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,