Are you homeschooling a child with dyslexia? Stay tuned to hear author and blogger
Marianne Sunderland offer guidance and insight from her experience homeschooling 7
children with dyslexia. That’s this week on Homeschool Heartbeat.
Mike Smith: I’m joined today by Marianne Sunderland.
Marianne is a writer, blogger, and founder of the website Homeschooling with
Dyslexia. She’s also a homeschooling mom of eight children, seven of whom
have some degree of dyslexia—so she knows what she’s talking about.
Marianne, welcome to our program today!
Marianne Sunderland: Hi Mike, thank you. I am really excited to
be here. Sharing my experience with homeschooling kids with dyslexia is just a passion
of mine, since we have learned a lot of lessons the hard way. I like to give people the
hope and encouragement that they need that this really is a very viable option for their
Homeschooling with dyslexia [0:55]
Mike: That’s great. Marianne, can you briefly explain
what dyslexia is and what its symptoms are?
Marianne: Yes. So there’s been a lot of research in the
last 10–20 years about dyslexia, and the current definition is that it’s a
genetic and brain-based condition that makes the processing of language difficult. The
results are difficulties with reading, writing, spelling, handwriting, and sometimes
even math. So while a child may have 20/20 vision and average to above average IQ, the
images that they are seeing are not getting to the language processing centers of the
Mike: Marianne, do you believe that homeschooling is a good way
to instruct a child with dyslexia?
Marianne: I absolutely do. Unfortunately in the schools today
there’s just not the level of education about dyslexia or the appropriate services
being given and so homeschooling really provides families the opportunity to give their
kid that individualized instruction that they really need with the methods
and accommodations, assistive technology that helps them to excel despite their
Mike: So would you say it’s the one-on-one instruction
that’s most important or most helpful?
Marianne: Yes. Kids with dyslexia don’t learn on the same
trajectory as other kids. They often get a slower start and they need a lot of review.
They need time to process and time to assimilate the information that
they’re learning, they need a lot more practice. But because they have the regular
IQ, they need to still have their brains challenged with grade-level-type things, even
though a child may be in fourth grade and reading at a first grade-level.
Discovering your child’s learning style [2:51]
Mike: Marianne, when teaching a child with dyslexia, it’s
especially important to know how the child learns best. Can you explain the different
elements that make up a child’s learning styles?
Marianne: Yes. There’s been a lot written about learning
styles in the past 20–30 years, but a learning style or learning difference is
really affected by a lot of different factors and we’re all affected by them.
A lot of us have heard of the kinesthetic, auditory, or visual learners, but
there’s a lot of other factors like environmental factors. How are they affected
by sound and light or clutter, say?
There’s emotional factors, like some kids lack motivation or need external
motivation, some kids are more persistent, some are more responsible, some need
There’s sociological factors: some kids really like to learn by themselves,
others don’t; some need to be with a parent.
And then there’s the physiological factors. That’s where the auditory,
visual, and kinesthetic factors come into play; but this is things like time of
day—very important with teens, the time of day that they are doing school—or
level of mobility allowed. Lots of little boys being diagnosed with ADD and ADHD because
they just need to move more.
And then psychological factors: some kids are more impulsive, some are more
And so we have a lot of different factors affecting how our kids learn, and being
with them all day long, we can observe those and teach to the way they learn best.
Mike: Marianne, what types of learning methods generally work
best with dyslexic children?
Marianne: In general, science has shown that people with learning
disabilities or learning differences tend to have more right-brain strength; these are
things like big-picture thinkers as opposed to detail thinkers. They’re really
strong in the inventive and creative, entrepreneurial categories of thinking,
connected thinking, and so if we can give our kids the big picture first and then have
them connect subjects where possible, it really helps them to form that picture in their
head that helps them to understand. They often have a strong need to know why, not just
memorizing and regurgitating. That’s why the traditional textbook workbook
approach doesn’t work well with kids with dyslexia.
Mike: Are there learning methods that generally are typically
students struggle with?
Marianne: Rote memory is difficult for kids with dyslexia
although with music and motion, hand-motions, multi-sensory type of teaching—that
definitely helps. Again, it’s any time they can experience hands on learning,
multi-sensory learning—these are the ways kids with dyslexia learn best.
Harnessing the power of your child’s interests [5:40]
Mike: Marianne, how can parents use their children’s
interests to help them work through challenging learning situations?
Marianne: That is a great question, Mike. I think it was Andrew
Pudewa who said that kids like to do what they can do and hate and will
violently resist what they think they can’t do. And I have seen that to
be very true, probably with all kids, but never more so with a child that has learning
difficulties. And so when we can tap into their interests, it really taps into
motivation to learn.
I have a really neat example of that. At the time, I wasn’t sure what we were
doing, but as I look back, I have this unique perspective. Our oldest daughter loved
animals and she was avidly looking at library books and we had a lot of kids—she
was number two out of eight—and so she would get books and I would read some of
them. She really wasn’t able to read them on her own, but we would go to zoos and
farms and shelters. We did a lot of nature journaling; she would dictate or narrate back
to me and I’d write in her nature journal. We watched a lot of documentaries, even
noticing animals in history, and it was pegging history in her mind to this animal love
that she had. Eventually we joined 4-H in our area and she bought a rabbit and
eventually began breeding it and selling them, and in the end [she] ended up buying a
horse with her savings from going to the fair and so forth.
And so that was just doing life in my eyes, but really it was doing school. We had
handwriting, art and drawing, composition, observation, library skills, reading,
biology, business, and she eventually cracked the code of reading—trying to read
the library books that I didn’t have time to finish.
Embracing “behind” [7:38]
Mike: Marianne, how can homeschooling parents effectively use
schedules and plans to meet the needs of their dyslexic children?
Marianne: Something that parents of dyslexic kids
will notice right away is that it takes a lot of time to teach kids with dyslexia basics
with reading, spelling, handwriting, math facts. And because dyslexia is genetic, it
often affects several of our kids.
And so what I tell parents that I talk to is that having good expectations is really
important. You cannot do it all and you need to prioritize. And in the early years you
really do need to prioritize teaching reading and the basics.
I also recommend to parents to delegate by hiring a tutor if they can afford it. We
can teach them ourselves, but there comes a time when you just need to delegate some of
that responsibility to somebody else.
Mike: Do you have any tips for setting realistic goals in
homeschooling, particularly for children that are having learning challenges are
considered maybe to be behind?
Marianne: Yes, absolutely. It’s really important, again,
having the right expectations here. We really need to be looking at where our kids are
at the very moment. So if your child is in fourth grade and reading at a first grade
level you can’t teach them at a fourth grade level. That’s what the public
schools do, and that’s why these kids are becoming anxious and depressed. We need
to teach them where they’re at and use accommodations, like audiobooks or reading
aloud or having them dictate their papers to you, so that they are able to keep up with
their studies at their intellectual ability.
And what I have found is that our kids do eventually catch up right when it really
counts—usually around middle school they’ll be able to manage their workload
mostly on their own. And so keeping that big picture in mind that they will get there,
but their trajectory looks a lot different in the early years.
Creating a positive learning environment [9:40]
Mike: Marianne, one of your e-books mentions the
importance of creating a positive learning environment for your child. In your
experience, what does that really look like?
Marianne: Well, we talked before, Mike, about different
learning styles and the factors that affect learning like their environment or how they
like to learn. I wanted to really encourage parents because a lot of parents, especially
new homeschoolers, tend to want to recreate school at home, which can be good for the
parent because they feel organized but maybe not so good for the kids. It really is okay
to rethink where you do school. Can you do it under the trampoline? Can you do it in
your fort? Can you do it on the couch? How long do you do school? We school all summer,
a couple days a week, just because the kids will forget everything if we don’t. We
can modify what we teach and what we don’t teach and how we teach. Home is really
supposed to be a place where kids are free to be themselves, and learning at home can be
the same way.
Mike: So Marianne, talking about this learning environment
thing—for parents who are pulling their children out of school that are struggling
learners, what would you advise them to do?
Marianne: I talk to a lot of parents who are pulling their kids
out of school because they’re getting anxious and depressed in school and
they’re not getting the help that they need to really learn. And so the first
thing I tell them is that it’s really okay to back off on academics for a time,
even though that’s sort of counterintuitive because they’re
“behind.” It’s important to rekindle that love for learning that
they’re confident that they can learn and ways to do that are just experiencing
life together, paying particular attention to exploring their interests, helping them to
see that learning can actually be enjoyable. Reading aloud, even if your kids are older,
and just taking time to focus on your relationship with them to let them know that they
can trust you to look out for their best interests.
Mike: Well, Marianne, I really want to thank you for sharing
your insight and experience with us this week. This is going to be very helpful to many
parents. It’s been wonderful having you on the show and I hope to have you back
Marianne: Thank you.
Mike: So thank you very much. And until next time, I’m