There are often posts about children who have dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia on the Waldorf homeschooling facebook groups. One of our children was diagnosed with all three of these some years ago, so I have some experience with dealing with this in combination with Waldorf homeschooling. I say “some experience” simply because one child does not a generalization make! In speaking with other parents whose children also have dyslexia, I find the symptoms of dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia play out very differently from child to child, so one must be super careful. What works for one child with dyslexia may or may not work for another child.
However, I would like to share some general tips from my experience:
- Consider testing. It typically is not the be all and end all in terms of being a shocker as to what it going on, but if your older child does need accommodation for testing or wants to transfer into a school setting for middle or high school, testing is really important. Testing usually also leads to suggestions for therapy or concentrations for remedial work/tutoring to focus on, which actually can be helpful. It can also help pinpoint things such as is working memory deficits or slow processing part of the picture, which can be helpful to know in teaching.
- Waldorf Education, with its experiential foundation, movement focus, and whole language development is great for all children, including those with dyslexia. However, as children get older, don’t be afraid to incorporate products geared toward children with dyslexia. We started with “All About Spelling,” which seems to work well for some dyslexic children. We started it in fifth grade after a year of visual therapy that took up part of third and fourth grade, but in looking back, I think we should have used some of these things earlier than we did. Our family was mainly searching for math and spelling help, since reading and comprehension were strengths, but some children really need an Orton-Gillingham based product such as “All About Reading” or “Logic of English” for reading. For dyscalculia, I recommend Ronit Bird’s work, which is based in games and number flexibility and fits into Waldorf metholodolgy nicely. She has a lovely You Tube Channel, where you can see some of the games in action. For working specifically on how to write in the upper grades, I have had recommendations for “Writing Skills” by Diana Hanbury King. I think there is supposed to be three books, but I can only find one book published so far, and although Book One says grade 4 or something like that, I wouldn’t be worried about working through it with a middle schooler. Hopefully the other books will come out!
- Don’t be afraid to adjust the response required from the new content, especially as the amount of content increases in grades five and up. For example, children with dysgraphia will generally also have trouble with drawing pictures or other artistic responses such as modeling or painting, they may have difficulty free hand maps which is typically part of the middle school curriculum, and obviously the physical act of writing summaries. The physical difficulties in writing also impedes the flow of writing, which can be fixed with the use of technology for typing, but some dyslexic students have a really hard time with ordering and developing ideas and need a lot of work there. For the upper grades, I typically require less written work than I did for my student without dyslexia. Sometimes I modify things completely to eliminate much of the writing or drawing for some blocks. For example, for some of the mineralogy work in sixth grade, we did more of a cut and paste approach to make a lapbook as a response or instead of making freehand maps that were detailed, we worked together to be able to draw the map or we skipped map making. I find it important to alternate work like this with blocks that require writing or artistic work. Because normally writing and artistic work takes these children a much longer time, these strategies are important in Waldorf homeschooling.
- However, in the same token, don’t neglect a path of improvement of academic and artistic capacities in terms of writing summaries and artistic work in Waldorf Education. Don’t completely give up! In general, from my own experience and in speaking with other Waldorf homeschooling parents of children with dyslexia, you can expect the path of improvement to be very slow to nearly nonexistant in grades 1-3 . Some children in grades 1-3 have incredible behavioral issues associated with school, and it can be really discouraging as a homeschooling parent. Our first three years in the grades was really rough, but if you stick with it, you will get through it! There usually is some upswing at the end of third grade or over the summer between third and fourth grade and then heading into grades 4-6 even more progress (some parents report incredible changes, but other parents say it is still slow going). In fifth through seventh grade I think there can be a sense of whilst things are much better from the starting point, “there is no catching up” because in these grades one often sees the gap widen even further from what public school children and children without dyslexia are doing. It can be difficult not to compare or wonder how the high school years will go. The balance of pushing, accomodations, and letting things blossom is a delicate combination and often a difficult juggle for the homeschooling parent handling this for the first time.
- Know when to start accommodations. We started typing for our child in the spring semester of sixth grade (typically in a Waldorf School setting typing might be in eighth or ninth grade); some families may start earlier. The plan typically is the typing or technology as a response for main lesson material the following year or next semester, much the way one starts out teaching cursive and expects to see it in a main lesson book later. Many parents of middle school students also end up investigating voice to text programs and how to record lectures in place of note-taking and so forth. This will be very important for high school work.
- Consistently consider movement, vision, and therapeutic support. We only have one eurythmist in our entire state, so curative eurythmy is not an option for us, but this might be for many of you. The Waldorf Education books “Extra Lesson” and “Take Time” have many wonderful ideas and support. Visual therapy can be helpful for some children if that is available, and I think movement and crossing midline in general is important. Some children with dyslexia seem to resist movement and midline crossing, even in the middle school grades, so I think it is an important part of their education to consider what movement options are available.
- Get support for yourself. There are days when I truly worry about what my child will do in a world where writing is required for nearly everything, and just need to talk to another parent who understands. I know some parents who accept their child having dyslexia really in stride, especially if it is mild and easy to make accommodations, but some homeschooling parents really struggle as parents and teachers, especially in the early grades when one is just figuring out what is going on. It can also be hard to be surrounded by a sea of homeschoolers on- line and in real life who are gifted and multiple grades ahead and doing college work at age 12 – you know the drill! There is a huge push in the homeschooling world for dual enrollment, CLEP test, etc so for the older students with dyslexia it can be a bit daunting. It is wonderful when other parents see and acknowledge the important gifts that your child brings, and of course, dyslexia and the like doesn’t define a person, but it does make us worried as parents – will they be able to do their own personal finances? What will they do for a job? These are things that are hard for parents of children without dyslexia to really understand. So find a like-minded soul or two that you can talk to on the really bad days. There are also Facebook groups for homeschooling children with dyslexia as well.
I don’t think Waldorf Education in general does a good job in discussing how to develop academic skills for children with differing abilities in the upper grades. This is also an issue not highly discussed in the Waldorf homeschooling community; all those beautiful pictures and blogs and Pinterest photos in the Waldorf world don’t tend to show the achingly hard work that goes into teaching children who learn differently. Yet, Waldorf Education calls us to look at the child in front of us and respond to that child. That is the very heart of Waldorf Education. So be brave and full of courage! You are doing the right things for your child!
Blessings and love,
Great post! Many people don’t know that I have dyslexia. I speak from that experience as an adult. My struggles have been a huge help in working with my own children who have some special needs. Granted, they have DIFFERENT special needs but I can empathize with some of their struggles. While my diagnosis didn’t come until young adulthood, that may have been a help to me rather than a hinderance and while I don’t suggest this should be the case for others, for me it helped me know at a young age that I was just going to have to work harder. My biggest recommendation for parents is to help their children come to the knowledge that they will have to learn coping skills. Some of those coping skills have to include pushing beyong some of our blocks or things that we think we can’t do well. It is also important for parents to see these struggles with a spectrum in mind, a spectrum with a scale of 1 to 10. Some children will just have it mildiy while others may really struggle and be all the way at the top of that scale.
I like very much what you say here… you aren’t excusing him from work, just changing it. I work with many parents that just say “oh my child has X” and that’s it. As if they have resigned themselves to thinking their child will never be able to do XYZ so they are giving up. No effort for coping skills are made until after our coaching begins. In my experience, these parents have far more behavioral issues with their children than others do, because when these children hit the 9 year change and they are frustrated that they are behind, they are more aware in social and peer settings and they have not been taught to cope. These children often give up and are resigned, like their parents, to this idea that because they are dyxlexic they will never enjoy reading or because they have dysgraphia so they’ll never be good at writing or that they must just be really bad at math because they have dyscalculia. These things do not have to be true – they can be, but we are often a self fulfilling prophecy!
It is evident that I have big feelings about this one. Thank you so much for taking it on!
I would encourage reading Steiner’s curative work. A client has just recommended a book to me that I can’t wait to dive into “A Practical Guide to Curative Education” by Robyn M. Brown. It looks very promising!
So much yes! to what you wrote, Melissa! Growth mindset is huge and I have some (many?) ideas on that.. so important! More to come and thank you for sharing.
Lots of love,
Thank you for this post. My 11 year old son has recently been diagnosed with dyslexia, dyscalcula and dysgraphia as well. I think the biggest hurdle (initially) was trying to determine whether or not his learning challenges were indeed dyslexia or if he was just slow because we did not push or expect him to read at 5 years old, as is typical in public schooling these days. Once we decided to have him tested (first through the public school, then privately a few months later), it was a challenge to explain Waldorf homeschooling to these traditional educators/testers. I still do not think I conveyed Waldorf education properly to them and I feel that might have impacted the reports. I have to admit that after researching dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalcula in regards to my son, I am sure I have dysgraphia and dyscalcula! I was “never good at math” and had math tutors throughout my public schooling, and I still can’t hold a pen correctly!
Thank you again!!
Seton sells all levels of the books by Diana Hanbury King.
RighStart Math is also helpful for children struggling with math.
I have also found the books wiritten by Susan Wise Bauer’s mother, Jessie Wise, very helpful when used later than advertised. The constant repetition of concepts she uses is very helpful for late readers.
It is also helpful to look into learning styles. An auditory learner learns differently than a visual learner (and there are more differences like “sequential”, “global”, “abstract”, etc.).
Thank you from the bottom of my heart! To see and read my own thoughts from somebody else…. gives me the confidence that I needed in the moment
Thank you again!
Sophie (from far away in Hungary)
Very good and important post!!
This is a great post! Thanks for addressing. Although I am not a homeschooling Mom, I appreciate what’s been addressed here. My daughter was in the public school for years – a struggle the whole way through. We finally had her assessed and learned so much. Dyscalculia, ADHD (Inattentive), and visual processing issues were not a good mix for the public school – even with an IEP, which she started last year. She was two years behind in math but working with a math tutor who taught her differently and met her at her level made such a difference. We just moved her to a specialized school that is designed to work with kids who have all sorts of challenges while recognizing their individual strengths as well. Most importantly, we want to instill resilience and that growth mindset mentioned above. I didn’t grow up with anything close to that and it’s been work getting out of a fixed mindset to focus more on what can be accomplished with hard work – even when there are challenges. I also realized (without any formal testing – can’t afford that for myself) that I probably also have ADHD and some processing issues so trying to be gentle with myself as well while I’m supporting my daughter (who just entered 5th grade.). Hard stuff – but valuable – and I’m doing everything I can to support my daughter and set her on a path of confidence and resilience. Thanks for listening. 🙂
That was beautiful! Thank you for sharing. We understand the struggle here, no matter what format of learning.
Thank you so much for all those helpful thoughts and ideas. We are still in the middle of figuring all this out (especially when testing came back suggesting NOT dyslexia or dysgraphia–what next??) I really love the idea of having a growth mindset as well. My dd is only going into grade 5, and its kind of discouraging to have people already be suggesting all the ways to lower my expectations of what she can someday do.
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Great article, thank you. My son is dyslexic and we are just now starting to dive into homeschooling in 6th grade.
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Carrie, I have had this post of yours flagged to read and I finally got to it. I know you have touched on some of this in other posts as well. So much head nodding to all of this! Thank you for sharing a bit of your experience!
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