Earn Junior Ranger Badges on your next Road Trip

3 years ago a friend let me in on a little secret. This secret has changed the way we explore when we travel, and it’s educational!  The National Park Service offers a Junior Ranger Program at most of their locations, you just have to ask!  I have fond memories of earning the Wisconsin Explorer patches during our annual family vacations, so this sounded like fun to me.

Junior Ranger for the Kids!

When you visit the visitor center or Ranger Station at each park you can ask for one to get started.  Some locations have them available online as well.  Once the child completes the required number of activies in the book, they will be sworn in as a Junior Ranger and receive their badge.  The completed book and badge make a great FREE souvenir (and homeschool record) for the trip!  Some parks have multiple levels you can earn that may include a patch in addition to the badge. (more…)

A Conversation with SPED Homeschool

Recently, I sat down with the SPED Homeschool podcast to chat about embracing our Out-of-the-Box life.  We talked about why we started our school year in July and slowly added more subjects.  This year we are planning our first year as eclectic homeschoolers with no boxed curriculum, as we are constantly changing up our curriculum to fit the needs of each child.

Our discussion covered the seamless accommodations that we are able to use in our schooling, which is one of my favorite benefits of homeschooling with Special Needs kids.  What would be inconvenient in a traditional classroom is often the accepted way of doing things in our homeschool.  Some examples include primary paper for my struggling writers, and visual timers to help them own their breaks and know when to return to school.  We offer each kid work that meets them where they are, whether the work assigned is suggested above OR below what would be the traditional grade level for their age.

SPED Homeschool provides support for the unique challenges of homeschooling children with special needs, who would be on an IEP if they were attending a more traditional school.  They believe every child can succeed when provided individualized instruction. Homeschooling is one of the best options a family has for providing this type of education for a unique learner. Their website has a variety of resources and supports available including suggestions for curriculum that has worked for other non traditional learners.

Watch the Replay

You can listen to the audio podcast HERE. SPED Homeschool hosts weekly Facebook Lives on their page each Tuesday Night at 8pm CST.  Replays are available on their YouTube and podcast channels.


A Conversation with SPED Homeschool-InsideOurNOrmal.com

Easy Art Appreciation and Museum Scavenger Hunt

Our family really likes literature based curriculum.  I love how easy it is to grab a stack of books and our reading schedule, and all gather on the couch for school.  For this reason I had avoided teaching the messier subjects like science labs and art appreciation. Initially the reading schedule overwhelmed me, thinking about reading from so many books each day, until I figured out the pattern!  Each day we opened the book to the next 2 pages, read it, answered the question or 2 on the student sheets, and then stopped.

Doing science this way was enjoyable.   That year we savored our way through the world of animals and the systems of the body.  Maybe, just maybe, the same method could be applied to another book in another subject. Art Appreciation, like science, is a very large subject area with many parts.  Doing messy projects did not excite me with a house of littles and I didn’t know where to start.  So for our first few years of homeschooling we didn’t do formal art lessons.  Any projects they did were done a co-op, because I was just not a fun project mom.  What if this 2 pages a day could work to teach the kids about art, without the mess?

artactivitybook ION

Learning Art in 2 pages a Week

Earlier, I had picked up a set of Usborne Art Activity books which were in our homeschool closet.  I decided to test the method out.  After looking at the table of contents, we only needed to do it once a week to make it last all year.  Worst case scenario was: they got the same amount of art appreciation we did the year before, zero.  Best case scenario, It would give my kids a taste of fine art and wouldn’t bore them.  Adding these not messy, bite size weekly art lessons was completely manageable to me.  And I loved getting to add some beauty to our learning.

The kids didn’t hate it, they loved it!  I loved how it changed up our schedule, since we all go to do something different.  After several weeks of reading about art in our book, it was time to see some art up close at a museum.  Lucky for us, Grandma just retired from working at our local Art Museum and was happy to help us with a field trip!  She was even trained at giving the “real” tours and knew all the fun facts about the different pieces as a museum docent.

Field Trip Time!

Even with Grandma’s help and knowledge, I knew attention spans would wander and we needed something to make  the art museum not boring and a little hands on.  I made a list of the lessons we had completed in our Art Activity book, pulling out the vocabulary and key terms to make a scavenger hunt for each child to use.  This gave them a purpose to their looking and wandering at the museum. With clipboard and pencils in hand they were focused on looking for the the things we had been talking about during our sweet art time each week.  And they knew what they were looking at because we had learned some key terminology.

Three of the things on our Art Scavenger Hunt were Still Life, Portrait, and Landscape.  It was a moment for me to feel the weight of being their teacher.  I didn’t remember learning these basic art terms myself, and they were new to my children because it was something we just hadn’t discussed.  Learning them with sticker pages in our activity book made it easy and empowered them to enjoy the museum.

I’m sharing my scavenger hunt with you below.  Learn some art appreciation vocabulary and schedule your visit to the museum.  It was a great day of memories and learning for our family and I hope its an easy tool you can use to make a messy subject easy and simple.

Snapshot of a New Special Needs Parent

I was looking through some old journals recently, and came across this entry at the beginning of my life as a special needs parent. When I wrote it my youngest had just turned a year old. He is now is now 6 1/2.  It was a stressful year, as he had some health problems that we had to solve.  We worked hard to find doctors who would listen to us.  And if dealing with a colicky infant wasn’t enough, at the same time we were beginning to see delays in the middle child’s development which would lead to him being diagnosed as Autistic.

It was a year full of appointments. I share this snapshot of being in the thick of the transition to special needs parent.  My expectations of what our life would be and what my kids could do needed to change.  I had to accept the challenges of our reality.  Since then I have devoted myself to research and learning about the challenges that at this time we were just starting to encounter. We have made a pretty good normal for ourselves over the last 5 years.  It’s taken some time and I’m still caught off guard on occasion.   Fun family activities that others take for granted, like going to the movies, are often not an option for our family.


 1/26/14 Dear Diary 

Last year we added our third child to the family and I had a plan on how life would go.  I would teach preschool at home to my two budding geniuses, who would be eager to learn. We would go on field trips to the science center, and story-time at the library.  The baby would be content in my lap. While brother and sister sitting nicely next to me listening well and participating.  This wasn’t what happened.

The Baby

We spent the first half of the year surviving at home with a baby who when awake was screaming, and the older ones watching hours of PBSkids.   Now we know that the baby has milk and soy allergies, and pancreas enzyme deficiency that was causing him to not gain weight and what he ate was painful to him.  

His Brother

When the baby wasn’t screaming, we start noticing the soon to be 3 year old, still wouldn’t still still to color, was still uninterested in dressing himself, and needed a bib for any mildly messy meal including yogurt.  The first few specialists told us to take away his favorite toys, provide less time on the iPad and he would grow out of it.  After visiting 2 pediatricians and 3 specialists, he was diagnosed with Developmental Delays, Sensory Processing Disorder and Low Muscle Tone.  The 3 year old began 2x a week Occupational Therapy, which means hours every week of driving and sitting in the waiting room with his siblings, leaving little time at home and no energy for mom to do any organized teaching I had planned. 

The Big Sister

The 4 year old went to Pre-K for the fall semester which was more excitement.  At home she was the easy one and such a big help with her little brothers.  The short school day and drop-offs and pick ups added more to the daily schedule of doctor and therapy appointments.  The Sensory Processing Disorder her brother has shows up with a meltdown when we unloaded the car to walk her into class each day and at the end of the day to walk in and pick her up.  I just couldn’t do it any longer.  

Changes for this winter

My life is looking a little different now.  I’m homeschooling the now 5 year old because its too stressful to leave the house with all 3 kids on a schedule every day. The 3 year old still hasn’t mastered a spoon, watches and repeats his favorite movie lines over and over, and jumps on the couch so much he got 2 trampolines for Christmas.  He still carries his blanket around and, if you don’t have it with you, be ready for meltdown.  My baby is now a toddler and starting to do some things my 3 year old struggles with.

The 3, 5 year olds are less than 2 years apart, I imagined homeschooling them mostly together at the same level, with small differences.  the 5 year old excitedly read her first (leveled reader) chapter book this month, and can do simple addition on her hands.  The 3 year old is still learning to hold a crayon and draw a line.

It’s not the life I pictured, but I feel a great responsibility to care for my boys and their special gifts.  I am a researcher and Google is my friend.  At a recent meeting I was even asked if I had an education background for the knowledge I appeared to have.  I will fight for my kids to succeed and get the help and tools they need.  I wasn’t planning on being a special needs parent, who really does?  It is hard work but i’m willing and able.  

There is hope

Being a special needs parent can be very isolating.  When all this was happening, most of my friends couldn’t relate.  Yet our challenges greatly affected how and when we could interact with them.  I hadn’t yet met new friends who understood.  One reason I share our stories is so that others can find it and know they are not alone.  It’s hard, it can be painful, and it’s unique for every family.  Take heart that the hard will get easier, your kids will grow and change in their own time.  I love social media for the easy way I can connect with other special needs parents.  I can meet families with similar challenges without the stress and hassle of leaving home.  Come join us on Facebook and share your story for others to find hope!

Snapshot from OUr First year as Special Needs Parents, it gets better. InsideOurNormal.com


My Favorite Homeschool Teacher Supplies

One of the bonus parts of homeschooling is that our back to school shopping is much less involved than heading back to a traditional classroom.  We do our shopping on an as-needed basis, and keep a small supply of notebooks on hand for various projects that come up.  While our list may be much shorter, we still have some fun when it comes to back to school shopping.  I’m sharing 4 of my favorite homeschool teacher supplies.

Mason Jars and Coffee Mugs

I come from a farming family and inherited quite the supply of canning jars and while I do use them when I try to make my own jam, these jars are useful for so much else.  I use them around our school space for pencil cups.  The weight of them keep them from tipping over.  You can dress them up with some fun ribbon to make them pretty or use them plain.  We also use them through out our house for loose change and to hold our tooth brushes in the bathroom.

Coffee mugs are also great to contain homeschool teacher supplies.  I have some colorful ones on my desk to hold sets of pens and markers.  Like Mason jars coffee mugs are sturdy and we always seem to have extras around our house and they’re easy to clean if they get too messy.  So get those pretty ones out of your cupboard on to your desk so you can enjoy them!

Erasable Pens

I LOVE Pilot FriXion Erasable Gel Pens for all my teacher notes.  We were introduced to these by my daughter’s online teacher, and i might have stolen the first set I bought her after I saw how they worked.  They are Gel Pens that erase!  And they erase well.  They come in several fun colors which makes writing fun.  I use them in my planner as well as to write in my kid’s assignment books.  I don’t have to worry about leaving space to make changes, since I know i can erase if i need to.  I have caught all the kids using them at different points, and again the erasable factor makes me worry less about what they’re doing.  We still have a pencil only rule for math, though.

They work by being heat sensitive.  The heat created by the friction of the rubber eraser tip is enough to make it disappear.  I use them for my sewing projects as well, since the heat of the iron makes the ink invisible.  Leaving your notebook in a hot car will cause the ink to erase as well.  But putting the notebook in the freezer will make it reappear.  Regardless of how it works, I love them and use them daily!  They also have marker pens that use the same ink as well for journaling or coloring!

You can find them in most stores with the pens and I have found individual pens available in Micheal’s with the scrap-booking supplies.


Storage Clipboard

I keep my most important homeschool papers and my weekly assignment grid on my Storage clipboard.  My grid is on top and any notes or printables I need during the week I store inside the clipboard.  This makes them easily accessible to me and they don’t get lost in other piles during the week.  I also have a pencil box on the case so I can keep a pen and my highlighter nearby which i use to cross off our completed tasks or make notes for later.

Sticky Notes and Page Flags

The more chaotic our life gets, the more notes I find myself taking.  I use sticky notes to collect my thoughts and I can put them where I will see  them.  Sometimes that is on a book i’m reading, or more often it’s on my desk or the wall next to my desk.  I use notes to remember what I should be focusing on for therapy goals during our day.  Sometimes I’ll write down a fun Pinterest project I want to do with the kids.

My new favorite stick notes are Page Flags which are perfect for books and planners.  They are small, narrow and transparent so they don’t hide the text.  I use these to mark out all the reading assignments of the kids’ assigned reading books.  I also use them in my planner to mark the current week.  Since they are sticky, it won’t fall out if it gets dropped.  I was so excited when I found these flags at Dollar Tree this year at back to school.  Last year’s package was almost out and there were 500 flags in the Dollar Tree package!  Look for them with the office supplies

These are a few of my favorite homeschool teacher supplies for our one room school house.  What are your favorite homeschool supplies?


Favorite HOmeschool Teacher Supplies InsideOurNormal.com

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