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.

Advertisements

The Steps of Progress (19 years and Counting)!

For those of you who are parents, you know (especially when you have children with learning disabilities) progress is sometimes a slow crawl on a long journey towards adulthood. It’s hard to know if the decisions you have made in your child’s younger years are going to become the roadblocks or bulldozers that they deal with in their adult lives.

When I first discovered that my daughter was having difficulty learning, I admit to feeling apprehensive. I went to the people that I presumed where the experts (her teachers), but I found myself facing what I considered to be a brick wall. Most people thought that I should allow her to just be “happy” and let everything else (learning and education) go.  I don’t understand why we think that a child facing an obstacle should be forced to make the choice between learning and play. However, when it comes to learning disabilities, I find that is often the first response.

I can’t explain what that feels like.  I can only tell you that it is insulting.  It was so insulting to me that I determined in my own head that I wanted my daughter to have more than an enjoyable childhood – I wanted her to enjoy her life as an adult.  For that reason, we began writing and reading at home, tutoring over the summer and practicing those skills in other non-academic situations. What I mean by this is that I found a book and I scheduled our days, we would work for an hour or so and play for an hour or so.  If we took a trip to the zoo or the museum, we broke that trip down and wrote about it (wrote while doing it). We would walk to the library and read out loud.  If we saw a movie about something, we researched it to find out more.  When she was older, we took notes, practiced responding to questions and we dove into things that were unfamiliar.  It was not easy and sometimes she fought me, but we pushed on.

I recall other parents telling me that doing this was abusive. One parent told me that my daughter would grow up and become ‘wild’ because I had her practicing her writing when she could have been outside playing and enjoying her life like all the other kids her age. I cannot tell you how often I questioned my choices, especially those years when it seemed like my daughter was not making any progress or when she would take a test at school and come home feeling defeated and sad.

The only thing that kept me motivated during those times was the idea that my daughter was going to struggle as badly as I did if I did not find a way to help her. I thought about the insecurity she could face as an adult if she could not read and write and that was all that I needed to keep pushing forward.

This week, my daughter called and announced to me that after her graduation from college in May (with a BA in Business Administration), she will be moving on to a one-year graduate program. She is also hoping to spend part of her summer over seas. I leapt for joy – physically and emotionally.  I was so excited that I announced her good news over Facebook before she had the opportunity to share it herself.

When I look at her now, I still see that little bitty kiddo, struggling to hold her pencil. I see that kid who could not stay in her seat. I see that little one crying because the words in the book were hard to read. I see the kid who called herself stupid. I see the child who was picked on for being different. BUT, I also see an amazing and beautiful woman with hope and love and joy for any and every second that life provides.

I still question my choices. Maybe that is the price we pay as parents. However, I no longer question them as bad choices. I wonder what I could have done better, what would have made things easier, what skills can I develop to help parents in the same position I found myself in those years ago.

My advice at this point is – DON’T GIVE UP! People with limited vision will tell you that what you are doing is stupid, that your child should play instead of learn, that you are being mean for working for a future for your kid. Hold on to your vision! Do NOT let it go! Don’t let it drive you crazy, but use it to fuel your child to a lifetime of victories. I have faith in you all and I hope you have faith in yourselves!

I wish you a happy and Joyful THANKSGIVING!!!

H.Res. 456: “Calling on schools and State and local educational agencies to recognize that dyslexia has significant educational implications”

This weekend I took the time to begin discussing disability advocacy.  What does it mean? Why is it important? How do we address it?

It was my pleasure to discover that Congressman Bill Cassidy and Congresswoman Julia Brownley have written a resolution calling for the House to acknowledge that impact of dyslexia on students. Decoding Dyslexia- Co said that Congressman Cassidy said that

“the resolution is designed to urge schools and educational institutions to address the impact of (dyslexia) on students”  

In another quote posted by Decoding Dyslexia – CO, Congressman Cassidy says:

“Dyslexia affects millions of Americans, including many students. We know that many with dyslexia are among our brightest and most successful. If dyslexia is identified in elementary school and the appropriate resources are given to these children, America can produce more teachers, more scientists and more entrepreneurs. This resolution pushes schools and educational agencies to address this challenge and provide evidence-based solutions for dyslexic students.”

This bill currently only has a 2% chance of passing, but this is low because people do not know about it.  It is up to us as citizens and especially those of us who deal with the impact of dyslexia to encourage our Congressmen and Congresswomen to join the Bipartisan Congressional Dyslexia Caucasus.

Why is this important?

According to Dyslexia World:

A person suffering from dyslexia disorder experiences difficulty reading, writing, with letters, words, and numbers, as well as reversing letters and words. It is estimated that 10 to 15% of the children suffer from Dyslexia.”

But from personal experience, I understand that dyslexia is a life-long condition. It has taken me years to learn to learn and to teach my children to learn.  My hope, my call to my elected officials and to the rest of the United States is that you do not allow another student to struggle as hard as I did – as my children have/are.

If I could sit down with these men and women today – I would walk them through what it felt like to copy a text book cover to cover, to read – reread and reread information hoping to make it stick, to feel what it is like to confuse what is written and what is said – to have the thoughts get stuck, to feel stupid when you know your not and to wonder where on earth the information went that you spent so much time trying to remember.

If I could share a lunch with them, I would ask, if they understood that I have no desire to take something from another student in my quest to give students the same opportunity to learn.

I ask you now to reach out and write letters and ask your Congressmen and Congresswomen to stand up for these children and adults.

I will be posting this letter on all of my social media outlets and I ask you to consider posting it too.  Better yet, write your own and share it.  My voice is not the only voice that needs to be heard.

Special Thanks to:

Decoding Dyslexia – CO (https://www.facebook.com/DecodingDyslexiaCo)

Congressman Bill Cassidy (https://www.facebook.com/billcassidy)

Congresswoman Julia Brownley (https://www.facebook.com/RepJuliaBrownley)

May we continue the effort to build awareness!

Until Next Time,

Dr. Richmond

Confusing Topics: Langauge and Learning

I would like to take the liberty of explaining today’s blog post. I have, for quite a long time, struggled with the concept of language. My struggle has proven to me that language is key to helping us to understand how to serve the LD population. But what is this thing called linguistics anyway?

Linguistics is the scientific study of language. The debate about this topic is reviewed by some of the greatest theorist of our time. These intelligent intellectuals have evaluated language for a number of years.

Some believe that language is nothing more than signs and symbols. With this theory came the ideology that if an individual could learn the appropriate signs and symbols, then that individual could learn the language. Others believe that there is something unique about language. They believe that this unique quality about language should be studied and evaluated so that the world can really understand it.

I used to believe that language was a simple set of signs and symbols. I believed this so deeply that I was disgusted with myself for my inability to learn those signs and symbols. Therefore, when I began teaching my own children, I metaphorically, beat our heads against the wall in order to teach us what those signs and symbols meant.  I say, “teach us” because I was still learning the English language as I was teaching it to my children.

In Language: The Cultural Tool, by Daniel Everett (http://daneverettbooks.com/) he explains, why he believes that language is cultural not biological. He came to this conclusion after spending time with the Pirahã Indians of Amazonian Brazil.

I do not know Daniel Everett and I don’t throw out his theories or claim they have no value. I believe that his theories have a great deal of value. His work allows us to understand a culture far removed from our own. And his theories are not just things he determined from reading a book. His theories are based on his lived experiences with this culture.

Unlike Mr. Everett’s experience with the Pirahã Indians of Amazonian Brazil, my experience with language has been different.

I have difficulty describing this, but I am going to try.

When I began to paint, I discovered deep sockets of information filled aquifer hiding within me. Information that I knew I had learned, but could not access. I needed a well and that well, for me, was painting.  For me the language was inside of me. It was flowing through me. When I did not know or when I could not express the language because of my LD, the art gave me voice.

My experience was also altered by my experiences with my children. My children did not have a link to language because they were exposed to it in our culture and they don’t get my art in a way that makes learning tangible for them. My children had to discover the wells that accessed their aquifers too. Their wells were distinctly different then my own.

When my daughter was in Middle School she had the choice to take Spanish or German. To our surprise she chose German. One day she came home and said to me, “Mom, I think German is my first language.” The remark sparked a conversation that we have continued throughout the years. I felt this way about art and I am not an art student. I have no training in the subject but something happens when I put that paintbrush in my hand.

There are times when I am stuck on a question or a thought. I then lay out a large canvas, sit down on it and purge those thoughts in whatever colors are before me. When I stand, I understand. For me this feels biological, though many could debate that. I can then explain those thoughts in detail.

Writing my dissertation was the most time consuming, thought evoking, emotionally stressful time in my life. But I accessed that academic language through my paintbrush. It leads me to ask the following questions:

  1. What language are individuals with LD speaking?
  2. How can we help those students to access the language aquifer?
  3. Can accessing the aquifer help all students with LD?

One of my son’s aquifers was the well of history. We are looking for the well that will help him to discover the language of math. My daughter’s aquifer was accessed through the wells of math, German and one other well that is too difficult to describe on paper.

I would love to dive further into this very confusing subject and I thank you deeply for allowing me to talk it out.

Things I wish I would have known: The battle of the Experts in the writing of an IEP

Something I wish I would have understood when I started to advocate for my children

After the initial shock wore off, regarding my daughter’s learning disabilities, I made the determination to put her into school. Her birthday was behind the deadline, which meant that she would have been required to wait another year before enrolling in school. Fortunately, the work we had been doing at home allowed her to test in anyway. This was important to me because I wanted her to be challenged and having her in school was going to help to push her in areas where her LD was causing her to struggle.

By her 3rd grade year, however, we were noticing that she would pass a spelling test at the end of the week, but she was unable to spell those words by Monday morning. We approached her teacher and were informed that the school, at that time, was already providing a service to my daughter. We knew that she was on an ILP (individual learning plan). Her ILP was to have us do extra work at home with reading and writing, but we did not know our daughter was being pulled out of class.

We then demanded to know why. Why were they pulling her out of school without notifying us about it? We were told that since she was obviously passing her tests, then it didn’t matter if they pulled her out. We then asked to see the tests that made it important for them to take her out of class – even for a short while. In our opinion there must have been some cause for concern for them to take such an action – especially without bringing the parents in on the plan.

The school showed us exams/evaluations that ranged from the lowest 15% to up to 39% of the average test taker in our daughter’s age range. Something they had never shared with us during any meeting we had had for our daughter’s ILP.

Immediately we demanded that our daughter be tested for an IEP (Individual Educational Plan). If our daughter was doing extra homework at home, being taken out of classes for a pullout program and still showing such low test scores, we wanted to know why.

Simultaneously we had heard about a developmental diagnostic program at our local Children’s Hospital, so we signed up to get her tested hoping that these findings, in conjunction with the school findings would help our daughter.

When we finally met as a team, 45 days later, the school refused to even look at the diagnostic paperwork. They casually explained that an “educational” diagnosis and a “medical” diagnosis were different. That it did not matter what the doctors wrote – if our daughter was responding in some way to intervention, then the school did not have to take those records into consideration. Even if our daughter forgot the intervention (something we already knew to be true) – she was still passing on Friday and this was important to the school.

When our daughters state exams were brought into the discussion, the same was stated – she was very behind but responding to intervention. Yes, she did have a great discrepancy between what she produced and what she could do. This did not matter in the grand scheme of things.

After a 4 –hour meeting, in snowy weather, it was finally concluded that my daughter would receive an IEP. This IEP was not based on the diagnostic evaluation created by our local Children’s Hospital, but rather, it was on the Optometrist results, showing that in addition to a lazy eye our daughter’s eyes were making it difficult for her to read. In my opinion an Optometrist is a medical doctor, but this is what happened.

The conclusion for the school was to place my daughter BACK on the rote-memory program that she had been using and that this was all the intervention that they could provide to my daughter and our family.

I now understand that I have a right to push the school to accept a medical diagnosis from a specialist. I did not have to sit by and have them refuse to look at the evaluation. At the time, I was scared. I was not an expert. I had limited understanding of what I was supposed to say. I had requested an advocate and learned, during this meeting, that the person I had requested was friends with my daughters Principal, that individual went quickly from standing firm with our family, to pushing us to take what the could said they had to offer.

I was livid at the time. I wanted to slam doors, and scream and yell. Those things, while cleansing, were not going to help me help my daughter. It was clear that my family did not have a partner – educationally. The school was going to do what was best for them and not what was best for our daughter. We agreed to let them use that ONE tool they said that they could use for our daughter and I started volunteering at the school and working with my daughter after school let out.

If you are an individual or parent and you are facing this issue, I encourage you to get educated on what your rights are and to stand firm.

From the inside Out

I have spent a great majority of this blog, providing definitions, discussing characteristics and outlining some interesting behaviors, all in an attempt to explain what having an LD is like. The problem is that having an LD is a highly individualized experience. It’s like sharing a dream, you can describe what happened, but, it is harder to help another person fully experience that dream in the exact way that dream made you feel.

Over the last few months I have been in the editing stages of my dissertation. During this time, I have worked with my Chair on the appropriate edits for my topic. A Chair (not the one you sit in) is a person who is an expert in your field of study. This person checks your work for quality and validity. Not every Chair helps in the editing process, but some will. I was lucky enough to have a Chair who participated with me through the editing process.

Editing a dissertation means that you will go over each chapter and determine if you are using the correct voice (your final will be written in past tense), if you are using the correct format, if your table of contents is correct, if your references are clear, if you got everything done up to the standard that is required for this degree. It’s pretty grueling process for many people, not just people with learning issues.

This was complicated for me due to the LD, so let’s discuss what that really meant.

Throughout my educational career, I have had a hard time reading black text on the white background. When computers began to be used by schools, I discovered that reading from the computer proved to be more problematic then reading from a book. Something about the color of the words on the screen made it hard for me to read and understand what was written.

I had difficulty tracking the line. This meant that I would be reading on the computer and find myself on a different part of the page a few lines down. If I was holding a book, I could use a ruler to help me track the page or I could underline the text so that I could see if I was having tracking problems by the marks moving from one line to another.  I could hold a paper to the screen to try to mimic a ruler, but found that the computer screen would light the paper in such a way that it  made it more difficult for me to remember the text. As a result, I was printing my entire dissertation.

Printing was the easiest way to see what could not be seen on the computer. However, once the document was printed, I had the other problem of trying to find mistakes while also having trouble reading black words on white paper. I found some errors, but not all and I had to mark those errors with a bright color so I could see them and go back and edit them on the computer.

At some point, my husband bought me an iPad because he thought it would be helpful. I sent the document to my iPad one day out of curiosity. The iPad proved to be a good tool, but it was not a stand-alone. I could change the color of the background to Sepia and that allowed me to see some of the errors that I had missed on the computer and in the printed text.  I am not advocating that the iPad was better than the computer or the written text. I used a combination of all three throughout the process. I would start on the computer; switch to the printed text and the load the document to my iPad.

Visually, when I am reading, what I see is something like blinders on the sides of my eyes. The blinders close off parts of the text. If I try to see around the blinder, the page becomes a white space without any words. Alternating colors helps me to see more of what is on the page, but not always. It’s like having a pair of spyglasses, and reading disappearing ink. If you use the glasses you can see the text, but if you raise your head and look around the room, the world looks strange. Now imagine using different pairs of glasses, some designed to help you see disappearing ink, some designed to make letters bigger, some designed to make letters smaller and consider all the various other ways glasses can alter your vision. Now, imagine moving from one set of glasses to another and that would be close to what I see when I am reading and writing. What I see at any given moment determines what I find on the page, the number of errors I miss, and/or my perception of the text itself.

When reading, I get segments of the text, which forces me to go back and re-read the text. When re-reading, I attempt to get all the way through the paragraph to make sure I have understood what I have read. This process, in combination with writing/editing makes me fatigued. So, I pull away from the text, take a deep breath and start again. Is this a complaint – no – it is really a statement of fact. Reading and writing are difficult to me because I experience them in this way. Having these difficulties does not make it impossible to learn, it complicates it.  This is part of what I deal with when I am reading and writing. This is also why I read my favorite books over and over – I find that I learn so much with each new reading.

Over the years I have developed strategies for helping me to cope with these issues. I firmly believe that I should use every tool within my grasp to assist me with these kinds of struggles.  But notice that I did not say that these tools would assist me “through” my struggles. I have heard some people proclaim that people “grow out” of their learning disabilities. This ideology gives people the impression that learning disabilities are a childhood problem. That is not my experience and it is not the experience of many who suffer with an LD. I am happy for those who experience something different – I just don’t happen to be one of those people.

I am not on the other side of the bridge looking back at and evaluating my journey through the land of Learning-Disabilities. Nope, I am dangling over the Grand Canyon, standing on a thin rope, in slippery shoes, as I hold a 3-ton weight on my shoulders. The thing that has kept me from plummeting to the bottom of the canyon is a solid support system, a drive to want to get the other side, and a tempter that could light a thousand torches. I am not a single individual working on my own to learn – I have had a lot of mentors, a wonderful support system, tools to help me help me, and I made the choice to want to push for something I presumed was outside of my reach.

Not everyone with an LD has these types of resources. Some are not able to articulate these problems. I am just learning to articulate them and I have been in school for a very long time. As other individuals come forward and share their experiences with LD, I am confident that our community will find the specific tools we need to deal with the types of issues I have described above.