Cultivating these 5 powerful habits will improve learning for your kids with dyslexia.
I’m writing this post during that nebulous time between Christmas and New Years when you’re not sure what day it is or what you’re supposed to be doing.
If you’re in this season and beginning to come up for air or if you’ve stumbled upon this post outside of this time period, all of these habits will make learning with dyslexia a lot easier.
First a word about the power of habits.
As a parent, cultivating good habits in our kids can make our lives exponentially easier. For example, if kids have a habit of getting up in the morning, brushing their teeth, and making their beds we don’t need to remind them which often seems like annoying nagging to them. Also, they are waaaay ahead of others who even in their college years haven’t mastered these basic daily must-dos. Have you ever seen this video about the importance of making your bed?
As powerful as daily lifestyle habits can be, cultivating good habits around learning is especially impactful for students with dyslexia. Learning habits make the learning environment more efficient which is a win for everyone – kids and parents alike.
So let’s learn more about these 5 learning habits
Habit 1: Have a regular daily routine.
If you as an adult struggle with order and routine, this may be difficult. I recommend starting with a morning routine that includes chores (including making your bed!), some kind of movement (exercise), and eating (together if at all possible).
Work on establishing this early morning routine until it becomes an expected part of your day and everyone is on board with it. How long it will take to establish this routine will vary from family to family. Families dealing with focus and attention issues like ADHD will find this especially challenging at first but even more profoundly powerful once established.
Next, add a morning school routine. Of course, if you have teens and start school at noon, just call this your school routine or whatever name best describes this block of learning time. I have two school routines; one in the morning that includes a lot of core work (or my minimum viable school day) and learning that we do together and an after lunch school block which usually includes independent work and my kids’ quiet reading time.
Like bumpers on a bowling alley lane, routines keep everyone’s energy on track. Routines that are done with consistency result in habits. Habits help parents by reducing the occurrence of decision fatigue because of wondering if and what to do for learning on any particular day.
Routines done with consistency also help your kids know what is expected of them throughout the day. They know when they are expected to be learning (or doing school) and when it might be appropriate to ask for screen time or other non-school activities.
Yes, I’m writing this during Christmas break and my tween and teen boys have been playing way more video games than usual. I know it will take some time to ease them back into our normal routine but because we had an established routine before the break, it will be easier…hopefully.
Once your morning and learning routines are established, add any other routines that will make expectations predictable in your home. We have an afternoon routine and an evening routine that help us all to shift gears throughout the day.
Habit 2: Move your body.
Take a run around the block, go up and down the stairs in your house, just do something to get your kids moving.
The benefits of exercise are well-documented. Exercise prepares the brain to expand, learn, and change better than any other human activity. It also improves mood and motivation, reduces anxiety, regulates emotions, and maintains focus.
If you are a science nerd like me, you may be interested to know that when we exercise we are using more nerve cells than in any other human activity. The more we move, the more those cells are clicking away and firing. When they fire, they release more neurotransmitters to carry information from one nerve cell to the next, creating a boost of dopamine and norepinephrine, which play a major role in regulating our attention system.
Take brain breaks. In addition to getting some movement in everyday before school, many schools and teachers are recognizing the benefits of taking ‘brain breaks’. This is allowing kids to get up from their desks and do some jumping around. Just like good old-fashioned recess, giving your brain a break while moving your body can help prepare the brain for more focused learning.
Our family has loved this resource for brain break ideas.
Habit 3: Use research-based methods.
I have a LOT of knowledge about teaching kids with dyslexia, however, I wasn’t born with this knowledge. It came from years of trial and error, reading, and researching. I am here to tell you that there are programs that look and sound good, and there are programs with science behind them to prove that they are good.
I don’t ever want to say that a new, better way of teaching couldn’t be developed, but until it does and it has the science to back it up, stick with methods that are proven to work.
Using research-based (sometimes referred to as evidence-based) methods means:
- Using an Orton-Gillingham-based reading program. Don’t let this overwhelm you. There are a variety of programs developed for use at home that are very good! You can read my Comparison of the Top 4 OG Reading programs including my reviews of each program here.
- Using multi-sensory methods. This is learning by using more than one sense at the same time. Most kids in schools learn by seeing and hearing. If possible, add in the use of the other senses such as touch, smell, and taste at the same time. Many effective programs include a kinesthetic element that adds the sense of touch and movement to learning. Multi-sensory learning uses multiple parts of the brain at the same time which helps information to stick.
- Using explicit, systematic methods. Kids with dyslexia and other language-based learning differences need to be taught information very explicitly in order to learn. While traditional learners may seem to make connections and figure things out without much instruction, this is not so with our kids. Expect this and accept that this is how our kids learn best.
- Understand the different learning trajectories of kids with language-based learning differences. Our kids need research-based, multi-sensory, explicit and systematic teaching as well as what may seem like an inordinate amount of review and practice to master information. This type of learning also results in kids mastering information (becoming fluent) on a different timeline than their peers who are more traditional learners. It is not uncommon for our kids to become fluent readers between the ages of 9 or 10 and 12, or even 14+ in some cases.
Habit 4: Food and water.
If you are reading this in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, this habit doesn’t need much explanation. When we eat junk, our brains just don’t work as well as they can.
In addition, dehydration can lead to fatigue, dizziness, poor concentration and reduced cognitive abilities, affecting our kids’ ability to learn.
Two simple hacks we have used are; one, to assign each kid their own water bottle and fill them each morning, and two, provide an abundance of yummy and healthy snack and meal options to make it easier for your kids to choose foods that nourish their brains.
It can be easy to get caught up in an all-or-nothing attitude about nutrition. Just do the best you can each day and don’t beat yourself up for choosing less healthy options over other priorities from time to time.
Habit 5: Cutlivate a Growth Mindset.
Establishing a growth mindset in our homeschool has been one of the most impactful things we have done. Kids with a growth mindset are more engaged and motivated learners.
Research has shown that kids who are praised and acknowledged for their effort will apply more effort to whatever it is they were working on – be it sports, playing the guitar, or working on a math lesson.
Kids who are praised and acknowledged for the outcome of their effort will only feel motivated and successful when they have a positive outcome. For example, if you praise your child for getting 100% on an assignment, they will only feel good about their learning when they receive a good grade and will shut down when their performance isn’t 100%.
You can learn about what a growth mindset is here, and how to teach your kids to have a growth mindset here.
That was a lot.
The best way to get started with establishing habits is to pick one area that will have the biggest impact or to choose one that may be the easiest to implement thereby giving your family some much-needed momentum.
Do you have any of these habits? Which is your favorite?