Homeschool Schedules

One of the things that people ask me most is what our “homeschool day” looks like.  Homeschool will look different in every home depending on:
-how many outside activities you are involved in-whether your kids (and/or you) do well with structure
-your “homeschool style” (un-schooling vs traditional)
-when you and your children work best (morning, afternoon, evening)
-the age of your children
-your work schedule (if you work outside the home)

I have nothing against a more loosely scheduled day or even un-schooling if that works for you and your kids, but for me and for my children (at least for now), we all do better with a much more structured day.  No, we do not have a strict schedule that we stick to every day, but we do often make schedules when I feel like we are getting to out of control.  Usually we work from lists.  Over the summer I make a plan for each subject – what I want to teach and how I will teach with what resources in the year ahead.  I break that up into the ten months and I work off those plans all year.  Each weekend I make a list of what we will do that week and then we work from there.

In a “normal” week this past year, I assigned D a total of 27 different assignments for a week.  He did seven each day on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, five on Thursday and he went to our homeschool co-op  on Fridays and did one assignment at home on Friday.  In the evening he also read another 30 minutes, did a page of cursive practice and one page of math facts review.  It seems like a lot, but it helps that we do several shorter assignments throughout the week instead of one day with lots of math or lots of literature.  Doing more frequent short assignments helps them to “stick” better for us and when projects are done in small chunks there is less avoiding of those “hard” subjects.  We also take days off or postpone assignments if it gets to be too much.  Sometimes a subject that I thought would be easy ends up being more difficult.  Other times maybe we’re just enjoying a subject and don’t want to move on quite yet, so within all that structure, there is still flexibility.  I try to leave lots of extra room in my monthly plans so that we don’t have to feel pressured.

Here is a sample work list for a random week:

weekly checklist grid March 12 through March 16

The details of the assignment are not there – just a quick summary, but Diego looks at the schedule over breakfast and picks which subjects he wants to do and he is usually mostly done by lunch.  Some days go better than others.  If I have to go to work for a few hours, it is usually a much less productive day.  If it seems like we are getting to 4:00 before he’s done, I usually start to make a specific schedule with times and I let him earn 15 minutes of video game playing for each subject finished on time.  No, we do not stick with a schedule to the minute and we don’t beat ourselves up if we have to skip something, but it does help get us back on track though when we are not getting things done as quickly as we would like.  Here is a sample of one that we have used:

sample monday schedule

We also keep going year round – kind of.  We are “done” with 4th grade for the year, but we do Reading (one book from a list every two weeks), Writing and Math in the summer.  If he is quick, D can finish in an hour to 90 minutes, but usually he takes his time since I won’t let him play video games all day anyway.  I am just starting to do some things with R more formally (no pressure, of course) and  P is still in school a little over half day and will have half a day of summer school also, so he just has a few short assignments.  Here is a recent summer work list:

summer work list

I don’t push my homeschool methods on anyone else.  I don’t even push homeschooling on anyone else, but this is what I have found works well for us (for now) and maybe someone else can benefit from it.


Seeing Stars® at Home

Seeing Stars® is a program developed by Lindamood-Bell to improve decoding.  I posted on some general techniques they use in a former post, but here I will go into more detail about the Seeing Stars® program.  This is just an overview.  More details would be needed to fully implement this program at home.  The Seeing Stars® Manual (available from Gander Publishing) will guide you through the program step-by-step.  When I tried to research the LMB reading programs myself, it seemed like I could not find anyone to describe the programs, except in very vague terms, so that is why I am putting these out there so that you can see if it is something you would want to tackle at home and which materials you should buy.  Please do not depend on these instructions to do the program at home.  I may have forgotten something or not explained something well.  You really need the manual, at least.

It should be said that the “steps” in these programs are not done one at a time.  It is not that you introduce step one and once mastered, you move to step two.  Instead, you will usually start off with something the student is already doing well and then work with something that provides a challenge and usually incorporate something that is a greater challenge all in one session.

Here are the steps:

Step 1: Set the Climate
Tell your student what you will be doing and why.  You can make a very simple drawing to illustrate.
Example:  “I am going to help you picture letters in your head so that it will be a lot easier to read, like this.”  Then draw a head (smiley face) with a thought bubble with a simple word in the bubble.

Step 2: Imaging Letters
a) Using a flashcard (simple card – just the lowercase letter or digraph- no other pictures)  Digraphs are treated as letters, since they work together to make one sound.
Show your student the card for a couple of seconds and then turn it over or cover it.
The student “Air-Writes” the letter and says its name and sound has he/she writes it.
Note on “Air-Writing”: This is just the student using their finger to write the letter in the air.  Require the student to “write” it clearly.  They should look at their hand as they write and it should be about three to six inches (not that you should measure it, but not tiny and not huge).  If  they have a hard time, hold up a standard sheet of notebook paper and let them “write” it with their finger on the paper first to get the idea of how big it should be.  They should be able to see a “shadow effect”.  They should use lower case letters.
WARNING: Pretty much every student hated Air Writing!  You can tell them that after they get really good at it they won’t have to do it very often, so they should do their best to prove that you don’t need to keep working on it.

b) Without a flashcard:The clinician says a letter (or later a letter sound) and the student Air-Writes the letter and its sound while writing.  It is just the same as step 2a, except that the clinician does not show the student the card and may say either the letter’s name or the sound it makes as a prompt.

Step 3: Syllable Cards

The clinician shows the syllable card for a few seconds and then covers it.  The student will see (in his mind), say (the letter names), writes (air-writes) and reads (from his mental picture).

This is one of areas that is hard to re-create without purchasing the cards from Gander.  They cost over $300, so they are not cheap!  You could make your own by using the syllables in the workbooks, but it will be quite a bit of work.
There are several levels of syllable cards, going from simple to complex like this:
CV (Consonant, Vowel, like “my” or “go), VC, CVC, CCV, VCC, CVCC, CCVC, CCVCC

Note:  at the single syllable level, you do not worry about open and closed syllables.  All are treated as closed.
Remember as you handle errors that the student should be directed back to his/her imagery and you are responding to the student’s answer.  (“What letter did you see after the ‘i’? Let’s see if that matches.”)

Here is also where you are going to want to introduce some phonics rules as you come across them like:
-When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking, and it says its own name
-The “Bossy Final E” that makes the first vowel say its name
-The soft and hard g
-The soft and hard c
You can make small drawings  on a 3″x5″ card and hung up in the student’s work area as a visual reminder.

At this step is where you are going to introduce exercises to improve  “symbol imagery.”

Step 4: Imaging and Sequencing Syllables on the Syllable Board

The Syllable board is a small board that is about 1.5″x6″.  On one side it has seven blank lines.  The student “writes” a letter on each line with his/her finger.

This step overlaps with step three.  It is similar, but the word will be “written” on the syllable board (with finger, not actually written) and this can help the student to “hold” the image of the word in their head long enough to compare it with what they are saying and check if it is correct.  There are three stages:
a)Imaging the syllable and “writing” it on the syllable board.  This is done just like step three, but the word is “written” on the board. (Say the letters as they write them and then read from the invisible letters on the board.)

b)Imaging and Air-Writing in a chain
In this exercise, the clinician begins with a word (depending on the level they are working on VC, CV, CVC, etc.) and changes just one sound at at time.  Note that it is one sound, not one letter, so going from “fip” to “foop” would be fine because “oo” works together to make one sound.  In the manual there are many sample chains that you can use right out of the book.

You can also question the student about which letters they see to make sure that image is staying there.  (“What is the last letter you see?”  “What letter do you see second?” “Can you pictures the letters and tell me them backwards?”  “What if we change the ‘i’ to an ‘oo’?  What would we have? ” “Now change the ‘r’ to an ‘s’…etc.”  You want to ensure that the picture of the word is stable in their imagination.  The changes in letters should first be done in a chain (only changing one sound).

c) Continue this, but each syllable is a new syllable, not in a chain.

Step 5: Imaging and Sequencing Syllables: Air-Write with a Chain

This is just like 4b above, but air-writing instead of on the board.  Remember that “in a chain” means changing only one sound at a time and there are many example chains in the manual.  The same kind of symbol imagery exercises are used.

Step 6: Imaging and Sequencing Syllables: Air-Write without a Chain

The same as step 5, but not in a chain.

Step 7: Imaging Sight Words

Use a common sight word list, like Dolch or Fry.  If you get the Seeing Stars® workbooks, they are called “Star Words.”Show the list (one word at a time) and have the student decode the words.  If they are fast immediately, move on to the next word, but if the response is incorrect or slow, write it on a card in lower case letters.  Practice at every session and categorize them into slow, medium or fast, depending on the student’s response time.  They can be practiced by decoding (reading) or spelling.  You can incorporate games to make it more fun.

Step 8: Imaging Spelling

Use a list like the Fry list and dictate them to the student like a spelling test.  The ones that are not easily spelled correctly get put on a “Visual Spelling Chart”
The spelling chart is divided into several columns.  In the first column, the word is written.  The student marks (underlines) the “tricky” part and divides the syllables (/) in that first column and marks the accented syllable.
Then, the student writes the word (can look at the word), then visualize and air-write the word.
The student writes the word (word is covered) while saying it in the next column and then compares in with the original word.
The last column is to mark the dates the student got it correct, so that you know when they have it correct five times.

Step 9: Two Syllable Words and 10:Three Syllable Words

I am not going to go into detail in step eight and nine, but will let you know that the clinician will use many of the same techniques, but now applied to affixes and then multi-syllable words.

I will also say that they have good information on how to split syllables that has helped my son tremendously.

Seeing Stars® is a fabulous program and has been very useful for our homeschool.

Lindamood Bell Programs General Overview: Using Gander Publishing Resources at Home

Since I had a very hard time trying to figure out if I could do the Lindamood-Bell programs at home when I was searching on the internet, I am posting this here in hopes that it will benefit someone else.  There is no way that I could explain every step of each program, so you will need to get the manual (some libraries even have them), but I hope to give you an overview so that you can get an idea of what the programs are all about and see if you would like to try them at home.

I think I started hearing about LMB programs in about 2007/2008.  I was so excited to hear that this “Reading Clinic” addressed hyperlexia as well as dyslexia.   You can read about hyperlexia in a former post, but basically it is decoding skills (sounding out the words) that are far above comprehension skills, accompanied by a fascination with letters and words.  It is said to be the “neurological opposite” of dyslexia.

Lindamood-Bell has four main reading programs.  The ones used most frequently are:

  • Seeing Stars®:
    The Seeing Stars® program develops symbol imagery—the ability to visualize sounds and letters in words—as a basis for orthographic awareness, phonemic awareness, word attack, word recognition, spelling, and contextual reading fluency.*
    This would be for dyslexia/decoding problems.
    I will summarize all the Seeing Stars steps in my next post, so stay tuned!
  • Visualizing and Verbalizing®:
    The Visualizing and Verbalizing® (V/V®) program develops concept imagery—the ability to create an imaged gestalt from language—as a basis for comprehension and higher order thinking. The development of concept imagery improves reading and listening comprehension, memory, oral vocabulary, critical thinking, and writing.*
    This would be for hyperlexia/comprehending problems.
    I summarized the steps and have videos here.

The other two programs, used less often, are:

  • LiPs®:
    The LiPS® Program develops phoneme awareness. Students learn to recognize how their mouths produce the sounds of language. This kinesthetic feedback enables them to verify sounds within words and to become self-correcting in reading, spelling, and speech.*
    Parts of the LiPs® program are sometimes incorporated into the Seeing Stars® students if they need it.
    (You can see the steps for LiPs in this link in a paper written from the person that developed this program.
  • Talkies®
    The Talkies® program is the primer to the Visualizing and Verbalizing® program for students who need simpler, smaller steps of instruction to establish the imagery-language connection. The goal of Talkies® instruction is to develop mental imagery as a base for language comprehension and expression. Talkies® instruction may benefit students with prior third-party diagnoses of expressive language delays or autism spectrum disorders.*
    Parts of the Talkies® program are sometimes also used in the V/V® program for students with less language that can read.
  • There is also a math program called “On Cloud Nine®”

*Descriptions of the programs are from the publisher’s website (  My own comments about the program are in italics.

Nanci Bell has made some great presentations at the UC Davis MIND Institute’s Summer Institute
(MIND = Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders)

Here is a video of Nanci Bell discussing V/V® and Talkies® for hyperlexia.

The more I heard about it, the more I knew that Visualizing and Verbalizing® (V/V)® would be great for my older son, D, but when I discovered that instruction in the center cost over $100/hour, I knew that would never be possible for us, especially since the program is usually very intense.  Four hours a day, five days a week is not uncommon. (Twenty hours X $100 = $2000/week!!!!)  I should say that there are discounts for more hours, etc., but for us it would still always be out of reach for us.

Eventually, I was able to be trained in Seeing Stars and Visualizing and Verbalizing myself, so that I could teach it to my kids.  For those of us who live in the real world and cannot afford $2,000/week for tutoring, I would highly recommend that you do it yourself.  It can be integrated into your homeschool curriculum or be done after school or over the summer.  The materials can be purchased at and the manual goes through the program step-by-step.  If you want to be even more prepared, you can attend one of their workshops.  In the training, for the most part, they wanted  you to stick closely to the “script.” ( You say, “X” and then the students responds and you say “Y” if it was correct and “Z” if it was not.)  There are even many sample dialogs in the manuals.

Here are some general LMB-ism that apply to all the programs:

  • There is big time bribing (eh… make that “rewarding”) going on constantly.
    I am not saying that is necessarily such a bad thing.  Most of these kids are doing the program because they have had major problems in the area that they are working on (decoding, comprehension) and this is the last thing they want to do when they are finally out of school.
    – Filling your bucket with magic stones (see below) gets you five stars on your “star card.”  If it is filled, that card can be used as “currency” to get prizes (small prizes , like trinkets from Oriental Trading).
    – Something really great (maybe getting something correct that they usually struggle with) gets you another type of card.  With that card the students gets up and drops it into a box and rings a bell.  Every time that bell rings, everyone stops for a second and cheers.  There is a weekly drawing with these cards and someone will win a prize.
    -Some kids have additional rewards worked out with in conjunction with their parents.  “If you get through X number of pages or if you don’t do X (insert problematic behavior), you get that toy you’ve been wanting, etc.
  • Every response (right or wrong) from the student earns a “magic stone” that is dropped into a small metal bucket and makes an nice affirming “clinking” sound each time.
  • A big part of the program is how you handle errors.
    Every response gets positive feedback before a correction.  (The student may say, “LIT” for the word “LIFT” and the clinician would say, ” I love how you got that /l/ sound, and that vowel sound was perfect.  When you say the word, ‘LIT,’ what do you picture before the T?”
    The student may say, “I,” and the clinician could answer, “I picture the letter ‘I’ in the word “LIT” too.  Let’s check if that’s right.”  We look at the card together and the student corrects it, get more praise, and several magic stones in their bucket.
  • The clinician constantly prompts for imagery.  (What do you SEE when you picture the word?  What do you PICTURE for the sentence you read?  How do you PICTURE the man in the story?  What do you SEE for his shirt?  Do you PICTURE him with shoes on?)  You are trying to get them to make an image in their head whether it be in decoding or comprehending.
    You show them something (a letter, a word, a part of a paragraph), they read it and then you cover it up, so that their brain has to make the picture in their head.
  • You want to make the child feel successful.  When they feel like they can do it and that you believe in their ability, they feel more confident and are more willing to try harder.  Plus, they can do it!  Every human being has great potential.
  • You “set the climate” at every session.  (For example: “Today we are going to picture letters in your head”) and they use simple drawings to help.  (Draw a head with at thought bubble that has a letter in it.)

These are the general things that apply to all of the LMB programs.  I will go into greater detail about the specific programs in future posts.


Just before my oldest, D, was three, and still did not talk, he was already reading. Much before that, before a year old, he showed a fascination with letters and books. I loved reading growing up, so I was thrilled to have a son that would also enjoy getting lost in a good book.

What I didn’t know, was that D couldn’t have cared less about the story. He just liked the letters. He quickly learned the alphabet and easily identified all the upper and lower case letters. Soon after that he learned their sounds, which brought him a whole new level of giddiness. When he started putting those sounds together to make words, his joy was complete and that was what he did constantly.

We had some therapists that wanted us to take away the letters, and for a while I tried to comply, but letters are everywhere! Even if we took away his plastic letters, there were books and signs and toys with letters everywhere. In the end, we just decided to try to use reading and words purposefully. He was already reading, so why not use that skill to teach him the other skills he was lacking? This worked for us and by the time he was talking well, the reading (decoding) obsession faded. What remained was a tendency to read without comprehending what he was reading and that has taken years to address.

Hyperlexia is not defined in the DSM, so its definition is actually a bit fuzzy. There is a common theory that there are three types of hyperlexia:

Type I: A “normal” (known as neurotypical or “NT”) child that just reads very early. Development does not lack in any particular area.
Type II: A child on the Autistic Spectrum that reads well beyond language that they seem to have (receptive or expressive) otherwise. Many would call this a “splinter skill.”
Type III: A child that has some autistic traits, and seems to read beyond their language abilities, but the autistic traits fade in time.

I am not sure that these are great categories for several reasons. For one, hyperlexia type I is just an early reader. There is really no need to even give it a name. What do you call a child with no delays that jumps twice as high as his peers? A hyperjumper?

As far as type II, the whole idea behind the term, “splinter skills” is one that many people with autism have objected to. It conjures up the idea of a person that is “low functioning” (another not particularly helpful term) that has an interesting, though not particularly useful ability in music, art, math or some other area. The reason that people are surprised at these abilities is because they are presuming “incompetence” and low IQ. It would be better to just say that it is an area of strength, just as any of us may have greater abilities in any particular area. Also, reading is a very important skill, not some “fascinating” ability for people to stop and stare at like a circus act.

Also, I am not sure that hyperlexia type III actually exists. To say that the autistic traits fade in time may just be children that have successfully used reading and other abilities to “catch up” in areas of delay. The problem lies in how we define autism. Currently, it is primarily defined in terms of delays. However, if we could see what it actually is neurologically, I think that many of them would still have some of these characteristics, like my oldest, who has no real measurable delays anymore (falls into “normal” range) but still struggles in some of the common areas affected by autism (language comprehension, reading social cues, and others). We also know that the ability to read can be a tool to help the person move beyond their delays in development, even if they were born with the neurological make up that would describe a person with autism.

I think that hyperlexia can be better defined as decoding skills that are far above comprehension skills, accompanied by a fascination with letters and words. The term can be helpful when speaking to therapists and teachers because it helps them develop a plan to help the child. It lets them know that the written word can be a powerful tool for this child and that comprehension needs to be monitored.

My next son, P, was (is) an even more extreme hyperlexic. He read and spelled out words shortly after he turned two years old and surprised visitors and strangers with his spelling abilities. To this day, his favorite activities involve encoding (spelling) and decoding (reading) words. He also seems to understand language better if he sees it written first. Sometimes it seems that he just can’t find the words to say and he uses his iPad (with the LAMP Words for Life app) to make the sentence and then read it. Because he does have some spoken language, I was unsure if this type of AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) would be useful to him, but it has become an important tool in our communication toolbox and I am so thankful that we have been allowed to use the iPad and app (for now) through his school. I am not sure what will happen next year when we will be homeschooling for a greater percentage of his day.

Some people have seen hyperlexia as a “disability.” Some have told us to avoid spelling with P, so that we don’t “feed his obsession,” even telling us to hide the letters, but I am glad that we learned by then that it was useless. It is just another way that he is his own person, with his own unique strengths and I choose to celebrate those strengths, not squelch them.

Theology of Disability

Having dealt with “disability” in my children in one way of another for the last nine years, I have been thinking for the last few weeks about a “Theology of Disability” and by that I mean: What is disability, from a theological perspective?

I have spent the last few years with some related thoughts running around in my head about suffering and the purpose of suffering. Suffering and disability seem to be inevitably linked. Not that a person with a disability is doomed to a life of suffering and sadness, but where there is a disability, one will most likely suffer because they cannot do something or can only do it with greater difficulty and they will often have to be somewhat dependent upon others. For the great majority of people with a disability there will be some kind of pain – physical pain that one feels and/or emotional pain from isolation or lack of independence.

My first thought was that neither suffering nor disability existed in Eden and it will not exist in heaven, so can it be a good thing? Jesus went around healing people, not telling them that there was a greater purpose for their sickness or suffering (exception being John 9 – the man born blind so that God would be glorified, but he ended up healing him too).

Some of the erroneous views on disability that I have seen and evaluated are:

1. Disability is a mark of sin. It did not exist in Eden and exists only because we are in a fallen world. The predominant Old Testament view of suffering and sickness (like Job’s friends) would be that the individual or the person’s parents had sinned, causing the person pain and suffering, but Job and the man born blind in John 9 contradict this view. We see a form of this erroneous view today in circles where the person with a disability is told that they have not been healed because of their lack of faith.

2. The individual must accept their life as “less than” a whole person. This view would keep the lepers “outside the camp” (Lev. 13:46). It would tell a person with a disability to accept their lot in life as an outcast and be glad that some may throw you a piece of bread once in a while. Matthew 8 describes a leper that dared to come and kneel before Jesus and express his faith that Jesus could “make him clean.” Jesus does not tell him to remember his place; he heals him instead.

3. People with disabilities are in the world to teach the rest of us lessons about _____ (fill in the blank here – kindness, compassion, gratitude, charity, etc.). Surely all of us have learned to be more generous when faced with others that have any kind of need, but that is not the meaning of that person’s existence. Each person has been created as an individual with dignity and worth. This view treats people as non-people that exist as an object lesson for others.

It is clear that while some of these views seem to have a bit of truth linked to them, none of thems acknowledges the worth of the person and their capacity to glorify God within His plan for their lives, which, of course, none of us can do except for by His strength through the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. What, then, can we say is a Biblical view of Disability?

1. Any part of life on this Earth that is not as it was in Eden, nor as it will be in heaven is a reminder of the fact that we live in a fallen world.
Just as when we are sick and long for a day with no sickness we are acknowledging that the world is not yet as it should be and there is a desire for a world un-marred by sin. That is a good thing because pain is reminding that there is something wrong with our present state. If we were to go through our entire lives with no pain, we would not have that longing for something better and that “God-shaped vacuum” that causes us to seek Him. If we were unable to feel pain in one of our extremities, we would never know if we were injured or is something was not right and needed to be fixed. Our pain reminds us of our need for God.

2. There is strength in apparent weakness.
It is widely believed that the Apostle Paul lost much of his vision in later years. We don’t know if it was this or another difficulty that he spoke of in his second letter to the church in Corinth, when he said that the Lord did not remove this “thorn in the flesh” because “[God’s] power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)

Listen to the paraphrase from The Message:

Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,
My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.

(2 Cor. 12:7-10 – The Message)

Those who have a “disability” have actually been given a “gift.” It is in our dependence on God that we find supernatural strength. I can say that I depend on Him when all goes well, but the more often I am forced to trust in His faithful provision, the more my faith is stretched and the stronger my faith muscle grows. Disability does not always equal a deep spiritual life because the individual has to choose what to trust in, but it is an amazing opportunity for “Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness.”

I know that there is so much more to this topic, and that I have barely scratched the surface here, but sometimes I just have to sort some thoughts out on paper (or PC in this case). I am learning to trust God and I pray that my children will also trust God deeply and develop a profound relationship with Him.

Curriculum we used for D (just finished 4th grade)

I know that over the last few years I have wanted to know what others use for homeschooling and I have been through the long process of finding what works for us, so here is my list of what we used for 4th grade. It was very successful for us.

We have used Math U See all the way. I love the DVDs and I love the fact that they work on one skill, taught to mastery, not a little of this and a little of that. I also like that in the DVDs he explains why things work in math much better than I ever could. I do actually enjoy math, but I am not great at explaining it, so this is a perfect fit for us.

We use the Spectrum workbooks to review grammar and punctuation rules and we do Daily Paragraph Editing to apply it. In the paragraph editing I can see what we really need to work on.

We use Spectrum Reading for daily short stories with comprehension questions and we read about ten longer books a year. I use my “What Your Child Should Learn in ..” book, the Sonlight book list and other lists from the internet to find about ten books that I think D will enjoy and I try to include at least a few historical fiction books or biographies that overlap with what we are learning in history.
I usually start out reading the first chapter or so out loud and I check for comprehension along the way. If he seems to have a good grasp, I let him read a certain amount each day on his own and later discuss it with me and answer comprehension and vocabulary questions.
Some of the books that we read were:
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Lunch Money, From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler, Across Five Aprils, and others.
Visualizing and Verbalizing has been a great program for reading comprehension. It asks the student to constantly visualize what he or she  is reading in a very deliberate way and it is so effective! It is so much better than anything else we have tried and I cannot recommend it enough for anyone that struggles with comprehension.  You can go to the Lindamood-Bell Centers and pay over $100 per hour to have a tutor teach this to your child or you can order the materials yourself from Gander Publishing (the manual and the workbooks) and you will see that it is a very scripted program and you can really do it on your own.  It is still not cheap, but no where near the price in the centers.
Spectrum Workbooks:

We quickly went through a Spectrum Phonics workbook this year for review, but most of the time we did the Seeing Stars workbooks from Gander Publishing. This is another a program offered by Lindamood-Bell and it is also very scripted. It has really improved D’s spelling, even though he was not especially struggling in that area.
We also have a “Spelling Box” that we use for any word that he has spelled wrong. It helps him at least try to spell things correctly and helps us not waste time on words he knows. We go through it at least once a day and once he get the word correct five times it gets removed from the box.

This is an area where we have had real problems in the past. We used “Vocabulary Packets: Greek and Latin Roots” and “Vocabulary Packets: Greek and Latin Prefixes and Suffixes” this year. They were both good and helped him understand the idea of using parts of the word to understand its meaning. We are going to try Red Hot Root Words for next year and we have used Wordly Wise in the past, but it is hard to figure out what level to order because they changed their system a few years ago.–amp%3B-latin-roots-9780545124126—Go-Must-Know/dp/054519864X/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1368567135&sr=1-2&keywords=Vocabulary+Packets%3A+Greek+%26+Latin+prefixes


We have tried many writing programs and have not had real success with them. D can complete the assignment, but I feel that his writing is lacking maturity. We have just started the Student Writing Intensive, Level A from IEW (Institute for Excellence in Writing), and so far, so good. They are very expensive, but the resale value is very high, so you could buy it used and sell it for almost the same price next year. We are working on it over the summer.


We have always used Handwriting Without Tears, but I have to say I am not that strict about it. As long as he knows how to write, that is fine. Next year I want to focus on typing.

Next year D will be going to public school for the afternoons only. There he will have Social Studies, Science and specials (Art, Music, Library, PE)
I feel a little conflicted about this decision, but we are going to try it and see how it goes. He really loved the co-op that he went to this year and he did not want to go back to school full time, so we are trying this so that if he does want to take a class or two in middle school he will know some of the kids.

We have used different resources for History/Social Studies this year and I have to say that D’s grasp of history is much better than mine was at his age!
Basically, I look at the Illinois Standards for Social Studies for his grade and make a list of what I want to teach him and I use the following resources to teach those concepts:
Story of the World Vol. 3 (Bauer) and we used the pdf workbook (
See Time Fly. Vol. 1-3. This is an EXCELLENT (although expensive) set of books put out by Gander Publishing. They are especially good for those using Visualizing and Verbalizing. The stories are interesting and well written and they do not allow the reader to disengage from the text. The reading level is probably more middle school level, but we were still able to use it successfully.
BrainPop – Oh, how I love thee, BrainPop! We use BrainPop to supplement everything – grammar, writing, social studies, science, even math occasionally. The videos are great. They are not dumbed-down and D loves them. He even watches them for fun on his own. There is a vocabulary list for the student to fill out on just about every video and there are creative assignments for them also. The vocabulary lists have helped D to learn to understand the meaning of words by the context – such an important skill!
– Videos and books from our local library.
– We also used a Spectrum Geography book for the first few months of school to learn about each region in the US and memorize the states and their capitals. We used some library videos, puzzles, etc. too for this.
I have really enjoyed teaching Social Studies, but this will be one of the classes he will be taking in public school next year. I hope he doesn’t forget all he learned!

This year we started using “Real Science 4 Kids” (Level 1) and I am pretty satisfied. It is supposed to be a middle school curriculum, but I think maybe 3rd to 5th grade would be more appropriate. They used to call the levels Pre-Level 1 (for K-4), Level 1 (for middle school) and Level 2 (for high school), but now they have new labels that are clearer (Focus on Elementary, Focus on Middle and Focus on High School). We did the entire Level 1 Chemistry book and half of the Biology book.
We generally have science two days a week and it takes us three sessions to get through a chapter.
1. For the first session we read the first half of the chapter together and D helps me find the most important points to write down or the main idea of each paragraph.
2. In the second session we review our notes about the first half and then read and take notes on the second half of the chapter.
3. In the third session we review our notes (which I have typed up) and we do the experiment and review activity.
For the most part the materials for the experiments were common items that were easy to get and not expensive. I had planned to finish Biology and to do Physics next year, but we will be sending him to school for science next year.
We use BrainPop and Bill Nye the Science Guy videos for reinforcement.

Well, I did originally have an art plan, but then a mom in the area offered to do art classes, so I just let him do that, which he really loved.

D was in a choir at co-op, which is what we did for music this year. Last year we worked on reading music and a few other things. Next year he’ll have Music at school.

I do have curriculum (Family Time Fitness) which looks great that I got when there was a really great sale, but I have never actually used it because D had PE at our co-op this year.

We have gone through a middle school workbook and try to make D speak the Spanish that he knows, but I have to admit that this has been one of our less successful areas, so I will refrain from making any recommendations here.

Other resources:
We used Enchanted Learning quite a bit to supplement in many areas for all ages
YouTube, of course has videos on anything and everything (
Khan Academy can be useful (
If you have an iPad there are also (usually some free) apps for learning most skills

Here are some places that I buy used curriculum:
Yahoo Groups for used curriculum
If you are on the IEW families yahoo group, you can join their resale group also.
I haven’t used this one yet, but just discovered: MUSSwap Yahoo Group for used Math U See Curriculum


I owe much of the thoughts behind this post to Ariane Zurcher, who blogs at “Emma’s Hope Book” (see my “Blogs I Follow” list) and to the documentary “Wretches and Jabberers”, about two adults with Autism who learned to communicate later in life who travel the world encouraging others to think of people with Autism as intelligent. If you know anyone with Autism or if you will at some time (that includes pretty much everyone), you NEED to see this movie.

I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to “presume competence” vs. presuming one to be incompetent. How many stories have we already heard of people with autism that have been assumed to have low IQs according to “experts” and tests, only to surprise everyone later in life when they are given a means to express themselves that works for them? How many more could have done so if they were given the chance? The idea sounds great, but how do I apply it to my own son?

P’s main delay is speech. Because he has not shown that he understands much of what we say, we often speak to him in short phrases, using words that we know he understands. We read books that don’t have many “unknown” words for him (although he may know them and we are just not aware) because we think that is the language he is capable of comprehending.

When I compare this approach to the way we treat R (our third child, who is two years old with no apparent delays) I can see where we may be going wrong and I believe that am holding him back. I talk to R constantly, even with words that I know she may not understand yet, because I believe that in time she will and I don’t limit myself to words that she has “proven” that she knows. What if I did the same with P? What if I assumed that he was capable, instead of making him prove constantly that he could understand? What if the way I ask “test his knowledge” is all wrong? Maybe he is annoyed at my constant quizzing and questions. I think that I would be annoyed!

In the documentary “Wretches and Jabberers,” it is said to be a “paradox” that two men with irregular patterns of movement, struggles with sensory regulation and little audible speech are completely aware of their surroundings and are intelligent, with much to say, but why do we consider it a paradox? Why do we assume that lack of speech means lack of intelligent thoughts? More importantly, what wrong assumptions have I made about my own son? I have never doubted his non-verbal intelligence, but I think I have doubted his ability to communicate.

The documentary also points out that people with autism may need additional supports, and I think that things like visual supports and writing things out are appropriate, but I can’t allow his need for those things lead me to think that he cannot communicate, and communicate well. I am challenging myself to confront my wrong assumptions and start to assume that my baby boy is capable, capable of learning without limits, capable of relating and connecting with others in a deeper way, and capable of contributing to the world around us. One of the participants in “Wretches and Jabberers” is asked if they believed that all people with autism can communicate, or if that was only for some with a “special talent.” His response was that communication is a basic human desire, not a special talent. What assumptions have you made about people around you with disabilities? Wipe the slate clean. Presume competence.