Teaching Kids With Dyslexia – Am I Doing Enough?

by | Sep 13, 2015 | Encouragement | 9 comments

I talk a lot here on the blog about the freedom of homeschooling and the power of individualized instruction and interest-led learning.  I whole-heartedly believe in these facets of teaching kids with dyslexia at home.

Homeschooling With Dyslexia

However, with the freedoms of homeschooling often come doubts as to whether we are actually doing enough school.  Interest-led learning is so fun it may not seem as legitimate as traditional school methods.  

Modifying curricula so that our kids can continue to learn and show what they know in ways that are natural for them can make us feel illegitimate – like we’re not really doing school.  Pursuing interests and tailoring learning around these interests isn’t as easy to measure as neat and tidy textbooks and workbooks.

For help in stepping away from school and into real learning, read my latest book, No More School: Meeting the Educational Needs of Kids With Dyslexia and Language-Based Learning Difficulties.

Keeping your eye on the big picture

As a homeschool consultant, I talk to lots of parents who are anxious about their ability to homeschool their struggling learners.  Oftentimes I find that they are honing in on specific details so closely, they are totally forgetting about the big picture – their long term vision and goals.

I can’t tell you if you’re doing enough academically with your kids because each family is unique.  I can give you some perspective as a mom who has graduated four dyslexic kids so far – 6 down and 2 to go!

For more information on dyslexia in high school and college, click here.

Watching my young adults launch into the world, I am understanding more and more the value of the larger goal of helping kids to find and have ample time to pursue their interests.  All of our kids are uniquely made and come with a surprising variety of strengths and abilities.

So while we’re teaching our kids to read, write and do math – we want to be keeping an eye out for what makes our kids excited.  What do they love to do day after day?  What do they dream about, talk about – even read about?

After all, one day they will be reading, writing and able to do all the math they need to to live in our world – then what?  Will their curiosity still be alive?  Will their confidence be intact?  Will they know themselves and their strengths so that they can choose the best career path?  Not to mention, how is their relationship with you?

These are important things to think about.  It can be easy to get so caught up in the day to day struggles that we fail to see the bigger picture.

Knowing how hard to push

I became an Orton-Gillingham dyslexia tutor so that I could more confidently teach my kids at home.  While getting this training isn’t necessary – it has been very helpful to me as I have a larger toolbox to draw from in my day-to-day teaching.  Still, however, I have many days where I am teaching my 8-year old son and he struggles.

Finding a balance between being too lax and pushing so hard that kids get overwhelmed and shut down isn’t always straightforward.   Let’s look a little closer to my reading lesson with Ben.

A real-life example

Ben just turned 8.  He is probably mildly to moderately dyslexic.  He just started 3rd grade and reads at about the middle of first-grade level.

He is strong-willed and a perfectionist!  Although he has come a long way over the past few years – he still requires a lot of firm boundaries pretty much all day long.

When I call Ben to the table to start our reading time – he almost always comes happily.  He likes this one-on-one time with me and now that we are using an Orton-Gillingham, research-based reading curriculum enjoys solving the puzzle of reading.

Fast forward 20-25 minutes.

He’s reviewed his sight words, decoded a dozen words using the latest rule he’s learned, he’s read 3 or 4 sentences and a stack of review words.  As his mom and teacher, I am happy with his progress.  He is learning!

Now, according to my lesson plan, it’s time for him to build a dozen or so words with magnetic letter tiles, write these same words and write a sentence from dictation, followed by having him read to me from his All About Reading Readers.

He’s getting tired and starts to make mistakes that frustrate him. A few more mistakes and now he is in tears.  He begins to complain that he doesn’t want to do any more school.

What should I do?  Should I push him to finish his lesson or should I let him stop?  How do I decide?

Because I know Ben can be impulsive and emotional – I am super cautious of him quitting when things get hard.  After his first few mistakes, I push him to continue.  I remind him of his treat (he gets to eat a cookie or some other treat after he is finished) and encourage him to press on.

Having learned about the power of a growth mindset, I praise his hard work.   I remind him how he is exercising his reading muscle and that one day reading will be easier.  We stop and talk about how strong he is and he happily shows off the muscles in his arms.

I can see that his heart is good – he wants to do well.  But here’s some truth – reading for a child with dyslexia is hard work!

Ending on a positive note is why he pretty much always comes to the table for reading time with a good attitude.

We take a break with the understanding that we will come back to his reading lesson later to finish.

What do you think?  What would you do?  Would you stop or continue?

Sometimes we get back to his lesson and sometimes the afternoon gets busy and we never finish that day’s work.  We pick up where we left off the following morning, work until Ben is making mistakes out of fatigue, and then stop.

Knowing that I speak all the time on early intervention and the power of Orton-Gillingham reading instruction and knowing that people are watching my level of success with my kids makes me want to push Ben.  After all, technically, he is not reading at ‘grade level’, right?


If I take a minute to step back and remember the big picture, I will remember that helping my kids maintain a love for learning is very important to me.  I remember all of the parents of public schooled kids I’ve talked to and the powerful, negative effects of pushing them too hard day after day.  I look at Ben’s heart and how he loves to read and how hard he tries.

And with this perspective, I can confidently know that I have pushed him hard enough for today.  Homeschooling kids with dyslexia requires a fairly delicate balance between modification, remediation, and accommodation.

Do I always get it right?  Not likely.  Even moms who are with their kids all day every day don’t always know if their kids are truly pushed hard enough.  But I can’t really say that I’ve failed in educating my kids if I have succeeded in keeping their trust, nurtured their love of learning, and taught them in a way that they can thrive rather than just survive.

The Three Most Important Things

Learn 3 things that I see as the most valuable things that I did do well with my kids in the early days of our homeschool when I knew relatively little about dyslexia.

These things may surprise you. They may even disappoint you.

Click here to read my simple, stress-free homeschool success formula.

How about you?  How do you know if you are doing enough?

For more information on specific strategies to teach your dyslexic child the way he or she learns, consider taking one of our Parent Dyslexia Classes.  Classes now available are:

Understanding Dyslexia

Teaching Them How They Learn

Teaching Reading:  Methods That Work

Teaching Spelling

Building Fluency and Comprehension

Or buy all 5 classes in our Foundation Bundle and receive a free download of my book, Dyslexia 101:  Truths, Myths and What Really Works.


  1. Christine

    Great post! I live this daily. The All About Reading program is outstanding, but the lessons are way too long. The first time I went through a whole lesson with my daughter, who sounds at about the level of your son, I was stumped as to why so much was expected in one lesson (though I know she says to modify as needed).

    On the day my child needs to read a new story, I don’t do any of the cards or other things. Just reading the stories–All About Reading 3–fatigues her and she can’t quite finish them yet in one sitting. Their fatigue is such that thirty minutes a lesson seems more than enough. Since so many dyslexics are also hyperactive, it is difficult to get an hour out of most of them.

    And since automaticity is so difficult for them, they rarely ever master (instantly read) many of the word cards in isolation, though in context of the stories they read the same words far quicker, I’ve found. I don’t sweat the cards too much and we go through the whole deck only once a week. Her review deck is large because she can’t read many of them instantaneously. I’m not trained to teach special ed, mind you, but I don’t know that I agree with the emphasis on reading words in isolation day after day. It discounts the clues our brains derive from context. We read for meaning, after all. It is reading in context that makes kids more fluent, not knowing every separate word instantly. I have 3 dyslexic kids and I don’t see them making meaning of text differently than regular ed readers. They still need syntactical and semantic clues, as well as their life experiences, to derive meaning from different texts.

    Can we teach systematically, isolating words for phonemic lessons, but still do the vast majority of practice reading in context, rather than spending so much time reading cards? Does the OG method specifically call for this much isolation reading? Thanks for your perspective!

    • marianne

      These are great questions Christine! I take at least 3, often 4 days to cover one lesson with my kids. We only read the readers for about 5-10 minutes, depending on their fatigue level. I have them read the a few lines of the fluency sheets each day and use those for building with the tiles to practice. Fluency is the last step of reading. Practice is the main thing to improve automaticity. When reading words out of context, you are forcing them to decode, using the skills that they have been learning. Their are strategies for improving fluency as well. Here is a blog post on building fluency. Here is a class I wrote on Building Fluency and Comprehension.
      The O-G method does include a lot of ‘word work’ including building words with tiles, decoding words built with tiles, reading and sorting words on cards and dictation to practice encoding (spelling) of individual words. One thing I do to help build fluency with AAR is to have my kids read the previous stories in the readers for their quiet reading time. If you do that , you may be surprised to see that they are becoming fluent with words that they have been practicing for a long time. Hope this helps!!

      • Christine

        Thank you! I do the same thing with the old stories…have them read them independently and have them even choose their favorites to read over and over. It does help a lot. She is far more fluent this year and I’m so grateful. Her fluency with the cards is still poor. She can read a stack on her own for the most part, but it is slower than reading the same words in context. But I understand what you are saying about the decoding practice being so necessary. Thank you again! I did read your fluency post when you originally wrote it.

      • Carrie

        I appreciate this question and the detailed answer! Thank you for sharing your knowledge! It is so helpful for my dyslexic kids!

    • Liz

      We use AAR as well and I just want to mention that each lesson is not really meant to be completed in one day for those that are considering this curriculum. You are encouraged to take as many days as is needed to master that lesson, hence it being a mastery based program. We have had lessons take a couple weeks and early on, I even went through level one twice! Thank you Marianne, for all you do, this was an encouraging post as usual!

  2. Sarah

    Thank you so much for this post! Sometimes I feel all alone in this battle of homeschooling my dyslexic son. You’re right, it is such a very delicate balance of pushing hard enough but knowing when to step back and look at the big picture. I’m so thankful for your blog!

  3. Jennifer

    Thank u for this! I have a 8 (almost 9) year old that reads on a first grade level. I almost always feel I am not doing enough, and yet I feel like I know my child and when it’s time to quit. (Not that I do it right) You describing your day helped me in so many levels! Thank you again.

  4. Amy

    This just what I needed to hear, mostly because I rarely feel like I’m doing enough. My 7-year-old is at an early 1st grade reading level (if that), and we deal daily with the trial of her fatigue and frustrations. We’ve been going through Logic of English Foundations (currently on level B), and it’s been great, but we do have to split the lessons into two days.

    A big part of the struggle is MY personality. I just want to get down to the nitty-gritty, and I have to keep reminding myself that the games aren’t just fluff, but are an important way to reinforce those phonemes. They take up so much time, but they are needed, and she enjoys them. She also drags out her spelling words, taking the time to draw a picture with each one. It seems silly and a waste of time, but I know it could be a helpful way for her picture-oriented brain to process the words. All in all, the snail’s pace can be discouraging, but I have to keep reminding myself that slow progress is better than no progress.

    Thank you for your encouragement!


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