up, the red light comes on. This one is going to be a better option for Pookie as it is very visual and he will learn time management best with it. I know that many homeschool families are against the idea of using timers, but it is a personal choice. You have to look at what is best for your children. Ours happen to do better if they know that they have a time limit.

Since using the workbox system, the school days have gone more smoothly for Little Miss. She gets more done each day and is now learning time management to the point that she can finish her school day earlier than she used to. For Pookie, the routine is calming to him. He is able to predict what comes next. This alone has been a way to reduce frustration and meltdowns. His focus on his activities and assignments is much better than before. With the increased focus, he is able to learn in a much more efficient way.

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I love to pre-plan my monthly menus. I find that this not only makes life easier for me on a daily basis, but it is a huge help in my food costs each month. One area that I always seem to forget is planning out our lunches. Each week, lunchtime is a meal that we just grab something from the pantry. Rarely have I planned ahead. I am making changes to that though.

On Pinterest, I have become hooked at searching the kids’ Bento lunch ideas. Have you seen these cute meals that some parents put together? They are absolutely adorable! Now, our 8 year old daughter is giving all the expected girlie responses to the pictures. Our son, not so much. The basic ideas though are great.

I went to Dollar Tree and found some 3-sectioned round plates with lids in their food storage container aisle. These are as large as a standard dinner plate and about 1 1/4‚ÄĚ deep. I ended up buying 5 of them with plans to buy 5 more next time I am at the store. All I will need to make these a perfect option for packed lunches on our outings is to buy an insulated food bag like those found in grocery stores.

I designed a planner form to use for pre-planning the lunches. I based the design upon the layout of the sectioned plates I purchased. I added an extra space in the largest section where an optional 3rd side dish or other item can be placed. The plate chart looks like this:

The first form that I made is a simple one that is pretty generic for any Bento style container with 4 sections total. The form gives you ample room to record lunch ideas 5 days which include a main dish plus up to 3 sides. The second form is more of a chart with the plate graphic for each weekday. You can fill in the plates with the items you will be packing. The bottom portion of both forms includes a shopping list for recording what you will need for each week’s lunches.

I love the idea of having the written planner for the lunches. Each week, I will be able to have a set plan that I can work from throughout the week. Even though we homeschool, I can still prepare the lunches the night before and have them ready to go the next day. When we have an outing, these pack and go lunches will be a huge benefit. We can continue to eat vegetarian foods in spite of a lack of vegetarian choices at the venues we go to. The packed lunches will also be healthier and cost less than eating out at a fast food or other restaurant.

Just as with my weekly dinner menus, I will save the menus that I put together. This gives me a ready supply of ideas. Typically, when I use my weekly dinner plan sheets, I have a selection of 8 different weekly menus. When I plan m monthly grocery shopping, I choose 4 of the weekly menus and that will give me a month’s worth of meals. Each planner sheet contains a grocery list for that specific week’s menu. Having the lunch planner will make the shopping for lunches a lot easier. Just as with the dinner plans, I can see at a glance what groceries will be needed. When making out my shopping list, I combine the grocery lists from each planner form onto a single grocery list.

You can download a free copy of the Lunch Menu Planner for your own use. I ask that you do not repost the link to the download to your blog or try to pass off my forms as your own. Please refer people back to this blog post to access the download if you want to share it.

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