James (Homeschooling: How we do it – part 2)

(Scroll down if you are wanting to see what James will be using for curriculum this year.)

May I begin by saying that, yes, James is aware of what I am about to write about.  :)

When James was born he became, as all eldest children do, our parenting guinea pig. 

When we began our homeschooling journey, he again filled that role too.

Whether he liked it or not.

He was a pretty inquisitve kid and had interests that ran deep.  

He also struggled in the beginning and we had to work hard to find out what would not only help him reach his potential, but we had to work to keep that inquisitive nature alive in spite of his struggles.

Around the age of 8, James, who had been fighting to learn to read, all of a sudden came up to me with a Tin Tin comic and began to read the captions to me.


I knew that there was pretty much nothing that I had done to help him get to that point!

We had burned through phonics programs like they were newspaper in a campfire and nothing had seemed to spark the understanding that would lead him to find meaning in the letters and ,words.  And now suddenly, there he was reading as though it was no big deal.

I was stunned to say the least.

But reading or no, he still struggled to then produce his own written language and I began to notice that while he was able to pick up on political humour and sarcastic wit in the storyline of those Tin Tin comics (if you aren’t familiar with them, here is an overview thanks to W*kipedia ), he would skip words, translate words into some synonym of what was actually written on the page, and sometimes, he would pronounce words as though the letters were rearranged. 

And that was just his reading.

His writing was also very scattered.  This was across the board in both his handwriting and in his meaning.

At this point I knew we needed help, but I just wasn’t sure who to turn to.  I had a bright boy that had already been to see our family doctor about with concerns that he was struggling with an attention disorder.  He would hyper focus on things one minute and the next minute he would be unable to concentrate at all.

Not long afterwards 2 things happened.  We attended our homeschool convention and I found a fellow who was able to evaluate James’ abilities and also his potential diabilities and see how they merged together.  I am so thankful to have found him!  

For one, as we found out more about why James was having a tough time in some areas, we could balance it out by affirming him in areas that he was gifted in.  And gifted he was.  Suddenly we saw that our son who was unable to read well at age 8 was also functioning in many areas at a much higher level. 

They call this being “2e” or twice exceptional.  A perfect melding of giftedness and learning challenges. 

This opened up a whole world for him.

He was given the label dyslexic (involving his reading), along with dysgraphic (involving his writing) and as having dyscalcula (involving his ability with numbers and math). 

But on the flip side…

He was also shown that he has an incredible photographic memory, is deeply strategic, but he is also extremely visual spatial.  It was these abilities that enabled him to stockpile an enormous vocabulary throughout all those months and years that we struggled with phonics and yet consistently read to him from novels, picture books, instruction manuals, magazines, his Dad’s textbooks and yes, even comics (although not Tin Tin.  Those he had borrowed from the library and had pored over on his own, funnily enough!). 

Let me swipe a couple of comics from some of my favourite books in order to show you how his mind works.


James pictures the end result and is able to find his way to the end within himself.  Most of us are more sequential in nature and tend to go through a step by step process.

The way James learned to read is much more like the girl pictured above.  He has a strong visual memory and he can access it at a terrific speed.  He does not have the need to process words in pieces (decoding as reading instructors would call it). 

He has an inate ability to think outside of the proverbial box too, which gives him an edge in strategic thought, but also in creative thinking and seeing patterns in the world that most folks aren’t able to see without prompting.

Oh, and that concern over his attention?  While we do have a genetic link to ADD in our family, so much of his hyperfocus can be attributed to what is often called “flow” – actually a very good thing in a gifted person! 

(More about flow can be found in the book, The Mislabeled Child.)

The tough part with being able to both process words extremely quickly, memorize large amounts of vocabulary based on context and as well as be able to comprehend material much beyond his age, is that sometimes his brain works too fast.  He misses things, infers things that aren’t there or reads more into things than what is presented in the material.  He finds it very challenging to read through and understand directions or instructions that tend to be very short, without a lot of repetition or without a lot of contextual information.  Tests are excrutiatingly painful.  Workbooks aer often done incorrectly.  And then there is the physical act of writing.  He has long ago switched to completing most assignments either orally or on a word processing program on a laptop. 

But, we figured out what made him tick, what he needed to succeed and what his strengths are.   

And the best part is that he hasn’t become discouraged through it all.  He views his “labels” as tools and as a piece of himself.  He knows that the visual spatial part of him is some of what makes him special and along with it comes an ability to feel empathy, see strategically, think outside the box, be project oriented.  Yes, the dyslexia comes with it, but he is the first to admit that although he has had to fight hard to learn the same things as his peers, he is really proud of himself and thankful that God has shown him these things at a young age.

We’re just plain proud of him too.     


Sooooooo, for how we homeschool him…

James is definitely an independent learner. 

He loves to read and process large amounts of information that way. 

 He finds it tedious to rehash things in the form of comprehension activities or questions, but he will gladly debate or dialogue over things he has read. 

I find it difficult to engage him on that level when he is in the midst of his school day (limited time, other distractions), but, oftentimes in the evenings he and I will play a game or spend time together when the other kids are in bed and Stephen is travelling.  It’s during those times that we can really get into some of what he is learning and break it apart and get to the crux of it.  I have had to bend my expectations of when school is and when it isn’t. 

Also, for his writing, he types.  A lot.  He can write a lot more efficiently when he types as his working memory does not have to be used up with the mechanics of putting pen to paper.  He is capable now, at this older age, to use a paper and pen to get things down on paper, but the end result is much more tiring for him and as a result there is less “meat” to his finished product.  Even without using a spell checker on his computer, his spelling tends to be a lot better when he doesn’t have to involve handwriting. 

One other thing I want to mention is that James needs a bit of background noise to work and get into his “flow” or hyperfocused state.  His grandparents bought him an iT*uch this past year and it has been invaluable!  It is portable and he can get right into his work no matter where he is or what else is going on in the house.  As his school day is longer and more intense than that of his siblings, it helps him tremendously to stay in the groove and get things done.

James has high hopes for his future.  He aspires to work with young children and has determined that one day he wold like to be self-employed.  Aside from the regular school work that he does, we try and accomodate ways that give him experiences towards those future goals.  Again, that means that we bend our own expectations around when, how, or what schooling is throughout our week. 

James has been a great first student and did I mention, we are so proud of him?  :)  


If you are interested in some of the methods we have used to help James to strengthen his reading fluidity, feel free to e-mail me:

[email protected]


2010-2011 School Year (Curriculum Overview)

  1. Old Testament Reading Guide, The Bible Jesus Read, by Phillip Yancey & Sonlight Core 100 Bible
  2. One Year Adventure Novel writing project
  3. Life of Fred Algebra 2 & Geometry
  4. Literature reading & discssion lists (history related)
  5. Apologia Biology with labs
  6. Canadian & US History (using Modern History Through Canadian Eyes as our guide & Sonlight Core 100 to complement it for the US portion)
  7. Mandarin at our local college
  8. Foods & Nutrition (online via our school of registration)
  9. Poetry, Art Appreciation & Shakespeare (we work on these as a family during our Tuesday Tea Times)
  10. Physical Education (hours log)
  11. SAT prep
(I reserve the right to change this, add to this, throw this completely out the window and start fresh at any time.)  😉



  1. Hi Shelley:
    I guess being tied down to your chair gets your creativity going with the need to do SOMETHING. You are very organized about this and I really admire how you have taken each child in stride – making them feel good about themselves and a part of your (and our) family. Hopefully we haven’t been a hindrance in the process your youngest children need to go through. Love you all lots.

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