Over the last month, I've discovered what I presumed to be true. My child has dyslexia. My blog is dedicated to these wonderfully different learners. I marvel at their creativity, out of the box thinking and their infectious need for humor. This is a journey of our discovery process and our journey homeschooling with what works. I hope you will find encouragement along with helpful advice in teaching your right brain learner in this left brain world.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

It's all Chinese to me

I'd like to start with something that has happened to me several times this month. I've had few ill informed people make hurtful comments to me about my son's dyslexia. I'll tell you about a couple of them.

The first incident happened while I was talking with a close friend and was confiding in her about some of our educational struggles. She decided to confide in me also and went on to tell me her struggles. She started with, "Well, I have the opposite problem. My son is so smart." Whoa!!!!!! So the opposite of dyslexia is smart? Last time I looked at the science related to dyslexia, it didn't mention anything about IQ. IQ is completely separate from dyslexia, but most people are completely ignorant of what dyslexia is and what it isn't. I on the other hand, have embraced the unique strengths and deficiencies in my children. It makes us who we are. It just so happens that some fit into the "school mold" a little better. Because Big brother is severely dysphonetic, he is deficient in processing speed and short term auditory memory recall, but superior in all things visual and spatial. These are his strengths and weaknesses, and not necessarily specific to all dyslexics.

During the second incident, I had a friend tell me that I would need a lower level curriculum than what she was using. I asked how she came to that conclusion and if there was a lot of reading and writing required. Also, if there was a lot of rote memorization or fill in the blank learning, Big Brother would probably have a problem. Then, she hesitated, and went on to tell me that it was probably to much information for Big Brother to understand and that the information was mostly presented visually. Ughhh, understanding is not the problem, especially visual information. She barely knows my children and obviously knows them less than I thought, yet she was making educational judgments about what my children could learn. I was a little more than irritated.

Unfortunately, I know that I've said some hurtful things to people I cared about and can recall one specific incident where I said something to a friend about her son's autism. Looking back, it makes my stomach hurt. I knew nothing about autism at the time. I wish I would have kept my mouth shut, but I didn't, so all I can say now is, "I'm sorry". Hopefully, I can turn some of these hurtful experiences into a learning experience for us all, by forgiving those people that hurt me through their words and lack of understanding and start educating people about dyslexia. Dyslexia is not rare. 20% of the population has dyslexia. That is 1 out of 5. So if dyslexia is all Chinese to you, below you will find some myths and facts surrounding dyslexia.

Dyslexia is rare.

20 % of the population is dyslexic. That is 1 out of 5. Take a look around a classroom, homeschool group or organized sport, I'm almost positive there is more than one in that group. The severity of dyslexia varies, and some can disguise their disability.

Dyslexics can't read.

Dyslexics can read, but will usually hit a wall in about third grade. One of the biggest factors distinguishing dyslexics from non-dyslexics, is their ability to spell. Now, look around that classroom or homeschool group again. I think you will start to see a few more kids that might be dyslexic if you add the ability to spell in the mix.

Dyslexics see things backwards

Dyslexics see just the way non-dyslexics see. The problem is with direction. They are confused about direction and that is why they mix up their b's/d's when reading or writing. Actually, many dyslexics can see things in 3D. I know this is true of my son. At the age of 5, he drew me a picture of a car. He had different scenes on the paper, one was of the car facing forward, the other was a side view of the car, and the other was the rear. He obviously could take that car and spin it in his mind.

Now, lets look at that same ability and how it relates to our written language. Take a chair put it in the middle of the room. What is it....a chair. Take that same chair and lie it on it's side. What is it....a chair. Take that same chair and turn it upside down. What is it....a chair. A chair is a chair no matter which direction you place it. Our written language is the only things that changes what it is based on it's direction.

For a list of more myths and facts about dyslexia, please visit Bright Solutions for Dyslexia.

Lastly, I have to add this article from Popular Science. The article is titled Dyslexia is different in Chinese and English. The article goes on to say that scientists discover that entirely disparate regions of the brain cause dyslexia in different languages. In dyslexic Chinese children, less grey matter was detected in the area of the brain dedicated to identifying images and shapes. In the English-speaking children, the affected region is more closely associated with converting letters to sounds. The discovery was surprising to the researchers because like other common brain dysfunction, they had expected the problem areas to be the same across the board. It does seem to make logical sense, considering the strikingly different ways the two languages represent meaning. Asked if someone dyslexic in one language would necessarily be dyslexic in another, the lead researcher, Li-Han Tan, expressed doubt because "different genes may be involved in Chinese and English dyslexic readers."

This is fascinating to me. The skills needed to understand the Chinese language are the exact strengths that Big Brother possesses. His weakness on the other hand would not impact his abilities if he were Chinese. Ironically, Big Brother started desiring to write Chinese, so the picture above is his first attempt at writing his name in Chinese.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Did you know about the code? (Handwriting without Tears)

Did you know that there is a code on the front of your Handwriting without Tears teacher's guide? I wouldn't have known it if it weren't for the fabulous seminar I attended a few weeks ago given by Handwriting without Tears. Handwriting without Tears was birthed by the passion and expertise of one mother, Jan Olsen, who wanted to help her first grade son who was struggling with handwriting. Jan, an occupational therapist by profession, used her knowledge and love to devise a program that worked to solve her son's handwriting issues. Naturally, when the teachers saw the improvement in Jan's son, she was asked to help other children in the classroom. Now, fast forward to today, and we have the wonderful curriculum known as Handwriting without Tears.

I learned so much in their seminar, but one of the main things I took away with me, was to use the multi-sensory tools that they've provided. I hate to admit it, but I thought some of these tools were a waste of time or money. Who needs songs about handwriting....right? Well, my children need them. These multi-sensory materials are so beneficial for the early elementary years, and more importantly, any child that has a learning difference. I sat in the seminar for 8 hours learning why all these materials work, and I was not bored for even a minute. It was fabulous. If you use these multi-sensory tools from the beginning, remediation won't be necessary. The multi-sensory materials help to embed the information deeper in the brain, and if you have a child with dyslexia, you know that learning the "usual way", just doesn't cut it. So, if you are looking at Handwriting without Tears and wondering what to get, I encourage you to not forget the multi-sensory materials.

Now, back to the code. This code found on the inside front cover, enables you to log onto their website and print your own worksheets. I did skim through the teachers guide, but never noticed their blurb on the inside front cover titled A Click Away. Along with the worksheet maker, there are several other resources listed. Soon, I plan to use the Screener of Handwriting Proficiency. A clever little tool to help asses your child's handwriting proficiency and to determine if any remediation is necessary. Now go grab your teacher's guide and find your code.

Friday, January 28, 2011


Before the Holidays, I was excited to hear about an opportunity to try an online interactive curriculum. I had been looking for something that my children could do independently while I was working with another child. Teaching children with dyslexia can be very labor intensive, and I needed a way to keep the distractions from my other two children at a minimum. The generous people at Time4Learning allowed me to use their curriculum for free for one month, and in return, I agreed to write a review of our experience with their curriculum.

Time4Learning uses animated lessons to teach language arts, math, social studies and science. Kids are able to learn at their own pace, and parents are able to take advantage of their automated grading, lesson plans and detailed reporting.

What worked for us

Time for learning was easy to use
It kept my children engaged
The material was interesting
It kept distractions to a minimum while I was working one on one with another child.

What didn't work for us

My children are dyslexic, so I couldn't take advantage of the Language Arts portion.
The only portion we were able to use was the Science portion, and we would be able to go through it within a month or two.

Although I love Time4Learning's interactive format, it could never take the place of a loving parent teaching their child. However, I do think Time4Learning is an awesome supplement for Homeschoolers or for parents who want to keep their children engaged during the weekends, Holidays or summer months. If you are a new homeschooling parent, Time4Learning would be a great place to start while you research all your homeschooling options. For your free trial visit Time4Learning

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Praises for Singapore Math

Perhaps you've heard the buzz about children in Singapore producing some of the highest math scores in the world. Where did this originate? In 1995, eighth-graders in the tiny nation of Singapore finished first in the Third International Math and Science Study (TIMSS). In 1999 they repeated the feat. In contrast, the U.S. finished in the middle of the pack both times. What is their secret? Why are children in Singapore performing so well on math tests. I believe there are several factors involved, such as age appropriate material, their effective and thorough training of teachers, and mainly, their method of teaching math.

The Singaporean method follows a sequential approach of concrete, pictorial and finally abstract. For example, today we were talking about which two numbers together equal 8. I drew a green tree on one side of the paper and then a brown tree on the other side of the paper. I gave my son 8 raisins and asked him to place them on the trees. Then I asked, "how many raisins are on the green tree? How many raisins are on the brown tree?" We kept doing this until we exhausted all the possible number combinations. I wrote each number combination on a white board. After that, we looked at his math text book, and it had a picture of eight bunnies. We told each other number stories about the bunnies. For example, three bunnies where above the ground and five bunnies were under ground. After that he did the exercise in his workbook. The exercise went as follows: Mr. Eight knocked down two pins in each set. The numbers on the two pins should make 8. Color them. He's presented with a set of pins that have the numbers 6,3,5,1 and 8. He had to figure out which two made eight. Now remember, he's already seen it with the raisins on the trees and the pictures of the bunnies. Even if he gets it wrong, he quickly corrects himself.

Now, if you have a child with dyslexia, maybe you've been told it is very difficult to teach them by rote memorization. Rote memorization just doesn't stick with them, so a lot of these children struggle to learn their math facts. I was told to teach Big Brother using "Touch Math" which places dots on the numbers to reduce the need for memorization, but I haven't had to resort to that yet, because he is remembering his math facts through this type of teaching. Also, he is enjoying math.

Maybe you're a homeschooling mom and starting to feel some anxiety, because you aren't using Singapore math, or maybe you tried and it didn't work for you. My advice is to stick with what works for your child. But, if you have a struggling child, which is also very visual, you might want to look into Singapore math. It's working for us, and I can't be more pleased.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Claw

Wow, that was a long time away. We had a wonderful Christmas, and it seems the break did us all good. We focused on joy during the Holidays, with lots of crafts, decorating, cooking and some really fun fieldtrips.

Here we are mid January, and we are fully back in the swing of things. I've been doing some research on dysgraphia (also known as a visual-motor integration problem, people with dyslexia often have poor, nearly illegible handwriting and often have an unusal pencil grip, often with the thumb on top of the fingers) and asking some questions on messages boards, but nobody can really give me a good answer as to why it is better to change a child's pencil grip to the tripod grip. My husband had asked me in the past not to change Big Brother's grip, so I ignored his somewhat strange grip for awhile. I thought after the break, maybe we could just try getting him to do the tripod grip through the pinch technique, and to my surprise, he was a lot more receptive to it, but I could see he was still struggling, and it was frustrating for both of us. Thankfully, someone suggested the "writing claw". It's a device that allows the fingers to hold the pencil in the correct position while writing. In the past, I shied away from those. To me, they looked like some type of torture device, but I went against what I thought was my better judgment and ordered one. When it arrived, the kids were so excited that they got something in the mail, that they immediately started playing with them. I showed Big Brother where to put his fingers and how to position the pencil. He ran and got some paper and I saw him sitting at his table writing with it, and immediately he looked up at me and shrieked, "I love it". What? I thought I would pass out. So all those battles in the early days about his pencil grip could have been avoided. I love this thing too! Anything to make our lives less frustrating. Here is the link to their site. The Writing Claw

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The key ingredient to reading success!

I've been learning so much about dyslexia in the last couple of months, and I have to admit knowledge is power in this case. If you can't understand why your child is struggling, how will you know how to help him.

In the early 1980's, the United States Congress mandated the National Institutes of Health to research learning disabilities and answer seven specific questions.

After conducting longitudinal research plus numerous studies on genetics, interventions, and brain function, we now have a great deal of independent, scientific, replicated, published research on dyslexia.

This page shares the research results released by the National Institutes of Health from 1994 to the present, as well as from dyslexia researchers in several others countries.

NIH coordinated 18 top-notch university research teams throughout the United States to answer the following questions posed by Congress:

* How many children are learning disabled?
* Clearly define each specific type of learning disability.
* What causes each learning disability?
* How can we identify each learning disability?
* How long does each disability last? Map its developmental course.
* What is the best way to teach these children?
* Can we prevent any of these learning disabilities?

NIH investigated dyslexia first because it is the most prevalent learning disabili

These research results have been independently replicated and are now considered to be irrefutable.

* Dyslexia affects at least 1 out of every 5 children in the United States.
* Dyslexia represents the most common and prevalent of all known learning disabilities.
* Dyslexia is the most researched of all learning disabilities.
* Dyslexia affects as many boys as girls.
* Some forms of dyslexia are highly heritable.
* Dyslexia is the leading cause of reading failure and school dropouts in our nation.
* Reading failure is the most commonly shared characteristic of juvenile justice offenders.
* Dyslexia has been shown to be clearly related to neurophysiological differences in brain function. Dyslexic children display difficulty with the sound/symbol correspondences of our written code because of these differences in brain function.
* Early intervention is essential for this population.
* Dyslexia is identifiable, with 92% accuracy, at ages 5 1/2 to 6 1/2.
* Dyslexia is primarily due to linguistic deficits. We now know dyslexia is due to a difficulty processing language. It is not due to visual problems, and people with dyslexia do not see words or letters backwards.
* Reading failure caused by dyslexia is highly preventable through direct, explicit instruction in phonemic awareness.
* Children do not outgrow reading failure or dyslexia.
* Of children who display reading problems in the first grade, 74% will be poor readers in the ninth grade and into adulthood unless they receive informed and explicit instruction on phonemic awareness. Children do not mature out of their reading difficulties.
* Research evidence does not support the use of "whole language" reading approaches to teach dyslexic children.
* Dyslexia and ADD are two separate and identifiable entities.
* Dyslexia and ADD so frequently coexist within the same child that it is always best to test for both.
* Children with both dyslexia and ADD are at dramatically increased risk for substance abuse and felony convictions if they do not receive appropriate interventions.
* The current "discrepancy model" testing utilized by our nation's public schools to establish eligibility for special education services is not a valid diagnostic marker for dyslexia.

There is so much information right there, so I'll point out some of these that helped us.

1. Dyslexia is identifiable, with 92% accuracy, at ages 5 1/2 to 6 1/2.

2. Reading failure caused by dyslexia is highly preventable through direct, explicit instruction in phonemic awareness.

3. Children do not outgrow reading failure or dyslexia.

4. Early intervention is essential for this population.

My point here is DON'T wait! Do not believe in the development lag theory. They may learn to read, but they will never catch up to their counterparts. There will always be a gap. Please don't wait. It is identifiable, and there are things you can do to prevent dyslexia.

Now for the best part. Dyslexia is a structural and functional brain difference. People with dyslexia process language differently, so what does that mean to a mom trying to teach their child how to read? Even after you've taught your child all the letters and their sounds, they are still struggling. It doesn't make sense right? The answer is. These children have a phonemic deficit.

Quotes from prominent NIH researchers:

"The lack of phonemic awareness is the most powerful determinant of the likelihood of failure to learn to read."

"Phonemic awareness is more highly related to learning to read . . . than tests of general intelligence, reading readiness, and listening comprehension."

"Phonemic awareness is the most important core and causal factor separating normal and disabled readers."

NIH research has repeatedly demonstrated that lack of phonemic awareness is the root cause of reading failure. Phonemes are the smallest unit of SPOKEN language, not written language.

Children who lack phonemic awareness are unable to distinguish or manipulate SOUNDS within SPOKEN words or syllables. They would be unable to do the following tasks:

* Phoneme Segmentation: what sounds do you hear in the word hot? What's the last sound in the word map?
* Phoneme Deletion: what word would be left if the /k/ sound were taken away from cat?
* Phoneme Matching: do pen and pipe start with the same sound?
* Phoneme Counting: how many sounds do you hear in the word cake?
* Phoneme Substitution: what word would you have if you changed the /h/ in hot to /p/?
* Blending: what word would you have if you put these sounds together? /s/ /a/ /t/
* Rhyming: tell me as many words as you can that rhyme with the word eat.

If a child lacks phonemic awareness, they will have difficulty learning the relationship between letters and the sounds they represent in words, as well as applying those letter/sound correspondences to help them "sound out" unknown words.

So children who perform poorly on phonemic awareness tasks via oral language in kindergarten are very likely to experience difficulties acquiring the early word reading skills that provide the foundation for growth of reading ability throughout elementary school.

Phonemic awareness skills can and must be directly and explicitly taught to children who lack this awareness.

How do you teach this necessary skill to your child. We've started using the Barton Reading and Spelling System. I am in no way trying to sell or promote this program. I only want to share what is working for us and many, many, many other parents. Just get on any message board about dyslexia and you will see. Many people are using different techniques, but what you will quickly notice is the people using Barton or any other Orton-Gillingham influenced reading system are getting results. The reason we are using Barton is because it was created for the parent to teach their child and not to be used in a classroom.

Here is a list of other Orton-Gillingham influenced reading programs.

The pure, unchanged, original method.A.C.C., Massachusetts General Hospital

Designed for classroom settings of young children in the first, second, and third grades.The Slingerland Institute

MTA (Multi-sensory Teaching Approach)
Edmar Educational Services
214-321-8656 (Phone/Fax)

Alphabetic Phonics
Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children

Wilson Reading System
Wilson Language Training Corporation

Language!Sopris West

Project Read
by Enfield and Greene
Published by The Language Circle

Recipe for Reading

Preventing Academic Failure (PAF)
Published by Educators Publishing Service (EPS)

We are in Level 1 of the Barton system and here is how it works. I say a made up word: IZM and Big Brother has to pick from a pile of color coded tiles one to represent each sound. As we go further on in the lesson, I will start changing one of the sounds, and then he will compare the sounds in two different made up words. Once you start doing this, you can see how it teaches them to read and spell.
Again, we are only in Level 1 and already both Big Brother and I am seeing a difference. He's been running around spelling like crazy. This is NOT normal at this level, because print isn't even introduced yet, but I drilled him so much when he was younger on letters and their letter sounds that he knows them pretty good. When I mentioned that he was spelling a lot, he said, "Mom, this program is helping me. It's helping me to hear the sounds". That is amazing that even a 6 year-old can recognize this.

If you have any questions or comment please leave one for me. My honest goal is to inform and help other families.

All research information and picture is taken from the Bright Solutions Website.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

So you think T.V. is bad

In my short 2 years of homeschooling, I've come across several homeschoolers who are anti-television, and honestly, I can't understand why. My children have learned so much from television. Frequently, I catch myself saying to them, "Where did you learn that?" Their response is usually, "on T.V.". Although, I'm usually impressed with some of their knowledge or vocabulary, I'm not immune from the mommy guilt. I've read the articles that state " Watching Television Causes ADHD". So, what do I do with that information? Do I allow my parental perfectionism to get in the way of my critical thinking. I have three research subjects at home, and all have been allowed to watch television, and none of them possess any ADD or ADHD traits.

Maybe you've read the same study or perhaps a respected authority figure has told you of the statistics. Well, I came across this study in the American Journal For Pediatrics.

We found no significant association between hours of watching television and behavioral problems in any of the age groups, although the results do not rule out such an effect, especially not for those who spend the longest time in front of the television (Table 1).

But you say, this study says it doesn't rule out such an effect. That's right. They just can't find a correlation between the two. One thing that they suspect, is that the ADD or ADHD behavior is present, and these children usually calm down watching television, and it gives the parents of these children a much needed break. Further down in the same article from the American Journal of Pediatrics this is what it says,

It is a clinical experience that watching television can engage children with ADHD for some time, probably because of the constant visual and auditory stimuli they receive from these media. The parents of these children may therefore be more likely to allow them to watch television for longer periods of time. The children in our study, who were watching >11/2 hour of television at the age of 31/2 years, were more likely to have ADHD-like behavior already at this age. The direction of causality may very well be the opposite of what is concluded by Christakis et al.

Although they aren't positive, it appears that watching T.V. is not the cause of ADD or ADHD, but that ADD and ADHD can cause children to want to watch more T.V.

Now don't get me wrong. I don't plop them in front of the television so I can get my whole house clean, or to go take a bubble bath and eat Bon Bons. No, instead I use it to send a quick email, talk to friend on the phone, or write out our plans for the week. And, I always, always, always use it to get dinner made. By that time in the evening, I need to cook in peace. I pick the shows that we can agree on. Not all shows are created equal. I look more at the moral content than I do at the education content of a show. And no, they aren't all educational. My children enjoy humor, and so some shows are just pure entertainment. We have designated times that we watch television, and the T.V. isn't on all day. Frankly if it was, my kids would just walk away from it and go play. Building a fort, creating an awesome Lego vehicle, riding their bike and running around outside is always more interesting than watching television.

So why do I meet so many homeschoolers who are against watching television. Many of my friends, myself included, embrace a Charlotte Mason educational philosophy. In my opinion, I think we are longing for a time that is slower paced, family oriented, one that just seems more wholesome. I'm sure you have a picture in your mind, you know the one where the whole family is gathered around a fire in the living area. The children are laying on the floor tinkering with blocks or with a toy they made with their own hands. The smell of mom's fresh baked pie is wafting from the kitchen, grandma is snuggled up with little Susie rubbing her back and mom and dad are sitting on the couch holding hands all while Grandpa reads or tells of a great literary story. Wait a minute....isn't that Waltons?

How do we get to Walton's Mountain when we live in the information age? It's hard to find our way when everyone is surfing the net and riding the information super highway. For our family I think I will make it a point to keep the television off when our family is all together. I'm going to hold sacred that precious time when Dad comes home from work and we are able to eat together. I will be committed to keeping sacred the last couple hours of the day before bedtime. Last night I noticed the television was off when my husband came home, and I caught him playing Duck, Duck, Goose and Freeze Tag. Those are the moments I don't want to miss. Plus, it is very entertaining to watch a six-foot man get up from a crossed-leg position and chase a 4 year old around the house.