Using literature-rich curriculum with dyslexic and ADHD kids

literature-rich curriculum with dyslexia ADHD | Tapestry of Grace with special needs | classical homeschooling with learning struggles

I’ve made a lot of curriculum adjustments over the years, but one constant for us has been Tapestry of Grace, a classical, literature-rich curriculum. I love using a literature-rich curriculum in our homeschool—with busy, loud, active ADHD kids, one of which is also dyslexic! In our classically-inclined, charlotte-mason inspired homeschool, we use tons of books, lots and lots of them. Living books, classics, historical fiction, and engaging nonfiction books line my shelves, spill onto the floor, cover our dining room table, and sit by the door (in hopes that we’ll remember to return them to our library.) 

Using a literature-rich curriculum immerses my kids in a culture of reading. Reading is not a school subject. It’s not a checkbox on their assignment sheet. It’s our lifestyle. We read books together and on our own. We listen to books. We talk about books. We buy books. We borrow books. We make room for more books. Why choose a literature-rich curriculum like Tapestry of Grace for kids who are active and have language-struggles?

Three reasons to choose a literature-rich curriculum:

Exposure

We currently don’t use a “textbook” for any subject. Instead, we learn history, science, literature, etc. from library books, lots of library books. Last year, each of my kids read about 50 books each. We are on par for at least that this year, and that’s just for school; that doesn’t include the “just for fun” books. Using a literature-rich curriculum allows my kids to be constantly exposed to books. They are surrounded by them, and reading is a normal part of life—not just school but life itself.

This constant exposure to language through stories (whether audio books, read-alouds, or books they read themselves) has tremendously helped my daughter especially. She’s a strong, confident reader in spite of her challenges. She knows she doesn’t read as quickly or as easily as others, but she loves stories. And the exposure through so many senses and with so much variety, strengthens her understanding and skill in an otherwise challenging area for her.

So what does this exposure look like practically? I select several books for each kid on our topic that we will be covering for 2-4 weeks. For my oldest, I’ll suggest a couple of titles that I’d like him to read each week, chapter books often taking 2-3 weeks. Then, I’ll “strew” the other books around the house to tempt him to read more on the subject. Because my daughter requires a different approach, I’ve recently just assigned all the books for the term and allowed her to work through them at her own pace. She’s using (and loving) this funschooling journal along with her reading. She gets to creatively draw a picture, write a sentence, or choose some copywork from her book of choice to record in her journal. 

Variety

Honestly, I don’t think my busy rambunctious kids would be readers if we had chosen a traditional curriculum with textbooks and readers. The key to engaging my ADHD kiddos is variety, and Tapestry of Grace provides such fantastic variety. My kids are exposed to classics, biographies, picture books, historical fiction, encyclopedias, and more. Although my kids love books in general, they don’t love every book and are sometimes skeptical of a book I’ve assigned. So, I’ve instituted the “five chapter” rule. For all fiction, they must read at least read five chapters before they can decide whether or not to finish the book. In nearly every case, by the time they got to chapter 5 they were totally engaged. In some cases, the book even turned out to be a favorite. For nonfiction books, I don’t require them to read every word. They read for information, to learn certain facts, or to discover facts that interest them. In both instances, the variety of books means that there are books that appeal to all of my children for one reason or another. It also means that my kids have often discovered they were interested in a book or subject that they didn’t think they’d like.

The variety also allows my kids to connect with the subject matter in their own way, to make their own connections based on what interests them. My daughter connects with art, beauty, nature, and animals of a culture. My son connects with wars and weapons and inventions. They remember different things about the different time periods we are studying together. This has been awesome because as we share as a family what they’ve been reading and learning, we get such a wide spectrum of information.

Shared Experience

Books create memories. My kids have favorites they love to re-read. They have favorites that Daddy alone can read to them. (Babaji is a favorite from when they were very little that they still love to have him read—in character.) They have books that we share together as read-alouds. Books makes those moments special for us. Books bond us together, all snuggled on the couch listening to a story, or side by side each with our own book as we wind down for bedtime. Tapestry of Grace allows for tons of great book selections to always be available at every reading level. I don’t insist that every book be “read.” We have fond memories of listening to Mr. Popper’s Penguins and The Railway Children as audio books. And I don’t insist on reading every read-aloud myself. My kids read-aloud, too. This year, we’ve read selected chapters from the Story of the World and Grandpa’s Box to go along with our ancient history studies. It allows me to give the input and emphasis of our study, to draw out the major themes we are studying, but it also allows them the opportunity to contribute as well.

I have very fond memories of reading aloud with my mom, chapter by chapter through multiple books all the way through college. Even now when we visit each other, we select a book to read aloud together. I love those memories with my mom, and I love those memories with my kids.

There are so many reasons for choosing a literature-rich curriculum, even with a household of ADHD and dyslexia. My kids read upside down on the couch, under tables, outside, in giant refrigerator cardboard boxes with flashlights, or in the most cock-eyed positions. And we still stay very active, with lots of hands-on projects to supplement all that reading. But the constant exposure, variety, and shared experiences from using a literature-rich curriculum have been treasures to my family and to my kids.

How do you know if a literature-rich curriculum is a good fit for you?

  • Don’t let reading or attention struggles rule this out for you.
  • Do consider how committed you are to reading as a lifestyle. If you look at a literature-rich curriculum as simply school assignments to get done in a week, you will probably both hate it.
  • Do consider access to a good library. Honestly, a good one is worth paying for if you aren’t local. A good library allows that maximum exposure and variety without breaking your budget. I could never afford to keep my kids in books without our local library (and that’s where we find our great audiobooks).
  • Don’t assume that a particular learning style will prevent a child from enjoying literature. Instead, use that learning style as a means to enjoy literature.

It would be easy to see all that energy and assume my kids would never sit down long enough to read. But that just hasn’t been true of our family at all. Books are a calming constant. It wouldn’t be home without them.

Want to know more about how we use Tapestry of Grace with ADHD/dyslexia? Check out these posts:

Tapestry of Grace Writing Aids

Celebrating progress with unit parties

Embracing our Homeschool Differences: the value in variety

Embracing and supporting homeschool differences | homeschool methods & approaches

I’ve been in the homeschooling world a long time, nearly all my life. And one thing that really saddens me is when I discover that some of our biggest critics are those who homeschool right alongside us. We are all so different. Some of us homeschool online, some of us use charter schools, some of us adhere to classical methods, some of us embrace an unschooling and delight-directed approach to learning. And we all obviously believe in what we are doing. But just because someone homeschools differently doesn’t mean they aren’t doing it well. Our homeschool differences are our strengths, not our downfall.

This is not an easy journey, and anyone who has homeschooled for any length of time will readily admit there is a lot of fear and self-doubt, a lot of insecurity. Taking on your child’s education is a huge responsibility. We need all the support and camaraderie we can get. Variety in homeschooling is a good thing! And we can all learn so much from each other as we embrace those homeschool differences.

Each of us has something unique and special to offer, and each of us has much to learn. I can learn from Charlotte Mason how to add beauty and variety to my homeschool, how to give a short lesson with a lot of punch and effectiveness. I can learn to lay a foundation and nurture discernment and debate through classical methods. I can gather ideas for bringing in the wonder and inspiration of nature through Waldorf. I can learn how to tie lessons and learning into everyday activities, how to use life as my curriculum from the unschooler, and how to appeal to my child’s strengths and interests from the delight-directed homeschooler. I can improve my child’s education by recognizing the value of the variety in homeschool.

Personally, we choose a strong classical approach, but as I see and appreciate the strengths in so many different ways to learn and to teach, those strengths find their way into how we homeschool. My kids are better off because you’ve chosen to do things differently. I’m a better teacher because we don’t all do this the same way.

I read lots of great advice reminding us to not compare ourselves to others, but I think an equally valuable lesson to remember is to not validate ourselves at someone else’s expense. We are all on the same team. We equally care about our children and their educational experience. So let’s embrace the variety and learn from each other.

3 Simple Ways to Support our Homeschool Differences

  1. Follow blogs of those who homeschool differently than you do. Read and research about more than just your chosen method.
  2. Ask advice from those who do it differently. Ask your unschooling friend for advice on how to add real-life lessons to your curriculum. Ask your classical friend how to add logic and worldview discussion to your day. Ask your traditionally schooling friend about scheduling and planning routines.
  3. Encourage someone who takes a different approach. Let them know you admire them and that you can see value in what they are doing.

We hear so much discouragement and criticism from so many different sources. Our community of homeschool support should not be a place for more critique. Let’s be a community that embraces homeschool differences—different styles and methods of learning. Let’s be a community who sees the value in variety.

DIY Science Curriculum for the classically inclined

DIY science curriculum | classical science | classical homeschooling | DIY homeschool curriculum

Of all the subjects, science has probably taken me the longest to find a curriculum that I really like. Over the last several years, we have tried a number of approaches for science.

  • We’ve learned science through lapbooks and creating mini-books.
  • We’ve done unit studies and read living books.
  • We’ve watched a whole lot of Magic School Bus and Wild Kratts and Bill Nye the Science Guy.
  • We’ve dabbled in a few different curriculums: God’s Design, Christian Kids Explore, and Sassafras.

And while we’ve enjoyed different aspects of these, none have been even close to ideal. So, I did my own thing this year, with some inspiration and direction from the Well-Trained Mind. And just in case you are a DIY homeschooler, too, I’ve assembled a few steps for a DIY science curriculum.

4 Steps to a DIY science curriculum

Step 1: Find a core resource or encyclopedia

Any resource you love will work: Usborne, Kingfisher, DK, etc. I found the World of Science encyclopedia from Master Books and have absolutely loved it. World of Science is formatted similarly to an Usborne or DK encyclopedia, except that this resource is Christian. No millions of years or evolution to wade through, but rather the book begins with the idea of a Designer who had a thoughtful design and a creation that reflected His order. It’s colorful, interesting, easy to use, easy to follow, and includes some experiment ideas in the back of the book as a bonus. This particular book covers basic physics and chemistry topics. A companion encyclopedia World of Animals covers some simple biology and animal science.

DIY homeschool curriculum | DIY science curriculum | Master Books | World of Science

True to the classical homeschooling method, I assign a couple of pages a week for my fifth grader to read and outline. His outlines consist of Roman Numeral main points; he is learning to pick out the main ideas or topic sentences. Occasionally, I’ll require him to write a summary paragraph or copy a diagram. He also looks up new terms in the glossary at the back of the book and copies them for his notebook. He has loved using it as much as I have.

Step 2: Choose an experiment kit

Search Amazon or Homeschool Science Tools, Target, Wal-mart, Hobby Lobby, even local thrift stores. Choose an experiment kit that fits with the topic you are covering. For instance, when we learned about electricity, my son had a snap circuit kit we picked up from the thrift store; this term we are studying principles of physics and simple machines, so he is using a gears and levers kit. Later this year, we will begin some chemistry and try out a couple of chemistry experiment kits.

DIY homeschool curriculum | DIY science curriculum | experiment kits

Each week when his outline is complete, he is free to select an experiment from a kit that I’ve purchased to go with what we are studying. This is the “delight-directed” component of our science; he is free to pick an experiment from the kit that interests him. I know that these experiments are on topic, and he loves being able to choose his favorites. Then, after completing an experiment, he fills out an experiment form. We are using forms from notebookingpages.com, but there are tons of free printables online and on pinterest.

Step 3: (optional) Find science DVDs at the Library and on Netflix

As a fun bonus, I search for DVDs in our local library and on Netflix for the topics we are learning about. I’ve found that searching by specific topic has the best results; for instance, searching for gravity, light, force, motion, energy provides better results than searching for physics, geology, chemistry, etc. Some of these DVDs do contain evolutionary ideas (Bill Nye, for instance), but I’m okay with discussing that with my kids, especially since they’ve had an opportunity to begin studying from a Christian source. Use your own discretion.

You could also use the same strategy to search your library for additional reading on your topic if you prefer. Because of all the reading I assign in our other subject areas, I don’t choose to assign additional science reading. 

Step 4: Make a plan

Be as detailed as you need to be, but I love to keep it simple, personally. Below is a picture of my actual plans for this last term. I counted up the number of pages in the unit we wanted to cover and divided by our 12 week term. Since it wasn’t a perfect fit, we needed to outline more reading pages on certain weeks. On those weeks, I did not assign an experiment. Of course, he was welcome to do one after his assignments were complete, but it wasn’t required.

I did not assign specific experiments. You could easily do that by looking through your experiment booklet and comparing it to the topics of your encyclopedia. But for us, this is a great compromise. I provide some parameters (“you are going to learn this topic and use this kit”) and allow him the freedom to pursue his interest within those parameters.

DIY homeschool curriculum | DIY science curriculum | lesson plans | classical homeschooling | classical science

I printed off a bunch of experiment forms and placed them in his notebook. He can choose from several different styles to find a form that fits best with his particular experiment. Each week, I look over his outline and his experiment form (and he usually can’t wait to show me his actual experiment).

What about the youngers?

Middlest (3rd grade) and Littlest (preschool) usually join Oldest for the experiment demonstrations and videos; in a sense, he teaches the material to them. Middlest also fills out her own form.  I did pick up a Magic School Bus chemistry kit for our chemistry unit later this year so that she has some age-appropriate experiments. As she gets older and more skilled in her reading and writing, I’ll have her completing more assignments (reading/outlining). But for right now, I limit the amount of writing I require from her.

So far, I have loved our DIY science curriculum. The kids are learning a ton, are very independent, and are still able to incorporate a lot of hands-on experiments that don’t require my constant supervision. It’s been a win all around. For the first time in years, I feel good about science.

Hip Homeschool Moms

Why Teach Mythology in classical Christian curriculum

greek mythology | classical Christian curriculum

Teaching mythology and ancient gods in classical Christian curriculum can be a little tricky to navigate with your kids. It’s something I debate every time it comes up. But I must say, some of our richest discussions have come from reading these myths about the ancient false gods. The contrast between our God and these mythical gods is so stark that it never fails to leave me filled with gratitude and worship.

I remember four years ago when we covered ancient history for the first time, I had a moment like this when we read The Rain Player, a myth about a Mayan god. The main character had to win at a game against the god to get forgiveness from the god and rain for his people. I was moved to tears as I shared with my little ones that our God does not require us to earn forgiveness; He gives it freely. That our God sends rain upon the just and the unjust to show His common grace to all mankind.

And this year, our second time through ancient history, we had another opportunity. As we finished up our chapters in Story of the World on the ancient Greeks, we were discussing a Greek myth about the Trojan War and the vanity of the gods, and I asked them: What are you thankful for about your God as you read these stories?

I loved their answers. One child mentioned that God was slow to anger, and the Greek gods were not. Another mentioned how God was loving, sending His son to die for men. We mentioned a few other differences. We ended our time in Greek mythology thankful and grateful for the true God.

It’s such a humbling, beautiful thing for me to be able to have these moments with my kids, to worship God together as we study nature and art and ancient civilizations. It’s not just what I’m teaching them; it’s what we share together.

I’m grateful for homeschooling. I’m grateful for my kids and their perspective on life. I’m grateful for Greek mythology and the conversations it sparks. I’m grateful for a God who is slow to anger, merciful, loving, and intentionally revealing Himself to us in every day moments.

 

First Language Lessons Review

homeschool grammar curriculum review | Well Trained Mind | First Language Lessons

There are a lot of grammar and language arts curriculums for homeschoolers to choose from. Even so, I have found the hardest time finding one I loved. I will admit, I am a hard-sell for grammar curriculum. As a grammar-nerd, I’m extremely picky. But I love First Language Lessons from Well-Trained Mind.

I began using First Language Lessons last year with my then second grader, beginning with the Level 2 book. She was struggling tremendously with writing and several dyslexia-typical issues. I really loved that, at her level, most of the grammar work was oral. We read or recited together. And it was fast. The lessons took us about 5 minutes, never more than 10.

This year, I continued with the program both with her, in the Level 3 book, and my oldest, in the Level 4 book. And while the Level 3 book begins requiring more writing as part of the lesson, there is still enough oral work that my daughter has continued to do extremely well with it this year. I’m thrilled with the program for both of them. It is remarkable.

  1. It makes sense. The order, the pace, the presentation, the exercises—it’s logical, easy to use, and the perfect amount of material at a time. And the fact that my analytical son, who learns language subjects instinctively and intuitively, and my right-brained creative daughter, who struggles with every language subject, both do well with the same program really blows my mind.
  2. It emphasizes memory work while keeping it fun. My kids love the chants and movement suggestions. Even my four year old is learning his helping verbs by listening to his older siblings chant and clap.
  3. It keeps lessons short and sweet. The lessons take about 10 minutes and are intended to be scheduled 2-3 times a week. There are usually 4-5 sentences on the topic we are working on, then the lesson moves on to a new concept, 4-5 more sentences, and then we are done. The repetition is well spaced, so my kids are learning a ton without it becoming burdensome. The lessons are sometimes several pages, 3-5 usually, but much of it is done orally (read these sentences; read this list; say these verbs and do the actions) and goes quickly.homeschool grammar curriculum | diagramming | Well Trained mind | First Language Lessons | Level 4
  4. It includes diagramming! I love diagramming for teaching grammar. I’m not sure if it is the grammar-nerd in me or the fact that I am a visual learner. For me, diagramming is a visual of what is going on in the sentence. I love it! Levels 3 and 4 both contain lessons on diagramming throughout, and I have been so impressed with how the diagramming is included. In Level 3, the diagrams are already drawn and progress slowly as each part of speech is learned. It is taught as a means of showing how the word is working in the sentence. In level 4, diagrams are provided at first, progress to traceable diagrams, and then the student draws one or two of his own. Again, the student is not diagramming more than a few sentences per lesson; or if there are several diagrams, he is only adding a word or two to each one.
  5. It includes poetry! There are poems for memory work spaced throughout the book. The poem selections are wonderful: “The Land of Nod” by Robert Louis Stevenson, “Ozymandias,” and “Afternoon on a Hill” by Edna St. Vincent Millay. My kids have loved this part of the curriculum.

There are dictation exercises included throughout and a few narration activities, but we skip nearly all of these for a couple of reasons. For one, I am also doing the accompanying Writing with Ease books with my kids, which includes plenty of narration/dictation/copywork. Also, as I mentioned earlier, writing and copying is extremely challenging for my daughter, so I’m very intentional about what I choose to have her do.

First Language Lessons is a scripted curriculum. You can literally read the entire lesson off the page, word for word. I wasn’t sure how I’d like a scripted curriculum and hesitated trying the program for awhile because of this; I’m usually an unscripted homeschooler. But it really hasn’t bothered me at all. Sometimes I read it word for word, and sometimes I take the idea and run with it. On the other hand, the scripted lessons mean that you can teach a great lesson even if grammar is not your strength. It’s clear and easy to understand.

While Level 2 simply had a teacher book we worked through together, there is both a student workbook and a teacher book for Levels 3 and 4.

Well Trained Mind | First Language Lessons | curriculum review

Cons:

  1. This is not a colorful, flashy, gimmicky curriculum. It has enough elements to present the information in a way a variety of learning styles can relate and is written in a fun, interactive manner encouraging a conversational lesson between teacher and child. But this is the economy car of grammar, not the flashy red convertible.
  2. This curriculum currently only goes through four levels. We are using the Level 4 book for fifth grade and find it to be quite adequate and sufficiently challenging. I used Level 2 for Middlest last year in second grade, and Level 3 with her this year for the third grade. While there are rumors that more books will be produced, there is nothing yet.
  3. This is just a grammar curriculum, with a few add-on sections on usage, mechanics, letter writing, and alphabetizing. For me, this was more of an advantage than disadvantage; all I wanted was a grammar curriculum. But if you are look for a program that incorporates writing and reading, that is not included in First Language Lessons. There is a book that teaches some writing skills from a classical methodology of narrating passages (Writing with Ease).

Summary:

  • Works for a variety of learning and teaching styles.
  • Would appeal to Classical and Charlotte Mason homeschoolers best.
  • Provides short, scripted lessons in the teacher book with an accompanying student workbook.
  • Suitable for both grammar-nerds and grammar-rookies.
  • Requires no prep.
  • Functional, not flashy.
  • Secular program, no religious affiliation.
  • Currently only available in Levels 1-4.
  • Grammar curriculum only.
  • Reasonably priced at around $20 a book.

First Language Lessons is available through the Well Trained Mind website as well as through Amazon and other homeschool curriculum suppliers. If you want a more in-depth look at the curriculum, the Well Trained Mind website provides some pdf previews of some of the individual books.

This review is my own honest opinion about a product that I’ve loved in our homeschool. I received nothing in return for this review and the opinions are my own.