Since discovering that my children have dyslexia, I have been absorbing all of the information about dyslexia that I can possibly find. In the process, I’ve learned so much. Without further ado, here are the top 10 things a parent to a child with dyslexia wishes you understood:
Homeschooling is a terrific option for many children with dyslexia and/or dysgraphia. At first, you may think that it is too much to tackle. However, you have time on your side when you homeschool! Children with dyslexia and dysgraphia typically need to have information presented in multiple ways. Children with dyslexia also do much better when information is presented either in a small group or one on one. Teachers do not have the time or the resources to do these two things even when they really want to.
My son worked with a tutor for one full year two times a week while in the third grade. After that year, I realized that I could work with him as well. There are a ton of programs out there for children with dyslexia. I have tried many and the following is what we have now found that works for us.
Spelling: We started with All About Spelling and went through levels 1-4. This program taught/reinforced the spelling rules. The down side was that the information did not carry over into other writing activities. Well, it is wonderful to get a 100% on your spelling test but if you can not spell the word in your journal or in an email, then you didn’t get it. Thus, I moved to another spelling program called Apples and Pears. This is an open and go curriculum. We started with the first book and are moving through the second book. The program appears to have no rhyme or reason initially but as the teacher, you soon realize that the words appear again and the patterns are progressed. The best part is that the spelling carried over! He uses the proper spelling throughout his writing. Note-he still has a LONG way to go, but there is noted progress.
Reading fluency and comprehension: For reading fluency, we are using Dancing Bears. He began with the fast track AB book which went through the sounds fairly quickly. Due to the extensive tutoring, he did well with this. If you have a reader who is still struggling with the initial sounds, then I highly recommend you begin with book A (we are doing this with our youngest and it is working well). Again, I find the carry over phenomenal. Reading fluency in other book continues to improve. Reading aloud is still a struggle and most books that my son can read aloud are not necessarily what he wants to read. This is why we use Learning Ally! Learning Ally is an online program for people who are blind and/or have a reading disability. Learning Ally has real people record books as they read them aloud. Note that I added real people. The kindle and apple programs can read aloud but the voice it automated and lacks inflection. Real people make the stories come alive, use the proper pausing, and use the proper inflection. Learning Ally allows Sims to read books that are at his comprehension level, which is much higher than his fluency level.
Writing: I do not use a specific curriculum for writing. I have him journal and write nature studies that I do not edit. These are for him just to simply practice writing. Then when he does have a writing assignment, we do several things. Some times he will make notes and then dictate the paragraph or paper to me to write. Other times, he makes his notes, forms an outline, and then writes on wide ruled paper and skipping a line. We use form drawings (a Waldorf activity) and metal insets (a Montessori activity) to work on sizing, fluid motion, pressure and letter formation. I use the IEW program as my teaching method for how to write a paper. We do not do the program, but it is my main go to for lessons on note taking and paper writing. (I also recommend using gel pens or mechanical pencils)
Math: Luckily for Sims, math comes easy. He gets it and he understands how to apply it. This year we used Teaching Textbooks and he really enjoyed it. Now the difficult part isn’t doing the calculations. It is the writing! In the years past, he has used two methods to keep the numbers in line. One trick is to use large graph paper (meaning the squares are large). This is tough to find, but when I do, I stock up! The other trick we us is to turn a wide ruled notebook sideways. This allows you to place the numbers in the same column. Next year, we are going to try using Mead RediSpace paper.
Note taking/Vocabulary: We use two methods for note taking and vocabulary which are used for science and history. One method is using notecards. Some people love notecards. Others do not. They are simple. He can put a picture on one side and a word on the other or a definition. There are many options for using notecards. The second method is to draw a T on a sheet of lined paper with the top of the T going across the top of the page and the perpendicular line about three inches from the left hand side of the page. Then either dates or vocabulary words or a main topic can go on the left. On the right, corresponding definitions, information or notes are written. Adding color is a terrific option. Highlighters or using different colored pens are options.
We also do a lot outside. Thus, we take our learning everywhere. We listen to audiobooks in the car. We do tons of nature study, visit museums, visit historical sites and learn from the world. As I stated in an earlier post, we know that he has dyslexia and dysgraphia but it no longer seems to be a learning disability while he is learning at home. Thus, the stress is gone!
I haven’t gone away. I am just taking a short break from blogging on this site. However, I did need to take a moment to brag on my boy today.
As you know, spelling is one of the toughest lessons for Sims each day. This year we changed curriculums from All About Spelling to Apples and Pears by Sound Foundations. All About Spelling worked well for him during spelling, but there was not any carry over into other subjects. I heard about Apples and Pears from a forum on homeschooling children with dyslexia. The program appears to Sims to have no rhyme or reason to it, but it does.
The curriculum also requires a lot more writing each day than what he was used to. I didn’t think he would be to keen on it, but he is. He happily does it everyday (in fact, he has finished the first book and is way on his way to finishing the second book). On top of Apples and Pears, I added another spelling curriculum called MegaWords. Apples and Pears is very teacher intensive, which he needs. MegaWords has more independent work for the student to do.
Well, today-he did his MegaWords book (actually, he did two more pages than what I assigned), a lesson with me from Apples and Pears and tonight-he actually asked me to dictate the words for him in his MegaWords book so that could move forward in the book tomorrow! Yep, three spelling lessons in one day!!
“But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Albert Einstein
It is Dyslexia Awareness Month!
October is also the time that I begin to read a lot of blogs, facebook posts, and messages about the struggles in school. Recently, I read a post that took me back to two years ago when we began our homeschooling journey! The mom was venting on the school system and the lack of assistance for kids with dyslexia. She wants others to come together to fight the system to get all kids the help they need to learn to read, spell and write. She is in the beginning of her journey with her daughter.
I did not stay to fight the fight. I knew that I needed to help my child and that was/is my number one job. I do think a lot about the public school system in America. I feel for all of the kids, not just the ones with learning disabilities. I know the teachers want the best for their students, as do the parents. I know that the “best way” has not been found “yet” or what exactly went wrong with the system. Yet, I worry about the way that education is going. Kids are not small adults. They do not need to sit at a desk and to be judged by what they have memorized or not. They need to be taught how to learn, problem solve and how to look for answers. It pains me to hear about a third grader who hates school and believes he is stupid because of his grades on a test. He is so much more than the grades and school. Why is that not taught in school too?
This week we visited a local historic farm and the school house that taught the kids in the community. I enjoyed looking at the schoolhouse and imagining how the learning took place. The school house could hold around 25 children with one teacher. The classroom was filled with children of all ages who came to school as they could based on when they were needed on the farm. The families sent their kids there to learn in order to better the community and the family, but in the end, the family came first. If the family needed extra workers, then the children helped. They were not penalized at school for missing days or material. The children not only learned to read, write and do arithmetic at school, but they also learned the importance of family, hard work, and community. They learned how to grow into adults and to fulfill their roles in their community.
So, as some try to bring awareness to dyslexia this month: I would like to bring awareness to all parents and educators, to embrace the whole child and not just the grades. Help all the children to realize that even with poor grades, you can be a fantastic person and an important part in the community. Help them find their inner genius.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Maya Angelou. Have you ever had a difficult time getting your words down on paper? Probably not. My kids have amazing stories in their heads that they desperately want to get out. Luckily, they are able to speak and relay their stories. Unfortunately, I worry that many of their stories and ideas will never be heard because they will be trapped inside them.
The words are trapped due to a neurological condition called dysgraphia. Dysgraphia. Most people have heard of dyslexia (most do not completely understand it, but dyslexia in general is a whole other post). However, very few people have ever heard of dysgraphia. Dysgraphia is a learning disability that effects writing. It can be displayed in spelling, handwriting and getting your thoughts down on paper.
Dysgraphia is a learning disability that probably doesn’t affect you; however, in our house it is prevalent-in all three ways! My two boys are able to spell well on spelling tests (especially when the tests are oral-usually they get all correct), copy words/sentences/paragraphs with beautiful handwriting and dictate amazing sentences/stories with fantastic plots.
Now put them in another scenario. When they write in their journals each day, the writing looks much different. In fact, if I didn’t know it was the same person writing it then I probably would not believe it. Suddenly the spelling is crazy (usually spelled phonetically), the handwriting is almost illegible and the sentences are short and choppy (and usually not complete).
I have known that one of my kiddos has dysgraphia for two years now (obviously, he has had it his whole life but it wasn’t officially diagnosed until two years ago). I have also had a pretty good feeling that my third kiddo is following in his footsteps and now I am positive.
So the question is, what to do with kids who have a difficult time writing? Well, this is what we have done so far. We continue to work on spelling even though it doesn’t transfer over immediately. Eventually, the words will become part of the person’s memory and he will write them correctly. My goal for my oldest son this year was to be able to spell the majority of sight words correctly while free writing (as in his journal). So far, he does this about 75% of the time. When he reviews his work, he is able to catch his own misspellings which is a huge accomplishment.
We also started working on cursive with all of my kids. My youngest has struggled with handwriting all year. Over the past month, we have switched to cursive and it is going much better. Cursive prevents the letter confusion (such as b and d reversal) and blocks the letters together for each word.
We also work on writing from dictation. We do this in two ways. One: Spelling words are dictated as words and then in sentences. Second: Paragraphs/stories that each child wants to write is dictated to me. I scribe the information for them and then they copy it. Lined paper works best. We started with paper that had a block for each letter (similar to graph paper) and now have found that wide ruled lined paper works well too.
So far, we have not switched to typing or to using a speech to text software such as dragon speak; however, I do plan to use them more in the next few years. There are many tools out there to help people with dysgraphia. For now, we are still working on writing even though I know that in high school or college, they will need to know how to type and dictate into a program. Thank goodness, we have a few years!
I am working with another parent to start-up a support group for parents who have children with dyslexia, dysgraphia and/or another type of reading disorder. We started talking about this a while ago, and we never got it up and going until recently. I have to admit that I do not even think about it much anymore. I decided to go back through my blogs (since they are basically my journal for this journey) to see what has changed.
One of the areas I read through was about why we homeschool. The words in this section evoked a few emotions that I had not felt in a while, and they got me thinking. My son and I have a learning disability according to the world. We both have dyslexia and dysgraphia. As I have written about in previous posts, I did not have much of an issue with it growing up and nor do I now as an adult. Well, the neat part is that it is not much of an issue for Sims any more either.
Let me explain. In therapy, people have impairments or something that is not functioning the way it should. Most of us have some type of impairment (flat feet, poor posture, bad teeth, etc). Think about something that is “different” in you. How does it affect you? Does it? If it has no effect on your daily life, then you probably do not think anything about it. However, if you suddenly decide to start a running program with flat feet-you may quickly realize that your flat feet are going to affect your life somehow. When this impairment impacts your life, then it becomes a disability. “Thus disability is a complex phenomenon, reflecting an interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives.” (Wikipedia-Disability)
So what do flat feet have to do with our reading and writing issues? Well, pretty much nothing. Except for the fact that, yes, we have dyslexia and dysgraphia. They are impairments for us now in our current situation. I think back to when Sims was in school. While attending Montessori school, he was a happy kiddo who did his work. He tried very hard and was willing to ask for help when he needed it (this is how we found out he had something going on. He asked me to come into his classroom to help him with his reading. Big sign that was ignored until it blinked in neon in my face…non stop….for days..months..you get the point). He never felt any social push that he was different. He was learning a lot. However, he was not learning how to read, spell or write. In this situation, he did not have learning disability.
We changed his school so that he could get services through the public school system. When we made the switch from Montessori to traditional school, we thought we were helping him. We thought that we were preventing him from having a disability down the road. We all know that in the fourth grade, most kids transition from learning to read to reading to learn. In my mind, the school would have the resources to help him make this transition. Unfortunately, I was wrong. I took him from an environment where even though he had an impairment, he did not have a disability. He now was in a learning environment that was all teacher lead. The teacher taught by standing in the front of the classroom while the kids sat and took notes (for most kids, this is not an issue. I am not slamming public school or the teacher here. Just trying to explain the teaching style). I quickly lost my fun, loving, happy kiddo. He did not like school (something that he always loved). He was struggling to keep up in class. He was unable to perform his work. He was unable to learn in the environment he was in. I gave him a disability.
As awful as that time was for him and for me as a mom, the experience brought us to homeschooling. We are now at home where he can learn in an environment that works for him. He can use multisensory learning. He can research topics and use those topics to motivate him to read and write. I know many people’s first thought is, “yes, that is great but homschooling is not the real world. He needs to learn to be in school taking notes and tests.” Well yes, I do get to shelter him from being picked on when he is reading aloud. However, overall he is learning how to be in the real world. He is given the time and the freedom to utilize the tools he needs; such as Learning Ally to read a book, going to a dictionary to find out how to spell a word, learning cursive to write because this comes easier (this is not taught in schools in our district unless there is extra time), asking how to pronounce a word, utilizing a multisensory spelling program (All About Spelling) and having the time to rewrite his work.
So as I read through my blogs, I think about how much has changed in just two years. My son went from an environment where he was impaired, happy, and not learning all that he needed into an environment where he became “disabled,” unhappy, and still not learning and now into an environment where he is impaired, confident, happy and learning more than I ever imagined. In addition to that, he gets to be a kid, explore nature, build with his hands and meet some amazing friends who he never would have met. As I have stated before, we will take homeschooling one year at a time. But for now and for as long as I can, I will give my son the chance to focus on his abilities rather than put him a situation that brings the focus to his disabilities.
I feel like I say this a lot-and I will state it once again. This was a crazy week. We started the week off at Linville Falls where Dad gave the kids several lessons on erosion. Of course, this was not officially part of school-but we are nerdy that way. The kids looked for signs of erosion in the dirt, on the paths, on the handrails, and in the falls.
I knew this week was going to be crazy so we just planned on having a project week. Sims and Sawyer take part in a homeschool book club once a month. In November, the book club decided to read Pippi Longstockings as the group book. In addition to Pippi, the kids each picked a book of their choice to read and present to the group.
Sawyer is my mystery reader. She loves Boxcar Children Books, A to Z Mysteries, and anything with an animal and mystery to solve. She read constantly. Her biggest obstacle to this project is to narrow down which book to write about as she has read probably 15 books since the last book club meeting in November. She finally decided upon a Boxcar Children Book. She wrote a report and is now making a diorama of the setting.
Sims, as you know from my previous posts, is not my most ambitious reader typically. However, this project got him very excited. He wanted to read a book about Mount Everest (ever since we finished Three Cups of Tea, he has been interested in climbing). He chose the book Peak. Peak is a teen fiction book. He had to get it from the Young Adult section which immediately made me nervous. Thanks to Learning Ally, he was able to read the whole book. He was hooked from the time he started it. Not only did he read it but he also comprehended the whole book. He wrote a terrific report and is now working on his project. For those of you with kids with dyslexia, you know the excitement I feel. After finishing this book, he immediately went to the library to pick out another book on Everest.
Parks,inspired by his older brother and sister, decided to read his first chapter book. He decided upon Mercy Watson Goes for a Drive. He is still reading so he has not decided upon his project but he is ready to start!