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Afterschooling for Dyslexia

textgram_1448053916What do you do if your child has an official diagnosis of dyslexia and yet is not receiving specially designed instruction at school? Perhaps you are fighting for your child’s right to an IEP. Or maybe the IEP team offered to pull your child out of general ed and put him in a resource room with students who have a wide variety of other issues. Possibly your school district offers no dyslexia-specific services to students with dyslexia at all. You hear rumors of other states where dyslexic kids receive sixty minutes of the Wilson Reading Program a day and you weep.

Take a deep breath. Square your shoulders. Concentrate on hope instead of anger.

You can help your child immensely!

Be your child’s advocate, find a dyslexia tutor (if you can afford one), and start afterschooling.

I’m not the best person to talk about special education advocacy or finding a dyslexia tutor (hint: email Susan Barton or contact your local Decoding Dyslexia chapter), but I’ve spent the last sixteen years honing my skills as a K-4 teacher turned afterschooling mom.

Afterschooling is when parents introduce a core academic pursuit that is in support of, or in addition to, what their child is already learning in school, and when the parents organize this instruction in a meaningful way.

Don’t wait for the school district to deliver meaningful dyslexia intervention to your child. Piece-work together a plan that works for your child in the interim. Keep advocating, but also start afterschooling. Something is better than nothing.

I wish I could offer guarantees that what works for my student will work perfectly for your son or daughter, but I cannot. My strategy is to not rely on any one program or method but instead to hedge my bets. You can use the framework of my afterschooling plan to create something that will make a meaningful difference for your child. Think of this as a sample plan for what might work for you.

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Step #1: Buy an iPad or tablet.

A lot of the ideas you will read about in this post could also happen with a computer, but in my experience the tablet makes things easier for kids.

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Step #2: Sign up for subscriptions to Nessy.com, Dreambox Learning, and Learning Ally.

More about Nessy here.

More about Learning Ally here.

I’ve also tried out Reading Eggs, but like Nessy better for kids with dyslexia. If your student prefers Reading Eggs, go with that.

Dreambox Math is an online math program that helps kids understand “the sixteeness of sixteen” instead of relying on rote memory. It’s Common Core aligned, and will mesh well with whatever math curriculum your school uses. Since there’s no writing involved, dysgraphia won’t get in the way. However, Dreambox is not specifically designed for kids with dyslexia. Occasionally it includes games that might frustrate kids with weak working memory. As an afterschooling program though, it is really easy to implement. It’s much better than worksheets, and less involved than a complete homeschooling program like Right Start or Math U See.

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Step #3: Order All About Reading and All About Spelling. (Full disclosure: I am an affiliate.)

AAR and AAS are scripted programs which means all you need to do is read from the teacher’s guide. It involves a giant magnetic board with phoneme tiles, a box of flashcards, decodable readers, fluency practice sheets, and the occasional cut and paste game. Both programs are based on the Orton-Gillingham Approach which has a proven track record for helping kids with dyslexia.

In a homeschooling situation it would be easier to plug away at AAR and AAS in big chunks of time. With afterschooling, you have to be more creative. But it’s definitely doable. Plus, you have the comfort of knowing that your son or daughter is receiving an Orton-Gillingham based intervention with or without the school district’s help.

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Step #4 Buy the Handwriting Without Tears “Wet, Dry, Try” App.

You could also try purchasing the entire Handwriting Without Tears curriculum. But definitely start with the app first because it is cheaper and easier to implement in an afterschooling setting.

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The app has the added benefit of being user friendly. It’s something that small kids can do on their own without adult assistance. The actual HWT curriculum is of course marvelous, but it requires an adult.

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Step #5 Be creative so your child doesn’t hate you.

No kid wants to hear “Guess what, Timmy? You’re going to do an extra seven hours of school every week, after you’ve already gone to school!” That would be horrible. A smart parent is clever about marketing and generous with bribes.

I’ve found a lot of success with rewards charts. I use my computer to make a new game sheet each week. On the sheet are pictures of all of the afterschooling tasks my student will do. For really big things like an All About Reading lesson, I divide it out into the reader, the fluency workbook, and the magnet board. I also throw in fun things like read to the dog.

Remember how I mentioned the importance of marketing? Instead of a boring rewards chart, I call mine “Bingo,” “Candy Land,” or “The Mall.”

Here are what sample Bingo boards look like:

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Bing Snip

Here’s a closer look at the top half of the Candy Land board:

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Now for a peek at “The Mall.”

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Prizes include everything from stickers, candy, $2 dollar bills, hair ribbons, gum, and erasers, to trips to Chuck E. Cheese’s and the indoor swimming pool. I change the prizes every week to keep things interesting. Yes, buying all of these prizes costs money. But when you ask a child to do an extra seven hours of work each week you need to reward them.

#6 Afterschool between the cracks.

Fitting an extra seven hours of work into an already busy week is intense, but doable. Shoot for two hours on Saturday, two hours on Sunday, and then about 30 minutes a day during the school week. Here’s how you can squeeze that in:

While you drive in the car:

  • The Handwriting Tears App.
  • Listening to a Learning Ally story.

While you wait around at sporting or musical events for other siblings:

  • All About Reading reader.
  • All About Spelling or All About Reading flashcards.
  • Fluency practice from the All About Reading Activity Book.

20 minute intervals at home:

  • Nessy
  • Dreambox
  • The All About Spelling and All About Reading magnet board.

#7 Learn to say “No.”

Afterschooling for dyslexia is a huge time commitment. With my student, we shoot for six hours a week in addition to a one hour session with a private tutor. That means my student is working an additional seven hours a week above and beyond what’s happening at school, and not including traditional homework. Yikes! This schedule is grueling but creates positive results. It also requires sacrifice from everyone involved.

Sacrifice means saying: “No, I cannot volunteer for X, Y, Z,” and “I’m sorry, but we don’t have time for piano lessons right now.” It also means closing your checkbook to school fundraisers because you are already spending so much on your afterschooling program.

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At the beginning of this post I mentioned that I have been honing my afterschooling skills for sixteen years. For the past three years I’ve done process of elimination to find out what strategies do not work for afterschooling and dyslexia. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean I’ve stumbled upon perfection. I have developed a deep faith in parents’ abilities to make meaningful impact in their children’s educations.

Not every school district is “helpful.”

Not every family can afford to spend $20,000 for an expensive dyslexia program.

But every child deserves to become a strong reader.

I believe you can make a difference in your child’s education!

Nessy.com Review

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Over the years I’ve reviewed a lot of computer-based phonics programs for kids, but I’ve never seen one specifically designed for children with dyslexia until now. Nessy comes from England and bills itself as “Everything you need to help children with dyslexia and reading disabilities.” A subscription for one student costs $10 a month or $100 a year. That’s significantly cheaper than a private dyslexia tutor, but slightly more expensive than programs such as Reading Eggs or Starfall.

(My Reading Eggs review)

(My Starfall mini-review)

Three big questions in my mind when I bought a Nessy subscription several weeks ago were 1) How is Nessy different from other computerized phonics programs? 2) Is it worth the time and money? and #3) What should parents know about Nessy?

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#1 How is Nessy different from other computerized phonics program?

If you want to read the official list describing the fundamentals of Nessy, click here to go to the company website. My observations are not nearly as scientific. I’m telling you what I see as former K-4 teacher.

Nessy is slower and more systematic than other programs I’ve reviewed. It introduces sight-words in a way that is more user-friendly for kids with dyslexia. If a kid is learning the “th” sound for example, all the games are about the “th” sound. It doesn’t switch from “th” to sight-words, to review, to “ch,” to something else, and so on. Instead, it’s “th,” “th,” “th,” “th,” until the kids really understands.

My familiarity with the homeschooling program All About Reading which is based on the principles of Orton-Gillingham immediately helped me see that Nessy is also based on the principles of Orton-Gillingham. In fact, the student I am tutoring is working on the same phonemes in both AAR and Nessy. The embedded assessments in Nessy aligned perfectly with AAR. Both programs said she was at the same level of phoneme development. (Full disclaimer, I am an AAR affiliate.)

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#2 Is Nessy worth the time and money?

Yes! A resounding Yes! The child I’m working with loves Nessy. She was hitting the wall with other computer games we tried. Nessy seems to make sense to her, and for that I’m really grateful. We are using Nessy in conjunction with All About Reading and All About Spelling. Nessy is not the only intervention happening, but it is one significant piece.

I also think Nessy would be good for children who do not yet have an official diagnosis of dyslexia. The wait to get assessed can take months if not years. In the meantime, kids could be doing Nessy just in case. Neurytypical kids would probably benefit too.

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#3 What should parents know about Nessy?

When Nessy works, it really, really works well. But sometimes, there will be technical glitches.

It’s important to go into the settings and choose your location and the type of English you want. For me, that meant USA with an American accent. If you don’t do this, the loading time will be way too slow. Plus the accent could confuse your student.

We’ve experienced loading differences on the computer versus the iPad. On the computer, sometimes the videos are blocked by “loading” symbols. On the iPad, the sound occasionally cuts out, and I have to turn the game off and bring it back on again.

The glitches can be frustrating, but not enough to outweigh all of the benefits.

Final thoughts.

My experience with Nessy revolves around a first grader, who seems to be the perfect age for this program. They say it’s suitable for 5-12 years of age, but fourth graders on up might think Nessy is babyish. That’s not to say a nine year old wouldn’t learn a lot from Nessy, just that it doesn’t have a cool “tween” vibe.

As an Afterschooling program, Nessy is an excellent supplement to other dyslexia interventions already in place.

For more information please visit their website at: http://www.nessy.com/us/

What to do if you suspect your child has dyslexia

All children learn at different rates and the developmental range of what “normal” looks like is huge. But what should you do if your child is struggling with learning to read despite everyone’s best efforts?

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#1 Learn the signs

Up to one in five people have dyslexia, so it is important to know the signs. Here are two great resources to find out more information:

Red Flags for Dysleixa Quiz

Dyslexia Symptoms

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#2 Check your child’s eyesight

Go to the actual eye doctor, not just the pediatrician. Really investigate your child’s vision. When I was a K-4 teacher I knew of a child who struggled learning to read who turned out to be blind in one eye.

 

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#3 Seek out professional assessment for dyslexia

If parental intuition tells you that your child might indeed have dyslexia, research your child’s rights to receive assessment through your local school district. However, understand that the IEP process is long and involved. If your child is performing close to grade level–even though they exhibit a multitude of dyslexia symptoms–the school district might not feel assessment is warranted. In that case, you might consider having your child privately assessed. Decoding Dyslexia will have more information about practitioners in your state who can assess your child. Expect to pay anywhere from $2,00-$5,000 for private assessment.

Nessy

#4 Start immediate at-home intervention, just in case

On my blog, Teaching My Baby to Read, I talk a lot about “Afterschooling.”

Afterschooling is when parents introduce a core academic pursuit that is in support of, or in addition to, what their child is already learning in school, and when the parents organize this instruction in a meaningful way.

You might feel ill-equipped to Afterschool for dyslexia, but the truth is that parents can help their child make tremendous progress with time, encouragement, and patience. I have a whole list of multisensory activities that teach reading right here, but they are not specifically designed for children with dyslexia. I think a better approach would be to sign your child up for a Nessy.com subscription, which only costs $10 a month.

Nessy is a reading program from England specifically designed for kids with dyslexia. It’s a phonics-based approach full of fun games and videos. If it turns out that your child does not have dyslexia after all, Nessy still would have been beneficial. Think of it like “reading insurance.”

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#5 Read. Read. Read!

Read to your child every day, no matter what. Make books fun. Make they enjoyable! Convey to your child a true love of literature. Be clear that “ear reading” is every bit as acceptable as traditional reading.

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#6 Stay positive.

Finding out more information about your child does not change how smart they are, how much you love them, or forecast anything about their future. Information is only that: information. When you find out more details about how your child’s brain works, you’ll be able to better help your son or daughter learn to read.

Children, Blogging, Privacy and Balance

20150604_154552Mommy Blogs scare me, and I say that having blogged for four years. Once you write something on the Internet, it is there forever–even if you delete it. No post is worth hurting your child’s feelings. No amount of “likes” or “followers” makes up for a positive relationship between yourself and your child.

As my life continues to bleed over into the public sphere with my newspaper column, book deal, website, and InstagramTwitter, Facebook and Tumblr accounts, I’ve reigned back on what I share about my children “Bruce” and “Jenna” who are now 10 and 6 years old.

I know for many of you, Teaching My Baby to Read has been a source of lesson-plan ideas and a vehicle to connect with other parents who are equally committed to education. I am thrilled every time somebody emails me or leaves a positive comment. Parenting can be isolating, and for me, blogging has been a way to share what I learned as a teacher and a parent.

Now, I’m in a tough position because there is so much about education I still want to share. I want to tell you about Bruce’s life in fourth grade, or Jenna’s experiences in Kindergarten. I want to tell you specific data about how they are succeeding academically, or in some cases, falling behind. I want to share how I feel burnt out after approximately 1,800 hours of Afterschooling. I want to explain why, after all these years, I’m more committed to Afterschooling than ever.

But at the same time I want to protect the sacredness of my children’s privacy for what little bit of childhood they have left. The years go by so fast. I blink and another school year is gone.

Can you teach your baby/child to read? Yes. Here’s how. Can you make math fun? Absolutely. Check these ideas out. Did my ideas work for my own children? You bet–even in the face of giftedness and a potential learning disability. Both my kids were reading ahead of grade level by the end of Kindergarten.

When I first started blogging I wrote new posts every day. Now I barely post once a week. That’s mainly due to of self-censorship. It’s also because I’ve shifted my focus into studying Young Adult fiction. If you are a parent of a teenager who struggles to screen what your kid reads, please check out my website The YA Gal or my YA Gal Facebook Page. You can always ask me the “clean-teen” rating of a particular book, and if I haven’t read it one of my YA Gal followers probably has.

I am still blogging. I am still here. I’m just a lot more careful about what I share.

When Mom breaks her wrist

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If you’re a parent you know life can get so busy sometimes you don’t have time to take a deep breath let alone write a blog post. It’s doesn’t matter if you work full time in the workforce, or are a SAHM, your plate fills up fast. But sometimes the universe tells us we need to take a break. In my case, literally.

A year ago I fell ice skating and broke my wrist. You can read the full story here:

My first ice skating lesson will also be the last

Broken bone an eye-opening, painful challenge

Believe me, nothing says “Slow down, Mom!” like surgery, titanium implants, and the inability to drive.  Today I revisited my Facebook posts from a year ago and had a good chuckle at my past misery. Why the laughter? Well, it’s pretty funny to read what I wrote while drugged up on pain medication:

March 27, 2014 Good news: learned how to do spins in ice skating lessons last night. Bad news: fell and broke my wrist during free skate with my daughter. Am now in splint and counting minutes to next V. Go to ortho on Monday for cast. Got great people taking care of me and kids.

March 28, 2014 I have decided I am done with capital letters unless autocorrect helps me out.

March 28, 2014 Television has become really confusing. Couldn’t follow plot of modern family or new girl. Not sure my comprehension skills are all there at the moment.

March 30, 2014 I don’t know how this is possible, but my spelling is getting worse. either I’m having decreased blood flow to my brain, or my left hand was a lot smarter than I thought!

And the pictures:

I've got a Cabbage Patch hand!

I’ve got a Cabbage Patch hand!

My arms are now two different sizes!

My arms are now two different sizes!

I'm waterproof!

I’m waterproof!

Now, here I am a year late. Bracelets give me the heebie-jeebies and I don’t intend to ice skate any more, but for the most part I’m all better. This is what my wrist looks like now:

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I’d like to say I’ve learned my lesson and now relax and enjoy life a whole lot more. But the truth is that I’m as busy as ever.
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I’ve got a YA book coming out next year, a weekly newspaper column, and a Facebook Page called The YA Gal that is a whole lot of fun. A couple of weeks ago I joined forces with fifteen other 2016 authors and founded Sixteen To Read which is tremendously exciting.

Then there’s all the “mom stuff.” I volunteer in two classrooms, lead my daughter’s Daisy troop, and am treasurer of a parent group similar to the PTA.

Most days I feel like this:

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But in my heart, I want to be like this:

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Please Universe, don’t teach me another lesson. I know I need to slow down! It’s just really hard to figure out how…

Why multisensory learning is awesomesauce

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In the past two weeks, Jenna has made mind-blowing progress in her RUN, BUG, RUN! reader. I need to buy more star stickers!

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Most of these stories are at a Guided Reading level of A or B, but a few of them, like “Get the Moth, Meg” and “The Sad Hog,” are at level C or perhaps D.

I apologize for sounding like I’ve drunk the All About Learning Kool-aid, (full disclosure: I am an affiliate), but committing to our All About Spelling materials twenty minutes a day has really made a difference.

As a former K-4 teacher, I’m still scratching my head about what’s going on. I’ve taught Jenna phonics since she was two years old. We’ve done multisensory lessons up the wazoo. (For a list of everything I’ve tried, click here.) All of my methods worked with Jenna…up to a point. Then she got glasses, which made a big difference.

Now, my daughter is presenting me with the opportunity of becoming a better teacher.

With my son Bruce, I could teach him a spelling pattern like “th,” “sh,” or “ch” and he could generalize that out to basically every word in existence. We could practice with 10 words, and he would be able to read 100.

With Jenna, I’ve discovered I need to explicitly teach all 10o words. Not only that, but it makes a big difference how I teach the words.

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Flashcards are the least effective way for Jenna to learn new words.

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Multisensory activities are a lot better.

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Dictation helps too. She has exceptionally strong auditory skills, and can almost always sound out words properly–even though her handwriting is the subject of another post. In this picture, we are using raised lined paper and that helps a bit.

Too many words doesn’t help. Jenna does better when she can learn words one at a time. Then, if you present her with text where she knows almost all the words, she will be successful.

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By the time Jenna has spelled out a word with tiles, and then written it down on paper, she does fine with the flash card version. When she encounters this word in text, she can sound it out.

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Another thing that is really helping is the reading focus cards. I’m not sure if reduces eye-strain, improves tracking or what. But for Jenna, they were really worth purchasing and a lot better than the homemade versions I had used with her previously.

Reading windows make Bob Books pop.

My homemade reading windows didn’t have colored film, plus the scalloped edges were probably distracting. For Jenna, they didn’t work very well, although I’ve had them work beautifully for other students.

As a mom, I have 900 kid commitments I’m responsible for right now. As a writer I have a book coming out next year and a sequel following. As a newspaper columnist, I have a deadline every week. So unfortunately, tinkering with my blog is low on the list of my priorities.

Ideally however, I should go back through all my old posts and tag them as “visual,” “auditory,” or “kinesthetic.” I would also go through my main list of ideas and organize them differently. I think Jenna would have had more success earlier if I could have pinpointed her best-practices-learning-path. “If your child is a visual learner, start here.” “If your child is an auditory learner, this page is for you.” etc.

In the meantime, here’s a very cool visual from All About Learning.

 

Spelling Can Be Easy When It's Multisensory

My daughter’s breakthrough with “All About Reading”

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Last Saturday my daughter ran around the house saying “Pinch me. Is this a dream? I can read!” It was the cutest thing ever, but it also broke my heart a little bit. Two months ago we realized “Jenna” needed glasses. Now, we’re still regrouping.

First self portrait with glasses.

First self portrait with glasses.

One thing I know for sure is that Bob Books weren’t working for Jenna. Don’t get me wrong, I love Bob Books and have blogged about them often. But they weren’t working for Jenna, probably because she had developed an aversion to them because her eyes were hurting.

Since we already owned All About Spelling I decided to buy the All About Reading readers. (Full disclosure: I am an All About Learning affiliate.) All About Spelling and All About Reading are based on the Orton-Gillingham approach, which means teaching kids phonics in discrete, multisensory lessons that build upon each other. It’s the gold standard for helping kids with dyslexia. To be clear, I’m not supposing my daughter has dyslexia, but if she did, All About Learning products would be a recommended intervention.

Doing All About Spelling with my daughter has been a completely different experience than working through the program with my son.) You can read about “Bruce’s experience here.) Bruce blew through each step in a couple of days. Jenna does better spending one or two weeks on every step. She is fabulous at spelling out words with the tiles. Dictating words on paper is also a strength. But when it comes to flashcards, or simply reading the words from the book, she needs more time. I have to be patient.

So honestly, I didn’t know what to expect when we first opened RUN, BUG, RUN! Would this be a good fit?

It turns out, it wasn’t only a good fit, it was a home run. (And yes, I’m mixing metaphors!)

Every time Jenna reads a story we give her a star sticker. This picture shows how many stickers she’s earned in five days. Forty stickers!

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There is a combination of things going on that are contributing to Jenna’s success:

  1. She finally has glasses!
  2. The stories are at the exactly right level for Jenna. They don’t include any spelling patterns she hasn’t learned yet.
  3. The illustrations by Matt Chapman, Donna Goeddaeus and Dave LaTulippe are beyond charming.
  4. Reading focus cards seem to really help.
Fanciful pictures delight.

Fanciful pictures delight.

 

Reading focus cards help words pop-especially for a little girl who has struggled with her vision.

Reading focus cards help words pop-especially for a little girl who has struggled with her vision.

The other thing I should add is the $1 I spent on those star sticks was totally worth it Getting a star sticker is incredibly motivating and we’ve been celebrating every time Jenna earns ten stars.

As a mom, I feel a tremendous amount of relief to have a program that works. Sure, I have my whole litany of free strategies to teach kids to read but for some reason Jenna needed something different. I’m not sure if it was the undiagnosed vision problem, or something else. But now I feel like we are solidly back on track.

Go ahead and pinch me. I’m living the dream!

How I realized my daughter needed glasses

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This is a hard post to write without sounding like a Tiger Mom. My daughter “Jenna” is 5-and-a-half years-old and reads at Guided Reading level D, which is roughly 1st grade. She is witty, articulate, cheerful and loves to draw. Jenna has been immersed in language since she was a baby and learned her letters and sounds by 20 months.

The thing is, my son “Bruce” was reading Harry Potter when he was five-years-old. With both kids I followed the same reading plan.

These past few months I found myself wide awake at 1 a.m. and wondering: “Am I doing something wrong? What is happening? Is this just a case of two kids being developmentally different?”

I understand about developmental difference. I taught K-4 for six years and saw it every day. Some kids learn at different rates and that’s okay.

But my “mom radar” kept telling me that something was odd and I couldn’t figure out what.  Jenna has an abundance of natural intelligence and profound reading comprehension. With Bob Books however, she was hitting a wall. Even so, she was technically reading above grade level. For me to be worried about her progress made me feel like a scary Tiger Mom. I kept pushing my worry down and it stressed me out.

Then in piano Jenna hit another wall too. Her teacher was concerned because she couldn’t tell the difference between line and space notes. She’d keep Jenna on the same boring song for three weeks in a row and not let her move on. I knew that if I wrote the letters in clear handwriting next to each note, Jenna could play the entire primer book on sight. However, her teacher was not onboard with this accommodation.

So I did three things: #1 I canceled piano lessons, #2 I started teaching Jenna piano myself, and #3 I took Jenna for a complete vision examination.

To be clear, we don’t have vision insurance and that appointment cost $250. Basically, I scheduled it on a hunch. Something is wrong … I think.

As the appointment loomed on the calendar I had a lot of self-doubt. So many mothers would be thrilled if their kindergartener was reading slightly ahead of grade level. I on the other hand, was bothered that she wasn’t extremely ahead of grade level. What type of sick person was I?

Yet I had this nagging worry that wouldn’t go away and I was willing to spend $250 to put it to rest.

As it turns out, the eye exam revealed that Jenna is farsighted, both eyes see differently, and she has extreme difficulty tracking. The verdict? She needed prescription reading glasses ASAP.

When we got the glasses the change in piano was immediate. Jenna now loves to play.

Reading has been a bit slower but Jenna’s eyes are growing stronger each day. I purchased reading focus cards to help her track. We also use the cards and glasses when we do read aloud. I want Jenna to be able to focus on the words as I read them to her. She’s probably been missing out on this important learning opportunity for years because she couldn’t properly see the print.

No wonder her auditory reading comprehension is so high!

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Another thing we are doing with renewed vigor is All About Spelling. We are on Level one Step 13. (Full disclosure, I am an AAS affiliate.)

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The beauty of All About Spelling is that it is based on the Orton-Gillingham approach. If you were to Google how best to help kids with dyslexia, the Orton-Gillingham approach is mentioned over and over again. I don’t think Jenna has dyslexia, but it’s interesting to note that if she did have some sort of processing disorder, we’re already using one of the best methods to help.

I’ve ordered the Level 1 readers that go with All About Spelling so that we can try something different than Bob Books. I love Bob Books, but Jenna is tired of them. I can see how Jenna might have developed an aversion to them since she has struggled to see the print this whole past year.

Which brings me to guilt. I have a lot of guilt that I didn’t recognize Jenna needed glasses earlier. I have guilt that I have been asking her to read each day and her eyes were hurting. When I look through her glasses I get an instant headache. I have guilt that my child was silently struggling and I didn’t understand why.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few months. My primary focus is making “mom school” fun and doing a little bit each day in a systematic sequential way. Right now on February 25, 2015 Jenna is reading a Guided Reading Level D. Check back with me in June and let’s see what happens!

Parenting Poll: Let’s talk about reading!

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Reading Focus Cards

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A month ago I purchased Reading Focus Cards to help support my daughter’s ability to track words. In the past, I’ve made homemade versions of the same idea for free (see how here), but I felt we were ready for an upgrade.

The benefit of reading focus cards is that they come with different colored films and your child gets to choose which color window is the best fit for his or her brain. After a lot of experimentation, Jenna chose yellow.

This is what the reading focus cards look like in action:

 

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The big question: do they help?

Since I’m a fast reader–technically a “speed reader”, the cards slow me down considerably, although they do improve my comprehension. But I wasn’t purchasing the card for me; they are meant for my daughter.

Jenna is very neutral about them. Sometimes she wants to use the cards, sometimes she doesn’t. But as her mom, I’m glad I bought them and have the cards as an available resource.

Kindergarten Benchmark Sight Words

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Here are the benchmark sight words my daughter’s Kindergarten class is expected to master by first grade:

is

a

the

has

and

of

with

see

for

no

cannot

have

are

said

I

you

me

come

here

to

my

look

he

go

put

want

this

she

saw

now

like

do

home

they

went

good

was

be

we

there

then

out

Five-year-olds can write nonfiction

Here’s a great idea from my daughter’s Kindergarten teacher: a lesson on informational writing. First she read the kids several “how-to” books and discussed the difference between fiction and nonfiction. Then she launched writer’s workshop.

Directions:

Give the kids three choices to write about.

  • How to brush your teeth.
  • How to plant a seed.
  • How to make a sandwich.

Offer rectangular pieces of paper already divided into four sections.

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Let the children use words or pictures to create their how-to writing.

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In a classroom setting, there will be kids at every ability level. Some will be able to write sentences, some will express their ideas in pictures. In an Afterschooling setting, this lesson works well too. A four year old could draw pictures while an eight year old writes paragraphs.

See why I was impressed? My daughter’s Kindergarten teacher rocks!

 

A book about Alzheimer’s for tween readers


Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip, by Jordan Sonnenblick, is one of the funniest, sweetest books I’ve read all year. Yeah, it’s only February, but I bet if you ask me again in December I’ll say the same thing. If you know and love anyone with Alzheimer’s Disease, you’ve got to read this book!

The hook is that fourteen-year-old Peter is reinventing himself after a devastating baseball injury. His freshman year seems to hold promise after he teams up with a pretty girl named Angelika in photography. But at home, Peter watches his grandpa lose his memory bit by bit, and feels powerless to help.

I don’t know anything about photography so I can’t tell if those parts of the book were accurate or not, but the way the author portrayed Alzheimer’s Disease was spot on. It was perfect, absolutely perfect.

Thank you, Jordan, for writing this book, and thank you to Scholastic for publishing it.

Every PTA in America should screen this film


Last night my husband and I watched The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia a documentary that digs deep into dyslexia. What is dyslexia? Does it go away? Are there advantages to having a dyslexic brain? How can teachers and parents help?

Unfortunately, like many teachers, I received very little training in how to help dyslexic children as part of my credentialing process. My first real encounter with dyslexia was when a beautiful third grader named Maricella grabbed my wrist and asked me to hold the flashcard steady because the words were moving. “Holy crap,” I remember thinking. “I have no idea what to do.”

Ever since that moment I’ve read everything I could about dyslexia, even now when I’m not longer a teacher. Many of the methods used to help dyslexic children are good ideas that can be used for all students. Be patient. Figure out what you are actually testing–reading speed or thinking? Teach kids how to take notes in a way that makes sense to each individual brain. Use technology to accentuate learning. Most importantly, empower kids to “own” their education.

What I loved about The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia is that it is inspiring. Big names like Charles Schwab and Sir Richard Branson share how the gifts of dyslexia have helped them in life. At the same time, all of the cast is upfront about the challenges they have had to overcome.

The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia is a movie all teachers should watch. Since 1 in 5 people have dyslexia, parents should absolutely see this film too.

It all comes back to good teaching. There are a million ways to learn and the move paths to success we offer children, the faster they will succeed.

Find a way to make words pop.

Find a way to make words pop.

Divide and conquer.

Divide and conquer.

Building words you can't sound out.

Build words you can’t sound out.

Use pictures and graphic organizers.

Use pictures and graphic organizers.

Find fun ways to isolate words.

Find fun ways to isolate words.

Hands on math whenever possible.

Do hands on math whenever possible.

Try to understand a child's state of mind and how that effects behavior.

Try to understand a child’s state of mind and how that effects behavior.

Find ways to learn to spell besides copying words down endlessly.

Find ways to learn to spell besides copying words down endlessly.

Bob Books with cookies.

Bob Books with cookies.

Encourage creativity.

Encourage creativity.

Learn from audio books.

Learn from audio books.

Seek out new tech like  the Bookboard library.

Seek out new tech like the Bookboard library.

Recognize that there are so many ways to learn besides reading.

Recognize that there are so many ways to learn besides reading.

Utilize special paper for dysgraphia.

Utilize special paper for dysgraphia.

Use math manipulatives.

Use math manipulatives.

An abacus is your friend!

An abacus is your friend!

Advocate for all learners.

Advocate for all learners.

Dream big!

Dream big!

 

Why I want everyone I know on the Internet to Read “Faking Faith” by Josie Bloss


Faking Faithby Josie Bloss is like the website Homeschoolers Anonymous in novel form. It tells the story of a teenage girl from Chicago named Dylan who faces high school hell after a sexting incident. In her despair, Dylan becomes obsessed with fundamentalist homeschooled bloggers, and most especially a blogger named Abigail. After starting her own blog using the pseudonym “Faith”, Dylan is eventually invited to Abigail’s farm for a two-week vacation where she gets a whole new type of education.

Faking Faith never mentions the Advanced Training Institute by name, but ATI is written all over Abigail’s life. At seventeen and a half, her formal education is complete and she prepares for life as a professional “stay-at-home-daughter”, or else must submit to whatever husband her father chooses for her, whether that be the boy next door, or a creepy twenty-eight year old molester.

In addition to showing all the negatives, Bloss does an awesome job depicting the seductive nature of the ATI lifestyle. To Dylan as the outsider, she’s a bit jealous of Abigail’s family dinners, well-behaved siblings, and the fact that Abigail’s parents are concerned about guarding Abigail’s heart and making sure she doesn’t fall in love with the wrong person.

I loved Faking Faith so much that I read it start to finish in one day. Half way through my mind started churning with all the people who should know about this book: R.L. Stollar at Overturning Tables, Jerry at Hersey in the Heartland–the entire Recovering Grace community. If I was Josie Bloss’s publicist I would mail out a case of copies to Homeschoolers Anonymous and let them distribute at will.

Every time I turn on my computer it seems I see another news article about how “cute” and wonderful the Duggars are. Nobody mentions the dark side. A while back I wrote an article on my blog called: “What ordinary moms should know about the Bill Gothard Scandal.” Josie Bloss has shared that same information in novel form. Faking Faith is brilliant.