The Food Groups, A Unit Study on Nutrition

“No, a tortilla with only cheddar cheese and sour cream is not a good choice!  Let’s add some taco meat to it.”

“A fruit smoothie and an apple are not a good choice, let’s add a bagel”

Everyday I find myself coaching the kids on adding different food groups to their lunch. The only problem: we had never talked about what the food groups were.  That means it’s time for teacher-mom to teach about the food groups.  Thus, our inspiration for this Nutrition Unit Study!  I did the unit study with 3rd, 2nd and PreK.  We got some books at the library, I found some lapbook materials online, and we analyzed every meal we ate for weeks. They still spend many meals comparing the Nutrition Labels on their Pop-tarts and juice to decide which one has more Iron!

LESSON 1 What are the Food Groups?

The first book we read was The Edible Pyramid: Good Eating Everyday by Loreen Leedy.  This book does a great job of giving an overview of what is in each food group.  The story is of ordering food at a restaurant and the menu includes pages on each food group.  It was a great visual of variety in each category.  It’s also a Reading Rainbow book pick!

Today we used pieces from Nutrition and Food Pyramid Lapbook I found on Teachers Pay Teachers.  We decorated and labeled our lapbooks and wrote lists for each food group using the Food Group Flipbook.  It was interesting to see what new foods each child added to their food group list.  I was a scribe for my Pre-K student and my struggling writer did great copying his choices from the book.  We would open to the spread on Grains and each choose what we wanted to add to our list before moving on.  We were also practicing research skills, reading the book the first time as a story, and rereading the book to gather the information we needed for our project.

One of my favorite parts of homeschool is while the teaching may be for a short part of the day the discussion and learning happens all day long.  After we introduced the different parts of the food pyramid, the kids kept talking about it at every meal.  They would dissect was was on their plates or in their favorite entree.  When they were still hungry they would evaluate their meal and see what group they had missed to find something else to eat.

Food Group and Nutrition Unit Study

LESSON 2 Variety of food means a Variety of Nutrients?

We had created a foundation of what was in each part of the pyramid.  Our next book talked about why we need a variety.  We read My Food Pyramid: Eat Right, Exercise, Have Fun published by DK.  The book showed us how each food group gives us different nutrients that our body needs to be healthy. We filled out a Food Pyramid Fact Book by Nothing but Non-Fiction and for the Pre-K (not yet writer) I found a cut and paste food sort activity for him to do instead.

My Food Pyramid discusses each food group and discusses good, better and best choices for each one.  Seeing the pyramid of Meat and Beans with their beloved cheeseburger on top let us discuss restaurant food choices and the importance of variety in their choices.  This book also includes an introduction to Reading Food Labels and how your food gets to your table from the field.

LESSON 3 Learning new Vocabulary

During our 3rd lesson we colored a copy of the food pyramid.  and labeled the different sections.  Over the last several years there have been many visuals created for a balanced diet.  We used the “old school” pyramid found in Good Enough to Eat by Lizzy Rockwell.  Doing this unit with both readers and non-readers I appreciated the visuals on the pyramid in this book which all my students could read.

We also used Good Enough to Eat to focus on some new vocabulary.  We printed the Nutrition Vocabulary and Pocket from our Lapbook set.  And searched for the words as we read the picture book, taking time to discuss each new word we found.  This book covers what happens in your body when you eat, why you need to eat and what your body gets from food, including specific nutrients.  The back of the book includes some fun recipes to try as well.

Food Group and Nutrition Unit Study

LESSON 4 Good Choices All Day Long

Monsters helped us look more a the choices we make every day as we read The Monster Health Book.  In addition to reviewing that different nutrients come from different foods. We learned that at each meal has a purpose and the food we eat matters.  The monster also taught us about wellness beyond our food choices, including exercise, self esteem and healthy habits.

In lesson 1 we made lists of the foods in each food group. During this lesson we added some journaling to our lapbook.  We wrote about our favorite foods in each of the food groups.  With so much exposure to different foods during our unit it was fun to see some what everyone chose to write.  We also took time to think about our snack time choices.  Its easy to reach for the left over holiday candy but there are other choices as well.  Each person filled out the Snack Choices Tri-fold with their favorite choices.

Food Group and Nutrition Unit Study

LESSON 5 HOW we eat

For our final lesson we looked at what happens to all the good food we eat.  The Usborne Big Book of the Body by Usborne Publishing has great fold out pages of the body systems.  The four page fold out allowed us to all look together at the nearly life size diagram.  As we talked through all the steps.  We used a matching activity to add to our lapbook.

Food Group and Nutrition Unit Study

We did our lapbook over several weeks.  Each week I paired a different book from our library pile with an activity from the lapbook materials.  I picked each week’s activity based on what we could pull out of the picture book we read that week.  Sometimes we would need to reread the book to find the information for our lapbook pages, which models beginning researching skills.

It’s been a yummy learning experience for everyone! I hope our plans can help your family find a fun way to learn together about the food groups and eating well.


Food Group and Nutrition Unit Study

You CAN Homeschool your Special Needs Student

I can EITHER spend my energy working to tell others what accommodations my child needs to learn and progress


I can use my energy to make him successful and we can keep our focus on learning instead of the accommodations.  

Getting an IEP for my autistic son was a nightmare, it included a denial and an advocate.  His needs don’t show up accurately in the testing environment because he is a good reader and has a great memory.  We tried applying a second time after we had his official Autism diagnosis and it was uphill battle because their previous testing showed no need.  Eventually we got one only to have it reduced the next year.  He was thriving, but he was thriving only because of the IEP accommodations. We knew he would not be able to adjust to a normal classroom environment.

I had had enough and we withdrew him from the school and he began homeschooling with his sister.  It can be overwhelming to think about educating a special needs child at home.  You have to plan the academic content, but also prepare for the unique challenges the child has.  It definitely has it’s exhausting moments, and I would want to be clear that homeschooling isn’t for everyone.  However, overall it has been the best decision for us, and I’d like to share some reasons why it might be the best decision for you, too.

We as parents know our child better than anyone else

I don’t know how to handle a variety of challenging kids, but I am an expert on my own.  As a parent I know what my child can and can’t do.  I know what makes him tick and what he loves to do.  Working with his therapists I can implement the same ideas and strategies at home. I know his strengths and weaknesses and I can work on both of them.

For instance, I know how much he loves Star Wars, so after his handwriting book was completed and he still needed to practice, we bought a Star Wars themed handwriting book. The previous month, he would complain about a sentence of copywork.  The first week of the Star Wars book he copied 4 sentences in a day without a second thought!  That Star Wars book unlocked writing for him.  He could write and wanted to write because it was a subject that was interesting to him.

We are invested in their success more than anyone else

I think one of the hardest things when I’m talking to a professional about my son is trying to give them the right picture of who he is.  I see his awesome personality everyday beyond his medical diagnosis. One of the hardest parts of seeking a diagnosis was convincing doctors to really look at him and see his struggles because they weren’t on the surface.  A classroom teacher has other students to teach in addition to yours, so they will likely not be able to take the time to slow down and figure out your kid and what accommodations they need to help them succeed. Even the best teachers who sincerely want to help are just busy and will always be pulled in several different directions, just by the nature of the work.

Our kids teach us how to adjust for their needs

There is likely only one place in the world that is already configured with all of the accommodations that best fit your unique child: your own home. We as parents spend many hours with our child over the week.  When the teacher is with our child at school, they have a whole classroom to attend to.  We learn intuitively how we need to adapt normal activities in our home for our special kids, and much of that subconscious knowledge transfers very easily to schoolwork.

I have learned I need to give only one direction at a time, and be extremely specific on what I want done so that he can accomplish it well.  “Clean Up the Legos” is not good enough.  I have learned I need to tell him “Fill 1 bucket with the loose pieces on the floor,” to get a successful response.  We do the same thing when it comes to his school work: short, concise instructions help him thrive.  You are the best one to watch your child and learn their strengths and weaknesses.

Its Efficient and Flexible

Remember the struggle your student is having waiting for the rest of the class to finish an activity or get in line?  That doesn’t exist in homeschool.  The reverse is true as well.  That math concept that isn’t clicking, you can spend a week on it if you need to.  It won’t hold the class back.  You are the class!  Our homeschool has 3 students in 3 grades and we are always done before lunch. THis leaves our afternoons open for therapy appointments and play.

When there are lots of doctor and therapy appointments school can be scheduled around the appointments.   So material isn’t missed and no one gets behind.  Its also OK to take Spring break when you need to travel for a procedure instead of when the calendar says to.  We took our spring break this year to attend a conference as a family.  We then schooled right through the local public school Spring Break week. It wasn’t a hardship:  the parks were too busy to visit anyways.

Resources are available

If you choose to homeschool your special child, there is support available!  It probably won’t come from the sources you are used to, like the school district or therapists.  Facebook has several communities devoted to homeschooling with special needs.  You will find homeschool conferences that have special sessions just for you and the unique challenges you have.

Many curriculum creators are more than happy to discuss how their material can be adapted to fit your student.  Our reading and discussion based history program is a perfect fit because writing (Cub’s weakness) doesn’t hinder our progress.  He needed a writing program that wasn’t tied to the other language arts. Separating the language arts allowed him to excel in the other areas and still work on his writing at a pace that works for him.

It’s not your mother’s homeschool journey

You are not alone in wanting what is best for your kids, and kudos to you for fighting for it.  Homeschooling is no longer a fringe, “hippie” activity.  More and more families are choosing to homeschool because the accommodations and needs of their out of the box kids are not being met in the typical classroom.  I’m here, and I’ve tested the waters.  It not too bad and most days we really like it, so come join us.  I’m here for you, just let me know how I can help.

Homeschooling Your Special Needs Student by Inside Our Normal

Moms, You Are NOT Failing: Getting Help for Struggling Child

I see you struggling to homeschool  your challenging child.  I see you struggling to decide if the public school is doing enough for your child. You question if you can give them everything they need to succeed.  You question what you are doing wrong to create the challenges you are facing with your child.   Let me tell you, Mom, you are doing a great job!  You are doing great by your kid by looking at the big picture.  You recognize your family needs help, and you are seeking resources and people to give you what you need. I see you juggling new therapy evaluations and the regular doctors appointments, and let me tell you, it’s worth it!  It’s worth it to be able to name the challenges so you can search for the best resources to help your child, yourself and your whole family.

Building a community to help you raise your child can include professionals with expertise that we lack as parents.

We as moms do not need to personally meet every need our children have.  As homeschool moms, what is best for our child can sometimes be seeking an expert to help with a learning challenge.  It’s not a failure for us when we look for help. We are equipping our family with the tools our child needs to succeed.

I had a mom tell me these things recently and it made me cry with relief to feel validated.  She has “Out of the Box” kids who are a few years ahead of my own, and we caught up at a recent event.  She had talked with several families who are having some learning struggles, but aren’t willing to look beyond their own experiences and seek testing or screening to see if their children would benefit from outside help. She encouraged me that it’s nothing to be ashamed of to seek help.

Our job is to launch our kids at 18 to be successful adults and contribute to the community.

Moms hear me!  If we see roadblocks coming down the road in our kids’ lives, we should help them.  And when our own parental knowledge is exhausted and the problem persists, it is imperitive to seek outside help.  Our first clue to Cub’s Autism was that he was not using a spoon independently as he approached his 3rd birthday.  We had to push our doctor to give us a referral for an Occupational Therapy evaluation.  We are so glad we did, as it led us to knowing so much about how Cub is wired and how we can best help him grow and learn.

AJ wasn’t talking clearly at 18m so we pursued a Speech evaluation, we didn’t really think much about it but seeking help early is best when they are young.  AJ didn’t have any additional issues and just needed focused help mastering some of his sounds.  He has returned to Speech therapy once more recently to work on more sounds but that’s it.  My mom knowledge is limited when it comes to how our mouths and brain work together to make speech, but for a Speech and Language Therapist its part of their training.  It’s part of my duty and training as a mom to sense where each kid struggles and discern if its something we can work on at home or if we need to seek other help.

When you see a red flag in your child’s development or learning, seek help and ask friends.  You are very much not alone.  You will find a village willing to help, and it’s larger than you ever expected!  If you don’t know where to start, I’m here to talk, shoot me an email or a Facebook message.  I love connecting people to resources.  With the knowledge and right tools in your family toolbox you can thrive as a family once again.


Mom You are Not Failing, getting help your challenging child InsideOurNormal

Visiting Fort Donelson, TN

Whenever we travel, we like to add a stop or two at National Parks for the kids to earn Junior Ranger badges, and for us to learn about another aspect of the history and character of our country.  Once we know where we are headed I like to look at the National Park maps and see what might be on our route.  Our 14th Junior Ranger Badge came from Fort Donelson, TN.

On our recent travels, we squeezed in a last minute stop at Fort Donelson in Dover, TN.  We traveled from Nashville to get there and Google’s direct route was rather scenic.  We were directed down many rural roads and gave us a real flavor of the landscape and towns of that part of Tennessee. It was beautiful.

Fort Donelson Junior Ranger @InsideOurNormal

Confederate Fort, Union Victory

Fort Donelson is a National Battlefield.  It is the site of a Union victory at a Confederate Fort on the Cumberland River.  One of the stories of the battle is of the friendship between Confederate Brig. General Simon B. Buckner and Union General Ulysses S. Grant.  Classmates at West Point and comrades in the Mexican-American War.  Buckner even loaned Grant some money so he could get home after the war.  They now found themselves on opposite sides of the battle leading the fight against each other.  They reconciled shortly before Grant’s death, which was symbolic of the healing needed for the whole nation after the Civil War.

Multiple Sites to visit

The area has 4 separate sites to visit.  There is the visitor center, National Cemetery, Dover Hotel, and the Confederate River Batteries.  The visitor center was closed for remodeling when we were there and a temporary center was set up in the city’s Visitor Center nearby.  There was a short movie and displays of the battle.  Rangers are also available at the Visitor Center to give you the Junior Ranger materials.

Fort Donelson Junior Ranger @InsideOurNormal

The Dover Hotel is not staffed but is open for self guided tours during the day.  This is where the terms of surrender were worked out between Grant and Buckner.  The National Cemetery is next to the Battlefield.  We spent most of our visit in the park and driving the self guided tour to the River Batteries.

We made our first stop at the temporary visitor center to pick up our Junior Ranger materials and watched the introduction video.  There were a variety of maps and posters to look at as well.  Then we drove across the main road to the actual Battlefield.  Because the site is a protected natural space there was a variety of wildlife to see while we drove including Eagles and Foxes. We saw a fox and a deer when we were driving through.

Fort Donelson Junior Ranger @InsideOurNormal

You can see the trenches throughout the battlefield that the two sides built.  They are much larger than you imagine them to be.  The boys had quite the imagination and wished they could have climbed into them, which is discouraged.  When we arrived at the Cumberland River where Fort Donelson stood you could see the cannons lined up at the river where it could defend against Ironclad gunboats.  You can can walk the trenches with the cannons on the hillside and see the earthen bunker where addition munition was stored.

Our Take

We spent about 2 hours here between the sites.  It was quite a bit off the interstate and off the main roads, but well worth it for the history lesson we gained.  My 4th grader and Kindergartner both got something out of the visit.  The ability to walk where the soldiers walked gave all of us an opportunity to think about what it was like to be there and see it from their perspective.

Fort Donelson Junior Ranger @InsideOurNormal

The Junior Ranger book at this site is one of the better ones we have seen.  The color pages included labeling a map of the battle and the surrounding states and rivers. It also included historical cultural context and wildlife you find in the park today.  The activities for the younger students were nature based.  In addition to the Junior Ranger pin on badge students have the opportunity to earn a patch as well by completing extra activities in the activity book. Lynn was lucky enough to earn both the pin and patch!

Fort Donelson Junior Ranger @InsideOurNormal

Poetry Made Simple for Your Homeschool

Teaching Poetry to our children: the idea sounds picturesque, high society, serene and intimidating.  The reality I have found, is that it’s simple, fun and easy.  Last year, we started including it because it was part of our curriculum from Sonlight.   Most days we were assigned to read a couple pages from our Mother Goose Anthology or from a collection of poems.  It wasn’t love at first sight but as time went on the kids recognized various Mother Goose rhymes they heard other places and enjoyed the rhythms.  Quickly it became one more place in our day I would hear, “One more please!”

All I was doing was following a pattern and reading the next one each day.  The slow exposure was feeding and growing their appetite for beautiful words.  They were hearing rhythm and rhymes, discussing the descriptions in a passage and breaking apart new words.  Its easy to want to jump to the great classics and read Henry Longfellow, Maya Angelo, and Langston Hughes to our kids right away, but that would be like giving them black coffee and expecting them to like it the first time. They have to work up to it like weaning oneself off of sugar and cream in coffee.

Where do I start

Head to your library and start browsing,  poetry can be found in the 800s by the Dewey Decimal System.  Pull a few off the shelf and start reading.  Don’t feel bad if you don’t like the first few you choose.  Our family really enjoys Something Big Has Been Here by Jack Prelutsky.  I have even caught them memorizing his work for fun, but we didn’t enjoy Shel Silverstein in the same way.  I know many families who love Where the Sidewalk Ends but it’s just not our style.

Anthologies are some of my favorites because you get to taste the best of many poets in one place as you find your favorite voices to read.  You will want to preview whatever you choose as different poets have different flavors to their work and see what fits your family’s tastes.   Caroline Kennedy and Julie Andrews have each edited anthologies for children as well. Andrew’s Treasury for all Seasons, is on my wishlist right now,  I love the idea to read through the seasons with poetry.   There is a good series called Poetry for Young People that is designed to help expose young students to great poets. Check it out if you are looking to do a study on a specific poet.

What do we do now?

Now that you have something to read, start reading.  Read regularly together.  We start our read aloud time with a poem.  We are using Favorite Poems of Childhood right now.  Each morning I open to where we left off and read the next one, and if it’s less than a page we might read two.  I like to read it twice so that we can be introduced to it the first time, and then savor it the second time.

After I read it the first time I like to ask questions to see what they noticed or understood.  Opened ended questions like “What do you think this poem about?” or “How does this poem make you feel?”

After we discuss our initial thoughts I read it again so we can think about our discussion as we hear it again.  Busy hands help us focus on listening sometimes, so we doodle while we listen or sometimes get Play-doh out.  Last week we read a poem that mentioned Seahorses.  After we were done reading, we used our Step by Step Drawing book and everyone followed along to draw a seahorse.

Final Thoughts

Poetry doesn’t have to look pretty and polished when you add it to your school or family.   It can be loud and boisterous.  There can be interruptions and giggles.  Just as we enjoy beautiful stories together as we read novels, it is good to enjoy beautiful words when we read poetry together.  Find poems you enjoy, and don’t worry about the Classics or Shakespeare.  If you want to make Poetry an event at your house check out Poetry Teatime by Bravewriter.  I love the idea but this mom does not have time for that, so for now we settle for reading daily on the couch with doodle books, savoring the sounds of the poetry together as we begin each school day.


Poetry Made Simple by Inside Our Normal