My daughter made huge strides last year, progressing about a grade level and a half in her language skills. Though her dyslexia struggles still have her about half a year behind, I’m very excited about her progress and expect to see her continue to improve this year. She also struggles with ADHD and some learning anxieties, which create some challenges for us both. She’s my Dory (from Finding Dory). Honestly, that little cartoon helped us to empathize better with some of her memory-issues and accompanying anxieties and helped her to feel normal about those struggles; she identified immediately with that sweet, cheerful little fish. She’s very smart, very creative, very right-brained, and I love her unique view of life and everything around her. With that said, choosing her homeschool curriculum for 4th grade took me a little more time and research; but I’m pleased with the final result, and she can’t wait to get started—which is a really good sign! Here are our choices for next fall.
We’re delving into “middle school” this year for the first time. My oldest is so excited for this milestone. He’s my Flint Lockwood (from Cloudy and a Chance of Meatballs), my absent-minded, super-dramatic, techy science guy. So putting together his curriculum is always a lot of fun. For the most part, we are classical homeschoolers, making a few adjustments here and there for our rampant ADHD. To accommodate for personality and attention-span, we include lots of variety with short lessons. None of our subjects extend beyond 20-30 minutes at a time, but I serve up a variety each day to keep all his firing cylinders on task. In classical terms, he will be in the logic or dialectic stage this year, learning to think critically and make deeper connections with what he is learning in his homeschool curriculum for 6th grade.
We’ve used Tapestry of Grace as our core curriculum for going on 6 years. I love it, primarily because it is designed to be customizable. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, Tapestry presents a buffet of choices and ideas for reading, crafts and art, literature study, history discussion, and more. It’s perfect for customizing a learning plan that fits our unique ADHD/dyslexia struggles. But for the first time this year (as a solution to the enormous loose-paper crisis we experienced), I’m also customizing our own Tapestry of Grace student notebooks.
While the option is available to purchase these in printed bundles, ready to assemble, I prefer to print my own, allowing my kids to be in-between levels. Also, I wanted to separate the projects into separate notebooks—history and literature—rather than combine these, since we tend to work on them at separate times during our homeschool week. I’m loving the result and am looking forward to a lot less mess this next year.
Creating Tapestry of Grace Student Notebooks for History
Lower Grammar/Upper Grammar Notebook
My daughter will be officially fourth grade this year. While she faces some stiff learning challenges from her dyslexia, she’s made tremendous progress. Technically, she should probably be entirely Upper Grammar this year, but I’m still allowing her to be in-between. Especially for history, where information is more technical and less story-driven, she needs the lower grammar level. Her notebook includes the following items.
Weekly Overview. This page includes major theme and project ideas, famous people we will be covering, and the vocabulary words that she will be encountering in her reading. Each week, she looks over this sheet with me and looks up any words that she isn’t familiar with in the provided glossary. Because of her dyslexia, I do not make her write or copy any of this information, she just reads over it.
Glossary. Last year, I kept one copy of the Year 1 Glossary in my Teacher Notebook, and the kids shared it. However, sharing the notebook didn’t always work out well. To streamline things, I went ahead and printed off a glossary for each child and included it in their own notebook. While this exercise builds my daughter’s vocabulary and prepares her for any difficult words she may encounter in her reading, it also gives me the opportunity to work with her on dictionary skills without an overwhelming amount of information for her to navigate.
Binder Pockets. We’ve used these binder pockets for years to organize different resources in our Case-it Binders. This year, I’ve included one in her history notebook to help my daughter organize lapbooking projects that she is working on. Once these are completed, I will oversee that they make it to their final destination (the portfolio) without taking an indefinite detour to her bedroom floor.
Upper Grammar/Dialectic Notebook
At the end of last year, we tip-toed into the Dialectic stage. This year, we’ll be delving more deeply into this level of thinking with history discussions and accountability questions. Because there is more involved at this level, there is also more included in my son’s history notebook.
History Topic Summary. Each week, there is a brief overview provided for the student to read that provides the basic summary of what we will be covering and a Biblical point of view on that topic. While the content is a little technical and difficult for my daughter to understand, my son will be ready for it this year, and it will provide the groundwork for our discussions each week.
Accountability and Thinking Questions. As part of the Tapestry of Grace curriculum for the dialectic level (grades 6-8), each week there are accountability questions that come from the reading and thinking questions that provoke the student to form some opinions and comparisons about what he is learning. (Yes, the answers are provided in the teacher material, so I’m not on my own on this.) This will be our first time to use this consistently, and I’m expecting to do quite a bit of hand-holding as my son gets used to thinking critically in this way. I have provided these questions in his notebook so that he can read over them and know what we will be discussing as he does his reading. This is not pop-quiz. It’s just a step to help him understand how to read for information.
Weekly Overview. This is the same sheet that my daughter has in her notebook, but my son will be using the upper grammar vocabulary while she uses lower grammar. It is the same exercise, looking up the words in the glossary; however, my son is required to write the definitions of words he doesn’t know. The Weekly Overview also includes dates for my son to enter into his timeline. Typically, we do not include all the dates. At this stage, I require a few but allow my son to choose those dates that are significant to him because of his reading and the connections that he is making.
Glossary. This is the exact same glossary in my daughter’s notebook, and will be used for both dictionary skills practice and vocabulary.
Creating Tapestry of Grace Student Notebooks for Literature
Our literature ties in directly to our history studies. These selections are either historical fiction novels that demonstrate the history and culture we are studying, or they are classical selections that were written during this time-period. Our curriculum includes literature study activities for these selections. Activities for sequencing, cause and effect, character analysis, plot study, narration and summary writing, and more are included in their Tapestry of Grace student notebooks for literature.
My daughter has a good blend of lower grammar and upper grammar activities depending on the skill involved. Because of her dyslexia, she will be doing many of these activities orally while I scribe or write down her answers. Though she is capable of making the connections, she needs some coaching with communicating her thoughts.
For my son, there are a few skills he still needs to work on that are covered more thoroughly in the upper grammar materials (cause and effect, character analysis, etc.) The other three-fourths of his notebook include the dialectic level worksheets, with more in-depth studies of plot, characters, and genres.
I love the fact that I can create these custom Tapestry of Grace student notebooks for my kids that meet their specific needs and still challenge them appropriately. And hopefully, we will not have quite as much paper on the floor throughout the house this year.
As we are wrapping up the last of our subjects, I’m in the throes of homeschool planning for the new school year. My decisions are all made, my online carts are empty, and the boxes of curriculum are beginning to roll in. In my routine, May and June are my intense planning months. I like to get all my homeschool planning out of the way so that I can truly take a break. Nothing homeschool related is swirling around in my brain come July and August; it’s done, on the shelf, and just waiting for us.
I plan the new year while the struggles of this year are fresh on my mind. I map out my solutions to all of our homeschool problems, from learning struggles to organization-fails, and then give it all a rest. My kids salivate over the new folders and books they are dying to read, and I dangle next year in front of them—my proverbial carrot—tantalizing their appetite for next year’s menu. It’s fun. We all love this time of year.
So since homeschool planning is consuming all my mind and energy right now, I thought I’d share with you the method to my madness, my steps to mapping out our next year. And over the next couple of weeks, I’ll go into more detail.
My steps to homeschool planning:
Planning our core curriculum: Tapestry of Grace
I’ll just give you a brief summary here, but just know this one step is getting a complete post of it’s own. For one, 60% of my homeschool planning is tied into Tapestry of Grace. It’s a huge undertaking, and when it’s finally done, I feel like I’ve scaled Mt. Everest. When I plan Tapestry, I’m not just planning our history studies; I’m planning our reading list, literature skills, Bible study, writing assignments, arts and crafts, and geography—for all three kids! This year, I will be teaching Tapestry of Grace on three of the four different levels that the curriculum provides: lower grammar, upper grammar, and dialectic. I combine as much as I can, and have my upper grammar student practicing her reading-aloud skills by reading the lower grammar book choices to my kindergartener. A lot of the writing, arts, crafts, and even Bible we will be doing together. The key to teaching multiple ages and keeping your sanity is to combine as much as you possibly can so that you can maximize your time. Tapestry of Grace is wonderful for this.
Gathering our other curriculum.
I have to see what I have to be able to plan. I can’t visualize anything on my own. Whether my husband is discussing house renovations or I’m planning math, I just can’t imagine what something is going to look like until I have it in front of me. Thus, the next step for me is to lay it all out where I can see what I’m working with. I’m also a sucker for the downloadable, print-your-own curriculum. I have a decent printer that uses inexpensive ink, and I shop paper prices and buy it in bulk by the case. So, in order to see what I have, I usually have a ton of printing to finish. Once everyone’s curriculum has been printed or has arrived in the mail, then I’ll take a look at one child’s complete curriculum at a time.
Mapping out the weekly/daily schedule.
In order to make sure I’m not biting off more than we can all chew in a reasonable amount of time, I sketch out a rough daily schedule for each child. It’s not a precise schedule. I simply jot done each child subject’s, the days of the week they will work on that subject, and how much time I anticipate them spending on that subject. I’ll also jot down how much time I expect to work one-on-one with each child. This way, if I’ve planned for a subject to take 15 min. each day, then I need to be sure I don’t assign more than 15 minutes worth of work. If I’ve decided that a total of one and a half hours of independent work is appropriate for one child, than I need to be sure I don’t assign him more than that. If I have only 45 minute with each child, than I need to be sure that I don’t assign more work than we can get through in that amount of time. A rough-draft of our schedule provides boundaries for me as I plan the assignments.
Tackling the master plan.
Some subjects require more planning than others. But in general I usually keep this as simple as possible. I divide our year into three 12 week terms. Some resources I use for just one term, to add some variety to our year. For the subjects that we will be doing through out the year, I schedule out how many lessons we need to accomplish each term or how many page numbers we need to get through. Some subjects, like math, require nothing more than that. Other subjects, like science or writing, I need to think through more specific assignments. Because I’m a little OCD about my planning, I plan on “scrap paper”; I actually have a notebook of grid paper that is specifically for these rough draft plans. Then, when I’ve sketched it all out the way I like it and I’m finished making all my mistakes and alterations, I’ll copy it into a finalized plan for my planner. (I’m an editor at heart, even more than a writer, so everything I do has to have at least a few rough drafts and revisions—even my text messages.)
Organizing the resources.
This is not necessarily a final step. Usually, I’m organizing resources throughout the whole process. And this year, I’m totally overhauling my system of organization. We had a major “loose-paper and missing-supplies” crisis this year. As a result, I reworked and revised how I’ve doing everything. Where will books go, where will loose paper go, what folders will go with what subject, how will each subject be organized, how will the kids recognize their own supplies, what supplies will be shared, how will I be able to quickly and efficiently double-check to make sure books and supplies get back where they belong—I’m serious! I rethought everything. (And I’ll be sharing the final results when it’s finished.)
Bonus: Accommodating ADHD and Dyslexia
There is a difference between coddling a child and accommodating learning struggles. If one of my kids has an attitude or behavioral issue that does not necessarily stem from their difficulties, I will not coddle that behavior; I allow my kids to experience consequences of bad decisions. However, I do believe in accommodating if there are legitimate struggles. I my kids have some legitimate issues. For instance, we have always accommodated ADHD with short bursts of learning. I keep most subjects limited to about 15 minutes each. For my fourth grader, her longest subject is scheduled for 20 minutes. That means on a good day, when her attitude is right, she has no problem completing the assigned work in 20 minutes. On a bad day—well, yes, we have bad days that require further adjustments and natural consequences. For my sixth grader, 30 minutes is a good average for his major subjects. I arrange my schedule according to which children will need me most. This next year, that will be my kindergartener and dyslexic daughter. My oldest is not suffering from this arrangement; he’s old enough for the responsibility and, in my opinion, it’s part of his learning process to need less of me. My daughter, though fourth grade, requires more hand-holding than my other two; it’s a combination of her dyslexia and ADHD. She’s my “Dory,” and she needs some accommodations for her short-term memory struggles. (I also make accommodations to fill in her learning gaps.)
So yeah, that’s what I’ve been up to and what I’ll be wrapping up next month as well. By July, I hope to be posting pictures of me on the beach with not a single homeschool planning thought in the world!
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I’ve been a fan of Thinking Tree curriculum, particularly Dyslexia Games, for awhile. The thinking skills, right-brained approach, and creativity of the curriculum and dyslexia therapy has made a world of difference for my daughter. So when I was looking for a way to help my daughter connect to our classical, literature-rich style of learning, I went back to the company that really seemed to understand her best, and I took a good long look at the funschooling journals.
There are so many funschooling journals, all with slight variations, that choosing one took me a long time. In the end, it was the bright pink cover with the kitty that ultimately sold us on the Homeschooling Journal for Creative Girls (though the YouTube reviews were also very helpful). The books are intended to be used with unschooling or delight-directed homeschoolers. The children are supposed to select up to 8 books that they want to learn from and work through 5-8 pages a day in the workbook. The pages cycle through similar activities that include drawing and narrating from the reading, copywork, nature study, some art and creative pages, recipe pages (to write a recipe), listening pages for audiobooks and DVD material, nature study pages, and more. There’s plenty of space for coloring, doodling, drawing, and other creative expression.
We obviously are putting our own unique spin on the funschooling journals. Because we use Tapestry of Grace as our main curriculum, I already had a shelf of books that I wanted her to read. But rather than assign particular books for each week as I had been doing, I gave her the new funschooling journal and allowed her to work through the books on the shelf at her own pace. Instead of 5-8 pages a day, she was assigned 5-8 pages for the week to work through at her leisure.
The result: what would have taken her weeks to read (with tons of nagging and frustration on my part) took her a little over one week. She flew through her reading and loved journaling in her book about the parts of her reading that she loved best. She loved drawing the pictures, copying her own selections, filling out the listening sheet for her audiobook and science DVD, and the other various activities. She’s done much less coloring than I expected, but I could care less. I’m just counting my blessings that she loves this so much!
I absolutely intend to use these next year as well and have a couple more in mind to get (although I think she’d be perfectly happy to continue with another of the exact same journal). My intention is to continue using it as a means to supplement and motivate her to engage with our classical curriculum. While I do have books from our Tapestry of Grace that I want to be on her reading list, I also allow her freedom to add a few titles of her own. It’s a perfect blend of classically creative curriculum for my active, right-brained non-traditional learner.
And, of course, because these are such a hit with sister, my creative fifth grader thinks he really needs one, too. I may just relent. After all, this Minecraft Funschooling Journal looks way too cool. (Perhaps I’ll use it as a subtle way to add some summer learning.)
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:
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.
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.
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: