Category: Learning Disabilities

Books, books, books!

Most of you know that my oldest two struggle with a nice mix of good, old fashioned, learning disabilities–just like their daddy and I. Now Esther’s tends to manifest mostly in dealing with numbers (dyscalculia)–like her mom.  Rach on the other hand has struggled with a solid dose of dyslexia mixed with dysgraphia–meaning that when she reads AND writes the letters get mixed around and words come out scrambled or as entirely different words.

Now Esther loves reading and has for some time. Books are her friend and if you call her and she doesn’t come she is almost definitely to be found caught up in a book. However, Rachel has been a different story. She loves stories and spends lots of time listening to them on cd, her mp3 player or getting someone else to read to her, but up until now she has been too frustrated with her own reading skills to sit down and read for enjoyment.

Last month I did what I do each year–I gave each of the kids a reading test. This is not a typical reading test like you took in elementary school, instead it gives me a clear idea of where they are struggling, at what level they can comfortably read on their own, and at what level they can read with a little help. Both girls were surprised to learn that they now reading at a 10th grade reading level–when they concentrate on reading. Knowing that did the trick. Suddenly Rachel understood what she was capable of when she tried and decided to try.

It started with her rereading a pile of picture books she enjoyed when smaller, moved to her rereading “Meet George Washington” (while they were playing school, because Esther had assigned a book report), then she read through all the “In Grandma’s Attic” series (which was not unusual–she would occasionally find a book she loved and read the series but then it would fizzle out), and suddenly she was off and reading. As a bibliophile myself, this was the moment I was waiting for. One night, at about 11 pm she came downstairs–“Mom, do you have any more books about people in history? I read all the ones I could find upstairs.” May I say that there are ton of books in every room of our house and that this meant she had read at least 10 books that night.

The next day, after she had read all the ones I had on the multiple shelves downstairs, I headed to the library and got out a slew of biographies for her to try.  She read those and perused our shelves for more–she discovered a pile of American Girls books I had put in the Paperbackswap pile because Essie had read them, Issac is just learning to read and prefers “boy” stories, and Rach wasn’t interested.  She read all of them in one night. A week later we headed back to the library and she got out 15 books (I insisted she allow me to use the other 10 allowed for the rest of the family.)  She finished most of them already and wants to go back for more.

She is spreading her interests out now–where before the only thing she would willingly read were how-to and cook books she moved to just biographies and then to include historical novels and fairy tales (I usually read them classic fantasy and fairy tales with a few historical thrown in so she seems to be keeping those for me to read aloud each night.) It is an exciting time, especially since we were afraid we were handling it wrong for some time.

As a former special ed teacher I knew that giving her the basics, reading aloud a lot, and letting her find her own comfort zone was the right way to go–forcing her to read was going to make my stubborn child HATE reading, but my mother’s heart was scared. I longed to have my oldest child love reading as much as I do and enjoy the books I love. I wanted her to LOVE reading and story and love the places it would take her.   She already loved story–that was not a problem, but I was afraid that she would give up and never TRY to read as a means to get at the story she loved. I am so grateful that finally, at age 10, she is LOVING books and all she is finding within them.  And I can’t wait to introduce her to some more of my favorites.  Believe me, I have a list, all she has to do is ask.

In case you’re wondering what she has been reading:

  • All the “in Grandma’s Attic” series
  • All the “Meet some random historical figure in American History” books
  • All the American Girl books in the house and all the Molly books at the library
  • Several chapter books about Anne Frank
  • All the “A Picture Book of______” series from the library
  • Tons of King-Smith books (writer of Babe)
  • A Scholastic Anthology of American History book
  • All the Calvin and Hobbes books in the house–again
  • Several chapter books about Helen Keller, Florence Nightingale,  and Abraham Lincoln
  • Of course the Dangerous Book for Boys, again
  • Other random books about the house including several chapters of Five Children and It by E. Nesbit because I wasn’t reading it fast enough.

Home School Hi-lights

Today Rachel and I took a two mile walk and discussed our upcoming yard sale, how best to promote it, how to price things easily and have good prices, which tables to get, etc. We specifically walked so we could see the goat, sheep, mule, and horse in a neighboring farm. We also made a pit stop at the gas station a mile away. (The pictures are from our walk this morning–trying out the new gallery with the updated WordPress which is why there are extras at the bottom.)

Several cool things this week.

One, as a former teacher and to satisfy my husband who likes to know, I occasionally give the kids a reading test that I learned to administer while in college. It gives grade level for ability to read individual words as well as reading comprehension. It breaks it up into preprimer, primer, then 1st through 10th grade. I have been giving the kids this test yearly since they were able to read. This year Issac came in as Primer/1st grade for reading aloud and comprehending his own reading (keep in mind he is teaching himself to read when he wants to practice and when he asks me for help) and 5th grade comprehension for being read to (we read aloud nightly from 5th through 10th grade level chapter books so this is not surprising.)

The girls did theirs completely on their own–both girls came in as having an 8th/9th grade independent reading level (10th grade with help) and an 8th grade comprehension (they both got the highest level perfect and had no trouble–I would say their comprehension based on the ease they answered would be 9th or above.) This is exciting for me because both girls are dyslexic and struggled to learn to read. They both still struggle to force themselves to focus when reading bigger words but have no trouble with them when they do. They were very excited at their improvement (they improved exponentially when I stopped “teaching ” them and let them read and write when they felt like it–they read much, much more now than ever before.)

Now back to our normal, more ecclectic/unschooling, adventures.

Issac has developed a new habit during our home church and while I read aloud in the evenings. He sits on my lap and reads aloud phrases and entire sentences that he recognizes. He is so excited at his progress. He has also begun to join in answering questions about the passages Shamus reads during home church. We have been working our way slowly through Matthew 23 and he is excited to know what a pharisee and a hypocrite is.

Yesterday, after a hormone infused meltdown on my part after Esther and Rachel broke the hinge on one of the kitchen cabinets from hanging on it and Rachel threw her own hormone induced fit the girls decided to make an “elegant” lunch. In our house that means fruit salad with a side of regular salad and nuts. While making the meal Esther commented to me, “Mommy, I no longer want to grow up and be a famous singer. I want to stay home instead and use my singing to sing my children to sleep, and I want to make food from scratch so I can save money, and be an artist and paint like you.” Talk about the ultimate compliment.

The kids have also been throwing around a nice full vocabulary, using words in sentences that I didn’t even know they knew let alone could use. It is so natural that I almost do a double take each time they do it. It is not really surprising since a lot the words are words we, my husband and I, use in everyday speech and are also used in the books we read aloud but it is still shocking to hear an 8 year old use delectable, a 10 year old “acquiescence” and a 6 year old use words like “exceptional” and “adequate”.

I must add that while I was writing this post the kids were making their own lunch–“fruit birds” in a nest of lettuce.  Hilarious.


Feeling literally under the weather. Stupid weather means stupid joints. 🙂 Worked a bit more on the painting I am doing and took a break and did a quick one of Esther (not at all happy with the skirt but it is good to learn when to quit) while Rachel painted from the same photo. She did a nice job.





A Day in the Life 32: Random Facts

I am working on a painting as well as some spring things with the kids so am spending less time online. Well, except for making Twitter updates–which I am using to record our day as a sort of informal unschooling journal and which take much less time to do. Der. Forgot the pictures. Fixed.
Here are some random facts about this last week:

1. Esther will read anything (which means we have to be careful what is laying around.) Yesterday I found her reading a fiction picture book from the library, two gardening books for kids, the Tales of Symphonia strategy guide (which she has memorized), The Secret Garden, and Highlights magazine. She has also taken to carrying a bag of her books and things everywhere so she is prepared.

2. I am growing my hair out from my cute 20’s style bob which I love because my girls LOVE it when I have it long. They want me to wear it in a bun or in braids and literally mourn my hair when I cut it. Sigh. When they are older I will go back to my old look which was much easier to keep nice and more sited to my style.

3. Issac spent all morning yesterday doing his school workbooks–on his own and for fun. When he realized his math book (from last year) was too easy for him now he changed all the signs and made up math problems that were more interesting. He then spent hours reinstalling and playing all the old computer games he could find.

4. I am a third of the way through a painting for a bloggy friend. I am not sure about the composition so may go ahead and do a second layout when I finish this one.

5. The kids are very excited that their lettuce and onion plants are already coming up. Note to self–lettuce is a good plant to start with because it shows quickly and is edible quickly.

6. By not leaving the house except for a few visits to the pond and my grandmothers I have managed to make a half tank of gas last over two weeks. I used to use that much in under a week. Staying home has saved us about $30 a week.

7. This morning Rachel and I designed an irrigation system for her raised garden to replace the water bottle irrigation that she hates. The plan involves PVC pipe and other than cutting she should be able to assemble it herself. It also will allow her to continue using saved water from in the house instead of the hose.

8. Rachel is also ready to assemble her go-cart though she would like to figure out how to put sides on it and add pedals. While Shamus is at the tax preparers (we learned long ago that for us going instead of doing it ourselves is money well spent)the kids and I will research the cost of the bolts she needs and her irrigation system.

9. Rachel has been trying to figure out how to use the map to figure out where things are on Tales of Symphonia–I think she finally has it. Talk about learning life skills from video games. She is also learning to read much faster (since mommy has a habit of clicking through the talking a bit too quickly) and has learned that she is very good at visual problem solving. The puzzles in this game are her favorite sort and she is getting very quick at solving them.

10. Sent Rachel outside with my digital camera yesterday to take photos of something from all the colors of the rainbow. We then had a lesson on macro photography. Pretty fun stuff.

Show and Tell

I’m late with this today because I only just finally finished fixing all the problems that were happening on my server. I think everything is stable now. I hope.

Today we continue to celebrate Home Education Week with Dana of Principled Discovery who asks:

    Show off those talents. Share a story, a special moment, a piece of artwork. Any accomplishment, great or small, is fair game.

I was going to post a picture of the giant pile of stuff the kids have made in the inbox beside my desk (it gets moved to the school cabinet where I store such things once a month or so.)


Then I thought maybe I would post some of the stuff that is actually in that pile.


My son’s interpretation of Pompom from Homestar Runner.


Rachel’s drawing of herself.


Then I though maybe I would post old pictures of the kids doing random things to show all the stuff they did but I think you all have seen those before.




Issac checking out the “playground” they built today.

Then I thought I would brag about how Issac is teaching himself to read because he wants to (he read a whole story to us yesterday on his own.  Mind you I had to really, really teach Rachel to read due to her dyslexia but it seems to come naturally for my little 6 year old as it just clicked for my 8 year old.)

Then I decided to take the camera out to take pictures of the project they finished yesterday.


Issac labeled his all by himself with no prompting from me.


The kids spent all afternoon yesterday filling a borrowed wheel barrow (they asked our neighbors) with top soil from the other side of the house and filling in their gardens so they could plant.  I had nothing to do with it.  Yes, those are old shower doors on top–it is still cold here so we decided weneeded a green house sort of thing going.


Rachel’s garden all ready to go–unlike her brother she didn’t see the need to check her spelling before writing.  These are 100% recycled or stuff we had except for the seeds and the cute little metal labels that the kids bought at target.  (I should say that some of the seeds are from our own plants from last year.)

And when I went out to take pictures I found this.


Rachel had written a poem for me (with Esther’s help with spelling) and made it into a sign which she put in the garden facing the bench.  It says:


This garden’s yours

and after your done with your chores

watch the flowers grow

and swing to and frow.

Very sweet and exactly why we unschool.  It isn’t perfect but it was done of her own accord and  in fact is one of many poems which she has written–she has a journal full of them.  Some of them are excellent, others, eh.  Can you tell her grandfather was a published poet?  🙂

WFMW: Greatest Hits

This weeks Works For Me Wednesday hosted by Shannon of Rocks in my Dryer is a greatest hits edition.  This is one of my favorites since it is still benefiting us today. 


I wrote this about 2 years ago and then reposted it for WFMW over a year ago. The great thing is that this study instilled a great love for cooking and baking in our children. In fact–the oldest just made sugar cookies from a recipe which she only had part of the ingredients for and had to adapt the rest. They turned out wonderful.

Cooking our way through History

Originally posted on (which is now long gone) then on–with some editing–if you think I am wordy now you should have read this before the edit.

It all began with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Rachel, then 8, wanted to see it desperately. We felt she was a bit young for it but knew she loved the audio book of it. We also wanted her to have the joy of reading it herself–at that point due to her dyslexia she hated reading.


We told her we would take her if she read the book on her own and also learned about World War II. We figured she wouldn’t finish it but if she did it would take several months. She read it in one day. I had to find a suitable way to teach her and her sister, Esther, (age 6 and who would naturally be sitting in if it was at all interesting) about WWII.

At the library I researched WWII while they went off to find their own books. It was then that I discovered that there were more books about the American Girls than just the story books. I picked up Welcome to Molly’s World and Molly’s Cookbook and a children’s cookbook of English foods. I checked them out as well as numerous other books about that time, both here in the U.S. and in the rest of the world.


I found that the girls responded best to the books with lots of pictures and good explanations of those pictures and they especially loved the cookbooks. For several days we read all about WWII, being careful which stories we talked about and which pictures I explained because of Esther’s compassionate nature. The thing that caught their interest most were the recipes. We read the background information in each cookbook first, making sure they really understood the culture which spawned these foods, how they made them, and why. We then perused the recipes deciding what we might like to make. Many of the foods in “Molly’s Cookbook” they already knew but they loved the explanations of why they were made. We tried several of the recipes, with Rachel reading the ingredients and Esther gathering them, then working together to make the food.


The English foods were not as appealing to them, with the exception of the biscuits and scones. Rachel and Esther both took one look at the meat pies and emphatically said “No, thank you.” Even the Turkish Delight they found very disappointing.

By the time we were done with the project, Rachel was ready to see the movie. Understanding what the Pevensey children were eating and why gave her a good hook to hang what was going on in the world in that time on. She loved that she knew what Turkish Delight was and actually cringed when Edmund took a bite.


When it was time to take the books back they asked to study another time in American History using cookbooks. Since then we have worked our way through Colonial days, Pioneer days, the Oregon Trail, the Revolutionary War, and several other periods of U.S. History. We have even begun cooking our way through other cultures, being careful to study abut the culture and not just make their foods. Not only have our three children the youngest, Issac, is 4 gained a better understanding of the diverse people of God’s world but also they have learned many different cooking styles with a variety of foods.


Rachel and Esther now love to make meals when I am unable. One day they will make pinto bean tortillas, the next Chinese vegetables with noodles, and the next they will beg me to make fortune cookies or scones.
We have discovered that cooking our way through history and world cultures is a wonderful way to explore God’s world and our own heritage. It has helped us as we study the lives of past and pray for current missionaries as well as learn about other aspects of our American Heritage. It has also helped me a great deal as they have also discovered the joy of cooking and baking, as well as many other skills such as reading instructions and the chemical reactions that take place when foods are cooked. In fact only a few weeks ago I came home from work to find that Rachel (with permission and a bit of oven help from her father) had baked biscuits for the family.

The pictures above are of the kids making pioneer style Salt Rising Bread with a recipe taken from my 1919 Lowney’s Cookbook. That was two years ago–they were so small! Now Rachel often makes a full 3 course meal on her own and wants to set the table with the good table cloth and china.

Life before Home Schooling

Dana over at Principled Discovery is hosting Home Education Week. Today’s topic is Looking Back.

Share your personal history…before you were a home educator. What was life like? Think about things you miss and things you and your family have gained.


What was it like? I forget.  Okay maybe I don’t but as we decided to home school when we realized I was pregnant it has been nearly 11 years.Read More

The Restaurant

If you visit our house on any given Saturday you will find our driveway full of cars and The Office full of young men. It is D&D day or “Geek Squad” day as my dad calls it. One of the Geek Squad is my younger brother-in-law who spends non- interesting moments of the game out of The Office hanging out with my kids. Usually they ask him to play with them or watch as they play Mario Sunshine for the zillionth time (they quit playing through and use it as another way of playing house–it is kind of hard to explain but Mario is somehow a big brother and so on and so forth. Anyway, none of that is the point. )

Last week he was hanging with the kids while they were playing their favorite game “restaurant”. He reminded them of how they used to play restaurant–I had forgotten that restaurant had always been a favorite since I was seldom involved–I was too busy trying to keep up with our crazy household. He was right though. It has been a favorite game since Rachel was old enough to have a kitchen set.

When we moved to this house (7 years ago) she was about 3 and had a kitchen set with very few foods. She and her one year old sister would use whatever was the right color as a food. Now, keep in mind that these kids had tons of food allergies and had a very limited menu that they knew about. They were known to enforce that menu on all their restaurant guests. Usually the visitor (since they made all visitors attend their restaurant) would request random foods which the kids would insist they didn’t have. In the end the only thing anyone could order was oatmeal. The visitor would then insist that the restaurant server and cook go shopping for more foods and they would go off to the other room to find more foods only to return and find that oatmeal was the only thing the chef knew how to make.

Nowadays they still play restaurant nearly everyday. Rachel’s restaurant, now christened “The Golden Streak” has a much bigger menu which grows each time she learns to make another food. It is clean (since I require she clean before she cook), there is a hand written menu and a variety of noodle and sandwich based meals. Yesterday she added salad to the menu so today I ordered take-out to be picked up at 12:30. We’ll see if she gets it right.

Her sister is often the patron, her brother often the server. Esther is the sort of customer where you learn patience and that the customer is always right. She also uses counterfeit gift cards instead of money. She may well be what drives Rachel out of the restaurant business.

They also have a music store (run by Esther–no wonder all the cd’s have gone missing), a post office (run by Rachel–that is where my calculator and scale went off to), and some other random stores that they all seem to run at varying times. Ah, my little entrepreneurs. Usually they do use real money for all their back ad forth and I know Rachel weighs and figures out postage for each package she mails. (Her business would be more effective if she didn’t make the things she mailed.:))
It is funny because both their daddy and I are not good at business. I am more likely not to charge at all than to ask for money for my work (I only charge because my husband insists on it.:)) My husband gets paid much less for the work he does because he hates asking for raises. I am fairly good at organizing yard sales though my prices tend to be cheap–I just want rid of stuff.:) The kids had a taste of this this summer and I think it is what fueled their desire for shops and sales. We’ll see if it continues. I am however very happy with the amount of learning that is occurring during this restaurant phase–they know that restaurants get shut down if they don’t meet certain standards and I have threatened as much. It also helps Rachel with her writing sand spelling (she writes the menu fresh each day), with her patience and organization skills–she is learning how to prepare foods on demand and get foods so they are all hot at the same time. Plus, since I am not involved in the process other than to give advice and occasionally help out when the restaurant gets swamped she is more willing to figure things out herself.

This was ready at 12:25 when I stopped in to check on them. She came up with the container by herself.:) Issac made the coffee.

The Importance of Play

I ran into this news story over here and it surprised me that it was even a story.

Watch any child who is free of schedules, strict socially structured and planned activities, and the freedom to use the materials on hand and you will find that child playing. Any parent who has watched and listened quietly as their little one plays can tell you that that child is imitating and working out what is in the world around him. What parent hasn’t been surprised to find their 2 year old more interested in the wrapping paper than the brightly colored toys it hid? What parent hasn’t noticed a baby’s joy at a set of keys or a spoon?

The only reason older kids don’t play happily with what is on hand is that they have been told they need the latest toy or that cool kids don’t play that anymore. They have been trained to need entertainment, to demand it, and have been taught to be bored without it.

We don’t need to teach children to be creative–we need to keep from killing their creativity by smothering them with talking or overly specific toys and too many scheduled activities.

Yes, I am ranting.

I want my children to grow up happy and fully intact. That means I let them loose with how-to books and the supplies on hand. Rachel has a list of things she wants me to buy at the craft store and I tell her that she can buy it if she saves but otherwise she has to make due with what we have. She has made old fashioned can stilts, a fishing pole with a hook made from a jewelry find earring hook and paper fish, a riding horse from an old broomstick and a sock. She made a card board and clothespin ring toss, and a plethora of clothespin dolls. No, they aren’t high quality but she and her siblings love them because she made them herself. In fact, she is amazed at how wonderful these old fashioned toys are compared to the junk she used to buy all the time at the thrift shop.

Sure my kids play games and watch movies, and other than an occasional “that’s enough, go find something else to do” or a request that chores be done first they are free to play as long as they like. They get sick of it pretty quick when they have that much freedom. Boredom is not tolerated and pretty soon they are engrossed in something else.

Now that they are older they love to plan out games and spend much longer organizing the activity and preparing for play than actually playing. They, at 6, 8, and 10, still spend plenty of time really playing. The girls have a doll house and their cabbage patch kids, Issac has his marbles, race tracks, trains, Legos and Construx–they all play with all of it so when it comes down to it they are only divided by rooms . Every time I enter the girls room I see the dollhouse rearranged–their Only Hearts Club Kids stand in some new fashion–it always makes me want to take a picture as there is so much thought put into the setup. In my son’s room , well it is a mess. They love building things and use all sorts of random objects to build elaborate structures. One day it is Lego vehicles, then next it is Construx, the next it is race tracks. (And, as you can see from the photos, my son likes to play with our rock collection.)

They don’t own any toys that all go perfectly together. They wouldn’t keep them that way if they did. Marvel Super Heroes and Villains often make their way into the doll house alongside my vintage Strawberry Shortcake dolls. The ceramic tea-set my in-laws got the girls are as often used with miss-matched plastic kitchen things and foods and Cabbage Patch Kids as they are used for real dress up tea parties elaborately set up by the kids. Wooden blocks and train tracks are often used with matchbox cars and the old fashioned Little People from my Sesame Street set. And that is just inside–you wouldn’t believe the mish-mash of toys that litter our yard in the summer months. (And you know those boots we went to find–those were so my ten year old could go play in the giant mud puddle that fills the valley out back every spring.)

Yes, it gets messy. Sure it isn’t as nice and neat as those little craft kits and running them to t-ball and every other thing under the sun that kids under 12 can be involved in. Yet somehow it is right and it works and the kids are learning and enjoying and growing in ways that they wouldn’t if they were on a schedule and played one kit at a time.

A Morning in the Life 24

This morning while I was reading at my desk Issac wandered in and asked if it was okay if he cleaned his room.

“!?! Um, yeah, of course.”

We talked a bit and he explained to me why he throws his clothes on the floor and how he planned to refold the clothes when the come unfolded so that he can put them back in his drawer. (Our rule is that he needs to keep the clean clothes off the floor and make a path before bed each night. I have reiterated time and again that I don’t like him throwing his clean clothes on the floor so he has been trying to work out how to keep that from happening.) He wandered off and did his clothes then asked if he could take a break– to eat breakfast.Read More