Helping Children with Learning Difficulties Learn To Read
Copyright © Vanessa Whittaker, Dec 2007
When we began to home educate our children we discovered that our daughter could not read and struggled to recognise the alphabet. She was almost 8 and is quite intelligent individual and that intelligence had enabled her to develop all sorts of avoidance strategies when it came to reading anything. Following is a list of strategies we used to help her, and they were also very useful for her younger brother.
- We read aloud, together, everyday often several times a day. We would have them sit either side of us and use our fingers to track the words as we read.
- "Letterland" is a phonics program which was recommended to us by a teacher/librarian friend and a psychologist who did an assessment. Letterland introduces the letters of the alphabet with a rhyme. Eg 'K for Kicking King' and 'L for Lamp Lady'. It is amazing to me that my daughter found it easier to learn the alphabet this way than just straight alphabet. 'Letterland now have a range of resources available but can be rather expensive. We used the coloured alphabet book and I was given a copy of the blackline masters for my children to use.
- I bought posters of the 'first 100 words' and put them on the wall. (Then added the 2 nd and 3 rd 100 word posters. We left them on the wall for the children to use as a quick visual dictionary) We went through the words our daughter did know as I felt it was important to recognise them and from the others we supported her to learn five new words a week. (NOTE: we didn't ever call a word a 'hard' word, instead we used 'new' word, as we felt it was a word she didn't know, not a word she could not learn.) To learn these 5 words we did combinations of the following:
- We provided magnetic letters for her to spell the words on the provided metallic board.
- The children used Playdough. They made thin sausages and used them to form the individual letters of the words. This they did on the floor, on a table outside or inside. their choice.
- I made up flashcards which s/he threw across the floor and jumped from letter to letter, saying aloud the name of each. OR we would throw the letters on the floor and she would jump from letter to letter spelling the words as s/he jumped OR we would throw flash card words on the floor and she would pause and spell each word as she jumped. If she spelled a word correctly it was taken from the pile, if not it was left in.
- Using a glue spatula I formed letter shapes on card and quickly put sand on the top of the card, tipped off the excess sand and this left a rough alphabet letter on the card for her to rub her fingertip over and say the letter as she went. OR you could cut the letters from sandpaper and glue them onto card. Not as much fun, if the children helped make the sand letters.
- She used thick chalk to write letters or her spelling list on the driveway cement. A chalkboard could be used as the reason is that they use their sense of touch in feeling the drag of the chalk on the rough surface. (This means a whiteboard does not offer the same advantage)
- In her book, she would write out her words at least 5 times, each week.
- as a word sum which would look like this jump = j+u+m+p = jump or kick = k+i+c+k = kick.
- as a snake where the first letter is in the head and the last letter is in the tail with the letters in between in the body with lines drawn between each letter to make the snake's body segmented.
- a train, with the first letter being the engine and each letter being a carriage. (The last letter may be the 'caboose' but not many of our trains use them anymore. )
- using shape boxes. Can't do examples on the computer. J A letter 'h' would have a tall box on the line, while a letter 'a' would have a short box on the line and a letter 'y' would have a long box which goes under the line as well as in it. Each letter is written inside the box to spell each word.
- she would look in the dictionary meaning, write it next to the word and then write a sentence.
- When it came to word families such as adding 's', 'ed', 'ing' etc, we always did it big and in colour. I would used coloured A3 paper and put the base word in the centre using coloured texta and put a circle around it in a different colour. I taught them to put lines out from the centre, make a new smaller circle and add the new words in there. They would use the dictionary to help them if they got stuck.
- At the same time as this we introduced the "Phonics Fundamentals" Series. This is a series of four books, which are sequential and it is important to start with bk.1 and end with bk. 4. These are quite cheap, being about A$7-8 each. I purchased them from an education supply store here in SA but I have also seen them in Dymocks stores. These begin to introduce the sounds and rules of spelling phonetically. (For my children the 'whole word' method of teaching them to read and spell was a disaster but progress was made quickly with the phonics based programs) The books introduced a pattern in the activities and my daughter was so happy when she recognised the pattern and she could fly ahead and not need me to read the instructions to her.
- After these were completed we moved onto the "Spelling Matters" series. The student books cost about A$14. Again I usually bought ours from the local educational supply store but occasionally bought them from Dymocks for about the same price. "Spelling Matters", begins with a weekly spelling list and then activities for the week across a double page. The first page is for everyone with the second page considered extension work. We asked our children to complete both pages and again they had a pattern so eventually they were able to progress at their own pace. My daughter reached a plateau at the grade 5 book and so we had to find a different approach.
- At the same time as this, I bought the first set of "Fitzroy Readers" and the activity book. For people who want to know that their children are progressing, this set of readers are excellent. There are 70 reader divided into boxes of 10. Each box costs about A$55. Some may say expensive but if you divide it down each book costs just over A$5. And as we would prefer to buy books rather than ice-creams, lollies or those rides when we go out. money would go to books instead of the other things and occasionally I would buy bulk treats in the shopping list to have at home. The activity books cost about A$18 ea. They are not really photocopiable. In the activity book there were usually 7 activities per book covering spelling, grammar, etc and often included search words or crosswords which my children loved. At the end of the series the child should be able to cope at high school level.
- At about grade 5 we discovered "Lap booking". This is a type of unit approach where all subjects are covered under a topic. The children have a question to find the answer to and then create a mini-book to display the question and the information. This made the work appear manageable and not so overwhelming. There is a yahoo group for lap bookers and numerous sites for information if you want to do a web search. The yahoo group is very helpful in giving support and information, if you are trying to put a unit together, yourself. www.handsofachild.com sell lap books all ready to be printed off and then completed. There are also sites for freebies.
I hope that you have found this useful even though it is long. I guess I do need to say that for about the first two years of home education we focused very much on the reading, writing, spelling and math as we felt without those skills they would always struggle in the other areas of learning.
We still do lots of thematic units or topics and the children always have spelling lists related to the topics and most times still use some of the methods described above. We also still do a lot of reading aloud of books used in our work. The great thing that over the years instead of "MAKING" the children read, there came a time when they were confident enough to ask or tell me that they wanted to read the books to me instead. that was a moment where I felt huge satisfaction as it was always the unspoken goal.
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