Tips for Parents on Teaching Reading, Writing and Math Skills

I received an email from a parent asking me to write some tips to help parents (new and experienced) provide reading, writing and math instruction to their children at home or in addition to what they learned in school. Often parents feel like their hands are tied when it comes to helping their own children to learn, especially when the parent has a learning disability. I want all parents to realize that they are the first educators their children will ever meet and they have a huge set of advantages – time, opportunity, trust, skill, and knowledge about their children. For your child to be a good student, you have to show them the way and you are equipped – trust me.

Tip 1: Read books that you are able to read fluently. By reading a book fluently you are teaching your child how to read in a conversational way. Do not worry whether or not book is simple or complicated. It only matters that your child hears the text come to life in a way that resembles everyday conversation.

Tip 2: Read books with numbers in them. This allows your child to build number sense and helps them to see numbers in a universal way. This is especially good for small children who are just beginning to talk.

Tip 3: Phonemic Awareness is the ability to identify and manipulate phonemes or what experts say is the smallest unit of sound that can differentiate meaning. This is something you can do in the dark. Play a game with your children. Turn the lights off or have the child cover their eyes and practice sounds. You can say /b/ and have your child mimic the sound. You can choose any letters for the night, but it works best if you choose letters that combine into one word (like /b/, /a/, /t/ (bat), so throughout the lesson your child is actually spelling words phonetically.

Tip 4: Phonics is putting the letter symbols to the sounds. After you have a child spell the words using the sounds – then let them see the word and say the letters. You can do one or two words each time you play, but the more you play the more vocabulary you can introduce and this will help your child spell in the long run. It is also fun and can be a great way to get your child excited about learning!

Tip 5: Highlight/underline vocabulary in the text and help your child to create child friendly definitions for those vocabulary words. If you are struggling to define a term, look it up. It is great for your child to see you search for information in a dictionary or online. This allows your child to see and use other resources. Write those vocabulary words on an index card with definitions on the back. When you have down time (or as a barter for some TV time) quiz your child on a few words from the deck of index cards.

Tip 6: As soon as your child can write more than the alphabet, have the child write the definitions. Writing is a tough skill to master, help them practice as often as possible.

Tip 7: Keep a notebook with your child – a journal – making it beautiful or whimsical on the outside makes it more unique for your child. When you move about your day, point things out and have your child write them in their journal. For instance, say you decide to take a stroll to the local park. You can point out bugs or clouds or cars and say, “Hey (child’s name here). Look at that (item here). Let’s write that in your journal.” Then write, Today I saw a (item). Let your child write the sentence that you wrote. If your child is older have them write a short paragraph about whatever it was you saw.  Be sure to remind them about it the next time – we call this activating prior knowledge – when children associate new skills to what they already know, they tend to maintain that information.

Tip 7: Speak in complete sentences and encourage your child to do the same. Set the expectation that you and your child can use proper sentences.

Tip 8: Practice math problems with your child. This is easy. Example: Take boxes out of the cabinet. Set a few on the counter. Talk out loud about how many boxes you have on the counter. Take some away or add some and talk out loud about the process. Count the number of boxes you have and then speak the number sentences. Example: I placed 5 boxes on my counter top. If I add 3 more boxes, I have 8 boxes on my counter top. 5+3=8. I know this sounds monotonous, but it helps your child to see how to add and subtract. Do this when you are shopping at the grocery store or any other place where you can discuss numbers. The more you build the better you get.

Tip 9: Many times parents tell me that the educational system has a responsibility to bend to meet the needs of their child. This is an interesting perspective.  Even if the educational system bends to meet the needs of the child through their high school years, that will not always be the case when that (now) adult goes to college or when they find a career later in life. As hard as it is to come to terms with, we must teach our kids how to work around others in a way that might be outside of their comfort zone.

Example. My daughter has severe ADHD. She wants to be an accountant in a business office. For that to happen she had to go to college. The majority of college campuses are not designed for different types of learners. She had to learn to sit through the interview without bouncing, she had to learn how to directly respond to questions, and she had to prove that she could adapt to the culture of that school.  She will have to do the same thing when she is ready to find a career. For that reason, we spent a lot of time teaching her how to sit still and focus. We trained her how to hear questions to ascertain what was being asked. We pushed her to find outlets after she got out of school so she could get through an 8 to 10+ hour workday.

I hope she finds a career that she loves, but I also feel better knowing she has the knowledge and the skills to make it in a world that is not accustomed to her way of doing things. We did that not by teaching our daughter about the world as we hoped it would be some day, but by teaching her about the world as it is. I have no doubt that one day I will find her working while dancing – in a company that has a great deal of confidence in her ability to do what it takes to get the job done.

RECAP:

Parents, I understand that reading, writing and math are hard things to tackle. However, I want you to think about it under these types of terms. If your child wanted to be a dancer, football player, journalist, etc., you would ask them to practice the skills they needed to be successful at those things. Academic skills are no different. For our children to become better students they need the skills. You don’t have to do all these things at once. You can just take one tip and apply it. I give you these tips because they worked for me.

Please continue to write. If you want more details on any particular tip, I am happy to spend more time. I wish an abundance of blessings to all of you and your children. If you have tips to share – please feel free to share.

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Beginning of the Dark Woods: Not stupid after all!

When teachers dismiss children with learning disabilities

I write this post in dedication to my son, Alexander the Great!

When my son was 8-years-old he experienced a very traumatic event. An educator dismissed him at his school. This educator told our family that we needed to accept that our son “was not going to be able to learn, because her daughter was unable to learn.”  At some point this educator (speaking to another teacher on staff) called our son stupid within earshot of our son. This experience was very damaging to my son.  He had been trying so hard to cope with the all of his problems in school. Besides, he was 8. What she did was like punching him in the face and I had no ice to sooth it.

It was a very difficult situation to navigate as a mother.  I knew my son had this amazing mind, but I was unable to bring it out. If you remember, in an earlier post, I cautioned parents to determine if they SHOULD be the one to educate their child(ren). When my son began showing signs of LD, it was after he taught his 4-year-old brother to read. On his own, he would come home and sit down and teach his brother everything he knew about sounds and letters and phonics. Yeah, he spoke slowly. Not incorrectly. Not incoherently. He just seemed to be at his own pace.

He was not like my daughter; my daughter broke down into tears and cried like I was beating her. He would get distracted, talk to me, daydream, wander the room, distract, evade, and stall. He knew the letters, he knew their sounds, but he could not read without falling asleep, and it just took a long time for him to get a sentence out whether it was speaking to someone or reading aloud.

I noticed that my tone of voice often lead him to frustration. It was not the typical frustration my daughter had expressed. His frustration would lead him to near uncontrollable tears. I tried to use the same tactics I used with my daughter, without any success. We were not good learning partners because he was so much like me that all of our gaps (academically) were in many of the same areas. So, I determined that the best support I could give my son was to support the teachers who were supporting him. We found a tutor at our church, we put him in school and I followed the lead of teachers when it was time to assist with homework. I also began volunteering in his classroom.

One day his teacher asked me to participate in a group reading that included her, my son and me. We each held the same book and my son began reading. What he read did not make sense; it was gibberish. The teacher and I stared at each other and then we asked my son, “What did you just read?”

My son looked down at the book. Placed his finger at the end of the sentence and began to read backward on the page. A few seconds later, he looked up surprised and said, “Oh, I did that wrong.” He then started over reading from the beginning of the sentence.  He continued reading, but struggled all the way through that little book. Each time he started the wrong way, we visibly watched him take a deep breath and try again. He was yawning, tears came to his eyes and he nearly fell asleep as we watched. Talk about a light popping on.

The teacher requested an IEP evaluation and we began planning a strategy on how to help my son. Unfortunately, the school was not so supportive. The special educator (a woman with over 20 years of experience) felt that we were pushing to use resources that the school did not have. She was angry that I had pushed for an IEP. She said that I made my son think he was dyslexic and so he was acting like he was. She even accused him of faking it. It is one thing to read backwards, but he was also “mirror writing”. He had motor issues on one side of his body and he struggled with his speech. By that I mean that it took him a long time to force the sentence out – he would strain to find the right words or any words. These were just a few of the symptoms we had seen.

I like to believe my children are smart, but smart enough to fake this at the age of 8 would have been a stretch.  Similar to my daughter’s situation, the school discounted medical and psychological evaluations.

What stifled our IEP meeting was my son’s performance during the IQ portion of the test. We were informed that my son put his hand in the air and told the psychologist that he was done and started falling asleep. The tester could not rouse him to continue and they felt that my son should have finished the test so that the school could have had a better measurement of his IQ. We asked how long the test was, it was 2 hours long and he was tested in school before lunch. We asked why they did not retest at a better time. Our son was an early riser; he was out of bed and waiting for school by 5 am, which meant that he must have been exhausted by lunchtime. They said that he (my son) would know how to respond if he was given the opportunity to test again. Did I mention that he was 8?

The psychologist who performed the IQ evaluation said, “He performed better on parts of the test then I could have, so he will remember the test and the answers will not be spontaneous.” We countered that my son did not know the correct answers; he might only know what he already answered. Still they would not be moved to help him or to retest his IQ, even though there was over a 29+-point discrepancy between what they could measure of my sons IQ and his actual performance in school. The IEP was refused on the basis that my son was showing progress in class after the teacher and I began working with him on the day we saw him read backwards.

According to the school, he was 2-grade levels behind his classmates, but he had the “possibility” of improving because in the 45 days between our discovery and the reading of the test results, he was able to better perform some tasks in class that he had previously been failing. When we explained that he was spending 3 to 5 hours at home doing homework. They agreed that this was bad and requested that we drop it to 20 minutes only. When his teacher explained that we had tried this and his performance plummeted, the committee shrugged it off. Either we let him only work for 20 min, allow him to  fail and have limited to no progress without additional help or we work with him alone with no assistance from the school. Additionally, my son was NOT allowed to participate in Science clubs or after school academic clubs because he was “not academically ready” for such challenges and being apart of those groups could make it harder for our son to keep up with the other children. What that meant to us was that our son was not going to get help and he was going to be punished for having learning disabilities.

This situation, however, took a drastically different turn when that special educator called my son stupid. I could not resolve it by yelling at her. That would have only served to hurt my son more. But, I was angry. I wrote the principal and the superintendent of my district. They didn’t do anything about it, from what I saw, but at least it was a start for me.

That evening, my son had a dream. What he described to me was amazing. He said he was an elf and he lived in the forest that was his hair. Because he had thick, beautiful black hair, the forest was called the Dark Woods. In his dream there was a king and queen Sphinx.  Their kingdom had been split in half by a terrible fight. On one half of his head, lived the queen. The queen’s land was surrounded by clear water because the queen believed in justice. My son said that justice was pure because it required the truth. On the other half of his head lived the king. The king’s land was surrounded by blood. The blood represented the strictness and sacrifice of that came from the word of the law. He said that law did not require truth or justice, it only believed in what was written.

In my sons dream he was sent on this heroic journey, by an angel, to bring the two kingdoms back together. It was so profound. I knew I could not let that dream go away. I owed it to him to do something with it.

I expressed to him how proud I was that he shared that dream with me. I grabbed a pencil and a piece of paper and I wrote down his dream. That weekend we decided to turn it into a book. He picked characters, chose their names, decided what they would be like and where they lived. He decided how many chapters would be in each book, how many pages were in each chapter and how much detail he could handle reading at one time. This was important because books that were too thick discouraged him. We had so much fun.  We did not care about typos of form. We tried our best to recreate the plot that our son had described to us.

I printed the book through an on-demand publishing company in order to give him something tangible that he could hold in his hands. This was something that was his. It was something that the teacher could not take away from him. He could see that he was NOT stupid. He had written a book. He was so proud.

Not long after my son was a reader. He may have been a slow reader, but he was a reader nonetheless. I moved my son to another school, in a completely different district. At that school he was placed in programs that pushed him and he was given the opportunity and support that was refused to him by his old school.

I attach a link to the first book in our tiny series. May you enjoy the story that came from a young boy who someone nearly discarded, because she didn’t understand that having an LD does not make you stupid. A person who did not know that having an LD it does not mean you can never learn, and it does not mean that you should be punished and not allowed to participate in programs that other children participate in; a person who ironically took a position to serve people with disabilities.

Every time I write a post and share a part of my personal history I think about this situation. I think about what could have been lost. What if I would have taken that persons advice? What if I would have accepted something that would have damaged my son for the remainder of his life? I pray often that I never fail him in this area.

To every parent who has been through something similar, I say keep pushing forward. Academic potential is a measurement of choice, based on a formula that is standard to only one kind of learner. That school could not measure my son’s potential, because they had no idea how to measure his version of genius. Do not allow your child to be stifled by the crutch of someone else’s potential, rather, allow your child to build their own formula and develop potential of their own.

You can purchase the book here: Purchase a Hard Copy of the book Image

You can even get the book on your Purchase on KINDLE

Until Next Time…