Learn the 8 ways you need to change Charlotte Mason for your dyslexic child.
My husband and I stared at the reading specialist on the other side of the Starbucks table, a mixture of relief and apprehension in our eyes.
The whir of the coffee machine and soft ’90s music faded to the background as the diagnosis rang in our ears.
Dyslexia: severe to profound.
A thick stack of papers lay in front of me, filled with test results and recommendations. I tried to concentrate on what our reading specialist said, but a million thoughts swirled in mind.
First the relief: I’m not a terrible teacher.
And it’s not that my child isn’t trying. She struggles so much with academics for a reason.
But hot on the heels of the relief rushed the panicky thought, “Can we still continue to homeschool with Charlotte Mason? Is it even possible?“
And if it is possible … how?
Modifications for dyslexia
While a Charlotte Mason education is well suited to students with learning differences, you’ll need to make some adjustments.
Don’t worry– these alterations are painless but effective. Think of it as fine-tuning your child’s education.
What can you keep? The books, the writing, handwork, art and music, reading …you can keep everything!
But you will need to tweak how you use them.
Let’s walk through the eight changes you’ll need to make to your homeschool.
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#1 — It’s not “cheating” to do this
Even if your child can read, the sheer number of books in a CM education can be overwhelming. For a child who is a slow reader, who struggles to decode or struggles with comprehension, audiobooks can be an education-saver.
We often think of using audiobooks or readers as cheating, because the students aren’t doing the “work” of reading for themselves.
But three kinds of reading exist– reading with your eyes, reading with your fingers, and reading with your ears.
If a person is visually impaired and uses Braille to read a book, would you ever tell them they weren’t really reading?
Of course not.
And yet this is what we think when we let our kids use audiobooks.
“It’s not legitimate reading.“
New research has shown that audiobooks activate the same areas of the brain as reading with the eyes. That’s because it’s all in how language is processed.
Your child will get the full benefits of reading. He’ll activate the same language centers, develop vocabulary, gain cultural and background knowledge – all while keeping the actual reading instruction separate.
Audiobooks can be used both for instructional books and for the lighter, literature portions of the curriculum.
Good places to get audiobooks
- The first stop is your local library. Ask how to access their digital collection if you aren’t already familiar with it. I can access OverDrive, Hoopla, and Freading through my various local libraries, but every county is different.
- Learning Ally — if you have a diagnosis of dyslexia or a visual impairment you’re eligible to use this huge collection.
Learning Ally has professionally produced books and costs $135 per year, but also requires verification of a print disability.
- You can also use Bookshare. Bookshare uses good computerized voices to read the books, so if you want professionally read audiobooks this isn’t a viable choice. They require a diagnosis of a print disability that interferes with the ability to use traditional print materials.
- Audible is a division of Amazon and has many books that are professionally produced. The membership costs $15 per month, and you get 1 audiobook plus 2 “Audible Originals” for the price. You also get discounts on additional books and access to member-only sales.
- For ebooks that don’t have a professional audio version, if you can get them in .epub format you can use a computer program like Natural Reader to read them to your child.
My non-reading daughter relies on the free Natural Reader browser extension to figure out the print on web pages.
# 2 — Change the way you teach reading
A combination of sight words, phonics, and word-building form the basis of the reading instruction in Home Education (Charlotte Mason’s first book). While this can be a fine way to learn to read for 80% of the population, students with dyslexia need something different.
They need a reading program which is specific, sequential, and explicit.
Orton-Gillingham is a research-backed approach to teach reading, not a method, system, or program.
We can buy several Orton-Gillingham based programs for homeschool. They vary in the speed they move through the material, how explicit the instruction is, and how scripted they are for the parent.
Examples of Orton-Gillingham based programs are
Logic of English and All About Reading are good for most mild-moderate dyslexic kids, but they moved too fast and the leaps were too big for my child.
Rooted in Language has online workshops that teach you how to teach your child with an Orton-Gillingham approach.
Barton is considered the gold standard for dyslexic students who are tutored at home. The downside is the cost, which seems exorbitant when compared to other reading programs.
Even Logic of English and All About Reading look downright cheap in comparison.
To bring the cost down, buy used and resell when you’re finished with the level. Or if more than one student in your homeschool group needs Barton, pool your money with those other families and share the program.
Before you buy any of these programs, it will pay to give the Barton Student Screening to your child. If your student can’t pass this screening, he’s not ready for any reading program and needs more work on the phonological parts of language.
More reading instruction
For ages 6-9, all of the PNEU timetables scheduled 10 to 20 minutes per day for reading instruction and practice. If you use an Orton-Gillingham based program, you’ll need to spend 20-30 minutes per day.
They often recommend an hour per day several times per week.
But since we follow Charlotte Mason’s guidelines, we want to keep the lessons shorter.
#3– How to Handle Spelling, Copywork, and Dictation
Another area where we need to veer from Charlotte Mason’s method is in spelling, copy work, and dictation.
You won’t skip these, but you will do them a little bit differently.
With Charlotte Mason’s method, you would choose a paragraph, passage, or pages from the books your child reads, then use them for spelling, copy work, and dictation. The length of the passage depends on the age of the child.
A student would copy the selection, paying attention to the spelling of words and to punctuation, with the help of the parent.
Students visualized words to learn their spellings, but those words, in general, were ones the student didn’t know how to spell. They were not taught “explicitly and sequentially,” and a student didn’t always learn the spelling rules.
Instead of those passages from your literature or reading books, to modify for dyslexia you will use the spelling, copy work, or dictation provided with your reading program.
If your child reads well but the dyslexia shows up in spelling (this is more common than you might think!), use a spelling program for dyslexic students like All About Spelling or Sequential Spelling.
Sequential Spelling unlocked the spelling code for my two older children who could read but couldn’t spell.
Rooted in Language has an online workshop for parents about Intentional Copywork and Dictation. Though I don’t have experience with it, it looks like it would mesh very well with Charlotte Mason’s philosophy.
#4 — What About “Readers”?
One of the draws to Charlotte Mason is the wonderful living books, and the “readers” are no exception.
But when you teach reading with an Orton-Gillingham based program, you use leveled readers. These are not living books, but they are necessary for a student who struggles with dyslexia in the earlier stages of learning to read.
You will not be able to use readers recommended in Charlotte Mason curricula for “reading with the eyes” until your child has reached a certain level of proficiency in their OG reading program.
It’s so easy to feel like if your child isn’t able to read the assigned books in a curriculum, he will be “behind”.
Get rid of that thought right now.
We have to meet our children where they’re at, not where we think they should be.
And not where someone who has never met your child thinks an “average” child will be. Remember, homeschooling means we get to tailor the education to our child, not the other way around.
We don’t want to eliminate those wonderful “living books” readers, though. They are (usually!) engaging and full of adventure, and just plain old good stories. They’re also full of rich vocabulary and background knowledge which is the hallmark of a living book.
How do we get these benefits not have a child in tears? Go back up to modification #1 and use audio versions. The same areas of the brain are stimulated, your child still is exposed to the vocabulary and adventure, but the physical act of reading is separated.
# 5 — Narrations and Composition
One innovative aspect of Charlotte Mason’s method is she separated the mechanics of writing from composition.
Little modification is needed if your student is early elementary age. Do narrations orally, which is what a student that age should do.
Occasional written narrations were begun in Upper 1A at about age eight.
We’ll delay this even further though and wait until the student is strong in both reading and the physical act of writing before we expect written narrations.
As your child gets older, she’ll work on composition through oral narrations, but don’t expect her to write them down by hand until she’s a proficient reader and able to physically write with ease.
But we still want to reap the benefits of written narration. To get those benefits, once your child is about 8 or 9, add in a few other things.
Read up on the Natural Stages of Growth in Writing and the Absolutely Free Program at Brave Writer.
Introduce graphic organizers if your student is able to read well enough that he can understand them.
Do sensory awareness exercises, like those in this post from Nature Mentor. (I share several of these same exercises in my emails, because we had the same mentors)
Help your child come up with words to describe what they sense, or smell, or feel.
Ask questions like, “if you had to describe a color without saying the name of the color, how could you do it?” There is a lot of room for creativity with this, but possible answers to model are “her dress is the color of lemons” or “his shirt is the color of dried grass in the fall.”
#6 Writing and Composition
As with reading, students with dyslexia need explicit and sequential instruction in writing or composition.
Charlotte Mason didn’t begin specific writing instruction until Form 3 (ages 12-14). For children younger than 12, written narrations and whatever creativity flows out of them fulfill the role of composition.
Two of my favorite programs for the elementary and middle school years are Brave Writer and Write On!
Writer’s Jungle from Brave Writer will teach you how to develop your writer, while Write On! uses a guided method of explicit instruction to teach your child while using plenty of word-play and giving as much support as they need.
They are both for grades 3-8.
For both programs, do as much as you can orally.
At the junior high level, I would deviate from Brave Writer. Not because I don’t like her material, but because it wasn’t sequential or explicit enough for my dyslexic student.
The program expected her to infer too much about the structure of various forms of writing at the high school level.
When they are in high school, some students just need help editing their papers, and if you show them a model of different kinds of writing that will be enough.
But for our students who struggle with reading and writing, it’s not.
They need to work through a solid writing program.
What are other good options then?
- use the modeled and guided Write On! through jr. high
- Michael Clay Thompson (begin with Writing of Literature before moving into Academic Writing)
- Beyond the Book Report from Analytical Grammar)
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#7 — The Tech Solution
The physical act of writing can be very difficult for a dyslexic student, so consider using dictation software.
Dictation software is best for middle school and up.
One good free option is to enable Google Voice Typing used in Google docs. You can do this through your computer if you have a microphone, or you can do it with a smartphone.
It’s not perfect.
Because it doesn’t have an option to learn your voice patterns, sometimes the transcription can range from weird to downright funny.
The best thing to do is proofread as soon as you finish, while you still remember what you said. Otherwise you’ll chew on your bottom lip as you gaze at your screen, saying the gibberish words out loud and trying to figure out what you meant when Google heard “the dog is raining”
While the work still requires editing, sitting next to your child and going through their paper to edit is a valuable learning tool.
If you’re willing to pay for dictation software, this blog post writes about how using Dragon Naturally Speaking helped several dyslexic and dysgraphic students.
Finish it off with Grammarly and you’re golden.
#8– We’ll Always Have Paris
I’ll admit it — this modification stuck in my craw. Oh, how I resisted it!
Foreign language is such an integral part of a Charlotte Mason education that I felt like if we stopped we would throw out a large part of what makes a CM education, well … Charlotte Mason.
But our reading specialist, also a homeschooling mom and familiar with Charlotte Mason, explained two things:
First, adding the sounds of another language when my child struggles with the sounds of English just delays her progress in English, and second, someone who is dyslexic is dyslexic in all languages.
Dyslexia’s difficulties “typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language” (from the International Dyslexia Association).
It’s difficult for people with dyslexia to learn to read, write, and spell in one language.
It’s very, very difficult for them to learn to read, write, and spell in more than one language.
People with dyslexia process language in a different way than the rest of the population.
But what about Charlotte Mason’s method of learning oral language first?
If your student struggles with the sounds of English, adding new sounds from a different language will hamper her progress in English.
A good alternative is American Sign Language (ASL). If you’re not in America use whatever your local sign language is.
ASL allows the student to learn a different language without having to process new sounds or learn to write a new language.
If your child is mildly or moderately dyslexic he can try to learn a foreign language orally. But be prepared to stop if it’s too challenging or if his progress stalls in learning to read and speak English clearly.
If you notice either of these, then you should delay work on that second language until your child reads and spells well and at grade level in English.
Besides American sign language, one foreign language that might work is Esperanto. As a created language, Esperanto is phonetically regular with no exceptions to spelling or pronunciation rules.
The problem with Esperanto? Very few materials for children exist, and the materials for adults are pretty much all print-based.
If you as a parent are not already proficient in teaching a foreign language, you’ll need to translate a children’s program from a different foreign language into Esperanto.
That takes a lot of time and effort, time we often don’t have because we’re doing additional instruction in reading.
I thought translating a Spanish program into Esperanto was such a fantastic idea, I tried to do it.
Because apparently, I’m not a fast learner.
Both times I gave up a few weeks in. It’s not something I recommend.
The Most Important Thing to Remember
When our children struggle in one area, we have a tendency to focus most of our attention on that area until they can be “brought up to speed”.
But remember: a Charlotte Mason education is a liberal education, a broad education.
Don’t neglect the other areas of a Charlotte Mason education – the arts, physical education, work, music, drawing, and nature connection- to focus on reading and writing.
Here are my favorite video resources I’ve found very helpful:
- The True Gifts of a Dyslexic Mind
- What is dyslexia by the International Dyslexia Association
- How Difficult Can This Be – The F.A.T. City Workshop
- Videos by Susan Barton from Bright Solutions
While we can do a Charlotte Mason education with students with dyslexia, we do need to modify some portions.
- Use audiobooks and audio screen readers
Resources: Learning Ally, Bookshare, your public library’s digital collection, Audible, Natural Reader
- Use Orton-Gillingham based reading instruction
Resources: Logic of English, All About Reading, Rooted in Language, Barton, Foundation in Sounds, sightwords.com, LiPS
- Spelling, dictation, and copy work should be those provided in your reading program
- Use readers from your reading program, rather than those assigned in the CM curriculum. Use audiobooks for the readers in your curriculum
- Composition and narration should be oral until physical writing is strong.
Resources: Write On!, Brave Writer
- Explicit, sequential writing instruction in Form 3 and above
Resources: Write On!, Beyond the Book Report, Michael Clay Thompson
- Dictation software like Google Voice or Dragon Naturally Speaking
- Wait on foreign language until your student is reading well, and consider using American Sign Language instead of a spoken language
Can you homeschool with Charlotte Mason with a dyslexia diagnosis?
Yes. Yes, you can.
It is possible.
Thanks for sharing what you have about audio-books. I know a big piece of dysgraphia, which can go hand in hand with dyslexia, is not wasting our batteries practicing writing in other subjects-we only practice writing during handwriting. We don’t write during history, we don’t write during math, we don’t write spelling words as part of reading skill-we do those orally and use number and letter tiles or magnets. We isolate the skills. DD isn’t dyslexic, but she is SLD in reading due to visual processing weakness and we are using an OG program-Reading Lessons Through Literature by Kathy DeVore. And we use her adapted Elson Primer and Readers for reading practice. I do our other reading aloud or we are using audio versions.
RLTL is a CM influenced OG based reading program. She was also influenced by Spell to Write and Read which was derived from The Writing Road to Reading–one of the first OG programs. Spalding worked closely with Dr. Orton to develop his research into a program for the classroom teacher in the 1950’s, it is organized slightly differently from the Orton-Gillingham manual that was written in the 1930’s to organize Orton’s work into a usable format, and Spalding claims it to be based on the OG method. The Writing Road to Reading highly recommends a week long training workshop to implement it properly. Spell to Write and Read has a day long training. RLTL does not require a training-the instructions are very well written and she includes how to use the program with non-writers. It is inexpensive to boot. It is simplified, so it may not be as effective with a severely dyslexic child, but it does take the longer 20-30 minutes to implement. It can also be used as a spelling program.
Ron Davis has some resources as well, but focus is more on imagery aspect of dyslexia, specifically symbol mastery. My favorite piece of his work is making 3-D models for symbol mastery-letters and numbers and symbols like ‘+’ to help fix their shapes in the mind. Most Phoneme focussed programs use 2-D and the visual sense primarily. He also has children create 3-D models for abstract words that trigger disorientation for dyslexics and has a list of trigger words that most dyslexics struggle to create the meaning for–some examples a, the, become, do, have, make, yet, who. Davis also provides some tricks or exercises to the individual to use to manage what he terms disorientation–when the words start to swim on the page because the brain just can’t create the meaning, a mental blank that interferes with building the mental image or concept imagery. Ways to prevent the meltdown or headache or stomachache that sometimes results when it all gets too hard-something the other programs don’t address in my experience.
I would put forth the Lindamood-Bell programs as well. We are adding Visualizing and Verbalizing along with RLTL, it reminds me very much of CM Picture Study but, like OG for reading, takes a specific, sequential, explicit approach. LmB stresses that visualizing is a second foundational piece of the reading process in addition to phoneme awareness. A third piece is vocabulary. Children who cannot construct mental images (or make a mental movie) as they are reading cannot fully comprehend. Symbol imagery is visualizing the letters and numerals for spelling and math which CM seeks to do with copywork and dictation (and Davis 3-D modeling) but some children need that teaching to be again just a bit more basic than where CM starts. Where OG focuses on phoneme awareness, LmB uses dual coding theory to address: phoneme weakness, symbol imagery (orthographic processing), and concept imagery all necessary functions for comprehension. LmB is newer to the scene having been developed in the 1980’s with OG having been around since the 1930’s but has shown to be effective with dyslexic individuals and others with reading challenges. Davis developed his method in the 90’s and really only addresses one specific, though valuable aspect which neither of the others has dons far as I can tell.
What fabulous information! I originally had information about Lindamood-Bell and Foundation in Sounds, but decided that it was getting way too long. I might do another post about those programs later. We are having great results with Foundation in Sounds, though my daughter finds it boring and is resisting after working on it for 2 months.
I’ve heard of RLTL but don’t have any experience with it. I know for my own daughter, we’ve been advised to skip all the others and go straight to Barton because of her severity. I don’t think Barton is a great first choice for most people, due to its expense.
I think I need to put Ron Davis’s book next on my to-read list. It sounds like a piece of the puzzle! I know that for my older dd, when the words moved on the page, vision therapy through a developmental optometrist completely took care of that. She was still dyslexic (probably mild) but reading was easier because she didn’t have to deal with the words moving around anymore.
My younger daughter (the profoundly dyslexic one) did tell me that she can’t make pictures in her head, but she can still do narrations after a year of work and drawing them on a chalkboard. I’m not sure what’s going on there. We are planning to start Dianne Craft’s Brain Integration Therapy soon, and I’ll probably try Visualizing and Verbalizing next year. Here is a link for the homeschool kit which is significantly cheaper than the regular kit.
When we’re finished with Foundation in Sounds, we will retest using the Barton Student Screening. Those results will determine if we decide to do Lindamood-Bell’s LiPS program.
I am so happy we have so many resources now! When my older kids were struggling 15 years ago, this information just wasn’t easily available. If I only had known then what I know now, I would have approached their education differently, both in the public school and in homeschool.
Great input and information, Karen! Thank you so much 🙂
I know this is an older post so I was wondering if you have an update on what is working for you and your daughter.
My daughter is 6.5 years and I strongly suspect she has dyslexia. I have always planned to do a Charlotte Mason style homeschool but we were getting nowhere with the reading with her, but my 3.5 year old figured out how to read even though I wasn’t directing the reading lessons to him.
I decided to try Rooted in Language with my daughter a couple months ago and it’s working so far as I can tell, although it’s obvious it’s still a struggle for her. It’s a two edged sword in that the slow repetitive nature is necessary for her to actually learn, but it also gets kind of boring.
Besides her problems with learning to read and write, she also can’t seem to do narration. I have not pushed it and only try to do it once a month or so because it’s so frustrating and I haven’t been able to figure out what the problem is. We have been acting out the story with simple props but she still wants me to verbalize the story while she moves the little figures around. She has a stunning vocabulary and quite the imagination and is telling her own original stories endlessly but for some reason she has a hard time with retelling. At first I thought she just was being stubborn because she didn’t want to do it, but now I’m wondering if it’s related to the dyslexia. Have you discovered anything relating to this?
We are making so much progress!
We are using Barton Reading and Spelling for our main reading program. I also add in other things, though.
My daughter has severe deficits in phonemic awareness (common for dyslexic kids), so I do Heggerty for 10 minutes per day. In the beginning my daughter struggled so much with it that it would take us 2-3 days to get through a single “10 minute” lesson. https://heggerty.org/curriculum/primary/ There are also youtube videos demonstrating how to do some of the hand motions.
We also do Word Sorts pretty much every day. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAoHriJ6_1Y
Reading every single day, of books that only have words that she’s been taught to decode, has been huge. Since Barton moves so slowly, it was a challenge for awhile to find appropriate books. Most move too quickly in their phonics progression, adding long vowels (whether magic e, vowel teams, or open syllables) way too soon.
Dianne Craft’s readers have been lifesavers. We are about to finish up the 1st grade readers from her diannecraft.com and then we’ll need to stop for awhile. When we come to a high-frequency word we haven’t been taught in our reading program, I just “give” her the word (tell it to her).
I use Secret Stories to introduce and reinforce the sounds/letter teams we’re learning with Barton.
I just got in a big order of books that are high interest, low level. I’m waiting on a back order of Dandelion Launchers Set 2. https://www.highnoonbooks.com/detailHNB.tpl?eqskudatarq=DDD-2991 I’m not sure where your daughter is in her reading instruction; Dandelion Launchers Set 1 might be a better fit for your daughter. https://www.highnoonbooks.com/detailHNB.tpl?action=search&cart=161117704715175632&eqskudatarq=DDD-2337&eqTitledatarq=Dandelion%20Launchers%20Set%201&eqvendordatarq=ATP&bobby=%5Bbobby%5D&bob=%5Bbob%5D&TBL=%5Btbl%5D
Also look at the Phonics-based reading tab at that site.
I like Shelley Davidow’s early reader series, but there’s not enough there for dd. We also have the readers from All About Reading which are excellent. Also check out simplewordsbooks.com . No pictures, but if your daughter has the stamina they have a set of early decodable chapter books that are more interesting for the littles. They need to be able to read 2 and 3 letter blends in words, but the words are mostly if not all single syllable words. https://simplewordsbooks.com/collections/all_books_collection/products/book-set-four-early-decodable-chapter-books
Lastly, for narration, have you read this post, Painless Oral Narrations the Easy Way? Narrating is HARD. This post explains how I break it way, way down into its component parts for our kiddos learn it easily.
Good luck and let me know if you have any more questions!
This was amazing, thank you! We suspect dyslexia with my oldest. He started thriving when we switched to All About Reading and has just about completed all levels. We also switched to Sequential Spelling and he prefers it to All About Spelling. What a great post, I appreciate it greatly!
Hello Marjorie! Thank you for all the information provide, I have a question my daughter is in 1st grade but her reading is a 5th grade level, while reading about dislexia I’ve notice that she is struggling with phonics and even put an easy word together, I tested her and she is in the beginning of dislexia, we are still trying to find out what could be best for her on Language Arts, do you have any recommendation ?
I would work on phonics and phonemic awareness with her. It doesn’t hurt any child, and it helps many. She may be memorizing the words, which will work to a certain point but then her memory will most likely top out. This is why so many kids struggle in 3rd grade.
Marjorie this information is great. Curious your current thoughts on the explicit writing programs, specifically Write On and at what age in a CM based education you would add that on for a dyslexic kiddo.
I’m adding it in Form 2. We’re in 2B right now, and I’ve just started Write On! very slowly. My daughter is 10. I like to have Form 1 be a really solid base for oral narration, regardless.
Thanks. My daughter is in form 2B and oral narration can still be hit or miss but I honestly think that is just dependent on her cooperation level of the day and her desire because for some things she has essentially a photographic memory and can tell me every little detail. HAHA. I am also beginning to suspect undiagnosed dyslexia in my older one though with her traumatic medical past it is so hard to say but I am considering treating her as dyslexic for the time being.
Thank for sharing these ideas. I would like to add that there is no reason to be afraid of adding a second language for kids struggling to read.
Hi Candace! That’s an interesting article. Most children with dyslexia have trouble learning grammar and writing, also. Not handwriting (though that can be part of it), but the structure of writing. I’ve talked to many tutors who specifically work with dyslexia, and while in theory learning a second language should be as easy as learning their first (though many of our dyslexic kids were late talkers and continue to struggle with language), in reality it often slows down their reading progress in English. Adding the additional sounds, vocabulary, sentence structure, and grammar of a new language just adds another layer of confusion that has to be fought through.
We’ve been doing ASL for two years now at our tutor’s recommendation and my daughter is coming along nicely. She actually does better in ASL than most other kids in her class, probably because she thinks in pictures and not linearly. My plan is to add Latin in a year or two as Charlotte Mason suggested, then Spanish in high school. Spanish we will focus on oral-only for at least the first year and well into the second, using The Ulat. Judging by her current progress, by that time she’ll be a good enough reader that the addition of the sounds and spellings of a new language shouldn’t affect her English reading much.