This easy-to-assemble, deliciously creamy cheesecake is a gluten free version of a recipe I found for the Cheesecake Factory pumpkin cheesecake.  I reduced the recipe to fit an 8″ round disposable aluminum pan (see note), which eliminates the need for a springform pan since you can bend the edge of the pan down to easily release a slice. (It also eliminates the need to wash your pan!) This recipe makes 8 large slices (pictured below) or 10 smaller slices. If you want to double the recipe for more guests, I’d recommend using 2 pans rather than a 10″ springform pan because long, skinny cheesecake slices are impossible to cut and serve neatly.

Pumpkin cheesecake with pecans, whipped cream and caramel!

Pumpkin cheesecake with pecans, whipped cream and caramel!

Crust Substitutions
Because I like a hint of pecans with pumpkin desserts, I substituted pecans ground in a food processor for some of the graham cracker crumbs in the original recipe. (Be careful to grind them just until they resemble crumbs; if you grind too long you’ll end up with nut butter!) I used the gluten free Kinnikinnick Graham Style Crumbs, but you could make the crumbs by crushing or processing in a food processor whole S’morables. (While putting in links just now, I discovered that Pamela’s also makes gluten free graham crackers.) If you need a nut-free dessert, simply substitute additional graham cracker crumbs. Or, if you can’t find gluten free graham crackers in your area, try using gluten free ginger snap crumbs and omit the sugar. Pamela’s, Mi-Del’s, and Trader Joe’s gluten free ginger snaps are all good.

This cheesecake tastes better and better each day, so it’s the perfect dessert to make a day or two before Thanksgiving. I haven’t tried freezing it, but most cheesecakes freeze well. If you freeze it, be sure to cover it with a layer of plastic wrap and foil, then thaw it in the fridge at least 24 hrs. before serving.

For more holiday recipes, type “Thanksgiving” or “Holiday” in the search bar on my blog. And while you’re at it, check out my yummy GF pumpkin pancake or grain free pumpkin cranberry muffin recipes to use up your leftover pumpkin. Happy holidays!

Gluten Free Pumpkin Cheesecake

1 c. GF graham cracker crumbs (see crust notes above)
1/3 c. ground pecans
1 T. sugar
¼ c. butter, melted

2 pkgs. cream cheese, softened
2/3 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 c. canned pumpkin
2 eggs
¾ tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ea. allspice, nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine dry ingredients for crust in a disposable, 8” round foil pan.  (Note: I bought the kind that comes with a paper/foil lid at the dollar store, and while it says 9″ pan on the label, the bottom of the pan measures 8 inches.) Stir in melted better and toss with a fork until combined. Press into bottom and partway up sides of pan. Bake 5 minutes, then set aside until ready to fill.

Combine cream cheese, sugar and vanilla in mixer. Mix on medium-low until lumps disappear. Add remaining ingredients and mix until smooth. Pour into crust and smooth the top.

Place crust in a 9”x13” pan filled with 1 in. water. Bake 55-65 minutes until just set and the top appears dull. (If it’s cracked it’s overdone.)  Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack (out of water bath) for 10 min. Run a knife around the edge of the pan to release the edges, then continue to let cool until room temperature. Cover carefully and refrigerate overnight. (You don’t want any plastic wrap to touch the top of the cheesecake, but you also don’t want it to taste like the leftover pizza in your fridge.)

Serve with whipped cream and additional pecans or caramel sauce or crushed ginger snaps – or all of it!

After a lovely summer of letting my children forage for their breakfast most days, I decided to celebrate our first cool, fall day with some I-can’t-believe-these-are-gluten-free ooey, gooey, caramel sticky buns. My family loves cinnamon rolls, but as those are tricky to make gluten free and require a lot of work, these little bites of heaven satisfy their desire for sweet rolls and my desire to not curse while baking.

Now if you are a more recent follower of my blog, you’ve probably come to expect low sugar, grain free or otherwise healthy recipes from me. This recipe is…um…not those things. But sometimes you need a recipe that will knock the socks off of a gluten-free skeptic, and so I feel obligated to share with you the mouth-watering result of my combining and tweaking the Namaste biscuit and Pillsbury Caramel Sticky Bun recipes. Happy fall baking (or whatever excuse you need to make these)!

Sticky Buns

Biscuit Ingredients:
2/3 c. milk + 2 tsp. white vinegar (to make buttermilk)
1 egg
1/2 c. very cold butter
2 c. Namaste Flour Blend (or other GF flour blend + 1 tsp. xanthan gum)
1 T. sugar
1 T. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt (I just eyeballed a scant tsp.)
1/8 tsp. baking soda (omit if using other milk besides buttermilk)

Biscuit Coating:
1/3 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3 T. butter, melted

Caramel Topping:
1/4 c. butter
1/4 c. brown sugar
2 T. maple syrup
1/2 tsp. vanilla (vanilla flavoring, not vanilla extract)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Pop the 1/2 c. butter for the biscuits in the freezer to get it nice and cold. Put the 3 T. butter for the biscuit coating in a microwave safe bowl and set aside. Combine the sugar and cinnamon for the biscuit coating in another bowl and set aside.

In a 1 c. liquid measuring cup, combine 2/3 c. milk with 2 tsp. white vinegar and stir to make buttermilk. (Using buttermilk really does make a difference in the texture of the biscuits, but if you need to use a dairy free milk, skip this step and omit the vinegar and baking soda.) Set aside.

In a large bowl, use a fork to combine the flour (plus xanthan gum if using a GF blend that does not contain any xanthan or guar gum), sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda (only if using buttermilk, which is needed to activate the soda). Take the butter out of the freezer and chop it into 8 slices, cutting each of those into quarters until it’s all in little cubes.

Toss half of the cubes in the flour mixture with the fork to coat. (This makes it easier to cut in butter without it all sticking together.) Using a pastry blender or two knives, start cutting in the butter. Add the remaining cubes and coat with flour, then cut in the butter until it is all in pea-sized or smaller crumbles. (And when you’re all done, recall that you have a food processor in the garage that is meant to make short work of projects such as this, then kick yourself for not remembering sooner.)

Place the 1/4 c. butter for the caramel topping in an ungreased, deep 8″x8″ pan and pop it in the oven to melt while you form the biscuits. (You really do need a pan with deep sides because the caramel will bubble up, and I can tell you from personal experience what a travesty it is to have the precious, yummy caramel bubble over onto the oven liner, making the whole house smell like burnt sugar for days. Heed this warning, gentle reader, lest ye suffer likewise.)

Crack the egg into the buttermilk and mix well with a fork. Stir this into the flour mixture with the fork until just combined. Place a little extra flour in a measuring cup to dip your fingers in to keep the biscuit dough from sticking to them. With floured fingers, pull off  2-3 T.-sized chunks of dough and roll into a ball, then gently flatten into a smallish biscuit on a piece of waxed paper. (The size/number is up to you; the smaller the biscuit, the more surface area is covered with sugar and the more servings you have. I ended up with 15.) Continue until all the dough is rolled into biscuits, occasionally checking on the butter in the oven to see if it’s melted.

Remove pan with melted butter from the oven (before it browns). Stir in the brown sugar until it dissolves. Add maple syrup and vanilla. Stir until you have a buttery caramel, occasionally swatting away fingers of children who wish to sample the caramel.

Melt butter for biscuit coating in the microwave, about 30 seconds. Dip biscuits into the butter, then coat in the sugar/cinnamon mixture you set aside AGES ago. (We’re almost there!!) Place biscuits on top of the caramel mixture in the pan, overlapping as necessary to make them all fit.

Bake 20-25 minutes until golden and biscuits are no longer doughy in the center. Let cool for 2 minutes (while you pour a cup of coffee or heat some sausage to serve with these in an effort to avert a sugar-coma).

Place an upside-down pretty serving plate on top of the pan (so your family will recognize that this is a special occasion and acknowledge your efforts accordingly) and, using oven mitts – duh – carefully invert the pan onto the serving plate. Spoon any remaining caramel from the pan onto the rolls (or save it for yourself as a reward for later if your family fails to give you the proper praise). Serve immediately.

After a year of tweaking my Paleo pancake recipe, I finally found the secret to delicious, grain-free, refined sugar-free pancakes that don’t turn into scrambled pancake – *#$*@%* – on my griddle. (There is no curse in Elvish, Entish, or the tongues of men for the treachery of banana/egg/coconut flour pancakes that stick to the griddle in a gloppy mess.) “So Brenda, what did you learn from your year of trial and error?” asked no one. Well, I’m going to tell you in great detail anyway, because it has been a loooooong process of discovery that must be documented.

Moist and Pliable…
The secret to pliable, easy to flip pancakes was right there in my gluten-free baking supplies: xanthan gum, which replaces the gluten in GF baking and keeps breads from being crumbly. To the Paleo purists it is off limits, but to those of us who prefer to eat our pancakes with a fork and not a spoon, xanthan gum is our friend (and is a totally benign ingredient, so I’m okay with it).

It also helps greatly if you cook grain-free pancakes in a generous amount of bacon grease or coconut oil. I usually start with the grease left on the griddle after cooking some bacon – oh yeah – and add coconut oil as needed to keep it greased. The other key ingredient is almond milk (unsweetened for a totally refined sugar-free pancake, or original if that’s what you have on hand), which helps to smooth out the batter and make it less eggy.

While making gluten free pancakes from scratch with grains for my family, I discovered that “regular” pancakes use both baking soda and baking powder. The baking soda makes them brown nicely, while the baking powder adds extra leavening. While most Paleo recipes shun baking powder – it contains cornstarch! gasp! – I find that adding it really makes a difference in making grain-free pancakes less dense and heavy. It also helps to lighten them up if you beat the eggs well in the mixer while making your batter.

Yet Healthy and Filling
I’ve made pancakes with just coconut flour, but I prefer to combine it with almond flour for better texture and less coconutty flavor. Coconut flour is full of fiber and good-for-you stuff, but almond flour is high in protein and lower in carbs, so the two combined provide a filling breakfast that will keep you energized until lunch (and keep cravings for carbs/sweets at bay, which is why this breakfast is a key component of my weight loss success).  You can make these with melted coconut oil instead of butter for a totally dairy-free option, but I prefer the taste/texture of pancakes made with melted butter (probably because the coconut oil starts to harden in the batter).

Full of Flavor with No Refined Sugar
I eat these tasty pancakes with a hint of sweetness every day, and add variety by topping them with whatever berries are in season (sometimes with a little canned whipped cream for a decadent treat). However, there’s so much flavor from the pure maple syrup, vanilla, cinnamon and bananas that I usually just spread a little butter on them and that’s it.

Grain Free Pancakes

Grain-free, Refined Sugar-free Pancakes

1 very ripe banana (brown peel)
1/4 c. unsweetened applesauce
1/4 c. unsalted butter, melted (for salted butter, cut salt to 1/4 tsp.)
1/4 c. pure maple syrup (I’ve used honey, but prefer the hint of maple)
2/3 c. coconut flour
1/3 c. almond flour (not almond meal)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt (1/4 tsp. if using salted butter)
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
3/4 c. almond milk (unsweetened for refined sugar-free pancakes)
Bacon grease and/or coconut oil for cooking

Break the banana into chunks and mash in the bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment. (If it’s not overripe, you may want to put your hands over the top of the bowl when you start the mixer, to avoid flying bananas that rain down like manna from heaven on your dog who is constantly underfoot in the kitchen precisely because of moments such as this.) When the banana is a thick puree, add applesauce. Mix in eggs, 2 at a time, beating until foamy after each addition.

Melt butter in a liquid measuring cup, then add maple syrup to the butter. (I just add syrup to the melted butter until it reaches the 1/2 c. mark, and stir it a little to make it easy to pour.) Add butter/syrup mixture to the mixing bowl and mix well.

At this point, I usually start cooking the bacon on the griddle. Mmmm…bacon.

Measure coconut flour and pour through a sifter into the batter. (If you don’t have a sifter, don’t worry, but it does help to incorporate the coconut flour without chunks.) Add remaining ingredients except almond milk and mix well. Slowly mix in almond milk. The batter will be thick.

Preheat griddle to 325 degrees (which is cooler than you’d use for regular pancakes, but because of the high egg content you need to allow more time to cook without over-browning). Spoon about 1/4 c. batter onto well-greased griddle, adding more coconut oil as needed, and gently spread out batter with the back of a spoon. (It will not spread on its own, like regular pancakes, so gently spread it out into a 4″-4.5″ circle.) When the outside edges appear dry, they’re ready to be flipped. They take a little longer to cook on the first side than regular pancakes, but quickly brown on the second side and are ready to be removed.

These stay soft and pliable in the fridge for a week and freeze well.  This recipe makes about 18 pancakes.

Reheating Tip: Since these are delicate on the surface, butter before you reheat them in the microwave to avoid tearing. In the fall, I like to skip the butter and top them with cranberry apple spread from Trader Joe’s, which only has 4 g. sugar per tablespoon. So good!

These buttery, brownie/chocolate chip blondie hybrid bars are absolutely addictive! Unlike most desserts, these grain-free goodies taste better and better each day after you make them, and will last for 3 weeks in an airtight container – if you can make it that long without gobbling them up.  (Mine last that long because I won’t share them with my kids. I gave them life; they can eat store-bought GF cookies.)

The bar pictured is 3 weeks old and still has a moist, buttery crumb and melt-in-your-mouth chocolate chips when heated in the microwave.

The bar pictured is 3 weeks old and still has a moist,       buttery crumb and melt-in-your-mouth chocolate chips when heated in the microwave.

Warning: Please consume responsibly. Since these are made with honey instead of sugar, and almond flour instead of high-carb flours, you might be tempted to pretend that these are “healthy.” Feel free to make them a regular part of your Weight Loss for 1 in a Family of 4  diet in small amounts for dessert – but not dinner.

Grain-Free Nutella Bars

10 T. butter, softened (1 cube + 2 T.)
½ c. Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread)
½ c. honey
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 ¼ c. almond flour (not almond meal)
¾ tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
¼ c. mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

In a large mixing bowl, mix the butter, Nutella, and honey until smooth.  Mix in eggs and vanilla.  Add almond flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.  Mix well.  Stir in chocolate chips.

Spread batter in a greased 9”x13” pan.  Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees until done in the center.  (These will get dark around the edges because of the cocoa, but they’re not overdone.) Cool completely and store in an airtight container at room temperature. Reheat individual bars for 10-15 seconds before serving.

Dairy Free Chocolate Chip Blondie variation (based on this recipe): Substitute coconut oil for the butter, increase the honey to 2/3 c. and salt to 1 tsp., substitute ½ c. almond butter for the Nutella, and use Ghirardelli or Guittard semi-sweet chocolate chips (which are dairy free).

Keepin’ it Real…
While food bloggers tend to only share their success stories, we also have our share of epic fails. My most disgusting food fail – a 10 on the Gagometer scale – was my attempt to make gravy using potato starch instead of cornstarch.  Apparently, potato starch + turkey drippings = snot. My poor husband – who has bodily fluid issues – was traumatized, and at one point shrieked in horror, “It’s a dangler!”  My son, however, was fascinated by the gelatinous goo stretching from his fork to his plate and reveled in it’s grossness, as is befitting a 13-year-old boy.

"Its a dangler!"

“Its a dangler!”

Turn on the oven, friends, because in 30 minutes you could be devouring delicious, gluten free, garlic and rosemary bread sticks. Substituting almond flour for 2/3 of the flour makes them low(er) carb. Using some potato starch and tapioca starch makes them crusty on the outside, yet soft and chewy on the inside. (Since potato starch and tapioca starch are derived from root vegetables – tapioca comes from the cassava root – it’s technically grain free, if you’re looking for a Paleoish bread that actually tastes like bread.)  Adding Parmesan cheese to the dough makes the flavor amazing!  And did I mention that the smell is so divine that I want to go lick the leftovers so I don’t have to share them with my family? Excuse me…

GF Rosemary Bread Sticks

I’ve also used this recipe to make pizza crust that is crispy on the bottom, yet pliable, so it supports toppings without being floppy or crumbing to pieces. If you value self care, you will choose the optional step of brushing garlic butter on the edges of the crust at the end. My kids have decided that this is now their favorite pizza crust, and it’s probably because of the garlic butter.

Low-carb Pizza Crust

The only downside of the pizza crust is that it’s best enjoyed fresh from the oven – which means I just gave you an excuse to eat the whole thing. You’re welcome. When I tried to reheat some leftover pizza that had been refrigerated, the crust had absorbed the sauce and turned soggy. Perhaps leftovers could be frozen and reheated in the oven instead of the microwave for better success. Or you could go with the preferred method of eating the whole thing. Your call.  The bread sticks reheat well on subsequent days. The bottom crust becomes soft instead of crusty, but still tastes awesome – especially when dipped in olive oil.

(Pssst, if you’re interested in a weight loss plan that includes this pizza once a week, check out my “Weight Loss for 1 in a Family of 4” easy weekly menu plans. Yes, I lost about 20 lbs. while still enjoying pizza!)

Mmmm... low-carb pizza with garlic butter crust!

Mmmm… low-carb pizza with garlic butter crust!

Low Carb, GF Bread Sticks/Pizza Crust

Dry Ingredients:
1 c. almond flour
1/4 c. tapioca flour/starch (they’re the same)
1/4 c. potato starch (NOT potato flour)
2 T. Parmesan cheese (I used the kind from a can)
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
(For bread sticks, also add 1/8 tsp. garlic powder)

Wet Ingredients:
1/4 c. + 1 T. hot water (hot enough to dissolve the honey)
2 T. olive oil + more for topping dough
1 tsp. honey
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 egg

Bread Stick Toppings:
Olive oil
1 tsp. dried rosemary, crushed between fingers
Fresh ground pepper
Parmesan cheese
1 T. melted butter

Pizza Crust Directions:
Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the size of your baking stone/pan.  This makes a 13″ – 14″ pizza, so make the circle at least 15″.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  If using a baking stone (recommended), place it in the oven while it preheats. (If you don’t preheat your pan, the crust may not crisp as well.)

Mix together the dry ingredients.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix together.  You should have a wet, sticky dough. Don’t worry if it seems more like batter than dough.

Place dough on the parchment paper and, using a greased spoon or silicone spatula, spread it out using circular motions, greasing the spoon as needed.  (I just spray my spatula with nonstick cooking spray when it starts to stick to the dough.) Spread it as thin as you can, with a raised ridge at the edge.  If desired, brush with a little additional olive oil.  (I skipped this step, but plan to do it next time.)

Slide a rimless cookie sheet under the parchment paper to help transfer the crust to the hot baking stone/pan.  Bake 8 minutes, then add toppings.  (I used Prego pizza sauce, Hormel Nitrate-Free Pepperoni, Falls Brand All Natural Hot Italian Sausage, mozzarella, white cheddar, and shredded Parmesan.) Bake 8 minutes more until cheese is bubbly and starts to brown.

For The Most Awesome Crust EVER: Melt 1 T. butter with a dash or two of garlic powder and brush on the edge of the finished pizza.  Pizza AND garlic bread sticks! Sooooooo good.

Bread Stick Recipe:
Follow the above recipe, adding garlic powder to the dry ingredients. After spreading the dough/batter into a 10-in. circle, use a spoon or spatula to press a few indentations into the dough. Drizzle with olive oil, letting it pool in the indentations. Crush rosemary between your fingers and sprinkle over the dough. I used a coarse-grind pepper grinder to lightly top the dough with pepper, then sprinkled a light coating of Parmesan cheese on top.

Bake 10 minutes at 425 degrees. Melt 1 T. butter and drizzle over the top. Use a pizza cutter to cut into strips or wedges and serve immediately. Store any leftovers refrigerated in an airtight container for up to a week, and serve warm with olive oil for dipping.

Keepin’ It Real…
Not all of my experiments turn out so well.  Here’s my first attempt at making grain free chocolate chip cookies.  The taste is spot on, so I will definitely be trying again, but they’re a bit…thin.

Grain Free Cookie Attempt

Grain free chocolate chip cookie…pieces.

What Love Is

Yesterday, I wrote a version of 1 Corinthians 13 that reflected my view of what love looks like for me as a mom.  Oh, it was very creative and well thought out. This morning I erased it. Sure, I could try to describe for you what love should look like for a mom, but the truth is I’ll probably fail to meet those expectations by lunchtime.  The danger in comparing ourselves against a list of criteria meant to artificially define holiness is that we have one of two responses:

  1. Look at how good I am, according to that list. I must be a “good Christian.”
  2. I fall short of that list, so God must be disappointed in me. I should try harder, but what’s the point? I’ll never be good enough.

The first trap is self-righteousness that does away with the need for God (until our world falls apart or we blow it in some way). The second trap is legalism, attempting to define our worth in God’s eyes by our works and ability to follow our rules. Thankfully, we who are in Christ Jesus are saved by grace and no longer live under the “law” – which includes all my good intentions and “shoulds” that I’ve tried to live up to.  Grace is the doorway to freedom in Christ, but many devoted Christians refuse to walk through it because we can’t accept that God could love us as we are.

This morning, during my precious quiet time with Jesus, I was reminded that God is love.  To live a life that is characterized by love simply means staying connected to the Source of love. Rather than striving to live up to a list of expectations, the only way I can truly love others is to keep my eyes fixed on the One who gave up the riches of Heaven to die for me because he loved me while I was still in the depths of my sin.

So instead of sharing with you what I think love should look like, based on 1 Cor. 13, let me tell you Who love looks like.

God is patient, God is kind. God does not envy, he does not boast, he is not proud.  God does not dishonor others, he is not self-seeking, he is not easily angered, he keeps no record of wrongs.  God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. God always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

God never fails.

To be filled with love is the same as being filled with the Holy Spirit, God’s gift to those who have surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ, because God is love. Do you want to know how to love others; how to be an effective parent, spouse, member of the Body of Christ? The answer is not in doing more and serving more and working harder to please God. He already loves you. All we need to do is come before him daily with a grateful heart, asking him to fill us with his Spirit, and thanking him in advance for loving us and providing us with everything we need to live a fruitful life. For “the fruit of the Spirit is LOVE, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

The trick is to not go back to the legalism of trying to define what “fruitful” looks like according to the world’s standards, or even well-meaning Christian definitions like the one I tried to write (or all those inspirational quotes on Facebook that constantly remind us that we’re falling short in some area where we really should BE MORE AWESOME).  Oh, I know the fear that creeps in when we dare to preach grace because “someone” might use it as an excuse to break the rules! Dear one, let God be the judge.  He made the rules, and he chose the way of love and grace and mercy when we didn’t deserve it.

God is love. Will you let go of the guilt of not measuring up and allow him to love you today?


If your child has illegible handwriting well into elementary school, struggles with spacing, has an awkward pencil grip, can’t seem to put his thoughts down on paper, and shuts down when you put a worksheet in front of him even though he may know all the answers, there’s a good chance his struggles with writing may be caused by dysgraphia, a lesser known learning disability.

When people ask me why we chose to homeschool, I often site the heavy emphasis on writing in public school that made learning drudgery and homework overwhelming for my son, since he couldn’t keep up with all the worksheets (in first grade – how sad).  With my son’s permission, I’m going to share with you our journey over the past 5 years of homeschooling, what a typical school day looks like for the writing-averse, and how he’s gone from hating writing to loving it.

It was actually a relief when I figured out that dysgraphia was the root of my son’s resistance to doing worksheets, not belligerence or laziness.  He naturally loves to learn, and since we made developing a love of learning one of our top priorities for elementary school, it quickly became obvious that we needed to separate learning from writing.  I made accommodations for him in his other subjects by:

  • limiting worksheets to one a day, for grammar practice only
  • switching to oral spelling tests (using lists from The Natural Speller)
  • allowing him to dictate his math work to me, meaning he would solve problems aloud while I wrote down what he said
  • using vocabulary flash cards, games (like Bananagrams, Great States Jr., Math Bingo) and computer programs (like Spelling City, online math games) instead of worksheets for extra practice
  • testing his comprehension of what he read by letting him give oral reports or simply discussing what he learned

Handwriting During the Elementary Years
When he did do writing, our focus was on the mechanics of writing.  Since his printing was atrocious, I gave up on trying to correct the damage that was done during his public school years and turned my attention toward teaching him to correctly form letters in cursive (since it’s easier to train the brain to do something new than to undo patterns that have become entrenched). We waited to learn cursive until 4th grade, and used the Handwriting Without Tears book.  I tried to make it fun by emphasizing the artistic aspect of cursive, showing him various ways to form the letters and letting him choose what worked for him.  For the most part, we skipped capitols since I prefer printing capitols anyway. His daily worksheet was done in cursive and required to be legible, but learning took place in other courses through the means outlined above.  We also used special graph paper for math to help him keep his numbers properly lined up in columns, since dysgraphic kids also have trouble with letter and number spacing.

As for creative writing, we did very little unless initiated by him.  I used the book, Draw Then Write, to encourage writing practice in a fun and interesting way, since he liked how-to-draw books.  He would follow the directions for how to draw an object (animal, car, etc.), fill in the background to make it a picture, then write a few sentences about his picture.  He was allowed to do creative writing in printing, and I didn’t bug him about his lettering, but did require him to use proper capitalization and punctuation.

Because writing was so uncomfortable for him during his elementary years, we just focused on practicing cursive and writing grammatically correct sentences.  My husband and I both love writing, and we wanted our kids to share our love of writing, so it was difficult for me to keep writing on the back burner for so many years, but our patience has paid off.  My only regret is that I stopped letting him dictate stories to me to type (like he did when he was little) because I wanted to encourage him to write them himself, which he never did.

Writing During the Middle School Years
In 6th grade, I had him go through the keyboarding lessons on the Free Typing Games website. (There are also really fun games for practice, if you don’t mind all the ads.) Learning how to type, with proper fingering to speed up the process, was a game changer last year.  All of a sudden, writing was about getting his thoughts down on paper, instead of physical torture.  Experts don’t know why keyboarding is easier for kids with dysgraphia, but it is.  We still focus on one handwriting assignment each day, but are finally free to explore longer writing projects by using the computer to type them.

I’ll admit, waiting until middle school to start teaching writing can make you feel a little anxious and behind the curve, but Julie Bogart, author of the Brave Writer program for homeschoolers, has helped put my fears to rest.  She points out that writing should first and foremost be about putting your thoughts on paper (not trying to figure out what your teacher wants you to write), and emphasizes creative writing before teaching expository (essay) writing. I also read The Little Book of Talent, which emphasizes mastering foundational skills before moving on to more advanced skills.  So my writing goals for 6th grade were to simply master writing interesting, grammatically correct sentences.  I let my son choose 10 of his vocabulary words to type into sentences, which he loved since he’s naturally creative and expressive.

Our Current Homeschool Day/Week for 7th Grade 
Here’s roughly what our regular studies look like right now, with a continued emphasis on learning through non-written means (mostly on the computer), handwriting practice, and beginning to explore creative writing.

  • Spanish through the Rosetta Stone program on the computer
  • Pre-Algebra through the Teaching Textbooks program on the computer
  • Spelling lists from the Natural Speller, with mostly oral tests and occasional written tests (writing the spelling word only, but using it in a sentence orally)
  • Grammar/proofreading practice on IXL.com (where you can do up to 20 questions on their language arts program a day for free)
  • Independent study on various science and history topics of interest through reading library books and watching educational videos on Discovery Education Streaming (including favorites like Mythbusters!)
  • Family Read Aloud (he sometimes reads, sometimes follows along while I read from our family’s favorite series, The Heroes of Olympus, a continuation of the Percy Jackson series)
  • One writing exercise/project per day
  • Weekly classes (P.E. through our city’s Rec Center, science lab on various STEM topics, and cooking class with Mom!)

Weekly Writing Activities

  • Monday Copywork: Julie Bogart helped me see the value of doing copywork once a week with the sole purpose of focusing on the mechanics of writing.  I did not do copywork in the early elementary years because it would have felt like torture, but now that most writing is done through typing, copywork is doable.  This is mainly when we practice cursive now.  I have him copy down a Bible verse that has been helpful to me each Monday in a special journal just for recording verses (which I hope will become a valuable keepsake). I also encourage him to memorize his verse each week, and share with him why this verse is meaningful to me.
  • Tuesday Word(s) of the Day: He loves our Word of the Day vocabulary practice because this is when he gets to focus on writing an interesting sentence.  I copy two new vocabulary cards from a workbook I found at the thrift store, and challenge him to use it in an interesting sentence on the back and illustrate it.  He’s allowed to print, so the focus is on correct grammar and punctuation, as well as proper use of the word in as creative a way as possible.  When he’s finished, he files his words alphabetically in a file box.  When we finish this book, we’ll move on to the SAT vocabulary words.
  • Wednesday Family Free Write: Since my husband works from home on Wednesdays, we do this as a family after breakfast.  We set a timer for 5 minutes, announce the topic, then everyone writes.  Afterward, we take turns sharing, with my daughter (the youngest) going first and my husband (the funniest writer) going last.  By allowing them to read their work, I get to enjoy hearing their story without the distraction of getting hung up on proofreading mistakes, so this has been really enjoyable for all of us. Once again, it was Julie Bogart who introduced me to the concept and importance of the 5 min. free write, and she’ll even send you daily writing tips if you sign up on her website! Sometimes I use her writing prompts, and sometimes I pull ideas from Rip The Page: Adventures in Creative Writing.  The benefit of the free write is that it allows you to develop your unique writing voice and try different techniques without the burden of having to polish every story.  Sometimes the kids want to finish a story they started, and so I try to allow extra time for creative writing.  But sometimes they don’t want to, and that’s fine.  The benefit of doing it as a family is that they get to hear more advanced writers (in a non-competitive way) as an example of the kind of writing they’re working toward. I’m already seeing my son’s unique writing voice develop, which is exciting.
  • Thursday Note-Taking or Writing Project: This day is flexible, depending on what we’re studying.  Sometimes, the kids will spend time typing a story they’re working on.  Last fall, my son spent 2 months working on an 8-page Lego Christmas story for his cousins, complete with pictures of Lego creations he created to illustrate it!  It was a huge accomplishment for him.  I helped with some proofreading, but did not make any rewrite suggestions (also on the advice of Julie Bogart).  When the kids work on their own stories, my focus is on proper sentence structure – the foundation of writing – and breaking it up into logical paragraphs (the next step).  However, since Christmas we’ve also begun preparing to take notes through the use of listening guides that accompany some of the videos on Discovery Streaming.  I basically just give them a worksheet to jot down answers on as they listen to the video (and reward them with M&Ms).  Because it’s a video, not a lecture, we can control the speed of delivery of the information, so we can pause it if the kids need more time to write before moving on.  I’ve also let them choose a topic to study through reading and watching a video, and encourage them to jot down notes before giving an oral report later.  I don’t look at their notes, but try to encourage them to see note-taking as something of value to them, not me.
  • Friday Dictation: This is also new this semester, on the advice of – you guessed it – Julie Bogart (who is, apparently, my mentor).  However, I’m primarily focusing on the listening aspect of dictation, and keeping it light and fun through the use of mad libs.  The kids each fill out half of the list of words needed (which has the added bonus of reviewing the parts of speech) and are required to write legibly in either in printing or cursive.  Then I give them a copy of the story with blanks for them to fill in as I read the story with their words.  They love this and have no idea that it’s practice for filling in listening guides!

You may have noticed that I switched to “they” partway through my list.  Yes, I have a daughter who is in 5th grade.  She does the same work as her brother (because she can, not because I’m pushing her to do advanced work), although she does a little more writing for spelling because it helps her learn.  She is not dysgraphic, and does lots of extracurricular writing because she loves to write.

Next year, we will begin essay writing on topics of interest to the kids.  There will be plenty of opportunities to develop their research and report writing skills in high school.

Love of Learning Is the Key
If you have a dysgraphic child, I just want to encourage you to relax. The “standards” and benchmarks imposed on kids in public school are not indicators of what your child has to do at each age.  When you step back and take the long view, there is plenty of time to prepare your kids for essay writing before they leave for college.  What matters most is that they develop a love of learning. In fact, by not requiring my kids to write a report on every book they ever read, they fell in love with reading.  By not requiring endless science worksheets or reports on field trips to children’s museums, my kids fell in love with science.  By spending lots of time engaged in discussion instead of doing reading comprehension worksheets, my kids have become articulate speakers (based on comments from their Sunday School teachers, orthodontist, strangers at the dollar store…). Just because the public school system relies on worksheets to measure knowledge doesn’t mean that’s the best way to learn.

So don’t push your child to write everything if he’s resistant or give up hope that he’ll ever want to write.  Yes, it’s hard to be patient and not compare our kids to others, but all kids have strengths and weaknesses.  Don’t let one weakness become the focal point of your child’s education, whether it’s writing, math, reading, or whatever.  Just focus on helping your child enjoy learning, stretch himself a little each day in his areas of weakness, and celebrate each little milestone.  That’s really what this post is about; I’m celebrating a child who previously hated writing and now begs to do creative writing before school.

Just keep loving, hoping, and asking God for guidance and patience. (Oh, how I’ve prayed for guidance and patience every day!) I give all glory to God for helping me find the resources mentioned above at just the right time for just the right price, and for giving me patience beyond what I thought I was capable of before I started homeschooling. He will help you, too!


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