Friday, January 29, 2010

The Struggle To Read

It is my prayer that this will be taken in the earnest and sincere manner that it is intended. Over the years, I’ve noticed a troublesome trend among homeschooling parents when it comes to accepting and understanding the learning differences we observe or suspect in our children. It begins with an email post by a frightened and desperate parent seeking guidance for their struggling reader and ends with one or more parents posting an encouraging and comforting story of how their “late bloomer” suddenly started reading at the age of 10 or 11. The initial parent, who was secretly hoping for this kind of assurance, is heaving a sigh of relief that there is not something “wrong” with her child and that her teaching is not to blame. She eagerly decides that maybe it’s not really a problem after all. Time goes on.

These types of exchanges occur often and I always wonder to myself. . . What if the child doesn’t suddenly begin to read someday? What if the child has a real issue that could be effectively remediated with early intervention, saving him years of struggle and injury to his self-esteem? What if this well-intended advice causes a parent to delay helping this child? What if he continues to struggle with reading for several more years or even worse, the rest of his life? What if?

These encouraging and well-meaning exchanges, though heartening and uplifting, leave too many necessary questions unexplored at a vital period of development when intercession can be most valuable and effectual. In many cases there is a distinct difference between what parents want to hear and what parents need to know when confronted with a child who struggles with the essential skill of reading. I want to address some of those things here.

Certainly there are children who learn and retain information more efficiently as they grow and mature. However, the cost of the “wait and see” approach carries a risky and substantial price tag if it doesn’t pan out. In fact, research has repeatedly confirmed the importance of early intervention when it comes to future reading success. When you consider the substantial illiteracy rate in our country, one cannot help but deduce that the majority of struggling readers do not overcome their battle without concerted, diligent effort and specialized instruction. Parents who refuse to acknowledge or consider that their child may have a learning difference that requires prompt attention may be unwittingly doing a disservice to their child.

One reason I believe parents tend to ignore or set aside reading problems is for fear of what it might mean. Certain “labels” are frequently used to describe children who learn differently or require a alternate mode of instruction. Some carry negative connotations, some allow us to avoid terms that seem more obscure or frightening to us: dyslexia, auditory processing disorder, phonological disorder, reading delayed, learning disability, ADHD, right-brained learner, visual-spatial learner, hands-on learner, late bloomer, etc. Misconceptions abound with each, but parents are wise to do their homework and not let these misconception lead to guilt or denial that keeps then from taking the steps necessary to help their child learn. Remember, a label is only important to the extent that it helps you determine the unique needs of the child and provides you with clear direction for meeting those needs. It does not define who the child is!

Parents should also be conscious of the huge emotional cost of not being able to read. Children who struggle are keenly aware their difficulty and undoubtedly notice that other children their age are doing something that does not come easily for them. It impacts their life and thoughts in ways that they may be unable to articulate, but rest assured they know. It is not something to be ashamed of and it is not something that should be whispered about behind their back - leaving the child to wonder if he’s fundamentally flawed. Think about it like this, if his vision was impaired you’d get him glasses - if he had a cavity, you get him a filling - if he skinned his knee, you’d get him a bandage. A need is simply a need. Our efforts to protect or shield them can sometimes unwittingly leave them filled with insecurities, self-doubt and a decreased interest in all things academic. Talk to your child. Your honesty, compassion and belief in him will lighten the load for both of you and smooth the path ahead.

All children can learn to read, but all children do not learn the same way. God created each of us different from head to toe and that includes our minds, our processing speeds, and the way we learn. Parents need to know that reading difficulties are not indicative of low intelligence! In fact, the majority of child with learning differences have average to above average intelligence and are often gifted in many other ways. The early action of a parent can mean the difference between slow, steady progress and lifelong impaired reading. Homeschooling gives you the advantage and freedom of being able to tailor instruction to the specific needs of your child in a one-on-one setting, providing maximum results and minimal frustration all the way around. Take advantage of this unique opportunity.

Current research denotes that there are five components to effective reading instruction: phonological awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension.

Phonological awareness is a broad term that includes phonemic awareness. In addition to phonemes, phonological awareness activities can involve work with rhymes, words, syllables, and onsets and rimes.

Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate the individual sounds--phonemes--in spoken words

Phonics is the sound-letter connection

Vocabulary is the stored database of words that the child understand and use properly

Fluency is reading with speed, accuracy and proper intonation

Comprehension is the ability to understand and make sense of what is read.

Each components builds upon and adds to the previous, however, phonemic awareness, which falls under the umbrella of phonological awareness, is considered the most significant factor in determining future reading success. This skill, which comes naturally to most, sometimes alludes others in the absence of direct, explicit instruction.. Fortunately, this foundational skill can be taught effectively in a little as 20 minute a day with great results. Phonemic awareness is ground level work and sometimes it is necessary to go back to the beginning before you can forge ahead. I like to compare the process of teaching reading to the act of building a house – you must have a solid foundation to build on, lest you labor in vain. Don’t be afraid to step back.

As you work with your child to improve his own reading, remember to make reading aloud part of each instructional day. Again, research tells us that a child who reads 20 minutes a day reads an average of 1.8 million words per year. A child who begins reading at age 7 versus a child who begins reading at age 10 will have an enormous advantage when it comes to vocabulary, word recognition, fluency and even writing and spelling. The more a child reads a word, the more in becomes of part of them. Reading improves reading. For children not yet reading on their own, reading aloud and audio books, while they follow along in the printed text, provides a rich and rewarding avenue for continuing language development. Each exposure to written and auditory language embeds and reinforces the patterns of language into the memory of the child. This increased knowledge transfers to many areas of learning. Success breeds success.

As a final word of encouragement - remember to lavishly love, accept, and nurture your child as a unique, wonderful creation of God. Foster a love of reading as you go forward hand in hand, confident that there is joy in the journey and a light at the end of the tunnel.

For more information on resources or teaching reading, please visit

Additional support and resources for homeschooling families teaching struggling readers ~

Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills - by Judith R. Birsh

Unlocking Literacy: Effective Decoding & Spelling Instruction and Words - by Marcia K Henry

Phonemic Awareness in Young Children - by Marilyn Jager Adams

A Mind at a Time and The Myth of Laziness - by Mel Levine

Reading Reflex and How to Increase Your Child’s Verbal Intelligence - by Carmen McGuinness

The ABC’s and All Their Tricks - by Margaret Bishop

Recipe for Reading - by Frances Bloom and Nina Traub

McCall-Crabbs Standard Test Lessons in Reading (hardback – Five Volumes in One)

Sounds and Letters for Readers and Spellers - by Jane Fell Greene

The Victory Drill Book - by August Enderlin

Phonemic Awareness Activities for Early Reading Success (Grades K-2) - by Wiley Blevins

Teaching Phonics and Word Study and Phonics from A to Z - by Wiley Blevins

How To Teach Spelling - by Laura Rudgrinsky and Elizabeth Haskell

Six-Way Paragraphs (3 levels – introductory, middle and advanced) - by Walter Pauk

Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction - by Isabel Beck

All About Spelling Give your child a solid start to spelling! – Excellent resources for language instruction – Megawords, How to Teach Spelling, Writing Skills series, The Language ToolKit, Explode the Code (I strongly recommend using the parent guides in order to get the most out of the “. . .Code” series books!) – a unique and effective resource for improving fluency. Sensational Reading Strategies for Teaching Beginning Readers (K-2 and remedial)'s LIPS and Visualizing and Verbalizing Comprehension Program

Prayer Plus Planning Equals Progress!

YES - You can do this!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Mother's Grief

A Mother’s Grief

Gaze into the sparkling eyes of your gift from above,
Consider the hopes and dreams you have for them
Feel the fullness of love and devotion in your heart
Then imagine. . .

Imagine watching your child try so hard to fit in, but never finding acceptance in this world.

Imagine what it’s like to see other kids completely ignore them or make fun of them at every opportunity.

Imagine that your child hasn’t any friends that call or want to get together.

Imagine your child never being invited to parties or having anyone to invite to their own.

Imagine your child asking day after day to call “someone to play with”, with their efforts never reciprocated, their calls never returned.

Imagine your child being left sitting on a sidelines because the performance or game mattered more than the person.

Imagine their heart aching and your comfort too small.

Imagine the anguish that turns to dull numbness.

Imagine your eyes filled with tears that won’t dry.

Imagine a mother’s grief. Imagine.

I’m often burdened by the state of our society when I hear stories of children suffering cruelty at the hands of their peers, even to the point of taking their own lives. A young girl in our community took her life a couple years back after being the victim of vicious online insults and cruelty. The photos of her beautiful, smiling face still haunt me. What a tragedy that must tear at the very heart of God our Creator. Friends, this should not be.

Imagine a mother’s grief.

Today, I pose the questions. . .can you think of a Mom or child who needs to see God’s love in others? Who needs to see God’s love in you? Maybe it’s the child who annoys you, speaks a bit to crassly, watches t.v. shows you don’t approve of, gets too rowdy, acts kind of strange, etc. I’ll bet God is bringing someone to mind right now and it is my prayer that God will show you ways to minister to that family. May God use you to make a difference for someone. May He speak and act through you in ways that matter for eternity.

Remember. . . To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Importance of Reading Aloud

This is a synopsis of information found on the DVD "Nurturing Competent Communicators" by Andrew Pudewa of the Institute for Excellence in Writing. It was sooo wonderful, I thought I'd share some of the highlights as it pertains to reading and language development.

The first and foremost key point was the extreme importance of reading aloud to your children, no matter their age!! Andrew talked about how children get to a certain age and parents slack off and stop reading to them. In opposition of this practice, he earnestly emphasized the importance of reading aloud to your children daily - even to the extent that if you're not doing it - drop a subject to make room!!

Andrew elaborated on why this is so important - sorting through the main sources of language acquisition and communication sources for our kids: peers, media, family, books (in that order). Then he walked through each of those means and what they contribute or don't contribute to correct and sophisticated language patterns.

He talked about how memorization (poetry in this case) neurologically grows the brain and also briefly touched on the issue of writing by noting that children "can't get out what's not in there". That's where the storage of rich language patterns plays an essential role.

I guess the gist of it is the understanding of how great literature, rich language, and even poetry memorization provide a "template of language" and store "correct and sophisticated language patterns" that the child can retrieve for future communications of all modes.

I had an epiphany last year on this very issue, which was probably sparked by something I read. Even so, I made a deliberate effort to immerse my dd in great literature through both read alouds and the frequent use of audio books - and in my own experience, the difference was amazing! Honestly not just in "her" language development, but my own as well. Now, I don't purport this as a cure for learning/reading issues, but it's certainly a stepping stone that should not be missed for any learner. What tends to happens when children struggle with reading, is that they get less and less exposure to "the good stuff"- you can equate this to the "Matthew effect" - the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

No doubt, Andrew's wisdom will certainly give me pause next time I'm tempted to reach for the shortest story or skip a line, page or paragraph in a race to "get done"!

Forgive me for being so long winded, I guess you can tell that I enjoyed watching this DVD :-) I took away a renewed love and reverence for reading to my children as well as continuing to read for myself! I hope that this will encourage you to keep reading to you and yours too!

This and other great resources are available from The Institute for Excellence in Writing via the link below -

Monday, January 25, 2010

"Sew" Excited!

I got a new sewing machine for my - cough, cough __th birthday and I'm "sew" excited! I don't have any real talent when it comes to sewing, but I can measure, iron a crease, and sew a straight stitch, and with those few basic skills I enjoy making my own curtains and a few other things around the house. Perhaps what I lack in talent, I make up for in the creativity department!? That's what I like to think anyway :)

These are the valances I made for my dd's room. We found a color and fabric we liked at Walmart, unfortunately it was in the form of tab-top curtains. So. . .if you know the cost of fabric these days, you'll appreciate this creative stretch. We bought the tab-top curtains for the sole purpose of harvesting the fabric. We cut off the tab-tops, cut the trim, then used the fabric for the valances. I then bought the pink polka dot ribbon and made little bows to dress them up and pull some of the colors from their comforter. All in all, it was fairly easy and they turned out nicely!

Here's another creative idea. I have a beautiful floral comforter that I refuse to give up until I find something I love more or it completely falls apart, lol! Of course, when I purchased it on clearance they did not have any matching valances, so what I did was buy an extra king size bedskirt and used that small amount of matching fabric to make some ruffled rod toppers :)

I don't care much for the typical shower curtains available in stores, so I make my own for here as well. I bought this fabric during a vacation several years back - it's a good quality fabric that works well for the bathroom.

Lastly, these are my current kitchen curtains. Again, nothing fancy, I'm a straight stitch gal, but this comes in particularly handy for this room because we have french doors and windows of varying sizes, plus finding something that fits the french doors and isn't sheer is near impossible. Again, this is a little thicker fabric which we can pull back for light during the day and close for privacy at night.

I LOVE color and designs - can you tell?

I've made a couple other simple things - pillow covers, night gowns for the girls, etc., so even though my talent here is limited, it comes in handy enough.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Book Chatter

3. Crime and Punishment

It has taken me about two weeks, but I finally finished Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky). It feels like an accomplishment to finally be able to mark it off my list! It was a very dense book and an enduring read. I found I had to push myself through this one, particularly in the beginning. The Russian names were tricky, not only in pronunciation, but in that several of the characters were often referred to by another name. Fortunately, the version I had (Everyman's Library) offered some helpful tips for pronunciation, a historical chronology, and an appendix to help you understand some of the unfamiliar terms, such as "yellow pass". I have to admit, I'm not convinced I fully understood all of the literary elements of this book, so I might have to check out Cliff's Notes to help bring it together for me and enable me to better understand the consequential value of this classic. Even so, I read it, I enjoyed the story, and I'm finished with it! YEAH!

Also during these last couple weeks, I was able to watch the film version of "To Kill a Mockingbird" with Gregory Peck. I enjoyed watching the movie and being able to see the differences between the book and film, but once again, the book wins out - hands down!

"The Shack" is up next.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Peek at Our School at Home

Just as homes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, so do our work spaces for school at home. Whether it be the kitchen table, the extra room, the basement, the couch, or the car - opportunities for learning and teaching are everywhere! This is precisely why I have stuff everywhere, lol!

I do strive to keep things organized, and most of the time I can locate what I'm looking for (which one may attribute to organization, memory, or a little of both), either way I aim to have things accessible because I tend to be an "out of sight, out of mind" person. So with that said, I thought I'd share a few pic's of our designated and communal areas that we utilize in our learning adventures.

This is our main area (a.k.a the kitchen :) where we have a good size table, wall length book shelf, and a large magnetic whiteboard from Staples (LOVE THIS!). After endless searching and not finding what I had in mind, I designed this shelf to fit my needs for this particular space and my dh graciously put in the hard work to bring it to fruition! (Go honey, you rock!)

This is a secondary area in our small "resource room" in the basement. It houses our manipulatives, extra items, additional shelves and another magnetic whiteboard. . .

These table and chairs make-up a craft/work area in our resource room. . .

These are a set of 3 wall mounted bookshelves that we have in each of the children's rooms. I opted for this style to make them visible and accessible. They were built out of pine and brush painted white. (I aim to decorate them someday :)

This is our game shelf. After years of having them strewn all over the house and stuffed in various closets, this has been a huge help for keeping them organized!

Now I want to add a disclaimer. . .I did a little (okay, a lot) of picking up before taking these shots and made an extra effort to blow away a few dust bunnies that had taken up residence. A lifestyle of learning can be messy sometimes, so remember to keep the main thing the main thing, and don't sweat the small stuff!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Book Chatter

This week I started and finished two books on my 2010 reading list!

1. Of Mice and Men
This was a warm, slightly disturbing story of friendship, loneliness, compassion, and loyalty, that was captivating from beginning to end.

After reading the book, I decided to rent the movie version to compare notes. The version I watched was produced in 1992 and featured Gary Sinise and John Malkovich as the lead characters. I was pleasantly surprised at their endearing portrayals of George and Lennie and felt the movie did a good job bringing the story to the screen.

With that said, I'd definitely recommend the book first!

2. To Kill A Mockingbird

Loved this one! A revealing, sincere look at prejudice, social class, honor, friendship and family. Told from the perspective of a young, spunky, mature beyond-her-age young girl named Scout, I found it hard to stop reading once I had begun.

On to the next book!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Sharing a S.I.P.

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1

When I read this passage, my experience reminds me of its truth. There have been many times where I have responded to individuals and situations without fully thinking it through and weighing my words carefully in the light of God's Word. Forgetting to err on the side of grace and think beyond myself has allowed me to partake of more humble pie than I care to mention. Sharp, unkind words sting. They provoke and put others on the defensive, erecting walls in place of relationships.

Conversely, when our heart's desire is to honor Christ in all we say and do, the outflow of that desire is that it becomes easier to speak words that convey compassion and care for others. I once heard it said, "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt".

Life if full of opportunities to practice this scripture. Just this week there was a unpleasant situation between someone I know and their neighbor - which did not go well. I found myself praying over this situation and wondering how differently it might have been if one of the individuals involved had set out to keep the peace and to respond with kindness to the other's irritation. There IS wisdom in God's Word, and the more we meditate on it and spend time with the Lord, the easier it becomes to call upon it and apply those principles when our words and tone are tempted to detour.

Father God, I pray that I would remember to take time to pause before speaking, so that I may respond to irritating situations with a soft word that demonstrates love and promotes peace. Help me to hide Your Word in my heart, that all of its splendor may illuminate and guide my thoughts before they become spoken words that can't be retracted.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Altogether Beautiful. . .

snuggling up with a cozy fleece blanket and a good book

playing peek-a-boo with my baby boy

looking at my family around the dinner table and realizing how lucky I am

hearing my mother say she's proud of me

the tranquility of the early morning

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Book Chatter - official kickoff!

This year I hope to find more time for pure reading pleasure. I'm constantly reading "how-to's", "self-improvement", "devotions" and "homeschooling" books, but I want to expand my reading into other genres. To kick-off my adventure, I've selected a few classics to start the year with -

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (finish!)
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Tales from Watership Down by Richard Adams

Reading glasses - check.
Bookmark - check.
Night lamp - check.
Comfy chair - check.
Quiet time - umm, we'll see:)

If you have a book to suggest, I'm looking for more titles to add to my 2010 reading list, and would love to hear from you!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

2010 - Living Abundantly and Purposefully!

As we took down the Christmas tree and decorations today, my husband commented about another year being gone and casually posed the question "what did we accomplish?". It was certainly a question to ponder, but since we were in the midst of working and not prepared for deep contemplation, I quickly replied with "we survived!" and "we're still alive!". We had a good chuckle and continued.

Life is hard and sometimes the storms can be relentless. The pressure on families can certainly make getting through the days, weeks, and months more like a breathtaking feat than anything else. Thus, as I later pondered my dh's question, I realized that I've let too many days go by without being purposeful in the precious time I've been given, and I was reminded that God's Word tells us that Jesus came that we might have life more abundantly.

We will always have struggles in this life, yet, it is up to us to choose to meet those obstacles with a heavenly perspective, guided by the Word of God, which offers us continual hope and fresh opportunity to renew our hearts and our perspective that we may not allow ourselves to be knocked down and out with every gust of wind hurled our way! So, with these thoughts, my quest this year is to honor the gift of Christ by striving to live life abundantly and purposefully! Abundant joy, abundant gratitude, abundant forgiveness, abundant grace, abundant mercy, abundant peace, abundant love, and abundant time in His Word - and in all things purposeful.

I'll be sharing my endeavor and Bible Study reflections throughout the year in posts titled "Sharing a S.I.P."


So. . .here's to you, to me, to us - as we venture into another year of possibility!
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