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“Never put your eggs all in one basket.” How many times have you heard that expression? As a former teacher, this is how I view educational methods. My children are too precious to trust their brains to any one teacher, curriculum, or program.
This is especially true for my child with dyslexia.
If you are a parent of a dyslexic child you’ve probably heard promises before. “Spend $20,000 at our institute and your son will be on grade level!” Or what about that mom in your book club who says, “I heard cranial manipulation can solve dyslexia. Have you found a massage practitioner?” Yikes!
When you are trying to get help for your child with dyslexia it’s hard to know what to do.
My guiding principal is to spend time and money on evidence-based solutions my family can afford. That means no, we will not refinance the house to pay for private dyslexia school, but yes, we will forgo family vacations so we can pay for two hours a week of tutoring with a certified Orton Gillingham and Wired for Reading teacher. No, we will not waste money on some crack-pot theory. Yes, we will flood our child with audio books via our subscription to Learning Ally.
I’m a credentialed teacher, but a lot of the teaching methods I tried with my dyslexic child were not very effective. However, whenever I brought out the All About Spelling and All About Reading materials, they seemed to make a difference. Once I started researching dyslexia I realized why. Marie Rippel is an expert on dyslexia! She’s a member of the International Dyslexia Association, and incorporates a lot of the Orton Gillingham approach into her curriculum.
“Okay, great,” I thought. “All About Learning Press is helping my child but I have no idea how to fit this into our busy lives. We are not homeschoolers. I’m not going to start homeschooling anytime soon, so don’t even suggest it.” Instead of radical life changes, I went for easy modifications instead.
Here’s how to incorporate All About Reading into your everyday lives in a way that has produced real results for my child:
#1: Read the Teacher’s Manual cover to cover and then give yourself permission not to follow it exactly.
What makes All About Reading a fool-proof homeschooling program is that it’s scripted. Marie tells you exactly what to say, word for word. Follow her instructions and you won’t screw up. But my kids are already in school all day. When they come home we have Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, gymnastics, ballet, guitar lessons, and dyslexia tutoring, depending on what day it is. Plus they need to do stuff like eat dinner, walk the poodle, and play.
When I first started incorporating All About Reading into our schedule, I tried to follow the Level 1 manual exactly, just like I do with All About Spelling over the summer. But there was never enough time to finish a lesson, and it was hard to be consistent without stressing the whole family out. So I decided to go off script, and that’s when it became a heck of a lot easier to turn a homeschooling curriculum into something practical for afterschooling.
#2: Smoosh All About Reading into your child’s bedtime rituals.
We read at bedtime no matter what. Generally we have a fun chapter book going, like the “Cupcake Girls.” (Do those girls ever pay taxes? I’ve never been able to figure that one out.) Before we get to the read aloud, we do kid-reading first. There are two possible choices: the primer book or flashcards.
Right now the primer book we are working on is “What Am I?” It’s always there, right on the nightstand, ready to go. Easy! The flashcards live on the nightstand too. The reading glasses are often lost somewhere in the house, but that’s another story…
#3: Repetition is your friend, and stickers make repetition fun.
Every time my child reads one of the short stories, a new sticker pops up in the table of contents. This helps us keep track of progress. We try not to read the same story two nights in a row so that memorization doesn’t remove the need for phonics. When the entire book is finished there is a major reward like a new toy.
Astute All About Reading veterans will probably wonder, “How do you know what lesson you are on in the teaching manual?” The answer is I don’t. Shock! Gasp! Horror! I can kind-of tell from the flashcards, but I don’t pay that much attention.
What I’ve discovered is that the All About Reading materials are so well crafted, that my child can’t progress through the flashcards unless she’s ready. She can’t move up in the short stories unless she’s capable. The two components work together to keep her at the right pace.
#4 Prep the workbook activities and store them in your purse.
My purse is a giant mess of fluency worksheets, flip books, and other scraps of paper I intend to work on that week. We squeeze out time when we can. Waiting during the guitar lesson. Waiting in the car to pick a sibling up. Waiting in line at Costco. If we have five minutes to spare, then we work those five minutes.
For our situation, this means I also have to have a set of my kid’s reading glasses in my purse. I actually bought a cheap pair on Zenni for this exact purpose.
Do we try to do the activities that correspond with the stories and flashcards? Yes. Sort-of. I do the best I can to be consistent, but I give myself permission to not be perfect.
#5 Don’t forget about the spelling board!
I am such a horrible speller (with a potentially undiagnosed spelling learning disability) that there’s no way I would risk going off scrip when it comes to All About Spelling. I keep that teacher’s manual right by our white board. The trick is fitting in spelling lessons each week. Generally we save these for the weekends.
Summer is when we hit All About Spelling hard. Whenever I feel like I’m failing as an Afterschooling mom, I remember that in summer we’ll rack up major learning hours when other families are watching TV.
#6 Bring out the big bucks because bribery works!
The best way I’ve found to keep our schedule chugging along is by posting a new bingo board on the wall every week. Complete a row and earn a prize, it’s that simple.
Notice how our bingo chart mixes in All About Learning Press materials with the Handwriting Without Tears App, Learning Ally audio books, Dreambox Math, and Nessy. Margaret the tutor is also on the chart! This is a reflection of my guiding principle, don’t put all my trust in any one solution. All About Learning Press is wonderful and I love it so much I’ve been an affiliate for years, but it’s not the only method I’m using to seek help for my child.
Conclusion: Is All About Reading making a difference?
Yes! A resounding Yes!
I’ve been saying “my child” instead of “my son” or “my daughter” because over the years I’ve become more conservative about what I reveal publicly about my children. I write a weekly newspaper column so I need to be extra careful about their privacy.
But…I have some pretty astonishing before and after pictures of writing samples I could share, as well as Dibels results, and sight words assessments.
My child is at grade level and does well at school. My child is achieving so much that the school district will not offer any special education services, only a 504 plan for disability. All of this success is directly related to help that happens afterschool.
Grandparents are also noticing a huge difference. Last summer they listened to my child painfully read from “Run, Bug, Run.” Now “What Am I?” is a comfortable reading level. That’s flippin’ awesome!
Finally, my child’s confidence is huge, and that’s a worth that is difficult to measure but the foundation for a happy life. Believe and achieve.
As I mentioned before I am an All About Learning Press affiliate, but I didn’t share any of this out of a desire to earn money. I typed it up because I know how scary it is when you desperately want to help your child overcome dyslexia, and you don’t even know where to start. If you’d like more information about the specifics of my Afterschooling plan, please click here. To find out more about All About Reading or All About Spelling, click on the links below.
What 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Here’s a closer look at the top half of the Candy Land board:
Now for a peek at “The Mall.”
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:
- 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.
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!
Mommy 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 Instagram, Twitter, 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.
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.
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!
There is a combination of things going on that are contributing to Jenna’s success:
- She finally has glasses!
- The stories are at the exactly right level for Jenna. They don’t include any spelling patterns she hasn’t learned yet.
- The illustrations by Matt Chapman, Donna Goeddaeus and Dave LaTulippe are beyond charming.
- Reading focus cards seem to really help.
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!
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.
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.
Let the children use words or pictures to create their how-to writing.
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!
In our state, half-day Kindergarten is only 2 hours and 4 minutes long. That’s why Afterschooling is so important for my daughter. Here’s a brief look at what we’ve been up to these past couple of weeks.
We’ve been so busy, I haven’t had time to blog! Btw, If you’re interested in any of these resources, here are some Amazon links to get you started.
Mead 48166 Learn to Letter Tablet, 10″ x 8″, 40 Sheets
Phonics Fun with Barbie (Barbie) (Phonics Boxed Sets)
The Magic School Bus – Chemistry Lab
10 Pack FROG STREET PRESS SMART START K-1 STORY PAPER 100
Half-day Kindergarten is only 2 hours and 40 minutes in Washington State. So every day after Kindergarten my daughter and I do “Mom School”. (Check out my full plan here.) On Tuesday we took Mom School to the beach.
One of the great things about sand is that it works on fine motor skills as well as gross muscle work. So even though my daughter wasn’t doing handwriting worksheets, she was still learning. Plus, practicing your a-b-c’s in sand is a whole lot more fun!
The kids and I had a lot of fun with this one. Be warned, it’s sticky! Thanks to Morning Hugs and Goodnight Kisses for the idea.
What’s so great about doing science experiments at home with your kids? Watching them fall in love with science. What’s even better than that? Sitting on the couch reading a book while your spouse leads the activity. 😉
For the past few weeks my husband and kids have been obsessed with a book called Candy Experiments by WA author Loralee Leavitt.
Every evening when Dad comes home, he brings new candy from the office vending machine. They’ve done over twenty experiments so far. I don’t necessarily have blog-worthy pictures of all of them, but my husband did snap a few shots:
Right now Taffy, Tootsie Rolls and a Peppermint Patty are dissolving in water on my kitchen counter. Apparently chocolate won’t dissolve in water but caramel, sugar or mint will. The kids have also experimented with cutting candy in half and then trying to dissolve it.
Really, the possibilities for experimentation are endless. Now for an extra good brush of the teeth!
Can I just say “Eeew”??! When I set off this year to do a better job helping my kids learn science at home after school, I didn’t know it would involve mold and dead rodents.
Here’s our latest kit:
This is the first kit we’ve gotten that is next to impossible to recreate at home. It came with a bunch of things I wouldn’t know where to buy: petri dishes, test tubes, Agar solution, etc. I guess you could find that on Amazon, but it would end up costing a lot more than $12.
Anyhow, here’s a look at some of the experiments we did:
The great news is my kids will hopefully have a better time remembering to use soap. 😉
For more posts about our Magic School Bus science kit adventures, click here.
I’ve got two new Young Scientists Club kits to review:#26 and #36. I ordered our subscription in 2013 with a steep discount through the Homeschool Buyers Co-op. Now we get a new science kit every month for a total cost of about $9 a kit.
Kit #26 is about static electricity and is pretty cool, #36 was about famous scientists through the ages and was awful. If that had been our first experience with The Young Scientists Club, I would have been asking for my money back.
The main problem with #36 was that a lot of the experiments needed clay, but the clay the kit came with was all dried up and worthless. That meant that almost every experiment failed, which caused a lot of eight-year-old frustration, which caused mommy-frustration, which pretty much ruined a perfectly good Saturday morning. It was like a chain reaction of awful.
So if you engage in this science-by-mail adventure, don’t order kit #36.
Kit #26 however, was pretty good. Some of these experiments you can try at home for free. All you really need are balloons, cereal, and a comb.You just won’t have the nifty script that the kit provides.
Important science fact: When you rub a balloon on your hair, all of the negatively charged electrons from the balloon jump to your hair. Then the balloon has a positive charge. When the positively charged balloon comes into contact with something that has a neutral charge, like cereal, water, or the wall, electrons from the new item will jump to the balloon.
There are lots of other static electricity experiments you can do with balloons. Use your imagination and have fun.
One of the “I’m-a-mean-mom” Christmas presents I gave my son last year was The Giggly Guide to Grammar by Cathy Campbell. My eight-year-old would have much preferred another Lego kit, but I had my eye on the Common Core. I know Bruce’s teacher does a lot with grammar at school, and I’d like to support that at home.
I can see why The Giggly Guide to Grammar gets great reviews. It has fun drawings and even funnier sentences. Here’s an example from page 107: “Aunt Sylvia believes Elvis lives because she thinks that she saw him on a commercial for Levis.” (That’s a complex sentence with an anagram, btw.)
Unfortunately, I was hoping this book would be a good fit for Afterschooling, but it really isn’t. The Giggly Guide to Grammar would be great for public school, and it would be awesome for homeschoolers, but for an Afterschooling family it requires too much paper and pencil practice. That would be fine if we were using it during the summer, but for the school year it’s too much work. My goal with Afterschooling is not to load my kids up with extra duties, but rather to encourage them with fun enrichment.
A more passive approach to grammar would be the Royal Fireworks Press book Sentence Island by Michael Clay Thompson.
That being said, I keep finding The Giggly Guide to Grammar all over the house. On the kitchen table, laying in the hallway, in the bathroom (yuck); Bruce is clearly reading this book for enjoyment.
I’m not exactly sure how much Bruce is learning. I asked him about the book and he said he likes reading the funny sentences. I guess that’s why the full title is “The Giggly Guide to Grammar, Serious Grammar with a Sense of Humor”.
Afterschooling isn’t just for stay-at-home parents. There are a lot of ways you can provide meaningful instruction to your children using what would otherwise be dead-time.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot to offer teens yet, but here are some ideas for K-8:
- Carschooling –so easy, so effective. Ask the grandparents to buy CDs for Christmas, or else check them out from your local library.
- Dreambox Math –perfect for K-5. Have your kids play Dreambox while you get dinner on the table. Consider making 15 minutes of Dreambox a requirement to earn screen time.
- ClickN’ Read Phonics— K-3 phonics curriculum on the computer. I haven’t tried this, but it gets good reviews.
- Bedtime read alouds –be sneaky! For young readers, Bob Books can “unlock” stories you hate. For older readers, try using the CIA approach on your next chapter book.
- Hands On Equations –definitely worth the time. For older kids, if you can find an extra twenty minutes a week, Hands on Equations is really worth it. It will give them such an advantage in algebra, that you won’t believe it. Of all the math things I’ve blogged about, this is the curriculum that impresses me the most.
- Science Kits by mail— be a cool science mom, without having to plan anything. Seriously, almost everything you need (including a script) comes in the mail, ready for 30 minutes of fun. The catch is the kits are expensive, so you should wait for a Groupon or good deal on Homeschool Buyer’s Co-op. Sign up for my Facebook page, and I’ll keep you posted.
- Highlights Top Secret Adventure Kits –project based geography that come in the mail. Your 7-12 year-old solves puzzles, looks for clues, and reveals the villain while learning about that month’s county. Unfortunately, like the Young Scientist Club Kits, these are really expensive, so you’d want to watch for a special deal.
- Story of the World Audio CDs –history kids probably won’t get at school. SOTW is a borrow from the homeschooling world. A college professor named Susan Wise Bauer has written four volumes of world history specifically for children. They cover ancient times to the present century. These CDs can be used grades K-8. I want my kids to listen to them every two years. I have a strong suspicion SOTW will help with AP tests someday.