I recently had a friend ask me what to do about her friend’s first grader daughter (age 5, very advanced) who was freezing up and not learning how to read using Abeka. (Abeka is a well-known traditional and rigorous homeschool program used by many parents across the country.) Her parents were asking if she should get tested for dyslexia (the father is dyslexic, and dyslexia has genetic components to it) or if their daughter should get a reading tutor. I am neither an expert in dyslexia, nor a speech language pathologist, but as a homeschool mom of 3 kids all with dyslexia and other special needs, I’ve learned a thing or two over the years. So here are my thoughts to that question, in no particular order!
1. A lot can happen between ages 5-7. Not every child is developmentally ready to read and write by at 5. :-). In the same family, you can have one child learning to read faster than another. That is very normal and happens routinely. Just because your child can’t read by age 5, it doesn’t automatically mean that something is wrong with that child.
2. Personally, I don’t advocate for dyslexia testing at age 5, although I think it is possible to do so. Dyslexia or other academic testing by clinical psychologists can often be 2+ hours long, which is mentally exhausting for a child with dyslexia or other special needs. So instead, I would delay testing for a little bit, and if she were my child, I would stop the language arts portion of Abeka. I would switch to a multi-sensory, Orton-Gillingham (OG) program – and one that focuses on Phonemic Awareness and a way to systematically teach phonics. Or, I’d just focus on phonemic awareness for awhile (see programs listed below). And if I didn’t want to do this myself, I would hire an OG tutor who could. Let me explain.
What is phonemic awareness and what is Orton-Gillingham? You can read an excellent explanation about phonemic awareness here, but in short it’s the ability to hear different chunks of sounds (phonemes) in words – and the ability to manipulate and add/subtract those chunks of sounds with other sounds. It’s the foundation for both language acquisition and for reading, in particular. Kids who struggle to read often need the explicit, multi-sensory phonemic awareness teaching found in OG programs because they won’t just “get it” naturally, the way other neurotypical kids often “get it”. I didn’t realize this until my third child turned school age, because my first two (dyslexic) kids just memorized their way to reading by age 5/6.
(As an aside, many dyslexic kids in school who aren’t diagnosed, end up memorizing their way into language arts – and fly under the radar undetected – until they hit a reading wall around 4th/5th grade, or even middle or high school. This is when vocabulary in books and texts become increasingly difficult and all of a sudden they can’t understand what they’re reading and grades begin to drop. They are often labeled “average” students “who just aren’t trying” when in fact, they are actually very bright, but have a learning disability masking their intellect. Note: 1 in 5/6 kids are dyslexic).
3. So kids who struggle in learning to read often need an explicit, systematic, multisensory reading program strong in phonemic awareness teaching. This is the hallmark of the Orton-Gillingham method, which you can read more about here. You can hire an OG tutor, or if you’re willing to tutor your child yourself, you can use one of the more parent-friendly OG programs out there.
4. Here are a few parent-friendly OG programs to choose from:
- Logic of English. I have not used this personally, but I have heard many success stories with it. This program is scripted, has fun games for kids and comes with everything you need to teach your kids to reading, handwriting, and spelling.
- All About Reading is another parent-friendly teaching program that has fun games/activities and lots of success stories around it.
- Barton Reading & Spelling System is another tried-and-true program, fully scripted, and what many homeschool parents use for remediating dyslexia.
- Pinwheels, developed by a team of speech language pathologists, one of whom is the author of Bravewriter’s The Wand language arts curriculum. Pinwheels is my personal favorite because it accommodates both dyslexia and dysgraphia (difficulty with handwriting) and is what we are currently using for my son.
5. And here are two nice phonemic awareness-specific curricula if that is all you’re looking for:
- Chipper Chat – a fun program for kids 3-7 with a magnetic wand and an excellent, easy-to-use teacher guide that helps you see exactly where work is needed. My son and daughter really enjoyed and benefited from this one when they were younger.
- Heggerty – this one is also great and accommodates pre-k to 2nd grade. There’s a different version available for older students (2nd grade and above).
Hope this helps someone who might have a similar situation!