I like this quote from the Christopherus Living Language book, page 258: “One of the main premises of this book is the belief that early academics are not healthy for children and that it is perfectly normal for many children, especially boys, to not learn to read or write until 9,10, or even 11 years old. In my experience, the vast majority of these children are perfectly healthy and there is no problem. However, it would be irresponsible of me to not remind people that there certainly are those children whose inability to read/write stems not from a picture of normalcy and health, but because of one of a range of challenges or problems.”
Exactly! In my last post, I laid out some of the foundations of learning to read, write and spell – through movement, through vision including a screening checklist for visual challenges even if acuity is 20/20 for grades-aged children (ie, those seven years of age and up), and looking at hearing and speech. That post is here: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2013/09/19/visual-challengespart-one/
So, continuing with our focus on vision, what do you do if your child is identified as having visual challenges?
This topic has come up a bit in my email this week, and interestingly, was also the topic of an article in the Renewal: A Journal for Waldorf Education, Spring/Summer 2013 entitled, “Seeing and Learning: Identifying and Ameliorating Early Vision Problems” , written by Susan Johnson, an anthroposophic allopathic physician.
In this article, Susan Johnson discusses the necessity of both visual tracking and visual convergence in reading and writing. She writes in the Renewal article , “Eyes that are tracking or converging asymmetrically will create images that are distorted and/or doubled. Equal vision is also necessary for depth perception.”
Dr. Johnson writes about cranial compression as a factor in visual disparity and recommends biodynamic cranial therapy as seen in the James Jealous Method (see here: http://jamesjealous.com/) . She also recommends consultation with a pediatric ophthamologist or developmental optometrist to look at documenting improvements in vision whilst treatment is going on. Therapeutic eurythmy is a helpful adjunct for visual problems.
Dr. Johnson mentions that visual therapy or therapy with a sensory-integration occupational therapist who can work with children using their eyes whilst their body moves in different planes of movement is also an approach that can be fruitful. Reader Jenny and I have corresponded over many private emails regarding her daughter’s journey with visual therapy and you can see her daughter’s journey here: http://allisvisiontherapystory.blogspot.com/
There are many exercises working with small balls, sucking thick liquids through a straw, ping-pong, badminton, tennis, juggling, drawing, painting, coloring, mazes, beading, sewing, and knitting all help strengthen the eyes for tracking and convergence. For an example of some visual therapy exercises, I found this page and thought it had a interesting array of exercises that demonstrates some things a child in visual therapy once a child’s visual challenges are identified by a qualified health care provider: http://www.centerforvisionandlearning.com/index.php/resources/vision-therapy-exercises.html
From my physical therapy background, the other area to look at is that of retained primitive reflexes and to see if any of these are still present in the child and need to be addressed. A good developmental physician, pediatric chiropractor or physical or occupational therapist should be able to address this for you and your child. This can be extremely helpful in addition to the things mentioned above.
I think the other piece of writing and reading, which Susan Johnson, MD has talked about before in other things she has written, is to consider things such as visual memory, and auditory discrimination. There is a pretty set way to approach reading in teaching our children in a Waldorf Way. The big picture is, of course, movement to oral speaking to writing to reading, but there are also things we should be doing on a practical level every single day to practice capabilities. These include visual games, auditory games, spatial orientation games, practicing writing on paper so that by the end of second grade this is a normal part of homeschool and life. The BEST Waldorf resource for this that I have found is this book: “Waldorf Education In Practice: Exploring How Children Learn In The Lower Grades” by Master Waldorf Teacher Else Gottgens. I hope to go into some of these areas in future posts. I see too many Waldorf homeschooling parents trying to “get the stories” right and seem to lack the practice element that this book so nicely goes into. Here is a link to this very important book that ALL Waldorf homeschoolers should have: http://meadowsweet.creocommunico.com/item_654/WALDORF-EDUCATION-IN-PRACTICE-Exploring-How-Children-Learn-in-the-Lower-Grades.php