Thomas the Train autism resources on PBS Learning Media

PBS Learning Media has a collection of short videos and activities for children on the autism spectrum featuring Thomas the Train. After reviewing the materials, I heartily agree with the recommended age range of preK-2nd grade.

Thomas & Friends Autism Collection | Tips for Incorporating Thomas into an ASD Classroom

From the site’s description, “Students with ASD can struggle with impulse control, flexibility, problem solving and emotional regulation. Thomas & Friends offers educators the unique opportunity to support the development of these fundamental skills in their students with ASD, while also tapping into these students’ strengths and interests.”

I am always looking for kid friendly social-emotional learning resources to include in our homeschool that will appeal to all my kids (kinder-4th grade). From what I can tell, the only lesson that deals directly with emotional regulation is the “Calm your engines relaxation” activity. I felt it was really directed more at the 3-7 year old range, and a little young for my 3rd and 4th graders. If my 4th grader with ASD was really into Thomas when she was younger, it might have had a nostalgic feel, but at this point I think we missed that window. However, wanted to share as it is a great resource for homeschool use for those with Thomas fans in preK-2nd grade on the spectrum.



Place value pill box

Place value is not a concept that “clicks” for my third grader. We have base ten sets. We have place value coins. We have counters. We have place value stacking cards. But this is still not an automatic skill for her, so we keep adding math tools to her toolbox for her to use to help concrete those place values. Today, I pulled out the place value pill box to go with her math lesson. She loved it.

It is just a seven day pill box with little pieces of index card cut to fit and labeled with the place value title (ones, tens, hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, hundred thousands, millions). To play, the student grabs a die from a bag and drops it in each place.

 The student can then read the number aloud. She can identify values of certain numbers (“In 4431, what is the value of the 3? That’s right, 30.”) Or she can identify numbers in certain places (“What digit is in the hundreds place? Correct, 4.”). My third grader loved it, wanted to make new numbers over and over. wp-1491330250345.jpg

My only wish was that I had dice with some blank sides for zeros, but currently just using plain ol’ dice from Dollar Tree.

Keeping art and artist study budget friendly

My kinder kid has reached the last few readers in her Starfall curriculum, which happen to be about artists. Today, her little reader was about Vincent Van Gogh. I found this book, Usborne’s Art Treasury, at our beloved library, which contains activities based on artwork of famous artists. 

We are creating a landscape with paints thickened with white glue, and using a fork and the end if the paintbrush to add texture marks to the picture’s clouds, trees, and grassy hills to mimic the texture in Van Gogh’s paintings. 

Libraries have wonderful collections of books on artists, art techniques, and art books especially for children. Keeping art supplies together and convenient helps make art projects easy to start and put away. We use a little metal IKEA cart to cram, I mean store, our supplies in, but a tub in the pantry or shoe organizer over the door works just as well.

 If you don’t have art trays or smocks, grab cookie sheets from the dollar store and men’s shirts from thrift. In July, the back to school sales start, which is the perfect time to stock your art center with crayons, markers, watercolors, paper, colored pencils, scissors, glue, etc. Keep it all handy and easy to access. Making it easy makes it happen.

You need these trays

Have you tried the teacher crack dealer yet, a.k.a. Lakeshore Learning? This store is addictive. It’s the worst. And the best. I love it. It’s terrible. You have to try it. All the cool homeschool teachers do it…

Last summer I bought these trays on sale for $9.99. This is the best thing I have ever purchased for our arts and crafts projects. I almost did not buy them. I thought, “What if I never use them? What if they end up gross and I have to throw them away?” I use them all the time. They clean up like new every.single.time, and every.single.time I am so grateful that I splurged and bought them that day. I used them today, in fact. And the dried-on acrylic paint came right off, and there they are, drying on my counter, in their shiny, primary-colored glory.

Regularly, they are $14.99. Wait. Just, wait. They will go on sale again this summer, I just know it. But mine will still be looking like new, so I will not have to buy more. I might, however, buy some of these trays, or these, if they happen to go on sale. I know it will be worth the splurge.

Online art lesson resources (free!)

I discovered a gem earlier this year, but did not get around to actually trying it out until last month: online art lessons at The series is called “Art Through the Year”, and now in its second year, there are more than a dozen video lessons to choose from. Each lesson focuses on specific art topics such as line, shape, perspective, color, texture, etc. The lessons run through the school year, with episode one in September, and seem to be somewhat seasonal. The lessons are not cumulative though, so you can start with lesson one or jump right in at the current lesson. The two that we have tried involved multiple projects with art supplies we already had at home.

First, we tried “Line and Shape with Swans” (season 2, episode 1). The lesson invovled using washable markers to create a swan picture with a castle in the background. A wet paper towel was used to bleed the marker colors for a watercolor effect.

The other project used glitter and tissue paper to make a ballerina picture.

Next, we tried “Trees in All Seasons” (season 2, episode 2). The lesson has several projects to make, however we only had time to complete project #1 for fall and summer trees. These were fun, and added variety with using sponges to paint multicolored leaves on fall trees, and tissue paper to add texture to leaves on summer trees.

 I find that in art, so many of the topics are about nature, so that it is easy to slide a science lesson in there as well. But maybe that is just the science teacher in me. I feel like the dad in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, “Show me a lesson, any lesson, and I will show you how that lesson relates to science…”

We find the videos to be quickly paced, and pause the video often to catch up. Each lesson has a downloadable handout to give an overview of each project in case you do not have time to preview each video lesson. The kids really enjoy what they produce, so we will continue to include this series as a supplement, where we do not have another art lesson already scheduled in our curriculum.

Our spring break week (or monthly week off, whatever you want to call it) and handling boredom

As I have mentioned before in an earlier post, since Christmas, we went back to taking one week per month off from school. It works out nicely for us to take our break this week. The spring break for the local schools would have been a rotten week for us to take a break anyway, as we all fell like dominos to a bothersome cold that week. If you are stuck at home, why not muscle through some schoolwork with a little help from Mucinex and Kleenex, right?

This week, we have birthday celebrating, a doctor’s appointment, errands, and lesson planning on the calendar, along with our regular afterschool activities. But no lessons. An believe it or not, this is not always a great thing. My kids might get all excited that its an “off week”, enjoy the unlimited play time for maybe one day, and then they miss the structure, the schedule, the routine. What do they do when left to their own devices to fill the day? Well, simply put, that is not my problem.

If one of them (usually the six year old, who has not learned the lesson about how mom feels about boredom yet) whines “I’m boooooored”, they usually get the raised eyebrow. I have stuff to do. Half the time, it is stuff involving lesson prep for the next month. So, I offer ideas:

Build something with blocks, legos, or make a marble run, etc.

Read a book or poetry

Write a letter to one of your pen pals

Write a story

Plan with your siblings

Go outside, maybe care for the garden or ride your bike

Organize something

Play a game or do a puzzle

OR I can give you a CHORE to do, I have a whole list ready…

Usually, they decide to pick their own activity and quickly leave the room before I change my mind and start assigning jobs for them to do. Anything involving screen time is not a boredom option. Screen time is a “Momma’s last resort” option. Boredom is great for kids. It forces them to be creative, use their hands and brains.Children need unstructured time to be children.  Is that not one of the great reasons to homeschool, to give them an opportunity to be bored every once in a while?


Kids Bowl Free summer program

Registration is open for the Kids Bowl Free summer program. Check the website to find bowling lanes near you that are participating. Free to sign up children under 15 for two free games per day from May 28 to September 7. Our nearest participating bowling alley charges $3-4 for shoe rental (shoes are not included). There is also a family pass for $29.95 for the parents (and siblings over 15) to get two free games per day as well. However, I think this would be more beneficial if you lived close to the location and would be going often (whereas we do not, and will probably only go once or twice).