When your kids have dyslexia or lower than average reading skills, it can feel like an emergency that must be fixed NOW!
It seems like just doing more of the dreaded task and lots of reading instruction is the only way to improve. Yet the more you push them to read, the more they resist.
As the homeschooling mother of a son with reading difficulties (four official learning disabilities in fact), I know the worry. But I’ve also watched as my son has become a voracious reader.
Here’s what we did.
Set the Atmosphere
Dyslexics often find reading a frustrating experience. Don’t let every facet of language become a chore.
Create an atmosphere of a love for language.
Charlotte Mason, the 19th-century educator, stressed the importance of a variety of language experiences to foster a love of learning. Read widely; let your home be filled with music, poetry, and conversation. Don’t forget to incorporate nursery rhymes, tongue twisters, and other fun language play.
Your house should have lots of books (in every room!). The library makes this possible, along with “Thriftbooks” and garage sales.
Model a literary life yourself. If you’re struggling to find the time to read for yourself, this changed my reading life forever.
Provide Irresistible Books
I truly believe that a love of story is part of being human. They connect to our souls in a subconscious way that can bring about lasting joy and growth. There are SO many books that will “baptize the imagination” and hook the most reluctant readers.
Ask around. Listen to what gets recommended over and over again. Find ones that transcend demographics.
Coming soon, a list of books dyslexics won’t be able to resist.
Offering a plethora of book options across different genres can help to pique their curiosity. Fantasy, science fiction, graphic novels, and non-fiction selections may be more appealing to dyslexic readers than traditional narratives. Consider choosing books with clear and easy-to-read fonts to help reduce visual processing issues.
Let Their Ears Do the Work
Family Read Alouds:
Take away the decoding issues and just enjoy a story together! You’ll be fostering connection and positive associations around books. As Sarah MacKenzie likes to remind her listeners, you will never regret the time you spend reading aloud as a family!
I firmly believe that when my kids have graduated and the dust has settled, my fondest memories will be of our family read alouds. We have laughed, cried, speculated, argued, and marveled. These books have been used by God to form us in the most profound ways.
For the love of all things, let your kids listen to audiobooks!
Audiobooks are often seen as cheating on the hard copy variety of books, but why? Are they decoding? No. Does this help their spelling? No again. But do they learn grammar, vocabulary, brilliant prose, unprecedented empathy, living ideas and a deeper humanity? That’s a resounding YES!
It’s time to acknowledge the incredible benefits of using audiobooks for kids with dyslexia.
Using audiobooks allows kids with dyslexia (and neurotypical kids) to read things WAY beyond their decoding level. Talk about stretching their comprehension!
I’ve seen it in my own child. For many years, he could only decode simple “B.O.B.” books, but I allowed him to listen to great literary works with gorgeous prose and complicated plot and syntax. He had no trouble following along. Eventually his decoding skills caught up. I’m so glad I didn’t keep him from the “great conversation” just because he struggled with decoding. His intellect was given the space it needed to flourish.
Note: Parents, can I encourage you to use audiobooks as well? I can testify that I was close to giving up on so many books that became much easier when I switched to audio (or vice versa!). For my very hardest books, I listen WHILE decoding what’s in front of me.
Encourage Them to Write
Don’t discredit someone’s ability to write because they struggle to decode. Urge dyslexics to get their stories, thoughts, and ideas onto paper (or screen). Encourage them to share their voice with the world.
Most writing skills can be developed without decoding (especially if they LISTEN to top notch writers.) Try voice-to-text software (Google Docs is free!), or simply allow them to write by hand (without the fear of spelling errors!).
One of the game changers in our homeschool was separating the subjects. When we are working on spelling, we’re not working on handwriting. When we’re learning how to organize our thoughts in a research paper, we’re not worrying about spelling. Obviously the final product needs everything, but do it one thing at a time.
Seek Help from Professionals
Your dyslexic kids can love books without being especially skilled at decoding the letters on the page. But eventually, reading is a necessary skill for independent living.
If your child is struggling, and you’re not sure if they have dyslexia, please pursue a diagnosis. There could be many learning disabilities at play, or even as we found, physical issues with the eyes that a typical eye test wouldn’t catch. (Behavioral Optometrists do incredible work!)
In the States, local public schools are required to do the learning disorders evaluations for free. In my state, they don’t have to provide follow up services after the evaluation, unless the child enrolls in the school. But at least there will be official results and something to go off of as you find reading specialists, curriculum and interventions to help. They should also explain to you what some appropriate accommodations you could make.
Dyslexia is not likely to be something they grow out of, and they deserve to be given the tools needed to educate themselves as early as possible.
I hope this post gives you hope that you can provide a rich literary life for your child regardless of learning disabilities.