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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Visual Perception

In today’s post I decided to cover visual perception. For the past month or two I have been working with my sons on a project. The Dark Woods book project. We love the books we have written, but we would like to see them as a graphic novel. The idea came from the fact that my son thought it would be easier for other children to read his books if they were graphic novels. This was also important to him because the first book he read independently was a graphic novel.

Unfortunately, I am an abstract artist not a graphic artist/novelist. The writing of the books was difficult to say the least, now this. But, out of love for my son, and some strange desire to give something of myself back to him, I made the choice to try. It has not been easy. Transitioning from one art form to another is foreign; at least it is to me.

However, there is something that typically happens when you venture out of your comfort zone and learn something new. What happens is that you end up discovering something of value. For me, this something of value was that it helped me to take a really good look at my own visual perception and its given me some insights into my learning disabilities.

I have tried to explain before that I see things differently then others. But since a picture is worth a thousand words, lets look at a photo. This is my daughter (Say hello!):

Original Photo

Original Photo

My apologies the photo is grainy.

I did a free hand drawing of the photo without using lines or boxes (this is a tool used by artist to help with drawing faces). I wanted the photo to be the same size as the other one. But I had trouble  – see the photo:

My drawing without the use of the tools.

My drawing without the use of the tools.

Looking at the photo you can see the distortion immediately. To really evaluate it, I will apply lines and highlight a few of those lines.

Adding the lines with a ruler.

Adding the lines with a ruler.

Looking at the photo and the drawing close up.

Looking at the photo and the drawing close up.

Starting with line 1 you can see problems. However, look at likes 4 through 8. The eyes are too large, the nose is too long, and the mouth doesn’t seem to be where it should be. If you look closely you will also see that the shading is awkward (if you can use that word to describe art).  The shading of the lower eye in my drawing makes it look like I was giving my drawing a black eye. That is because I have difficulty understanding the color tones in the black and white photo that I used to create this drawing.

If I placed more lines on the paper, even more details and anomalies would show up. One might ask, how does this relate to reading and writing?

When I fail to see what is before me, I not only have difficulty modeling that thing, I also have difficulty describing what I do see. Anyone who has had difficulty with drawing would say that my art looks horrible not because I do not see well, but because I am not a good artist. And they would be correct; I am not a good portrait artist. Just like in school there are students who are not good in school because they are either not good students or they are not good in a particular subject.

What I am talking about are the students who actually see things in a distorted way. These types of distortions compound my difficulty with reading and writing. Are there other ways that things are distorted? Yes, there are. This was one way to actually show it. To highlight what things can look like when they are on paper.

Look again at the 3rd photo. If I was writing letters on a page, a teacher might notice something like very large letters that do not stay on the line (like the way my eyes and nose are falling into the next space). The teacher might notice that I may be missing details like a word or a letter (like how I miss the details in the shading). They might notice that I turn things backwards. This one is harder to spot in the drawing, but check out the bottom half of each earring, neither of them is facing the right direction. The earing on the left side of the face in my drawing is facing the neck. This earing should be facing away from the neck. The earing in the drawing on the right is turned towards the shoulder. This earing should be facing the viewer.

Now, how do I resolve these issues when I see things the way that I do? In regards to art, I have to start to use the tools that make artists better, like lines and rulers and shapes. These things are difficult for me to use because I am unfamiliar with them. I know a circle from a square, but I struggle with using the circle to create a face – so I have to practice this over and over until I can use it easier.  I have practiced at least one drawing per day for weeks now, and I am still struggling to remember tools I learned in the beginning. This is something we in the research community are working on – why do students like myself forget instructions, even though we might master them during the time we are being instructed?

When writing and reading, I have to practice reading and writing. I have to try various techniques and I have to keep using them until I learn to do them on my own.  Will I ever be a great portrait artist, I do not believe that I will, but the tools have helped me to create some art that I can be proud of.  Just like practicing reading and writing has helped me to be proud that I can communicate.

Attached, take a look at some of what I have been able to do when I have the right tools and some support from teachers and family.

You can still see visual issues appear and you still have distortions in things like the nose.

You can still see visual issues appear and you still have distortions in things like the nose.

But there is more of a natural look starting to show.

But there is more of a natural look starting to show.

It alters the graphic work too. Not perfect, but not where I began.

It alters the graphic work too. Not perfect, but not where I began.

When you are working with a student who has reading and or writing problems, try figuring out how they see and if they can describe it. Then try to figure out tools to assist them in practicing. I believe that the more you use your tools, the better you become with those tools.

Until Next Time.

Dr. Richmond

The LD Experience Continues

This week I had the pleasure of conversing with a great group of people online about how it feels to be dyslexic. This is such a great thing to talk about because we often hear clinical definitions about terms like dyslexia, but rarely do we experience the individual perspective.

When I first read the title of this discussion thread, I was nervous to express my opinion because I have more than one LD. Still, the only way for any of us to really dive into such an issue is for someone with the issue to share – eventually the bits and pieces will create some kind of picture.

In thinking about my experiences with my children and throughout my life, I began diving into this question.  I explained to the group how individuals in my home had issues with the following (these are not all of the issues – its a baseline to help continue the conversation):

  1. Word recognition – We would practice a word all week, pass the test on Friday and though we knew what the word meant, we were unable to spell it by Monday.
  2. Word and letter reversals – Though there is discussion in the field as to weather this is a left-right issue or dyslexia or whatever.  What this means to members in our house hold is that we typically start from the wrong end.  Which means if I need to use a letter like b, d, q, or p, I might not know which one is B.  It means we might start from the wrong end of the word when trying to sound it out or we might start from the wrong end of the sentence.  For my son however, this meant he wrote backwards entirely for many years.  One could hold his papers up to a mirror and read them.  He is now in his teens and finds that this still happens from time to time.
  3. Direction – Only one of us can go to a location one time and find our way back. The rest of us must use directions, landmarks, and or symbols to get back to that location.
  4. Wrong Word Usage – It is common to hear the wrong word used for any particular item.
  5. Hand Signals – There is a lot of finger snapping, pointing, hand movements (jazz hands), and jabbing because the words will not come out and this forces us to improvise. It’s like a huge game of Pictionary – the image of what you desire to say is at the tip of your tongue and you just can’t get past it. It is not that we do not know the information, it is there and that is one of the most frustrating parts.
  6. Lists  – Forgetting is common, so we attempt lists, but we often forget those lists if we sit them down.
  7. Vocabulary – We all have limited verbal vocabulary and often write using simple vocabulary, but we have a vast vocabulary in our heads that we struggle to utilize.
  8. Recall – We struggle to verbally recall – though we can often write what is missing since we developed the writing skills.
  9. Vocal Sounds – Grunting is also common in our house when we struggle to use our words.
  10. Clumsiness – At any given time one of us will hit a wall, fall down stairs, trip on nothing, fall out of a chair, or collide into one another.
  11. Headaches – Those of us with LD struggle with learning headaches, as I like to call them. This occurs from the strain that happens when you are trying to make sense of what you see.
  12. Difficulty reading the words on the page – there are many things associated with this one items, for now I will just say that it’s like the page and the words play tricks on you even though there is nothing wrong with your vision.
  13. Forgetfulness – We continually forget important details or how to follow through when writing things out. We may begin on a thought and never branch out to the other details. We might forget why those details are important or that we forgot those details at all.
  14. Mistaking – This is harder for me to describe today, but say I write a paper and I read it over in an attempt to edit. Because I know what I wanted to be there, I have actually read the paper via what is in my head and missed mistakes that were actually in the test.

What this tells you is the experience to some degree, but not specifically how we have felt. We have swung the pendulum from feeling “stupid” because we are dyslexics, to feeling “acceptance” because we cannot change this condition, to feeling “joy” because we have found something special about our selves as a result of dyslexia.  There are days when I am proud to say I have dyslexia and days where I long to read/write/think without problems.

With these types of issues, how then did we learn to read and write?

We began slowly. Taking things one-step at a time, often to the point of exhaustion.

Attached I am providing the layout for the  5-paragraph essay. I created this and have used it to teach my children to write. I use this layout during the school year, in the summer and on breaks to re-enforce what my children learn in school. This is not a stand-alone tool; there are other tools you need when working with your children on how to write, read, understand, and express.

I began using this tool when my children where in the 3rd grade. It took a very long time for it to sink in, but we continued to work on this until they got it right.  I hope it is as beneficial to you all as it has been for us.

I will try to post more of these tools as I work through this blog.

If you have tools that have worked for you, please share them or send them to me so I can share them with a link to your website or whatever profile you choose. The more we share our stories, the more we learn.

Until Next Time,

Dr. Richmond

Organizing Your Essay

Also, if you notice errors, please contact me. I am happy to fix them. I knew going into this experience that my LD might show and while it might be embarrassing sometimes, the only way you are going to understand what I am saying is to see those mistakes in my writing. I maintain this set of facts: (1) Writing is not my first language, (2) I write this blog to share information and to practice the skill. I hope each day to grow this part of my life. I will gladly make changes because it makes this a more efficient page. And I thank you in advance for your assistance.

Everything you need is at the tip of your fingers: 4 Tips for helping a struggling learner

As a parent with children who struggled with LD, I often felt overwhelmed and undereducated. There was so much to learn about the condition(s) that I was not sure how to help my children on a day-to-day basis.

I was not an expert on reading and writing and I HATED math. The “experts” at the school and even those I looked up online (when I finally got internet access at home) talked about all of these various programs that I could buy into. They all sounded like they could work, but most were expensive and as a full time student, employee, and mother, I had no idea where I would find the time, the energy, or the money that was required for the program to be successful.

Unfortunately, not having the ability or the means to afford programs and not having what I thought was limited time to put those programs into practice, was not going to stop my children from needing the help. I had to get motivated.

So, what does a parent do now? 

Tip 1: Get educated

Use your local library to learn about the learning disability(ies) your child(ren) are dealing with. This will help you to understand what your school and/or teachers are talking about. It will also help you to understand your child(ren)’s behavior. Are you being too harsh? Are you being too easy? Knowing the pertinent facts will help you to navigate behavior appropriately.

Tip: 2: Use simple tools

Parents always ask what the best tools are for teaching children to learn. In my opinion the best tools are a pencil and a piece of paper. I was a parent on a limited income. At my best, I could afford these two materials. At my worst, I could borrow them. They are not phenomenal tools because they are cheap. They are phenomenal tools because they teach skills that all students with LD need. That skill is writing.  I will touch on this subject in another post, but it is very important that children with LDs learn to write – they should also use a computer and type – but writing is vital – don’t fear it and please don’t allow your children to fear it.

Tip 3: Find Books you can read fluently

Having an LD myself meant that the best way to teach my children how to fluently read, was to read to them content that I was able to fluently read aloud. This presented a problem because while I was a good silent reader, I was horrible with reading aloud. Teachers were pressing me to read books that were challenging to my children, but I was growing so embarrassment from my own out loud reading that it made it hard for me to comfortably read to my children.

I happened upon a book called “How Many Spots Does a Leopard Have?” It was a series of small fables with amazing pictures by author Julius Lester (http://members.authorsguild.net/juliuslester/). I read and re-read and re-read this book until I knew it almost word for word. I then read and re-read and re-read the stories in the book to my children. It became a type of bonding tool for us. Every night before bed my children would pick a story from this book and we would all read it together. I cannot express to you how great it is to see my teenagers pick up the book and read it. They smile from ear to ear and I can see the memories flooding back to them.

I had always presumed that I needed to read longer and more dynamic books as my children grew.  It was my assumption that doing that would teach them to do the same. However, reading the stories in this book helped me to discovered that all my children actually needed was to find so much enjoyment in a book that it sparked them to want to read more.  And they did. They were trying to find more books that made them feel as happy as the stories in Mr. Lester’s fables.

Parents you may not be Albert Einstein (I sure am not), but this is something you can do. Find your favorite book. Make special voices. Read by candlelight. Set up pillows on the floor and light your children’s imaginations on fire.

Tip 4: Get creative

What does it mean to be creative when you feel overwhelmed? When I tell people that we worked with my son to write a book, we often hear statements like, “But I am not a writer.” I then laugh and explain that I am not a writer either.

I believe that our modern dictionaries have ruined this term because they have made it appear very simple. Dictionary.dom defines it as:

1. a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, etc., especially as an occupation or profession; an author or journalist.

2. a clerk, scribe, or the like.

3. a person who commits his or her thoughts, ideas, etc., to writing: an expert letter writer.

4. (in a piece of writing) the author (used as a circumlocution for “I,” “me,” “my,” etc.): The writer wishes to state….

5. a person who writes or is able to write: a writer in script.

Now, this sounds odd to people because I published a few books of poetry. I write a blog. I taught journal writing. I attend school. I write in a journal. Etc. Etc. Etc.

I do those things. But they do not prove that I am a writer. In my opinion, doing those things shows I am practicing writing.

However, writing as a writer is much deeper then that – or it should be. A writer is someone with the skill to not only understand how to use the vernacular, they also understand how not to use it. I am a long way from that space.

As you learn to get creative with your children, don’t compare yourself to other parents or other writers. Make up things with your children and share your ideas (good or bad) with them often.

And remember creativity is not solely defined in writing. Creativity comes from using what you have around you. You can use food, blankets, toys and even dirt to teach. Remember your childhood. Remember writing with your fingers in the mud? Remember recording the clouds as they blew across the sky? Remember seeing the deep green shades of the beautiful green grass? Tag? Hopscotch? All these games are tools that can be used to teach your LD children how to read and write. Look around you and then search inside yourself, the answer is right there with you.

You can do this and you are not alone!