How to Help your Dyslexic Child and Have Fun: Advice for Parents and Helpers, Check List and Practical Suggestions
Want to help your child at home but not sure how?
It's worrying when your child is not progressing with literacy at school. There may be signs of trailing behind the rest of the class, of becoming upset because reading or writing is difficult, even of exhibiting uncharacteristic bad behaviour. Any child who has these difficulties is likely to react one way or another if no helpful intervention or support is provided.
There are specialist schools for dyslexics, like Shapwick School where I taught for many years, but I want to concentrate here on helping those who are in mainstream. Many schools provide individual support and have brilliant literacy schemes with well-trained teachers to deliver them. However, some do not and there are still many dyslexics who go un-noticed, un-diagnosed or, perhaps worst of all, are labelled as lazy, slow or naughty. A well-structured, multi-sensory literacy system can help a child make significant progress in reading and writing whether that child is dyslexic or not. Teacher training has to be responsible for making sure that all teachers are able at least to recognise the signs of specific learning difficulties and are able to deliver a good reading scheme.
So, whether or not school is providing well, how can you help at home?
- Don't pass on your anxieties! It is important to make sure leisure time does not suffer because of worries over school performance.
- Have fun, allow time to pursue preferred activities (sports, craft, music).
- Celebrate your child's strengths and give rewards for success.
- Extra literacy support at home should be fun, with its own system of reward for achievement - stickers, points earned to put towards an activity choice. Reward should be given for effort, not just for progress.
- When reading presents problems a huge amount of energy is used on concentration - it might be necessary to start working for 10 minutes and build this up gradually over a few weeks. Small successes build up confidence to attempt more challenging work and to gradually increase the length of each session.
- Set up the work environment so that it is special, comfortable and involves the child in the decision-making (e.g. choice of chair or desk light, choice of special writing book, pens, pencils, crayons, highlighters etc.).
- Set aside regular times with no interruptions; make study time minimal during holidays and never at weekends - every family needs their shared leisure time for all.
A commonly held misconception is that dyslexia only affects reading/spelling ability; far from it! Along with those difficulties, the dyslexic can experience problems with short-term memory, processing, organisation, following instructions and the associated consequences. Dyslexia seldom comes alone; the most common co-occurrences are dyspraxia (motor-coordination difficulties) and speech and language difficulties.
Your child may have one or more of these problems, or you may just want to help improve his or her reading. If you use a structured approach which encompasses the use of all the senses (sight, hearing, touch and, where possible, taste & smell), it is fun and memorable for any child. A kinaesthetic (movement, eg tracing, writing) element is also very beneficial.
Start simply and gradually build on success.
Example of cards
Example - the sh pattern:
- Make some cards, each with the letters 'sh' on one side and a simple word on the other; shop, ship, shut, shed, shot. A picture clue can be added to begin with and withdrawn later.
- The 'sh' (on both sides) should stand out - colour them in, say, green and leave the other letters black.
- Practise the sound made by the 'sh' digraph (2 letters=1 sound) - the child looks at the 2 letters on the card & repeats the sound several times. Put your finger to your lips as you do for 'shhh' to ask for quiet; the child should do this too; the action supports the sound - the visual, the action and the sound are working together to help the memory.
- Turn over the card and look at the word - ask, 'Can you see the two letters at the beginning of the word? What sound do those two letters make? Do you know what that word says?' If the word is not known, say the word, encourage the child to repeat it, and deliver lots of praise. Any effort should be praised, even if the word is not read correctly or if the sound is not quite right.
- Turn back to the 'sh' side and repeat the process. Then, when ready, ask the child to choose a different card and go through the same process with that one.
- After some practice, use the cards as a game - ask the child to 'find' a word as quickly as possible - how quickly can s/he find all the words - can that time be beaten? Give a reward for the fastest time - and another if that time is beaten. (A reward can be in the form of stickers, points towards a prize, a sweetie (but not too often!), or building up steps towards a pre-agreed goal of some sort.)
- The words can then be written down - can the child remember the spelling? (Rewards!) A further step would be to put them into sentences (more rewards!), verbally first, then written.
Once this has been mastered, go on to do the same routine with 'ch' words; chop, chip, chin, chat, chap. When, and only when, they have been mastered, you can recap the 'sh' words, and finally compare the two and make a game out of all of them in the same way as above. It is important to make sure each step of learning is 'secure' before going on to another; it is also important to recap each step now and then (go back to a previous pattern but practise it in a fresh way).
'Pairs' (pelmanism) and other Games
Another game is 'pairs'; make 2 sets of the words, place them (words down) on the table, take turns to turn over 2; if they match, keep the pair and continue until all the pairs have been matched - the winner is the one with the most pairs. The cards have to remain in the same position until matched. This game also improves memory (where the word was seen) and spatial awareness.
A company called 'GAMZ' (www.gamzuk.com) makes sets of SWAP and FIX games which are great fun for practising patterns in words; they are structured and come in order of difficulty. The games can be played by 2-4 players, so are a good family activity, as is any game you make yourself.
I have more articles with suggestions for teaching other patterns for reading/spelling, to be published soon. If you need help with a specific pattern - ask!
Checklist for Dyslexia in Children
This checklist is a list of general indicators of dyslexia taken from signs reported by dyslexic individuals. It is not a screening activity or an assessment but a checklist to focus your understanding. The idea is to see if you may need to further investigate whether your child has dyslexia.
If the answer to most of the following questions is 'Yes' it would be wise to seek advice:
- Is s/he bright in some ways with a 'block' in others?
- Is there anyone else in the family with similar difficulties?
- Does s/he have difficulty carrying out three instructions in sequence?
- Was s/he late in learning to talk, or with speaking clearly?
- Does s/he have particular difficulty with reading or spelling?
- Does s/he read a word then fail to recognise it further down the page?
- Does s/he put figures or letters the wrong way round e.g. 15 for 51, 6 for 9, b for d, was for saw?
- Does s/he spell a word several different ways without recognising the correct version?
- Does s/he have a poor concentration span for reading and writing?
- Does s/he have difficulty understanding time and tense?
- Does s/he confuse left and right?
- Does s/he answer questions orally but have difficulty writing the answer?
- Is s/he unusually clumsy?
- Does s/he have trouble with sounds in words, e.g. poor sense of rhyme?
Your Involvement in Dyslexia
What is your rôle?
- GAMZ - Learning Thro' Fun!
Manufactures and distributes a range of fun products for dyslexics. Including jigsaws, puzzles and card games.
- Barrington Stoke - Publishing fantastic books for dyslexic and struggling readers
Publishing fantastic books for dyslexic and struggling readers
I have used many resources from the above suppliers and find them excellent value as well as of great interest to the students. The games are fun and the stories are engaging because they are aimed at specific reading ages at the same time as appealing to chronological age interests.
© 2011 Ann Carr