Ideas for Educating Children with Dyslexia
From time to time we have received inquiries concerning teaching children with dyslexia. We offer some resources for a variety of special education needs, but since we are not experienced in such teaching, we sent out a email to our customers in September 2011, requesting advice from those who have experienced this type of educational challenge. The immediate response was a great encouragement. It blessed us greatly to know that so many people care about others and want to help. May God bless each one.
We have been given permission to share many of the emails we received, and these are published below, having been edited for clarity and privacy. If you have any additional comments or experience you would be happy to share, please tell us.
I began the first grade about 1943 during World War II. As far as I know, people were not categorized according to learning disabilities in the "good ol' days." School was just easier for some children than others. The teachers did try to help us slow learners. Having read your responses, I realize now that our teachers must have had some difficult days. I was not classified, but for some reason learning was not easy for me. Somehow I survived the process, and today I am 74 years old and still functioning. Praise be to God. Having been a slow learner myself, I have a real heart for the children who find "school learning" difficult.
One thing which became obvious from your responses and from a little research is that there are many different kinds of learning difficulties. It may be wise in some cases to get professional help to identify what kind problem you are dealing with, yet each child is unique and you will need to tailor your teaching program to his particular need and what works for him.
One of my personal observations is that success in life is not determined by how "smart" a child is in school. Learning to live with one's disabilities is valuable. It helps us to be humble and respect others. Often those who do not do well with conventional "school learning" have special gifts and abilities. This was noted in your responses. In many cases the child may be very talented, and our challenge is how to unlock those abilities in spite of his difficulties with conventional learning. Don't ever assume your child is dumb! I hope what follows will encourage you and give you some tools and ideas on how to unlock your child's abilities.
—Silas at Milestone Ministries
The following letters, edited for clarity and privacy, are arranged in alphabetical order by first name. If you would like to get in touch with any of those who have shared, let us know, and we will forward your contact information to the writer. If they are interested in corresponding, they will contact you directly.
Allison from California writes (Sep 12, 2011):
I teach 6 of my 7 children, and one has special needs (Prader-Willi Syndrome) with some mild dyslexia. We love your preschool curriculum! After teaching reading to my special-needs daughter for 8 years (!) she is just now beginning to read on her own, simple readers. Sometimes I myself switch letters, especially numbers. My advice to parents teaching dyslexic children:
Pray for wisdom and knowledge in how to teach your child.
Take a piece of paper and cover the other words, so they only see the one word they are having trouble with. If still too hard, try covering everything except each letter and sounding it out, then when they have sounded out each letter, try moving on to the whole word. You must patiently train their brain to process the letters correctly, which only happens through repetition.
Never express frustration in front of them. In fact, the more you praise their efforts, the more relaxed they will become and this will help immensely. If you can't stand it anymore, simply say, "Let's take a break," or, "We are done for the day. Let's try again tomorrow." Believe me, I learned this the hard way.
Realize that it will take them much longer to learn, but in the end it will even out and be fine, if you continue in diligence.
Show them the joy of reading, by reading good books aloud to them.
Amy from Utah writes (Sep 21, 2011):
I have used this program with "dyslexia" students. After having my children tested with different specialists they were diagnosed with "Irlen Syndrome." It appears to be dyslexia because words and letters can get mixed up. Many people don't know about it and then treat the child for dyslexia instead. The thing to understand about Irlen syndrome is that is is caused by light sensitivity and bright, shiny white creates difficulties for the child. I get the child into natural light and I use overlays (a transparency of color) to soften the bright white of the Rod and Staff books. The results are shocking. Immediately the child can focus longer and accomplish their tasks easier. Many of the children with Irlen syndrome will rub their eyes, cover up half of the book while the read, and perpetually put their head on their desk to shade the book, and they get light sensitive headaches.
Understanding the value of an overlay has changed my children's life. If you are interested in learning more about Irlen, here are some sites:
Ann from Ohio writes (Sep 13, 2011):
I have been working with young children for over thirty years. I would like to share with you some of my experience. I have done a little research on dyslexia as I have attempted to help children with reading problems. First of all, not all children who have been diagnosed with dyslexia truly have dyslexia. A lot of this misdiagnosis comes from children who simply did not understand how reading works. Many of these children need as much as 1,500 or more exposures to something new before it is mastered. Which means that in the ordinary course of instruction they are probably not given this much exposure to something new before moving on to another new skill. Thorough teaching of a new skill before going on to another skill will mean going through the curriculum slower than is suggested. However, in so many cases of children with reading difficulties, I have seen them learn with steady progress.
I have found that for these children, there are not enough pre-reading lessons at the first grade level in the Rod and Staff curriculum. For children with learning challenges I like to start with the Pathway's Learning Through Sounds Book 1. The teacher's edition gives suggestions for daily lessons, and they have charts that can be made to use in these daily lessons. I have also found that children learn to read better if they also learn to spell the sounds and words they are reading. This gives double reinforcement to what they are learning and addresses different learning styles. Another suggestion is to put the words they are learning on index cards and have them make sentences from the words. The word blending practice and the dictation exercises are excellent practice with sounds; hearing and seeing how the sounds are put together to make words. Also paying careful attention to how the child is writing the letters is extremely important. They should be consistently forming their letters the proper way. This helps eliminate the problem of reversals. Another manipulative activity that is very helpful is having the child form the words with magnetic letters on a vertical surface such as a refrigerator, or the side of a metal filing cabinet. The movement of the letters with their hands is using their tactile sense and oftentimes helps the child retain the information.
If it is an older child that is having difficulty, time needs to be spent going back over the phonics skills (or teaching them for the first time if this is a child that has never had phonics). He will need to practice reading on easier-level reading material. Check frequently to see if he is understanding what he has read by having him retell in his own words what he has just read. The older child may have to have his other subjects read to him until his reading ability catches up with the skill that is needed to read his other grade-level subjects. In this case it is also helpful to have the child repeat back to you in his own words what has been read to him, to check his understanding.
Beth from Pennsylvania writes (Sep 12, 2011):
I used Rod and Staff English grades one to three texts and workbooks with my daughter who has dyslexia. We had great success. English is her favorite subject and she is doing age-appropriate work.
I was very careful to realize that words were difficult, so visual and movement would help her best. I worked with the lessons but did not simply place the books in front of her. We often shared the reading task: I might read some of the lesson aloud, then she reads the rest, or we switch back and forth and each take a exercise number. Visual ideas often meant underlining words, writing words in different colors depending on function, writing bigger than age-typical, creating visual scenarios (drawing a big picture of a train with each car signifying a category, and words get taped under the car they are to board). Small words are too hard and confusing when there are lots on a page, so I would sometimes block out part or most of the page with my hand or a blank sheet of paper. I also did not focus on spelling while she was working on an exercise simply because it was too overwhelming, but I did have her erase and correct misspellings at the end. After I saw which words needing fixing, I wrote out a "word bank" that she used to make the spelling corrections.
The hardest thing about teaching her is the more than typical one-on-one time required—difficult especially since, like many other families, I have other homeschooled children!
Billie from Indiana writes (Sep 14, 2011):
It worked well with the exception of the old edition of math grades 1 and 2. The old edition had too much reading for someone with a reading disability of that age, and the print was too tiny.
The adaptions I made were:
1. Using graph paper to help keep columns lined up for long division and larger multiplication problems until he could adapt on his own how to see the difference.
2. He used a Heads Up! Reader from Heads Up Now (http://www.headsupnow.com/products-page/addadhd/heads-up-reader/).
Brenna from Missouri writes (Sep 12, 2011):
My 13-year-old son has dyslexia profoundly, and I have used your language curriculum for him starting last year. I have used it with good success. When he could no longer keep up with the language program that I was using, I did first spend an entire year using a program called Winston grammar which helped him learn his grammar rules. It use color-coded cards to teach diagramming sentences with very minimal writing; a very kinesthetic and visual approach. The following year I used your Rod and Staff English program, but I did put him in your 5th grade book which was a couple of years behind where he should have been. I am now using your 6th grade book and he is in 8th grade for all other subjects, but he is doing very well, and scored in the average range on standardized tests last year for his normal grade level. [Editor's Note: the upper grade English courses are considered to be advanced, anyway.] Some adaptations which I made were to utilize the extra practice workbook a lot. I also would spend a few days on each lesson. Sometimes, if the writing was too much I would allow him to do half of the written assignment. We also utilized the keyboard for many assignments, and when he had difficulty with sentence structure or diagramming I would make up sentence strips and cut them into sections. Breaking down a large task into smaller parts was very helpful to him. I made blank diagram sheets, and cut the sentences into their parts and he placed them on the diagram first before he started to draw and write his own diagrams. I must confess that I do skip most of the writing assignments, as he uses a separate writing curriculum called Institute for Excellence in Writing. I used the Barton Reading and spelling program to remediate his reading and spelling.
Overall, I really like your language curriculum for him because it offers the much needed review, and it provides very systematic instructions. Coupled with the extra practice workbook this has been a great resource for us. I would also like to add that most language programs that I looked at for students with dyslexia did not include instruction or methods for teaching language mechanics, which is obviously a necessary skill for writing.
Carol from Montana writes (Sep 12, 2011):
I have 2 children with dyslexia. I have used Rod and Staff for Bible, History, and Science. The only changes I made were that they read one page and I read the next, and I let the answers be shorter instead of sentences. Also, sometimes I let the answers be oral. My daughter is now in college and I feel Rod and Staff was a good preparation.
Carrie from Illinois writes (Sep 12, 2011):
We're using Rod and Staff Building Christian English Series 5 with both my 5th grade son, who has no learning disabilities, and with my 6th grade daughter, who has dyslexia.
Both are using it very successfully, but we do less writing and more of the book orally or on our large whiteboard. We also purchased the extra worksheets so they don't have quite as much copying to do.
Courtney from writes (Sep 13, 2011):
My 6-year-old has a learning disability. We are using the 1st grade BNRS readers. It is working fairly well, but we are learning the consonants first since vowels with their 2 different sounds are too difficult too understand. I like the part of the teacher's book that has the children close their eyes and listen to the sounds, nod when they hear them. It could be improved upon by letting the child think of words that start with M or B. I think B, D, P, Q should not be introduced near each other, as they are too easily confused with each other. We have had to go much slower with our sounds than my other children. All LD students are different, and that's what makes them unique, but I feel like the key is going very slowly until things are perfectly clear in their minds. New concepts introduced too soon will cause confusion over previously learned concepts.
(Jan 19, 2012)
Recently you asked about learning disabilities, and if Rod and Staff was helpful or could be more helpful. I gave an answer, but have a better one now that I thought I would quickly share.
It became apparent to me today that my LD child was very confused by the pictures of learning the alphabet. There are always 4 things taught with the alphabet:
- how the letter looks
- that the letter has a name (such as a,b,c)
- the letter has a sound
- all words start with a letter
I believe ALL LD children could benefit by taking out the picture and learning only letter and sound. The picture has been terribly confusing. My daughter thinks that a starts with alligator, or that apple says /a/, etc. Learning-disabled children learn though different channels, and the simpler the channel the better. God was very gracious today in helping me see that with my daughter, and I thought I would share it.
Delilah from New York writes (Sep 12, 2011):
My 8-year-old daughter is dyslexic, and aside from a strong consistent phonics program, I tried the Pathway first grade reader instead of the second grade reader. She reads a page and then I read a page, and completely help her when she is stuck. We have started More Days Go By and she loves it! So do I. We work a bit more slowly, but as long as the child does the reading alongside the parent, he/she should get better. Also, do not let a day go by without reading the text "together" by taking turns.
Duane from Indiana writes (Sep 12, 2011):
We use a variety of curriculum for our children, including Rod and Staff. We have a third grader that has a form of dyslexia where the letters seem to "float around" while he is reading. When we put a red or yellow colored transparent plastic sheet over the pages of the books, the letters "stay put" for him. After much frustration and prayer, we were glad to find an inexpensive solution. He still requires a lot of individual attention, and requiring him to go slowly through the material. When he rushes, it certainly makes things worse.
We have another son, who we thought was in the same boat until the Lord brought to mind that we should have his eyes checked. We found out that he has a type of "lazy eye" in that the brain doesn't always fully process what he sees. At the optometrist, he could sometimes see a certain letter line and sometimes not. When I asked him why he did not tell us about not being able to see well, he replied that he did not realize that he was not seeing properly. He has had corrective lenses now for about a year and what a difference!
Erin from Texas writes (Sep 12, 2011):
I am a homeschooler, and my oldest child is dyslexic. I have homeschooled him since the beginning, and there is no better curriculum for turning a dyslexic into a reader than the Rod and Staff first and second grade phonics/reading program.
The strength of the program is the way the phonics and reading lessons dovetail into the reader. The child has the opportunity to learn the phonics, add in the reading vocabulary, and then practice all that he has learned when he reads his lesson in the reader. The readers, as you know, are Bible stories, so the child is riveted by the subject matter because they know it is important and true, rather than being some mindless drivel. Additionally, the stories are very repetitive, giving the children plenty of review every day.
The secret to making it work for a dyslexic is:
1. Ignore the grade levels. Grade levels are meaningless. Start with the first grade program even if the child is 10 years old.
2. Don't get in a hurry. You are going to have to move at a much slower pace for these kiddos. They may only be able to retain a lesson per week initially.1 The workbook pages might need to spread out over a few days or some of them done orally.
3. Drill, drill, drill. Then drill some more. Use the word and phrase cards for this. Only after they have reached automaticity can you remove a card from the daily drill. Automaticity would mean they have read it correctly about 10 days in a row. Even then, I always slipped in a few that had become easy for review or just relief. You cannot overdrill enough.
4. Read the story in the reader to them before they attempt to read it to you. Ask them to narrate, or "tell back" the story to you. Discuss the picture that goes with the story. If they want to color the picture in the reader, why not let them (if you own the book)? My daughter was so charmed by the illustrations, that she asked to color the pictures when it was her turn to read the books. If this helps them in their comprehension, it will aid them when they attempt to read the story. And you will have a one-of-a-kind reading book!
5. Have them read the same story in the reader every day until they read it perfectly. This is very important! It is okay to move on to the next lesson and have them read that story, too. But keep them coming back to the previous lesson until they read it perfectly at least twice (two days in a row). They may balk at having to do this, but each time they read it they will read it better until it is perfectly mastered. I once tutored a 12-year-old dyslexic boy, and this step alone made a huge difference in his fluency.
6. If they have completed their workbook pages but still need some written practice, erase them and have them do it again. Or just have them copy their answers and code the words. Or just have them copy a sentence from their story in the reader and make sure they can read each word. My kids enjoy writing on whiteboards for this type of thing. All of this repetition is critical for dyslexics.
7. Even once you have completed Rod and Staff first and second grade, you may need to review. I have also used Rod and Staff's remedial program called Developing Better Reading with my son when he was older, just as a review.
8. Read to your children every single day. The Rod and Staff books are good; so are classics like Tom Sawyer or Treasure Island. The Little House on the Prairie books are just fabulous, as are books of history and nature. Audiobooks are wonderful, too. My son loved The Sugar Creek Gang, published by Moody Press, on audio and later read them in print. I still believe that my son reads today, partly because I made him, but largely because he wanted to read so very much because he had been read to for at least an hour a day almost from birth.
9. Make reading relative to them. My son loves guns and shooting, so I bought him a huge book about guns. He would painstakingly read that book because it was information he was interested in. He also loves animals and history, so I checked out stacks of the DK and Usborne books from the library that are mostly pictures but have small boxes of interesting text (interesting, that is, to a kid who likes these things). It gave him books to read while he was learning to read that were highly interesting and not overloaded with too many words.
Now 14 years old, he can read anything he wants to read. He is currently reading his manual for driver's ed and buys his own AutoBuy magazines. When he was a young, struggling boy he use to fuss and fight and sometimes cry over his reading lessons, but I would remind him that it was good for him to bear the yoke when he was young (Lam. 3:27). It has built Christian character in him to have struggled and persevered, and it will do so for any of God's children with dyslexia.
Jennifer from Massachusetts writes (Sep 12, 2011):
I am a homeschooling mother and also an Educational Therapist in private practice in Western Massachusetts. I trained with the National Institute for Learning Development (www.nild.org).
I have used Rod and Staff materials off and on in my homeschool, and have recommended them to other Educational Therapists who work in schools for use in classrooms.
I love all the Rod and Staff materials because they are systematic, and also the teacher's manuals offer SO much help that it is easy to add activities or emphasize certain aspects of the curriculum. I think the Rod and Staff reading and phonics programs are excellent. As I said, they are systematic. Words and phonetic elements are taught along with other words sharing those same elements, which also tie in with the readers and the workbooks, so there is a lot of reinforcement. One thing I like is the phrase practice in the reading workbooks; repeating phrases from the text aloud helps with reading fluency so that students can read those phrases fluidly without going word for word. Practicing with common phrases is a frequently recommended way of improving reading fluency. The flash cards—phonics, words, phrases—are also a big help. The spelling practice which has a student build a word starting with one letter also helps with visual tracking and left to right practice, which many dyslexic students need.
My one caution about Rod and Staff's reading program when used for dyslexia would be that the student might need to slow down a bit and do less per lesson than another student. This is easy in homeschool where the lesson is tailored to the child, but more difficult in the classroom. An alternative might be, instead of the student doing all the reading himself, the chapter can be read with an adult, with the student and the adult alternating paragraphs. That way the chapter can be completed without the student reading it all by himself. This will also give the dyslexic student a "model" for reading. And the teacher can use selected activities, perhaps not all of them.
The consistency between the reader and the reading and phonics workbooks will also help the teacher pinpoint which kinds of words the student has difficulty with, so that those words/sounds/spellings can receive extra attention for that student.
There are links on my website for help with dyslexia and other learning disabilities and learning issues:
Jennifer from Washington writes (Sep 12, 2011):
I have used Rod and Staff with my kids, all who have varying degrees of special needs.
When I used it with my oldest in 1st and 2nd grade, he did not have dyslexia, but he had a reading disability, which has since been corrected. He also had a lot of sensory issues and vision problems (his peripheral and central vision did not line up). I deliberately chose Rod and Staff for the black-and-white text, the Biblical background, and the "traditional" learning approach. I also was able to adapt learning times to his short attention span, and it was easy to fit lessons in between appointments, etc. I did not always require him to color all the pictures—sometimes he just circled and crossed out appropriate items. Sometimes I used blank paper to simply show one line at a time in some of the reading lessons/workbook pages. The workbooks made it easy for him to know when a lesson was finished, which decreased his stress levels. I used the entire 2nd grade curricula with him, except for the handwriting part. (I used "Handwriting without Tears" for him.) I also added some history from another curricula for him, as he loves history. After home schooling him for 2nd grade, he went to a Christian school for 3rd and most of 4th, where he did well academically, but struggled with his sensitivities and intolerances to various foods and chemicals. I believe his Rod and Staff training had a lot to do with his academic success.
I am currently using the first grade curricula with my daughter, who has some similar symptoms. She, however, colors almost everything; her motor skills are better than her brother's were at the same age. Because she also has vision challenges, her eyes get tired easily, and I vary learning times for her as I did for her brother.
I just began it with our second son, who has autism. He is not having trouble reading the book; I am waiting for his workbooks to arrive and am looking forward to seeing how he does with them. The format of Rod and Staff makes it easy for me to teach individually and allows my daughter to work independently some while I work with her brothers.
I would think the letter recognition exercises would be helpful for these children, though the blank paper idea might help distinguish between lines in some of the activities. The flash cards might prove very useful, too. As a nutritional note, a deficiency in essential fatty acids has been known to affect dyslexia, and some people have been helped by a restricted diet and supplements.
Maybe a mother of a child with dyslexia could use unscented magic marker to color-code letters causing the most trouble for her child. (I was initially thinking in the the reading workbook, but I suppose she could do it in the flash cards and text, too.) I would not use red and green because of the possibility of color blindness, but some of the other colors might work well. I would just trace the letters—e.g., make all the d's orange and the b's purple, or something like that. I know dyslexia is often more than just the confusion of a couple of letters, but it might be a "tool" to put in the bag.
I've been a Christian for about 13 years. My professional background is in education and counseling and human services, and I've taught a number of homeschool classes and seminars, mostly in analytical and critical essay writing. I do research for a ministry that provides nutritional information to families with special needs, everything from learning disabilities to mental and chromosomal disorders. I have also recently started a business, Run With Perseverance Resources, that provides educational services and consultations, among other services. I'd be happy to help other families in any way I can!
Jenny from California writes (Sep 20, 2011):
I use the Bible Nurture and Reader Series for my sons. I also use the phonics and English. We do grades 1 - 4. My oldest was fast at learning to read, and I did not see any problems that I thought I should be cautious with (I am dyslexic). He did not do the phonics. My next son was like watching myself all over again. So here is what we did. We did not start him in first grade material until he was halfway through 2nd grade. Instead I did Brain Gym with him and a lot of physical activity. I read to him constantly, so he was still learning, just not reading. We started slow and did the phonics. When it seemed that everything was jumbling up again we would go back to Brain Gym for a couple days. Now he is in fourth grade doing 3rd grade work (which I do not feel bad about because he is reading great and knows a lot of Bible). He also is becoming a better reader than my older son (we are now teaching him phonics), thanks to the phonics and the extra time spent. Also, with the English we did most of the lessons orally. It was easier for him to learn if he did not have to think extra hard just to write. My third son is doing the first-grade books right now, but he is starting to regress ("since" was read "nice" today, and a lot of the letters are the wrong direction), so we are going to move on to Brain Gym for awhile and then come back to Rod and Staff. I like the Bible content, so that is why we stay, even though it is hard at times.
June from New York writes (Sep 12, 2011):
My son is 8 and due to his January birthday was able to start kindergarten at almost 7. He has a number of learning disabilities and developmental delays, auditory processing disorder, phonological dyslexia, and a mathematics disorder. We used a combination of materials for phonics along with your Pathway Readers and books and he always enjoyed the exercises and seemed to grasp a good deal. He did well with the pre-primer and we are now using the primer Days Go By. He enjoys the stories and simple black-and-white pages. I enjoy the lack of photos that give away the context of the story, as I like to know he understands what he is reading. I haven't changed anything, but we are a special case and have to go slowly, very slowly. After a year of using Schoolaid math Numbers with Spunky (which he liked and is a good program), with his difficulties in grasping number concepts we moved to Rod and Staff first grade Beginning Arithmetic. We have tried so many different manipulatives and programs. We went to Beginning Arithmetic and started over. I cut out and laminated ducks for our board and we just keep plugging away each day. I use the Stern Math's manipulatives to help him visualize more/less, etc., and play some math games. We've used your calendar book for over a year, which we LOVE! He can't do all the exercises, but the illustrations and design are delightful, and he enjoys seeing the seasonal changes. We are also, just this year, using your health and manners program and Patterns of Nature. Although we've just begun, so far we are delighted with both. I have to read much of the material to him, but he gets the concepts.
I have all the younger pre-K/K materials which I am just starting this year with my younger son, who is four. Overall, I can't say enough about how delightfully simple (but not boring) your text and illustrations are, and we love the books. From a teacher standpoint, it is handy to have all the tips, pointers, and lesson plans basically mapped out for you. As a parent it's a huge relief to find good, basic materials that work well and aren't blasted with media influence and that provide good religious training and stresses the importance of family.
Karen from Ohio writes (Sep 12, 2011):
I am homeschooling a daughter with dyslexia. Her reading is progressing well and her struggles are now primarily with writing and spelling (dysgraphia). We have used several of your readers as read-alouds and recently started Prudence and the Millers for our health program. I read the story with her and review the questions to be sure that her comprehension is there. Then I pick and choose which questions she will answer orally and which she will need to write out.
For the rest of our curriculum we use My Father's World "Creation to the Greeks", Math-U-See, and Learning Language Arts through Literature. In spite of her dyslexia, we still use a literature based approach and she is a lover of literature and a lover of reading. We are waiting for her love of writing to kick in (smile).
Kathleen from California writes (Sep 12, 2011):
I used Rod and Staff for two of my children. My oldest child had no problems with learning so he did really well using your curriculum.
My middle son has a learning disability, and he could not learn with your curriculum. I am sorry to say this because I want you to know that I always recommend Rod and Staff to any people who are looking for a comprehensive language arts program for their homeschoolers. My oldest child was very prepared to enter into a very challenging classical school last year after being trained in Rod and Staff for three years.
Dyslexia is just very difficult to understand and to deal with and it requires something that is specific to that particular learning disorder. If you would like to incorporate a special ed program you should consider training from the Barton Method and try to incorporate their ideas into your curriculum.
Kathleen from Florida writes (Sep 13, 2011):
My son has a slight case of dyslexia—I say this because I know this disorder can manifest in several different ways. My son's case is basically with the mis-hearing of certain letter sounds.
I also found that any reading he did should be done aloud to make sure he was getting the proper comprehension. This was time consuming on my part and I'm not sure all homeschool mom's would have the time I did.
We were always frustrated with spelling and I felt the Rod and Staff would be too difficult for him. After going through several different books we are trying The Spell of Words book which is intended for older children with developmental dyslexia. So far it has lots of rules for him to learn to help spelling easier, as "sounding out" words doesn't work for him. It seems okay so far, but I realize we're only one month in.
Kathryn from Indiana writes (Sep 16, 2011):
My son is in the fourth grade and in years past reading has been a real challenge for him because of his mild dyslexia. We began using Rod and Staff readers in second grade (I started him out with the first-grade reader), then for third grade he used a second-grade reader. He did very well, so I skipped the third-grade reader this year, praying that I was not making a mistake, and, wow, has he ever improved! This year he picked up the book and read so well that I almost fell out of my chair! Praise the Lord for Rod and Staff! I also use the English for him and for my other son as well, and I really like it!
Katie from Pennsylvania writes (Sep 12, 2011):
I am a homeschooling mom and I have twelve children. My oldest son has a genetic language-based learning disorder (and we were told would never read or communicate), and my oldest daughter is dyslexic. As you can imagine, it was interesting having hem as my first students. They are now 16 and 15 and fluent and avid readers. My ten-year-old daughter is also severely dyslexic (it runs in our family—I too am dyslexic). I have used Rod and Staff curriculum for all my kids to learn to read.
Of my twelve kids, I currently have five independent readers (ages 16, 15, 14, 12, and 12), and three almost-independent readers (10, 8, and 6).
I have used the Bible Nurture and Reader Series for kindergarten up through fourth grade, I have also used your English and math for these grades. With my dyslexic girls I actually did the first-grade readers two years in a row. The first year basically reading and doing it for them, and the second year to give them confidence that they could learn to read.
I like this program because I didn't have to lean on phonics, but could allow the girls to just learn the sight words, because phonics and dyslexia do not go together.
The biggest thing I did was to not focus on the phonics, but the sight words. We would make flash cards for each word, and they would draw their own picture on the back of the flash cards to help them put an image to the word. This is essential for dyslexics, because they are building a visual picture for the word, which stamps the word into their mind. We would then say the word as we looked at first the front of the card, and then at the back of the card.
I also use the handwriting, which helps, too. By having them write and say the letters, and write and say the words as they write, it further plants the letters and words in their minds. It is important to relax and make the learning fun. For children with learning disabilities, half the struggle is realizing it is okay to be different and learn in a different way than others. It is also okay to take it really slow; most dyslexics don't fluently read until they have hit puberty. Once you as the parent and/or teacher realize this it will make the teaching process easier. Reading aloud to your student encourages their learning more than anything else you can do. Remember, they can learn history and science orally and test orally. They will excel in these subjects if taught aloud. I do also use Rod and Staff science and history up through seventh grade. Last, since I have some really strong readers, I encourage my students to learn together. Unless it is a test, I do not care if they share work.
Kristine from Oregon writes (Sep 13, 2011):
It was necessary for us to use a program that was developed by Marylhurst College. A friend of ours had previously used the program with her daughter and she achieved success with it. She helped me with my granddaughter to implement this program. My granddaughter learned to read through this program. She is still below her grade level in reading, but it has helped her tremendously. She used the Rod and Staff books in her reading portion of this program.
Laurie writes (Oct 4, 2011):
We have a 10-year-old daughter who is diligent and bright despite increased struggles over the past couple years. We have had her eyes examined a couple times. This last year the eye doctor thought she might have some slight dyslexia. We found a tutor which helped. However, we were crossing paths on several occasions with families who had children with similar symptoms as our daughter. They each recommended the same visual therapy specialist/evaluation in our area. After meeting with this eye specialist, we found that our daughter indeed had some visual issues that didn't require glasses nor were being addressed. Thankfully, she is now getting the help she needs, and it has led to helping yet some other children.
The one thing that so impressed me was that this doctor said many children are incorrectly diagnosed with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders when the real problem is vision related, even if their eyesight is 20/20. There is a fabulous book which explains it very well: When Your Child Struggles—The Myths About 20/20 Vision, by Dr. David Cook. I would highly recommend anyone with struggling children to read it and have their children see someone who specializes in vision therapy for an evaluation. Also, another resource is by Richard LaVoie: How Difficult Can This Be? It gives great insight on the issues struggling children face daily.
Lillian from Washington writes (Sep 15, 2011):
A wonderful activity for helping establish "left-to-right sequence" and "top-to-bottom" is to have the child wash a rectangular table. The table represents a sheet of paper or a page in a book, the action of the hand and wet cloth represents what the child needs to do with his eyes.
Use either a heavy plain white oilcloth (no pattern) with permanent black marker or use plastic tape on the table itself if the table is a solid, plain color. In the upper top left corner, six inches from the left edge, mark an "X" to mark the beginning spot, then a heavy black straight line to within six inches of the right edge. Make these black lines, even and carefully spaced, no closer together than eight inches, all the way to the bottom of the table.
The child is taught to begin at the "X" with a soapy wet cloth and to wash straight across, following to the end of the line and stopping where the black line ends. Make sure that the child picks up the cloth and puts it down at the beginning of the second line at the left. (Very important and a BIG problem with beginning readers who have not been taught this). It is GOOD if the child has to stretch and reach to accomplish this but he should not walk around or to the other side of the table. The table may be rinsed and dried in the same manner.
This is training the child how and where to focus his eyes when reading. Many children have difficulty with this and parents are unaware. This may be begun with a two-year-old. For interest, scent may be used in the water instead of soap.
Later, instead of washing, alphabet letters representing the child's name (each letter on a 3x5 card) may be put on the line. It is possible to make short stories using very basic sight words and pictures to represent others words. For instance: "Sammy (each letter on a separate card) is (whole word on ONE card) (picture of boy smiling to represent the word happy)."
I mark all 3x5 alphabet- and word-cards with a dark blue line at the very bottom so the child will place them right-side-up on the line.
For most dyslexic children it works best not to require writing at the same time as learning to read. Spelling can be done using alphabet cards and later magnetic alphabet letters spray-painted so the consonant letters are all the same color and the very bottom of each letter marked with a black or dark blue line so the child knows which side is up.
Remember that children must learn this same top-to-bottom, left-to-right for each alphabet letter as well—a complicated task. Think of how different an "m" looks if held sideways or upside down. A teacup is still a teacup no matter if upside down or sideways, alphabet letters are not.
After much experience and expansion with this, begin using Rod and Staff vocabulary words on 3x5 cards to make sentences and eventually little stories on the lined table.
Don't rush. You can only build on success. Always stop for the day while in a successful mode. If you sense difficulty for the child, stop immediately and back up to where he was successful.
Only contrast what you are teaching; all consonant letters should be the same color, all vowels the same color but contrasted from the consonants.
Always introduce new letters and words in pairs. For example: "s" and "l"; "jump" and "sit."
Some dyslexic children do well with "command" sight words as an introduction to the concept of what a word is. For example, "jump" and "sit" would each be on a 3x5 flash card. When shown the word the child would respond by doing what the card says, i.e., by jumping when shown the "jump" card. Other "command" words are "come," "walk," "clap," "smile," "run," "hide," etc. This can be expanded in many ways.
There is SO much more... hope this helps someone. "A wise teacher makes learning a joy."
Morgan from Michigan writes (Sep 13, 2011):
We have enjoyed using the Mental Picture Cues Card Set. I laminated them and put a hole punch at the top. I used this with a peg board and wooden dowels. The children can put the cards in sequence on the peg board to create sentences, paragraphs, or stories. You can also use them to learn spelling and reading one word at a time by making word cards to match the picture cards.
a mother from Georgia writes (Sep 14, 2011):
My son has dyslexia and he also has ADD. We started using your 3rd grade English last year. He had difficulty focusing at first, but the more he used it the better he became at working through it. He now does his lessons independently and rarely needs assistance. He still has trouble with spelling, but he has improved a lot.
Thanks. We love using your English books.
Natalie from Australian Capital Territory writes (Sep 12, 2011):
My child has autism and cerebral palsy. Was in school for 18 months with "whole word" and could not read one word or do one sum. 6 months later she has just started grade 2 work. I just slowly kept going and she got it through the repetition. I am mildly dyslexic myself and Rod and Staff is great as they do not add confusion by stimulating the senses with color and noise (through a lot of pictures). However, we do Spalding phonics as it is simpler for me and child to work out.
Rebecca from South Carolina writes (Sep 12, 2011):
I homeschooled both of my boys with Rod and Staff English and spelling starting in 3rd grade. The older child had reading difficulties similar to dyslexia although he was never diagnosed. It was very difficult for him, although we did most of his lessons orally. That was the key to helping us get through the book. The spelling program was confusing for him, so I switched to an Orton-Gillingham method, which is what is recommended for dyslexia. He is now almost 17 and in 11th grade. What has helped him more than anything is learning to type and use spell check. His spelling improved more with watching his errors be corrected than doing a formal spelling program. He is also very artsy and creative, and an auditory learner—all in common with people with dyslexia. As far as math, I feel Rod and Staff math is "perfect!" It is so sequential, explaining each step with lessons that introduce one concept at a time. It is not overwhelming and busy like so many math programs. So my advice is to slow down and not worry about covering every tidbit of information, and do as much orally/conversationally as the child can handle while still retaining the information. Also, many people do not realize you can have your child take standardized tests orally with a certified proctor. This has been a salvation for a child I work with who has autism. He tests well this way and it is an encouragement to the parents. Even the SAT/ACT can be tested orally with a doctor waiver.
On another note, my younger son, who is in 7th grade, is a very good reader/speller. We LOVE Rod and Staff English. We also did Rod and Staff math until this year when he "outgrew" the curriculum and started Algebra 1. Rod and Staff math has also helped me improve my arithmetic skills and develop an appreciation for math. We are also doing the 7th-grade Bible Study, Truth for Life. Love it! Thank you for these wonderful resources.
Rebecca from Texas writes (Sep 12, 2011):
I am a reading specialist. Your phonics program is a good systematic phonics program that is very thorough. But because your readers are not based on the phonics learned, they are unusable for children who need a very controlled, systematic vocabulary. I would suggest that the readers match what the children learn in phonics.
Ruth from Maryland writes (Sep 12, 2011):
I love Rod and Staff books and hope you can incorporate some of these ideas:
I have a friend who is dyslexic and read her first book at the age of 38, after we did the exercise on p. 142 of The Gift of Dyslexia by Ron D. Davis. Before that time, she was unable to read the Bible because words like snake "jumped out at her." She went to a Davis Dyslexia Workshop and then was able to read in front of everyone at her Bible study. Please read the book—it may sound outrageous, but now I know many people who say it describes them. I don't agree with all he says, but it's available and written for parents to use. He also has a website about autism that I plan to look into.
Now I am working with a 14-year-old girl. She has had the same success so far with the orientation exercise and is now working with clay to make a picture of some of her trigger words from p. 252 of the book. If you can incorporate any of it into your curriculum, it would be such a blessing.
Shanna from Texas writes (Sep 12, 2011):
We have used Rod and Staff as the "basis" for our homeschooling since we started with our daughter. She is now in 4th grade. I liked Rod and Staff from the beginning because it was Bible-based and no-nonsense, without a lot of busy pictures.
Our daughter came from Russia at 2.5, and had some vision problems that were finally corrected by surgery when she was in 1st grade. She has always shown symptoms of dyslexia-like challenges as well: she has had challenges with sequencing (making patterns, counting, the concept of before and after, and alphabetical order). Although she studied phonics, she still sometimes will start sounding out a word in the middle or will reverse the order of the letters. When she was younger, she frequently read "saw" for "was" and made other reversals. Learning the word "the" and other small words was very difficult, and she still substitutes words. On some days the words or letters "move around" on the page. We have learned to adapt, but I am wanting to get her formally tested to see if there is anything else we can do for her.
Now to the question at hand: using Rod and Staff.
With anything, you just have to be really creative and pray that God will show you a way to help the child understand.
It can be REALLY frustrating and tiring sometimes. God had to take hold of me pretty strongly; and He still does at times to adjust my priorities. Is my first priority to raise a Christian child OR a child who's a genius but who does not see Christ reflected in me? One of the hardest things for me at first was to let go of my expectations of what daughter "should" be doing, and let her work at her level rather than at "grade level." Sometimes now I wish I had given her an extra year of "kindergarten."
Reading was a challenge after about early 1st grade. The reading required in the phonics program was WAY too hard for my daughter, so we simply did what we could. At first she had a LOT of trouble reading, but gradually (with the help of the Biscuit books about the little dog, and some of the storybooks offered here at Milestone), she now can read at grade-level, although it still tires her. If you can find a book the child likes, whether it's a reader or not, the child is more likely to WANT to read. We no longer use the Rod and Staff Bible readers because our daughter can now read her own little Bible! We had to take her to a large Bible store and let her look at several versions to see which one she could read the best. Some of them have VERY tiny fonts in unusual colors. We do keep some of the readers and the Pathways readers, though, because she enjoys the stories.
Apparently there are different problems that are all called dyslexia, and even the experts disagree sometimes on the definition. In some cases, like my daughter's, the letters move around. We've had to experiment with using different fonts and sizes of type on the computer for her to see what works best. In a book, you may simply have to read the material to the child. There are also colored overlays that some people find helpful. I think you can find some of these at Diane Camp's website, and there are probably other suppliers as well.
Some children who are dyslexic apparently have trouble recognizing the symbols of letters and associating these "symbols" with sounds. My daughter didn't have this problem; when she sees the letters correctly she can sound them out. For children with this issue, some people make cards with pictures BEHIND the letter or blend. For example, the picture of a cow might be behind OW.
We've had lots of problems with math due to the sequencing issues. We are still having to work on the concept of "before" and "after." We use the Rod and Staff math at times, and at times I make our own pages to meet her needs. When she was younger, we used a LOT of hands-on: toy animals, marbles, blocks, Math-U-See rods, etc. Rod and Staff has some very cute little materials (bees, etc) in the early elementary years. We also made up songs about numbers and stories about numbers and math problems. Since we live on a farm, we've used real animals and real situations a lot. (If we had 3 pens with 4 goats in each pen, how many goats would we have in all?) She likes wolves and coyotes, so they teach us about subtraction: (If a coyote were to steal a chicken from our flock of 12 chickens, how many chickens would be left?) Using something that the child likes really helps get their attention.
In English, I had to help her read the sentences, especially in 2nd and 3rd grades. There was no way that she could do all the written work required. We did some work written and some orally. Our daughter seems to do well when we do work on a dry-erase board with colored markers.
Everything else I just had to help her read. Sometimes she'd read a sentence and I'd read a sentence. Now on good days she can read several pages by herself. We did use a different curriculum for history and science—much of it home-generated and involving hands-on work.
There are now wonderful history videos and she watches some animal programs on TV. That gives us a break.
There is also a site that you might know of: Project Gutenberg. This site offers free book downloads of "classic" books. If you want your child to "read" a classic 19th century book (like Little Women) Gutenberg might have a free audio (like MP3) copy available. Just don't let your children loose on Gutenberg; there are books there that aren't suitable for anyone, children or adult.
A good book if you don't already have it is called The Gift of Dyslexia. The author has some interesting ideas that you might want to try. There is also a good book that always encourages me is called Homeschooling the Challenging Child. This isn't just about dyslexia, but about many different types of challenges. From what we hear, the Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas is one of the best places for children to be diagnosed, and they also offer a DVD-based dyslexia program that is supposedly very good but very expensive. I want to learn more about it.
I hope this helps you. If you ever want some of our funny ideas that we've tried, like pretending 0 is a trampoline, and all the numbers are lining up to jump on it (to teach before and after), just contact me.
(Sep 29, 2011):
Since I wrote previously, a kind lady has emailed me that what my daughter (and hers) has might be Meares-Irlens, a syndrome that is recognized in some other countries although apparently not officially here in the U.S. In this problem (which is sometimes and sometimes not lumped with dyslexia) the letters or numbers spin, move, bounce or swirl around the page at times. Once again there is still great controversy about what helps: colored overlays, simply strips of paper to hold under the line that the child is reading, etc.
There are so many different types of problems that are all called dyslexia, but apparently are very different. The phonics that work for some children don't help my daughter a whole lot. She can correctly sound out the letters, but she might see them backwards and sound them out the way she sees them!
Shannon from Maryland writes (Sep 12, 2011):
I use Spelling 4 and English 5 with my 11-year-old daughter who is dyslexic. We started both programs in April after much trial and error with LOTS of other programs. This is what we will be staying with! Now, it's not easy, but with some modification it is perfectly doable, and she is learning a lot.
For the English 5, we do it together along with my 12-year-old son (who has dysgraphia). We do much of the lesson orally, or on the whiteboard, and they do the worksheets in writing. I think the key to using this with a dyslexic student is to be willing to be flexible. You're not going to be able to hand this to a student and not be involved. It is a rigorous program and, I feel, needs to be done together to really be understood by a child with learning differences.
For Spelling 4, she does as much as she is able to on her own, and I sit with her and help her with the ones where she gets stuck. We have tried Spelling Workout, Sequential Spelling, and even tried using a regular spelling word list and doing sentences, definitions, abc order, etc. This is the curriculum we prefer.
Feel free to contact me if you would like any additional information.
Sharon from Washington writes (Sep 12, 2011):
I have taught some children with dyslexia or other memory and motor control problems, which showed up from ages 6 to 8. This was at a time when the children were going through a growth spurt. If there was going to be a problem, in my experience that's when it has shown up.
From reading about the developing brain I found that the children, upon looking at their lesson (whether it be language, spelling, or mathematics), see front-wise, back-wise, upside down, and right-side up all at the same time.
So let me tell you about a true experience. My son, age 6, had been doing fine with his numbers and letters. Then one day he could not read or write; everything I had him copy was written backwards. Being young, I gave him a break from his schoolwork for several days. Then, he came to me with his book and asked if he may read to me. Sure. He held the book upside-down. I thought he was playing a game. But he was serious. He wanted to read so bad he did not want to take a break any longer. So holding the book upside down he read to me perfectly! I tried an experiment, I had him look at a word upside down and write it for me. He wrote it perfectly—right-side up! I experimented with numbers. I wrote the numbers upside down. He wrote them right side up. For the next few weeks he did all his reading with his book upside down and his math upside down. Without being able to pinpoint an exact time, he did return to being able to do lessons right-side up.
I was so impressed by this that I have used it many times to get a child past an awkward time of dyslexia. It has never failed me. One little boy I taught copied the upside-down numbers perfectly upside-down. Then I took away the copy sheet and gave him back his lesson book. He continued on his merry way writing his numbers right-side up. This had to be repeated for a few days to keep him progressing. It worked.
There you have it. This worked for several of my children as well as for several friends that asked for help. I hope you find this helpful. I know it is novel but it works. The brain is a marvelous work of God.
Sherry from Ohio writes (Sep 13, 2011):
I have one child who has phonemic deafness and mild dyslexia. She was a late reader (age 8) and I had experience with many quality phonics programs with success for reading and decoding, but not spelling. Her spelling was my main concern. Last year, after having switched a portion of my curriculum to Rod and Staff for several of my children in various subjects, I noticed how easily and plainly the phonics was presented in level 1 for my 1st grader. I decided to order a copy of the 1st grade phonics for my then 5th grader to work through (units 2-5). We worked slowly and diligently through the lessons, practicing more advanced decoding and rules. In one year I am pleased to report a phenomenal improvement in spelling.
I think for us as homeschoolers the key is not to be concerned with the levels of the material keeping up with age, but rather letting our children's abilities dictate where they are placed. I also used the reading program a year behind her actual grade level to facilitate improvement and was happy with the result. We have also started the Bible program a year behind grade level and are enjoying that as well. Three of my other children use Rod and Staff Bible Nurture readers, phonics, and I have one that uses the spelling program—all are at grade level. But we have also taken a little over a year or so to work through the entire book before moving to the next level.
For dyslexic children the uncluttered, plain pages are so refreshing to keep children focused (and for those who are easily distracted). Integrating Bible and reading in one course in the younger grades is also helpful. I do wish I would have started Rod and Staff earlier in our homeschooling career, because I think the design of the program is comprehensive without being overwhelming.
Susan from North Carolina writes (Sep 12, 2011):
We are really appreciative of the Rod and Staff books. They are so simple to use and very thorough. I've used Rod and Staff math and English for two years now and am very grateful for them. Our girls did great with the curriculum. One concern arose when they took the IOWA exams this past April. Their language arts scores were great, however their math scores needed improvement. They scored pretty low on the section for math concepts and computation. I looked over some of the questions on the exam and could see why they did score so low. It was mostly because the problems dealt with estimation and geometry related concepts that we hadn't touched on with the Rod and Staff math in grades 3 and 4. Regardless of the test results though, I chose to continue with Rod and Staff because my girls are really learning their multiplication and division this year, and I'm happy with this.
Tim from Tennessee writes (Sep 12, 2011):
We have just ordered Rod and Staff books and they are on the way to us. However, our child who is 14 now was tutored using a system called The Orton and Gillingham program, when we lived near Asheville, NC. She showed signs of dyslexia as a 1st-, 2nd-, and 3rd-rade student. My wife also used this program after sitting in on the teaching sessions. The program works great. To pronounce the words in her reading book she would have to "swipe the word with one or more syllables" by the use of a round wooden stick (like a skewer that shish kebab is cooked on). Sounds odd but it works. Make sure you cut off one pointed end so the child doesn't stick himself or herself in the eye. She had to touch the word to make contact, and as soon as she did it made it possible to pronounce the words in a sentence. Something about touching the page of the book with the words connects with the brain. Spelling is still hard for her to remember, but she can read fairly well today. There is a school in Asheville, NC, that specializes in this method, but it is extremely expensive. You can learn more about the Orton Gillingham program at their website (www.orton-gillingham.com). I'm told there are also trained tutors around the country that teach this method.
Wanda from British Columbia writes (Sep 12, 2011):
Both of my sons have struggled with dyslexia. I did not use Rod and Staff curriculum when they were young, but one thing I have noticed as I have been using Rod and Staff with my daughters is that the early grades go quite quickly in reading, and it is by sight. With my sons that would have been too difficult. Learning the phonetic sounds and reasons behind different letter groups has been helpful for them. Using Plasticine or clay to make their letters also was helpful because they were able to feel the shapes of the letters. Oftentimes it seems that people with dyslexia are 3D thinkers so hands-on learning helps them more than just 2D black-and-white print. They need to be able to hold the letter or number and see it from all angles.
Where my sons struggled the most has been in math. What helped them in this area was math manipulatives. We used the math blocks from Math-U-See products. Or Lego could work as well.
On a positvie note, what I have used with Rod and Staff books that I think is good for those with dyslexia is your simple drawings and pages. There is not a bunch of fancy colors and pictures that distract them away from the lesson. Also there seems to be good spacing in the books we have been using so far.