Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Nine Ideas to Grow Reading Skills

Reviving an old post of mine from a web site that closed:

My homeschooler with autism has always been challenged by reading. Even in public school, she expressed resistance. And the harder I pushed her, the more she hated reading. Her anxiety skyrocketed and our relationship suffered. I want my daughter to enjoy reading. I want it to be fun for her, not a chore. And I don’t want her to hate me for forcing her to read. I researched and tried everything that was recommended. We work together for short sessions; we’ve experimented with colored overlays; I’ve had her vision checked; we use developmentally appropriate reading level material; I’ve attended workshops with teachers to help me help her. Still, the more pressure I put on her to join me in reading, the more resistant she became. At one point, I relaxed, but not as an intentional step in getting her to read more, read better. I waved the white flag in surrender as I gave up my agenda.

In retrospect, relaxing in a way that took forced reading off our daily schedule has been THE thing that has given my child room to grow and improve.

Here are some of the tools and strategies we have used in our regrouping time. If you are homeschooling a child who seems stuck and resistant, maybe some of the things that worked for us will work for you, too.

1. Wordless books. Yes, I said “wordless books”. Words and text were an obstacle to meaning and comprehension, and we still occasionally pull out a wordless story book to “read” and narrate in order to build comprehension and narration skills. The storylines of wordless books range from very simple to quite complex and you can find lists of wordless books with a simple internet search. (I even have a wordless Bible story book.) I wrote about wordless books here and here.

2. Books on audio. My child has auditory processing challenges, too, and she resists books on audio, yet she will sometimes listen to a book on CD if she has the book in her hand. She is able to follow along with the audio. I’ve heard that most tablets have a spoken text feature that allows readers to listen along while reading.

3. Closed captioning. Add the closed captioning layer to TV and DVD.

4. Electronics. Wii singing games. Karaoke. Singing karaoke requires some quick processing of words and interestingly, I’ve seen improvements in reading since my child began using Wii singing games. (Hint: Watch the rating on the singing games. There are a good number rated E for everyone.) Some detective games give game players clues in text on the screen – the child must be able to read and process those clues to know where to move the character.

5. Follow the child’s interests. Spend a lot of time following the child’s interests. Temporarily abandon anything else if necessary. When you are within the child’s interest, you can often push the child to a higher reading level. I’ve seen my kid join me with National Geographic articles about a subject she likes when she would resist anything non-interesting at any (lower) reading level. Animated movies and musicals are special interests of my daughter. She enjoys reading about the stars of the shows. Sometimes, we go to the library and spend time reading entertainment magazines.

6. Relate reading to something we experienced in real life. We live in an area rich in Civil War history. I tend to think of scheduling field trips after learning about a topic; however, with my special needs child, a field trip first sometimes opens the door to a new reading topic. Another example: My daughter likes to ice skate. Ice skating is not one of her reading interests, yet when I buy books about skaters or skating, she will often pick them up.

7. Comics. I have two comic strip Bibles and an entire history curriculum in comic strip form. Look for information presented in comic strip form. Kid magazines also present information in a fun way. Some homeschool co-ops subscribe to Weekly Reader or Scholastic ‘newspapers’. National Geographic has a kids’ version.

8. Graphic novels. My daughter is currently reading “Dork Diaries” books to me at night. She even reads, “smiley face smiley face two exclamation points” to me in the stories.

9. Co-reading. If your child needs scaffolding for partner reading, Scholastic is one company that has some you-read-to-me-and-I’ll-read-to-you books where text is highlighted for two readers.

10. Cooking and crafting and traveling. I put her in charge of the recipe, reading me the ingredients and materials and the steps. On short drives, I give my girl directions and ask her to help me navigate or look for street names.

Slowly, my reluctant, resistant reader is reading a little more and a little more. When I let go of what I consider ‘typical’ expectations and expectations of mine based on my public school experiences, I was able to look outside those boxes. Giving up “what should be” and working with “what is” helped me to relax. Allowing her time on electronics when reading is involved has also been a help, as much as I hate to admit it.

We continue to look for creative, outside-the-box reasons to read. Next up is a winter theater class. What outside-the-box strategies have helped at your house?

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