Friday, September 01, 2017

A review: mifold booster seat

I will first say I reluctantly agreed to do this review.  I was contacted by a very sweet rep from mifold booster seats and said no, I use 5-pt harnesses for all of my kids until they can sit well in a regular seat.  But, she wrote again.  In that time, my sister mentioned the mifold seat to me as an option she was considering.  I'd thought about going ahead and seeing what they're all about, so the second time they reached out, I agreed.

I'm glad I did!

Though we still feel that a 5-pt harness is the safest way to travel with kids, this booster does an amazing job of putting a seat belt down to a child's level, as well as KEEPING it there, no matter the child's position in the seat.  The portability is great, as it can be thrown into a child's backpack for a play date after school or be carried along for a day trip with grandma.

When I received the mifold, my sister was visiting with her boys, so in addition to my own kids trying out the seat, my sister was able to try it with her son as well.  Here are some pictures of the seat, the setup, and my kids of different body builds, sizes, and developmental levels trying it out!

We are highly impressed.  We often use a TravelSafer vest, and I would  consider this to be similar in its restraint and positioning to the vest.  At the same time, it's even more portable and versatile as it doesn't have to 'fit' the child as well, and can be adjusted in just a few touches to fit a child from the smallest to the largest of their size recommendations.

An impressive product, that safely adjusts the seatbelt to fit the child!  Very grateful to mifold for allowing us to 'test' the product as well as intoruducing us to a seat we may very well use as the need arises in the future.

Now, the pictures!  It was much smaller than I expected!

Here's where to shop:

This review was made after receiving the product free of charge, with the request for a post.  The mifold company did not otherwise influence the post contents.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

One morning with the Cornishes... video and fundraiser!

One Morning with the Cornishes VIDEO and T-SHIRT FUNDRAISER LAUNCH T shirt sale link:

As Michael and I worked on creating some t-shirt designs to launch a fundraiser to help populate our family bus fund, we had an idea.  Why don’t we introduce our family at the same time that we launch the tshirt fundraiser?  And… let’s show a little bit of ‘real life’.  So, one morning last week I grabbed my cell phone and walked through our day with it recording.  I didn’t wipe down the tables and brush the kids’ hair and  make life “viewer ready.’  No, instead, I started off when I was sitting in the rocking chair watching my 13 yr old say good morning to his baby sister after breakfast.  I only recorded until lunch time, when I loaded up some of the children, left others with my mom, and headed out to a doctor’s appointment.  What I ended up with was a picture of our beautiful mess.  A morning of our normal around here…

I hope you’ll enjoy getting a peek at our family, and will see below for links to our t-shirt fundraiser and our family bus fund.

We have 12 children, my husband and I, and 2 of our children require wheelchairs.  We also have a service dog who cannot currently travel with us.  Add in other medical equipment and just the daily needs of 8 children with special needs, a toddler, and 3 ‘typically developing’ children, and our 15 passenger van is packed as tight as possible.  We are raising funds to help purchase a family bus that will hold 16 passengers plus 2 wheelchair tie downs and has a lift.  

As of today (6/3/2017) we have raised $9,600!  That’s a great start and we’re so thankful to those who have contributed! Take a look at the tshirt fundraiser below and you can read more about our family at or at our family fund page with Helping Hands (direct donations to this fund are tax deductible),

Here’s the video: One Morning with the Cornishes

 All shirts are available in various colors, crew and v-neck, as well as hoodies!   A portion of profits will be added to our bus fund.

Shirt Storefront:   **NOTE** Once you see the shirts, you can select DIFFERENT COLORS of each design! :)

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small things great love.jpgadopt foster support.jpg god is good even in the hard stuff.jpg

Family Bus Fund (Tax deductible donations!):

Find us on Facebook:

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The day nothing changed

Today is a day that nothing changed.  Sure, there were subtleties to the day that made it different from the one before, and the nuances of life’s movement were there.  But today, nothing changed.
I have to remind myself of that, because today, something inside of my mind changed.  

Today, a doctor wrote on her note pad “She has a diagnosis of cerebral palsy.”

It’s a simple little sentence.  Six words.  They didn’t change my life nor the life of my daughter, but in my mind, something shifted.

My daughter was born early and as a result of that and some other medical complexities, she had a brain bleed at birth.  When my husband and I were first introduced to her at 4.5 months old as we considered pursuing her adoption, this was explained to us. “She will one day be diagnosed with CP” the notes said.  She had post-hemmorragic hydrocephalus, and had really rough first months of life.  Even now as I write this she’s in the nursery hooked up to a ventilator and oxygen concentrator that helps her breathe through her tracheostomy tube, inserted right into her throat.  She’s eating through a feeding tube.  

She’s had a long road to get to our home, and still has many struggles in life to overcome.  Even though we KNEW that this day was coming and we would hear a neurologist say the words “cerebral palsy” to us, it still shook me a little.

“She seems so happy.”  “Are you SURE?”  “Doctors can be wrong sometimes.”  “Just wait and see what God does, he’s going to heal her brain!”  “But she looks so… normal.”

I’ve heard all of those statements in the last 4.5 months since we said “yes” and moved mountains to join our baby girl in a hospital several hours from our home.  Most were said in a loving tone, a hopeful tone, a tone that wanted us to agree with them and believe that they were right.

The thing is, nothing changed today.  She’s still “so happy.”  She’s still able to be healed.  She still looks “so… normal.”  And yet, we have a diagnosis that says there’s brain damage to an extent that it has caused neurological deficit in motor areas of the brain, and she will need assistance to meet whatever milestones she may meet in the future.

This isn’t a ‘sentence’ with the diagnosis. God is still good, even when things are hard, and His will is still what we seek.  It reminds me of Jesus’ response about a blind man when he said “He was born blind so that the works of God could be seen in his life.”  I cling to that story as if Jesus was speaking directly to us some days.  Six of our children have Down syndrome.  Now two have a primary diagnosis of cerebral palsy.

I had a little conversation with Jesus today. He did the talking to me, because I could only listen. It's as if he was saying

“Him, and her, and him, and him, and her, and her, and her, and him… I see them all.  I know their struggles.  Some of their struggles are because of the environment that man put them in to.  But my Father will make all things work together for the good of the Kingdom.  God is going to be seen THROUGH that thing which the world sees as a deficit.  Some of them, the very making of their chromosomes has been crafted to be different, so that a different part of God could be seen.  Each and every person has strengths and weaknesses, areas that the Father has given more or less to each so that they can be a part of the Body of Christ.  No matter what strengths and weaknesses are more evident to others, my Father has given each person a gift that they will use to Glorify Him.  Their praises are heard, whether in eloquent and flawless music or in grunts and utterances of joy.  Every person has purpose, has meaning.  Every person is here to fulfill a role in The Church.  Don’t discount anyone based on what you can physically see.  My Father created them WHOLE.  Each was created so that the works of God could be seen in their lives.”  

I’m reminded that God’s plan is intact.  Our daughter didn’t change today.  Today, our daughter received a diagnosis, but through the eyes of God, today was a day that nothing changed.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Short term missions and orphanages- there's a problem here

Part of the biggest struggles we have with two of our children comes as a result of institutionalization and well-meaning strangers.  These strangers were mostly there as “missionaries.”  They were there on short term mission projects, set on “investing” in a day or week of the life of an orphan.  Set on seeing children’s faces light up with joy at the candies they bring.  Snuggling children in a way that parents and close family do.  Strangers coming into these children’s lives for just a short time, hugging them close against their bodies and  encouraging the children to give indiscriminate affection over the course of a few days only to disappear one day and never look back.  

Your pictures and your memories aren’t what the mission trip is supposed to be about.

Please, if you’re considering mission trips either as a leader, a student, or someone with influence on how these short term trips are done, PLEASE consider the long term effects of indiscriminate affection and what it does to children who have been repeatedly hurt, abandoned, and whose brains are forming in a way that they will not form bonds with familiar people.  Please don’t hug and kiss on children you don’t know, and whose future you don’t have in mind.  Please don’t dismiss the ‘rules’ of their environment and allow chaos to break out in the ‘name’ of a week of spiritual breakthroughs for yourself.

If you need to feel good about helping orphans, consider that their buildings need to be painted, their playground updated, their toys refreshed or replaced.  You can bring music and dance the day away or bring Bible lessons to teach, but where YOU need to hug and kiss on them and hold them and show them affection because YOU believe that YOU are the only one that is bringing the name of Jesus to them and in order for YOU to do this, YOU must show them affection, THEY are not going to benefit from it.  No, they’re actually being destroyed.  

Teaching an institutionalized child in an orphanage that strangers are the ones who give affection, even in the “name of Jesus” is debilitating for them while they grow up.  They learn that those they opened up to left, just like every other important person in their lives that landed them in an orphanage to start with.  They may even associate your desertion with the desertion of the Jesus and God you wanted to teach them about.

Instead of fulfilling your need to love on orphans by being physical with them, show them love by appropriate interaction of a friend or even stranger.  High 5’s, side hugs, sitting face out on your lap, reading them stories, singing songs and dancing holding hands.

When you show appropriate social boundaries to children in an orphanage, you might be saving them from heartbreak and you may be making their ‘connections’ between intimacy and social boundaries grow in a way that will make their actual BRAIN CONNECTIONS form in a healthy way.  Where they don’t feel your leaving as a loss, but as a stranger that came through their lives as they really should.  A stranger that told them about a Father God and his Son named Jesus.  That’s what we want them to remember…
The fine print...*This is not talking about long term missions or local missionaries, and another way to help orphans without causing some of these issues is to support those who live by the orphanages and are bringing the Gospel into the orphanages on a regular basis and have relationships with the children! **The result of brain connections being made in a way that doesn't allow a person to form strong bonds with familiar people are two conditions which used to both together be called Reactive Attachment Disorder. Now they've split the condition into two types and Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder is what we see with our institutionalized children. You can read more about them in very easy-to-understand language here:

Saturday, May 06, 2017

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 04, 2016

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, 2016

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:

Monday, February 08, 2016

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, 2014

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 03, 2014

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?