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.)  😉



And now for something completely different…


We have always made it a priority to pray with our kids before bedtime (not unlike many families).  Perhaps that’s why this short video has absolutely hit our funny bones this week.  Soooo funny!  James has a great sense of humour and he is always finding things like this video to make us laugh. 

So, in honour of our oldest child whom we have helped move along the path to needing counselling one day nuture his faith, here is comedian Tim Hawkins with his skit called, Scary Bedtime Prayer:

YouTube Preview Image




This and That

I’ve been playing at the absentee blog owner these days.  But I’d like you to meet my new best friends:

The Crutches


Ms. Walker


Yep, 2 X-rays later and I’ve been pretty much off my feet for the past 10 days.  It’s just a sprain, but it seems to be taking its time healing up as it is in a bit of a funny spot across the top of my foot.  Darn flip flops, you betrayed me with your sporty cuteness. 



On another note, Garnet has been up to his usual cuteness.  He was looking a bit like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo.  He’d look at us with his chin tipped up in order to try and see beneath his

bangs (Am I allowed to call them that on a boy?).  Stephen took him to our friend’s to get a buzz cut.  The whole week beforehand he spent telling us he wanted hair like Uncle S. (my brother who has buzzed his entire head to nothing but a polished sheen).  Atractive though it may be, Steve told our friend to leave him a bit of hair so he wouldn’t have to deal with sunburn. 

Well, our little guy hopped out of her salon chair rather perturbed!  He wanted hair like his Uncle and that was that!  That’s all we heard about for those first few days and then one day he bent over as I was talking to him and what did I see?



Oh yeah.  He’d tried to take matters into his own hands!  LOL

The funniest bit was the fact that he didn’t hardly miss a beat.  He wasn’t even embarrassed to be caught (not like him at all!).  He just kind of sighed the long-suffering sigh of a five year old.

{Perhaps I ought to take his style preferences more seriously!}

In hindsight, he did wake up that morning claiming to be Curious George!


All in all we’ve been up to purging the house with a few ice cream breaks.

 One of those gems I have been unable to part with finally ended up at the Sally Ann. 

These are my two boys’ favourite movies from when they were preschoolers.   I think I could still recite every word of them!

Wiggle Bay was beloved by Garnet since the week he came home & Fred Penner was watched so much that even though it got fuzzy in places, it was still the top pick movie of any given week by James between the ages of 3 and 5.  Good memories.


Faith and Garnet took some time to dance the other day.

And here’s a beauty shot of our ice cream lovin’ princess.


And a HUGE thank you to everyone who’s fetched my crutches, watched my children, schlepped me around (thanks Mom!) and generally taken care of me.

Especially my dearest, oldest boy James, with his new title of Chief Cook and Bottle Washer! 

Thanks Son!


Decisions, decisions

We are in the midst of our annual two day homeschool convention. 

I so look forward to going every year.  It’s so affirming to literally walk amongst a large group of like minded families.  The kids have their own mini, Christ centered educational camp.  The youth have workshops and receive hands on teaching from a number of the keynote speakers from the adult conference.  And Stephen and I have a chance to share a tea and puruse great books, seek out direction for our  next year and take stock of how the past year has gone. 

This year has been challenging in a new way though.  Last year I remember being curious as to where the kids would be at, particularly our newest addition.  What would she know already?  What would her interest bent be?  What is her learning style?  How quickly would her language be at a level that we could move beyond the basics to all the fun projects, etc. 

And here we are.  One year later and still many questions. 

I shouldn’t be surprised about this.  Each year brings new questions regarding the next year’s direction.  In many ways I enjoy the discoveries we make and the ways that we tweak their learning paths.  But, yet again, I am reminded that my family is not the “norm”.  Is there a norm?  You know, I never thought so, but somehow the reactions from others suggests to me that there must be.

Each vendor booth at the curriculum market makes me think this when they begin searching for details about our kids in order to begin to narrow down what they might be able to sell us offer us for the benefit of all of our children’s educational goals. 

They begin by asking our children’s ages and genders.  This is followed by questions to gain an understanding of what they have studied prior to this.  Sometime soon after this we find it necessary to divulge just enough about our kids that they begin to visualize the specific needs of each of our four and then they begin to either:

a. Scratch their heads.

b. Look at us in disbelief.


c. Begin to convince us that no matter the wide variations in our children’s learning needs and backgrounds, theirs is the o.n.l.y. curriculum that will not only gain our children entrance into an elite university of their choice, but do it while allowing me to have time to catch up on my housekeeping, pursue a degree of my own and gain back all the blonde hairs I’ve been trading for grey as of late. 

Anyway, we seem to pose a bit of a problem to others.  We don’t fit into a neat and tidy little curricula box. 

And I like that about us.

I think it is what makes our family just that – our family. 

Over the years it used to stress me out a lot more than it has today and I am really thankful that He’s brought me out of that dark and weary land of curricula chasing and into a new era of realizing that He knows what my kids need and box or no box, I’m the woman He’s chosen to use in their lives to bring them into closer awareness of their part in His – story. 

Did I mention that I think I have the best job I could ever imagine myself doing?

(This is not the job I dreamed of, but He knew better.  Anyway, that’s a post for another day.)

So, tonight I pore over catalogues, click through the review sites, fill in my spreadsheets and pray and ask for wisdom.  He knows my kids intimately.   After all, I am only a tool in my Potter’s hands.

Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.  Isaiah 64:8 (NIV)


In another answer to a prayer I prayed many years ago, we were able to meet with the Independent Graduation Counselor from our school of registration.  In our province it is widely expected that students will enroll in the publically funded distance learning programs, as a home edcuated, Ministry of Education supervised student.  The family will receive a portion of the funds allotted to that student and by completing the required provincial outcomes, that student will receive a highschool diploma.  It is assumed that a teen will need the diploma to enter a program of further study at a college or university. 


After meeting with the Grad Counselor, we have been told that by collecting samples of the work that our kids complete along the way, the school will approve that an appropriate level of work has been maintained (an informal rather than formal evaluation).  The school in turn will create a completion transcript for the student and recommend to the admissions counselor that the student be given entrance into the college or university.  The only requirement for entrance beyond the transcript?  An English placement exam that is designed for English Language Learners and for which there are numerous online samples and ministry supplied preparation materials.

He directed our steps in this when so many of our peers have gone the mainstream route.  We have been going on faith that God would be faithful as we headed down the unknown path.  And today He showed us His faithfulness in the flesh. 

I’m so thankful.


How’d it happen?!

James is definitely beginning to pass me in height. 

This young man is 14 and is such a joy to his Dad and I. 

He just purchased his first car a few weeks back with his own earnings.

He just received his first tax return : a grand total of $5. 

He has just been accepted into the Leader in Training program at his favourite summer camp.

I know it will be a stretching experience for him and one that he will thoroughly love.

He has a tender heart for Jesus and we have seen his passion to serve kids really unfold the last couple of years.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure how he will make it for 2 whole weeks without his Lord of The Rings Online.  😉



Theatrical Friends

We love our friends the H Family.  Each one of them has weathered storms with us and our oldest two kids see them as cousins.  We had the opportunity to have them come and stay with us for a bit last week and one afternoon when their parents were gone, the whole crew decided to dress up and give the neighbours yet another reason to wonder about our family.  lol 

Can anyone spot the Diva in this photo?  😉


Happy ?! April Fools Day

We woke to a cloud of smoke, what sounded like firecrackers and what felt like a heart attack.

Surprise!  The two oldest kids woke us to cap guns going off and shouts of  “Happy April Fool’s Day!”.

I have to say that if I ever doubted that my husband is a protector at heart, today proved it.  He jumped about 3 feet straight in the air and then looked ready to attack.  I on the other hand hid under the covers, my heart pounding a mile a minute.  Oops! 

The gunfire was followed by an array of brightly coloured snakes and insects (all rubber, of course) hidden carefully in kitchen cabinets. 

And would you believe I had even driven my sweet children to the dollar store the day before – fully knowing that they were up to their usual hijinx?  And yet still, I forgot.

Maybe next year I’ll set my alarm a little earlier.  Shhhh don’t let the children know.  😉