Saturday, May 6

Family Update and Immediate Need

We have news! We are adopting!  We never thought God would call us to a BABY, but that is exactly what He has done!  Our beautiful Nya spent her first 7 months of life in the hospital, and came to our home in Mid-March!  She's precious and we are so thankful that God has called us and allowed us to parent another of His special children!

Here's a guest post sharing a current and immediate need of our family, a fundraiser to be able to purchase a vehicle that we all fit in!  Thank you for considering a donation and for sharing this on social media if you can.  If you have other ideas or resources for grants or fundraising, we'd be glad to hear from you as we follow God with our "yes" to care for His children.

Guest post from Jen and Melody:

Michael and Meredith Cornish are parents to 12 children, including their current adoption, a 8 month old with significant medical needs (not pictured). Through 4 international adoptions, a foster adoption and a domestic adoption of an international child who needed another adoptive home, Michael and Meredith have repeatedly allowed the Lord to have complete control of their finances and given everything to give a family to children in need. Eight of the Cornish children have special needs including their biological 11 year old daughter, two 14 year old daughters, two 10 year old sons, and a 9 year old son who all have Down syndrome as their primary diagnosis. Their 12 year old son has spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, and their 8 month old daughter is expected to have a similar diagnosis due to trauma at birth, though she is currently trach and ventilator dependent. They have 4 other biological children, ages 13, 7, 4, and 18 months.

Though Mike and Meredith will tell you they all 'fit' into their 15 passenger van, it is not without difficulty, and this limits their ability to do some activities and greatly increases the time it takes for them to load and unload their family from the vehicle. Their son with CP requires a wheelchair, and it is taken apart and put under the back seats as well as into the 15th seat of the van, but has to be disassembled and reassembled at every stop. Ten of their kids still need car seats, so seating itself is very tight. The new baby has medical equipment that takes up the floor board below two of the car seats and between the driver and passenger's seat, as well as a double stroller which squeezes into the door area where the double doors open. In order to get anyone out of the vehicle for a stop, some of the baby's equipment must be unloaded, and to get the other 2 children out of the front row, they must pass through the front doors of the vehicle. Though it is possible, it is difficult! 

We would like the Cornish family to be able to continue to keep their family active and healthy as well as to be able to relieve some of the physical work that it takes for them to leave their house. They are a family that enjoys the park, day trips, activities with local special needs groups, and church involvement, and we also know the addition of their newest baby has significantly changed their sleep schedule! 

We want to see this family blessed by providing them with a vehicle that will meet the needs of all of their family members and will be reliable as Meredith ventures out with her family much of the time on her own. This family bus will have 16-18 seats to allow for a nurse or other caregiver to travel with them as needed, and once again their treasured service dog will have room to come along! With a wheelchair lift and two wheelchair spaces, their baby girl's needs are anticipated if she has a long term need for a chair, but that space will be useful to secure her medical equipment at the current time. Please join us in blessing this family with a vehicle that will allow them to continue to raise the beautiful children that God has placed in their care!
As of 5/6/2017, approximately $6600 has been raised for the Cornishes!

Follow this link to donate to the Cornish Family Bus Fund (donations are tax deductible!)

Friday, November 4

Continue Following our Family

Whether or not you have a FaceBook account, you can follow our family's story as we continue learning and growing together at:

Wednesday, July 27

Our (Current) Outlook on Dealing with Behavior

I’m often asked how we deal with behavior.  Let me start with-- we do not have “well behaved angels” with Down syndrome.  No, we have REAL people, REAL CHILDREN, REAL issues, REAL past hurts, and REAL trauma that we deal with around here.  That means REAL behavior issues.  For REAL!  So, when someone stops and tells me “your children are so well behaved!” I just might be jumping up and down inside.  Because we are SURVIVING!  It means that at that moment, no one is actively going nuts on me :D.  It’s a ‘win’!

Also, let me start off by saying that we are PARENTS.  We aren’t professionals.  Michael’s Master’s degree is in Organizational Leadership, not behavior management, and my Bachelor’s degree is in Education, not psychiatry (though I did minor in psychology! ;) ).  We don’t claim to have all the answers, don’t claim to do everything right.  We struggle through and are learning all the time!  We find something that works for one kid, for one month, then find out they’re no longer responding to it, meanwhile we have another kid it never worked for that something different did!  It’s a constant cycle of learning.  That’s why this list is far from exhaustive.  We are learning and trying new things ALL THE TIME.

We believe strongly that behavior is 2 things: Indicative of communication, and needing to be directly molded to be as appropriate as possible.

How we accomplish that is also a two-fold approach.  One is dealing with the behavior at hand, and the other is dealing with whatever it is communicating-- which can both work us through the behavioral challenge and help us to avoid it in the future.

None of this is anything spectacular or new, but it is sometimes just a reminder of what we already know that prompts us to be able to more effectively deal with behavioral challenges.  We don’t pretend to have all of the answers, and we are regularly met with behavioral challenges in all areas of life, so we are a definite work in progress!  I wrote this simply to share where we are at right now and to put it into one place.  

Remember, the ADULT behavior is also communication, and the adult’s response to the child is going to play a role in whether they want to repeat the non-compliant behavior in the future.

When met with a behavioral issue with a child, there are some initial things to keep in mind:
    1. When a child is ‘surprised’ by a consequence to their actions, they can become even more non-compliant.  If they get away with something one time, then the next time there is a big consequence, they’re not sure whether they’re allowed to do that behavior or not.  These situations will lead to more testing, especially between different adults and authority figures.
    2. Setting up an expectation of what will happen first, second, etc, while working through any given situation will help your child to understand that EVERY time a behavior happens, the same result will happen.  This gives predictability and helps a child to desire to change their behavior when it always brings about the same result.
    3. If an adult cannot address a situation as the child ‘expects’ and the behavior CAN be ignored until it can be appropriately dealt with, it is likely better to ignore the situation and pretend it is unnoticed and then deal with it as soon as is appropriate rather than to give a different or unexpected response to the behavior.  Ie: child is in the middle of the mall and has been asked to come to the adult. They spit.  Spitting is a behavior often dealt with immediately, but in the situation with many people all over and a likelihood of escalation because of the attention that would be given to the situation, deal with the child not coming to the adult and NOT the spitting.  If the spitting continues when in an area where it can be dealt with as well, then take the determined actions to address it if necessary.
    4. As in the example above, also consider that if more than one behavior is happening at the same time, deal with the more immediate need.  In that case it was removing the child from the area first.  If the behavior determined to be secondary continues after the first priority behavior is dealt with, then it can be addressed at that time.  Ie: the child is still spitting when they have arrived in a quieter hallway.
  2. Behavior is communication.
    1. If the child is disobeying an adult, are they looking for attention?  Testing the boundaries to see whether they are the same as other boundaries?  Attempting to “sabotage” a positive experience?
    2. If the child is not participating in an activity, are they doing one of the above or are they avoiding a difficult task?  Nervous about compliance?  Not understanding the directions of the activity? Past their attention span?  Getting bored?  Already accomplished the necessary skills (activity is below their ability level)? Unable to accomplish the necessary skills (requires more than they are able to produce at the moment)?
    3. If the child is being disruptive with peers, are they seeking physical or auditory input from the reaction of the other child, adult, or a supervising adult?  Seeking their own input in ‘hurting’ the situation (ie: hitting feels good to them)?  Attempting to avoid the activity they’re taking part in?  Inappropriately attempting social interaction?
    1. Look at what happened before the behavior as well since it may give insight into why the child is acting that way.
  1. It is important to distinguish whether removal or prompting is a more appropriate response to the behavior.
    1. If the child is in a desired activity- playing, for instance, then removal is a completely appropriate response.  Overwhelming sensory activities may require removal.  Areas that the physical atmosphere is directly impacting the behavior would also be appropriate for removal.
    2. If the child would prefer to NOT do the activity, removing the child due to behavior communicates that the negative behavior is an acceptable way to avoid the non-preferred activity in the future.  
    3. If the behavior isn’t affecting the activity- physically or socially- then it may be best to ignore and not engage the behavior at all.
  2. The adult’s reaction or non-reaction plays into the entire situation.
    1. If there is a gasping response, a rush to the child, a raise in volume, a significant facial expression, or quick and jerky movements, the child is going to interpret those things either to their benefit or detriment.  ANY response is reinforcement.  Reinforce what you want to see repeated.  Do not reinforce what you want to stop.
    2. A non-reactive approach, straight faced, firm but not angry nor nonchalant, and with a very ‘intentional’ and not reactive nor harsh movement to take care of the situation is usually going to be the best way to diffuse and gain compliance.
    3. Safety issues need to be dealt with quickly and safely, however after everyone is safe, evaluate and be intentional.  This may be a quick (loud) call out to the child for them to stop, or an immediate stepping in to remove a child.  Then, consider the other areas of behavior listed below to deal with the situation.

There is extreme importance in setting a child and adult up for success!  Here are some tools that can be used to avoid or prepare for behaviors:

  • Incremental rewards within a given activity
    • This is especially helpful when an adult knows that a situation may draw negative behavior.  Setting up incremental rewards prior to the point where there is an expectation of difficulty may provide a better route to success
  • “Safe place”
    • Having an area the child knows they may ‘retreat’ to if needed that is a safe place for them to wind down when over stimulated.  The child may need prompting to use this space, but it would be somewhere they will naturally calm down and are comfortable.  It will look different for each child, but may include being quiet, having a preferred ‘seat’ (bean bag chair for instance), and a quieting activity (sensory bottle, calming musical toy, etc)
    • This can also be an adaptive stroller or wheelchair when moving about in public places, which provides boundaries and ‘safety’ to a child.
  • Intentional avoidance
    • Does he really need to go grocery shopping when he’s already overwhelmed?  Sometimes the answer is yes, but if it’s no, then be reasonable and let him stay home with someone else.
  • Positive reinforcement for specific activities
    • Setting up a “step one, step two, step three, REWARD” helps a child work through difficult tasks successfully because they understand that the reward will be given if they successfully navigate steps 1-3.  This may need to be modified to fewer steps, etc, but keep the ‘rewards’ reasonable to be accomplished immediately.  A sticker, 10 minutes on an electronic device, or a favorite short video for instance.
  • Provide choices to give some ‘ownership’ to required but non-preferred tasks
    • “We will stack blocks and do Mr. Potato Head.  Stack blocks or Mr. Potato Head first?”  Is an appropriate choice to give.  “Come to me or I’m coming to you!” is not an appropriate choice for ownership.  That is interpreted as a threat, not a choice.  A choice needs to incorporate two activities that the child can choose between.   Often choices are given when BOTH activities will be accomplished and the choice is which one the child does first.  
  • Get out before you’re in too deep
    • When a situation is not going to go well and there’s obviously a ‘disconnect’, redirect, abandon post, and start over on your terms.  It’s not always necessary to see everything through to full completion, and finishing ONE STEP then leaving is ok!  AS LONG AS the child’s behavior is not the direct cause of the abandonment.  Ie:  The task appears to be too difficult, boring, etc, and the child is not complying, then do “just this” then change course.  Attempt to finish on a high note before changing activities.
  • Prepare the child ahead of time
    • Talking through an activity, using video modeling, visual schedules, or social stories can help when an adult is preparing a child for an experience that may be challenging in a behavioral aspect.  For instance, a trip to the dentist or even an amusement park!

Even when setting up a child for the best chance of success, there are still times when behaviors need to be dealt with.

Here are some ways we work to change the situation in order to bring the child back into cooperation with the task at hand that can be used when the child is having difficult with any of the following types of situations and more: following a request to come to the adult or do another independent task, hitting or throwing during play, or being non-compliant during a work task.  

  • Ignore (is it really causing an issue that needs to be addressed?  If not, ignore if that won’t cause it to escalate)
  • Verbal prompts in single steps (stating what the adult wants done or not done broken down into each piece. Ie: “stand up”, “come here” instead of simply “come here”)
  • Visual prompts (showing something that needs to be done either by modeling, using sign language, or pointing.  Ie: walking on a balance beam to show them to walk on it or pointing to the floor in front of the adult indicating where they need to come.)
  • Hand-over-hand prompting (setting the child up for success by positioning them to begin the procedure to complete the task on their own, ie: the adult uses their hand to put the child’s hand on their fork when they have been told to eat)
  • Physical prompting without reinforcement (putting hands over or on the child to prompt them to move on their own accord WITHOUT putting any pressure to get them to move in that direction ie: putting a hand out as if to help them stand up, but not providing resistance when they reach for it, so they still have to stand up on their own accord and will not ‘hang’ on the adult hand in order to receive feedback.  Ie: placing a hand on the child’s back without putting pressure to suggest they move forward.  Ie: loosely holding a child’s hand to prompt them to walk beside the adult)
  • Full physical prompting of step 1 of activity (ie: standing a child up to their feet when they’ve been asked to come, with the expectation that they complete the task independently- adult then returns to where they were when the child was prompted initially to ‘come’)
  • Time-out from a preferred activity (in a chair, stool, or specific ‘spot’ that is non-stimulating)
  • Removing items causing an issue or removing child from area causing an issue (distractions such as balls in the room being hidden, or moving the child away from a door they want to open or knock on)
  • Separating people who are conflicting with one another to both go to different activities
  • Providing a ‘coping tool’ (ie: a musical object, calming lights, sensory bottle, fan, massage, etc- typically sensory related but not ‘thrilling’)
  • Going to a “safe place” that has been set up for the child to use when overwhelmed
  • Talk through the issue eye to eye (both the reason a they are not complying and what compliance will look like)
  • Physical response (this is not appropriate for every child, depending on their history and disability, but as a piece of the tools in the tool box, a ‘swat’ can go a long way. This should always be thought-out and never ‘reactive’ or harsh.   Ie: A child is reaching for a knife, a ‘pop’ on their hand will quickly make them draw back and they are less likely to reach for the knife again immediately, whereas talking to them about safety and sharp knives may be above their cognition.  I again reiterate that it is not appropriate for every child depending on their history and disability, but it can be a useful tool for those that it IS appropriate for.  Strong opinions against this are understandable and it is mentioned as a piece of a tool box for dealing with behavior)
  • “Proximity Control” (Putting the child close by the adult, or the adult close by the child, in order to be a physical reminder that they need to behave-- ie: standing with their hand on the arm of the adult’s chair, or the adult standing directly next to or behind them depending on the situation)
  • Time-in (nearby the adult in whatever the adult is doing without changing what the adult was already doing)
  • Time away in a secured and safe place (high chair, playroom, playpen, or even between adult’s feet on the floor)
  • Natural consequences (these things are directly related to the thing that happened, and can be done with or without the child’s total comprehension of the consequence.  Ie: child is cranky- early to bed that night to get more sleep.  Child stole sweets- they used up their ‘sweets allowance’ for the week and are reminded of that for the following days)
  • Attempt to have the child communicate to the most of their abilities what is going on, while avoiding giving too many suggestions as to what the adult thinks it may be.  

As I started out with, none of these behavior techniques are particularly novel in and of themselves, however as a whole, they are all tools to help adults to set up a positive environment for children and to deal with behaviors as they arise in different situations and with children who may have varying levels of physical abilities and cognition.  

((Recommended read: Stein Woodbine House Behavior and Down syndrome ))

~Meredith Cornish 2016

About us:

Michael and Meredith are parents of 11 children including 5 biological and 6 adopted children.  Seven of their children have special needs including Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, hard of hearing, reactive attachment disorder, mental health disorder, prematurity, and visually impaired.  Their children range from 8 months to 13 years old, with their children with special needs all between 8 and 12 years old.  Michael is a very hands-on dad, and during the work day he is the network administrator at a Christian school.  Meredith takes care of their home front during the day including homeschooling, therapies, and medical care for their children.  Michael and Meredith are passionate about their relationship with Christ and about bringing children to know and have a relationship with Him.

Monday, February 8

Our Annual update... 2016

It has been a whirlwind of a year and an awesome one at that!

2015 in review.  In 2015 we...

March: Sold our home in Florida.
March: Learned we would be having a new baby (biological) in November
April: Bought a house in Monroe, GA
May: Finalized the adoption of Paul Matthew Cornish (age 8, with Down syndrome- adopted through private US adoption after he was living with us for 18 months, originally from Bulgaria)
June: Adjusted to life in our new home and started our 2015-2016 school year.
July: Spent a week in Florida visiting family
August: Began AWANA with our entire family (except Kris since he's now in middle school youth group)
September: Started in on annual doctor's visits galore!
October: Made final preparations for our new arrival and finished up doctor's visits for the other kids
November: On the 3rd we welcomed our newest daughter, Harper Naomi via repeat c-section and spent the month resting and recovering while visiting with lots of family
December: More company, and Christmas!  Our first Christmas as a family of 13!
January: Sickness struck and we spent 2 weeks down and out.

A little about our children right now...

Aleksa: 13 years old.
Favorite things to do: play with baby dolls and swing.
Personality: She’s a watcher and takes in everything going on around her all the time. She is always working on figuring out social situations which can be positive or difficult depending on her frame of mind at that time.
Medical update: Behavior is still her biggest struggle.

Emma: 12 years old (13 in 2 weeks!)
Favorite things to do: Play with stacking type activities and flap flat objects.
Personality: Emma is a strong willed little one who always is calculating things within her perceived circle of interaction. She likes to rub the little boys' shaved heads.
Medical update: She was able to go to 'inserts' which wrap all the way around the top of the foot in her shoes instead of ones that 'velcro on' and she is walking great still with less support!

Kristopher: 11 years old (12 in 3 weeks!)
Favorite things to do: Play computer games, Lego’s, and explore.
Personality: Kris is loving and giving, he’s a go-getter and very driven when he has something he wants to see accomplished. Kris is a leader and will step in to help with situations when he sees a need.

Wesley: 11 years old
Favorite things to do: Snuggle with Odina (his service dog), roll and navigate his surroundings, hold his baby sister
Personality: Wes is happy and easy going with a great sense of humor and a stubborn streak thrown in.
Medical update: Wesley had 3 grand mal seizures in 2015 and was diagnosed with Epilepsy in January.  This is unfortunately a common 'coexisting' diagnosis for people with cerebral palsy.

Brianna: 10 years old
Favorite things to do: Play on the ipad or computer, navigate the roku, and run around outside.
Personality: Brianna is a go-getter but is definitely driven by technology. She can be extremely outgoing or extremely shy in different situations.
Medical update: All is well!

James: 9 years old
Favorite things to do: Listen to music, RUN, and sing
Personality: James is a busy busy kid who loves physical interaction and is easily overwhelmed or overstimulated.
Medical update: James was diagnosed with moderate hearing loss and will receive his first hearing aides tomorrow!

Micah: 9 years old
Favorite things to do: Flip through books, play ball or cars, swing, and pet the dog
Personality: Micah is a charmer and is quiet and sneaky as well. He’s always wearing a smile whether he’s being sweet or a stinker.
Medical update: We continue to struggle with hearing and speaking and figuring out any diagnosis for that or any reason for it.

Paul: 8 years old
Favorite things to do: Pet the dog, swing, and play ball
Personality: Paul is a watcher, but he’s also a snuggler. He’ll join in when he knows he’s going to be accepted into play.
Medical update: Clean bill of health!

Lynae: 6 years old
Favorite things to do: Color, play Minecraft, play with dolls
Personality: Lynae has a leader personality, and loves to play with others. She likes to diffuse conflict and will often put others first.

Delaina: 3 years old
Favorite things to do: color, play with dolls, play on the ipad, play with Harper
Personality: Delaina is a fun loving kid who wants to be big all the time. She is selfless in so many ways, always going out of her way to take care of the needs or desires of others, often without them needing to express that desire.

Harper: 3 months old
Favorite things to do: nurse, snuggle, and play on her ‘baby gym’ mat
Personality: Harper is pretty easy going at the moment, loves to be held, talked to, and see her surroundings.
Left to Right: Aleksa, Lynae, Emma, James, Micah, Brianna, Kristopher, Delaina, Paul, and Wesley
Homeschool Fire Truck Education day at our home in October 2015

Harper Naomi, born Nov 3, 2015 (~8 weeks in photo)

In front of our new home in April 2015
Kids from Left to Right: Wesley, Odina (Wesley's service dog), Brianna, Aleksa, Lynae, James, Delaina, Paul, Micah, Emma, Kristopher

For more updates, you  can follow our public page at whether or not you have a FB account. 

Saturday, November 15

Where we've been

I tend to find time and then... just not... as it comes to blogging.  In the most recent past there's been much more "not" than there has been "time."

We moved, we settled in, we're doing school, we've had 30 doctor's appointments and 42 therapies in the last 6 weeks, we've attended Sundays and Wednesdays at our new church, we've bought jackets and pulled out long pants, bought boots for church, and figured out how to get everyone to the car in 40 degree weather.  I'm sure our northern friends are laughing at the talk of 'cold' weather in the south, but in Florida we'd see 40 degrees in January-February for a day or three at a time, and that was that.  "Down" here in north GA we're sitting in the 40's for a few days this week and I think we'll be seeing more 40's than not in the coming months.  It's a total lifestyle change for us, to have to deal with JACKETS!

Anyway, we've been living life fully, and by that I mean from 6am to 11pm ;)  And everyone has been relatively healthy with just colds going through here and there.  We are BLESSED and thankful to have our family together again!  We've just now made it to the point where we've been back together longer than we were separated over the summer, and I think we just got over the point of trying to get our bearings straight and re group on the whole "parenting togehter" thing. :)

Michael is enjoying his job, I'm enjoying mine, and the kids are somewhat enjoying theirs :D  Of course theirs involve learning and school and obeying, and new routines and new doctors... so maybe "enjoying" is a little stretch some of the time... but everyone is generally happy anyway ;)

That's all for now... If you'd like to see our family in action, whether or not you have a FaceBook account, you should be able to view our public page at  

Wednesday, September 3

What's in those Work Boxes? 8 types of activities to fill the drawers and the day.

I blogged our 5 things that keep me sane recently and had a lot of people raise the question-- what's in the work boxes, and what do you use to teach the kids during the day?  Here's post #1 with a really basic overview.  Of course, some time on Pinterest would likely yield you more results in one tap than this will, because we've purchased materials over the last 5 years of having preschoolers (and buying educational items for birthdays, Christmas, and from relatives for those also!) so our cabinets are well stocked with educational supplies that were purchased.  Many of these things can be replicated from home to do the same function!

Here it is... what's inside... what the kids are working on!

What it looks like:

I won't even pretend that it looks that amazingly organized all the time.  But in general, I have drawers for 'flat' activities, I have bins galore that stay in their bins, and I have magazine organizers and small plastic document bins for other projects when I run out of drawers! :)

1. Workbooks, copy sheets, and dry erase pages...

Right now, Brianna is working on Spectrum 1st grade math and we're starting off with review of Kindergarten Hooked on Phonics, and her books are all in dry erase pages, then in a binder and dropped in one of the BIGGER drawers which will hold the binder at a bit of an angle.  She's also working on writing her name, which as you can see, my erasing is starting to take the permanent marker off with it! She's also working through a basic printing handwriting book, which I've set up for her to write in since it's easy enough to replace for $1. :)

Lynae is working through A Beka Kindergarten, so many of her drawers have numbers, letters, Bible, Science, Think and Learn, and printing practice from that curriculum.  I have her "monster page corners" on books so she can find where to start each day without flipping through the book for a long time.  These are just a folded strip of paper with eyes and teeth added that she and I made together.  They have helped her a lot with independence and she thinks it's great to have them!

2. Bible Verse activities:

The girls are both in AWANA at church, and this is our first experience with that.  Each week they have a phrase they are supposed to learn such as "S is for Savior" along with a scripture memory verse.  I took each of these and printed them on a sheet of paper, then also blew them up and cut them in strips so the girls are physically working on putting them in order, while we are working on learning the verses.  To keep me organized, the date of each memory verse is written in the corner of the page as well as on the back of each strip.

3. Fun activities for ALL the kids:

I put Snacks in one bin, the computers have 'tags' on them for time on there, the art easel also has a scheduled time, and so does the board book area.  We also try to get everyone outside (barefoot and all!) at some point in the day.  Sometimes these activities can hold a more structured 'value' (such as painting or making a specific project at the easel, or having an organized outdoor activity or educational computer game) but for right now I'm using those as reward time since I'm not that organized yet this year! :) 

4. The "preschool play time" that every kid needs:

There are times when we treat our children what their ages say they are, and there are times where their developmental levels are really more important.  Socially acceptable but developmentally appropriate is a hard thing to figure out.  Well, my kids from 2-almost 12 enjoy these same activities if they're working on a toddler/preschool developmental level, and social appropriateness goes out the window when we're working on 'skills' ... including HOW TO PLAY, which is an underdeveloped skill in many kids from orphanages, such as 3 of mine!

In the 'grouped' picture is a mailbox with letters and a package, Noah's ark and animals,  a cash register that names off numbers and has some sounds, a handful of Ninja Turtles, and a Fisher Price Farm.  The next picture is a Fisher Price doll house with all the farm animals arranged however Lynae saw fit this afternoon, and then a coin sorting cash register with coins that fit in SIDEWAYS (flat), which is a different skill than most coin tasks.

We throw in baby dolls and strollers, magna doodles, and other 'fun' items that hold little educational value other than teaching while they play, (some of these are pictured later).  Bead mazes are a favorite of a couple of my children, so we incorporate those too!

5. Manipulatives with a mission:

These items are fun but serve a purpose.  Puzzles are good matching and fine motor as well as spatial awareness.  Counting bears can be sorted by color, these have 3 sizes so can be sorted by size, and can be used as manipulatives for math problems as well.  Blocks are great for stacking, but also for lining up, for completing visual puzzles of "create this shape" (trace around a group of blocks to make a picture on a piece of paper that the child has to replicate).  These bean bags each have either a letter on them or are cut to a specific shape, and they can be used for teaching those specifics, for identifying colors, or for several gross motor tasks like throwing them to a target, standing on one leg or an uneven surface, etc, and bending and standing back up to pick them up.  The "pie" is filled with fruits which can be picked up with the included 'tongs', or can be sorted by color or by type (there are two type of fruits per color!). Lacing beads, colored blocks, and counting bears can all be used to replicate patterns shown on a piece of paper.  Lacing beads are also a great OT activity in general, both the large ones (pictured below) and small ones.  Smaller ones often have letters on them and can be used for spelling words or Bible verse memory as well.  Use your imagination... MANY things can be used as manipulatives that double for learning!  Snap beads (pictured later) for making jewelry are a great play-and-learn skill for OT!

6. Learning toys with specific purposes:

Seen above in the item with lots of baggies is a tin of muffins which are a shape sorter, the icing and bottom separate and each muffin has a different shape.  The shape is also in the bottom of the muffin tin, so it is a two-fold activity.  There is also a 'balance scale' and this is great for use with blocks, weights, beads, etc to figure out how many make it balance and understanding the concept of weight as a measurement versus size alone.  Also pictured above in the top bin over the blocks is a bin of cans, which each contain a different number of a fruit or vegetable.  It replicates 'canned' foods, but is used for sorting, counting, and learning what each item is.  Lastly, pictured above with the puzzles is a set of 'crayon shaped' containers which contain a variety of items that are all different sizes and are all different shades of the color that crayon is representing.  This teaches color recognition, but also teaches diversity within the shades of the color spectrum. 

Now for some other things... Another 'cans' game, because Brianna LOVES the sorting cans above, this one has the entire alphabet and includes heavy cardboard cutouts of items starting with that letter.  On the back of the cards are the word (which helps me cheat!).   Also below are flash cards galore, which we use sparingly, but mostly to test knowledge rather than to teach.  Vocabulary photo cards are a little different, though, and we do use those to teach and build up a vocabulary with things that establishes words some of our kids haven't heard, especially those who missed out on the first 5-8 years of learning time.   In the bins below, the top is manipulatives and fine motor task items, but the bottom are puzzle cards for spelling words, doing math problems, etc.  The child puts the puzzle together to solve the 'things that go together' or to write a word (each letter of a 3-5 letter word is a puzzle piece. 

7. Artsy, Craftsy, easy stuff:

I may take a peek on Pinterest every 4 months or so, but I'm seriously not a Pinterest follower.  So, our arts and crafts go along with our projects, and we do a lot of crayons, color wonder markers, stencils, and, the bin in the photo below with plastic baggies in it?  Those are a bunch of pre-made Oriental Trading activities to do with the letters of the alphabet (and around them is the rest of the Hooked on Phonics curriculum).  We also have the art easel for drawing/tracing and coloring, and I have great plans of getting the kids painting (we picked up paint brushes and no spill containers for a certain boy's 8th birthday coming up...!)  

8. The digital age:

We have a Plex server set up at our house which runs off of one of the kids' computers.  It has a category called 'educational videos'.  It is the warehouse for all of our DVD's so that they don't have to be ruined by tiny fingers... but more specifically, it has the entire collection of Magic School Bus shows, Signing Time series 1 and 2, and many Leap Frog and other such videos which teach through video.  We've found some for math, reading, and even teaching about the weather.

We also have 2 iPads which the kids can use (with major military grade cases on them!) and through the Guided Access function, we can lock the iPads in to an activity and they cannot unlock it.  There are several apps like "Special words" created for children with special needs, or (called Learning Academy on the iPad, I believe), which are great for the kids to 'lock in on' and enjoy some digital time without the 'easy access' of the computer which, at any time, may just HAPPEN to click over to MineCraft rather than my chosen activity for them!

Michael took some old cassette tapes with stories on them and made them into MP3's which the kids can access along with the digital versions of the books right on the ipad.  Don't ask me how he did it... he just did. I believe they are in the educational section of the Plex server as well!

There's also and which provide FREE educational games and activities which are a nice down time activity or something you can really look in to and schedule in to match up with whatever you're teaching.  It's great for seasonal learning, too. :)

More and more...:

Of course there's more we do and specific different activities we have done or will do again in the future, tongs and ice cube trays and erasers and gooey lizards fill some of those bins, but to be specific would take way more time than I have right now, so... there's the basics of what we work with! :)  What do you use to create environments for learning with your kids?