Tips for the Struggling Young Reader
- 2005 25 Apr
"Children with speech difficulties often have trouble learning to read," said my son's speech pathologist. "You'll need to watch him closely."
I politely thanked her for her help and inwardly decided not to believe her. After all, Stephen was my deepest thinker. There was obviously no problem with intelligence. After a while, however, it became apparent to me that my son wasn't learning the same way his older siblings had. Besides struggling with clear speech and academics, he also took longer to learn large motor skills, like riding a bike. I realized the curriculum I'd used with the older children wouldn't be effective with Stephen.
Insecurity threatened as I dove into teaching my son, but as I walked with him on his academic journey I learned an important lesson: The ultimate curriculum planner is my Heavenly Father. He knew just what Stephen needed and when I asked, he showed me how to focus our school on my son's needs. Looking back, God led me to several discoveries that helped us on this academic journey.
Understanding a Child's Individual Learning Schedule
One of the most important preparations for this journey came from the writings of Ruth Beechick and Raymond and Dorothy Moore. Their teaching recommends allowing children to learn naturally and in their personal timetables. Understanding that boys often don't fully kick into reading until they are nine or older, greatly reduced the stress that I felt to have Stephen reading "on schedule." It also gave me the confidence to set aside the curriculum that worked for my older children.
Rhyming: The Key to Unlock Reading
The second milestone in Stephen's journey started during a quiet moment in my blue rocker-recliner. As it became apparent that Stephen wasn't going through the natural steps toward reading, I prayed for wisdom and felt a whisper in my heart, "Read him more Dr. Seuss."
Dr. Seuss? Could that be the Lord? It sounded outlandish to me, but I pulled out the Dr. Seuss books. Not long after that I attended a homeschool convention and was drawn to a particular booth in the curriculum hall. A reading specialist and homeschooling mom, Peggy Wilbur, stood for hours answering questions as she displayed her book, Reading Rescue 1-2-3 (available on Amazon.com).
"In a recent study, dyslexic children's ability to rhyme was tested," Peggy explained. "They couldn't. When they were taught to rhyme, all but a small percentage was then able to learn to read. Can your son rhyme? If he can't, that's where I'd start."
I returned home equipped with Peggy's book and advice and spent my son's kindergarten year working heavily with rhyming. It had happened naturally with the other children and I'd never even noticed that Stephen couldn't rhyme! I gave myself permission to let go of traditional expectations and we worked on the things he really needed, like coordination skills, support for his speech lessons, letter sounds, and of course, lots of rhyming books and games.
Nutrition and Exercise For the Brain
The next year before the homeschooling conference, I again prayed for wisdom. This time I was drawn to Diane Craft's booth (Child Diagnostics, Inc., http://www.dianecraft.org), where she gave me a free fifteen-minute consultation. Armed with samples of my son's work, I eagerly listened to her advice. Within a short time she'd assessed his problem, a difficulty in crossing the midline of his brain. She patiently explained that sounds are stored in one side of the brain, while the picture of the letter is stored in the other. Stephen's left side could hear and learn a sound, but because the midline wasn't working appropriately, the right side struggled to connect the symbol with the sound he'd learned.
Diane gave me a set of exercises to help Stephen's brain learn to cross the midline and a list of nutritional recommendations to help build it. She suggested fish oil, grapefruit seed extract, and lethicin. She'd found in her work with struggling male readers that combining the fish oil and grapefruit seed extract significantly helped their academic progress. (Interestingly, this combination did not seem to significantly help with most females who struggled with reading.) After further research of the material Diane offered, I also put Stephen on Mineral Rich. I'd often caught him chewing on his shirt, a sign of mineral deficiency. Interestingly, even now, a couple of years since we started this nutritional program, if Stephen goes for very long without his supplements reading becomes more difficult and his penmanship more sloppy.
The Large Motor Skill Connection
Other articles explained the need for large motor skills activity in which the student crossed the midline of his body. One resource suggested gymnastics. I signed Stephen up but after many tears and a few nightmares over how inadequate he felt, I allow him to quit after the first session. We discovered, however, that he enjoyed roller hockey. After the first 6 months of consistent skating and hitting the puck across the midline of the body there was improvement in Stephen's reading skills. His swimming instructor also mentioned how his coordination was improving.
Another tip I learned from Diane Craft is that a child with midline issues can better access stored letter sounds/symbols if the sound and picture is presented as a whole. So, I put aside the typical alphabet flash cards where Aa was written underneath the apple, and purchased a set where the letter was written on top of the apple-superimposed. The cards also employed the use of color to help cement learning. These cards, as well as other resources, can be purchased through Diane's website. She also recommended a reading approach that relied heavily on phonics and shared strategies for helping the brain store spelling words, like using pictures, stories, and color.
The Best Resource
Gradually, as we sought God's direction, Stephen began to improve. He prayed often that God would help him learn. During times of frustration and sometimes tears, Stephen and I both learned to cry out to God for help. We had a lot of discussions about how God has a special plan for Stephen's life and how learning to persevere and work hard was preparing him for the future.
Stephen is now almost nine and actually enjoys reading! I don't know if there are more concerns ahead of us, but seeing his progress gives me confidence to simply keep seeking the Lord's counsel and trusting the resources He gives me. I'm encouraged when I look back and she that the Lord didn't given me everything at once, which would have overwhelmed me, but He did give each step right on time.
The greatest resource for any child is his or her Creator, Who is eager to help each one become all He created them to be. Our loving Father knows just what each child needs. As parents, all we have to do is ask.
A homeschooling mother of four, Paula Moldenhauer is passionate about God's grace. Published over 300 times, she’s recently released two novels: Titanic: Legacy of Betrayal and Postmark: Christmas. Her website offers homeschooling and parenting articles, devotionals, and information about her books. www.paulamoldenhauer.com Contact Paula: Paula@soulscents.us