November 20, 2023
Stories from the Community - Charlotte Mason & Dyslexia
Blue Orchard Bee Resource
A long-standing goal at the Blue Orchard Bee is to improve the accessibility of our resources for all of our listeners and readers. This year will are working toward this goal by republishing some of your favorite episodes with new, fully edited transcripts. Originally from the Fall 2021 series, we're re-releasing this presentation by LeAnn Burkholder with this new and fully-edited transcript. In this episode, LeAnn shares about her journey with Charlotte Mason and dyslexia.
The following video is a product of the Blue Orchard Bee and the Charlotte Mason Institute to hold a copyright. You are encouraged to share this file with your friends family and colleagues. Do not republish this information in any format, including electronic or digital, without permission from the Charlotte Mason Institute. Ideas suggested in these files do not necessarily reflect the views of the Blue Orchard Bee or the Charlotte Mason Institute. Information provided here is not to be perceived or construed as professional advice in matters of mental health. You are encouraged to work closely with a mental health professional provider that meets your needs.
LeAnn: When I read these principles 13 years ago, well, 16, but 13 as I started educating, I loved them immediately and we began to put them into practice. And it wasn't until a few years later that my son was officially diagnosed with dyslexia, my firstborn. And we began our journey of understanding what that looks like. At the time I was very convinced that I would follow everything that Mason said and do exactly to the T, follow each piece. And that number 15, where it talks about a single reading is something that I insisted upon.
And it wasn't until my son was probably about 10 or 12 that I started to become really uneasy that there was something not quite right about that one thing. And I think that the reason for this is that one of the very common factors of dyslexia is that there's other diagnoses as well that go hand in hand and a lot of times they are attention deficits of some type or another.
I feel like a diagnosis doesn't change things, but it often does give you access to materials that you wouldn't otherwise have available to you and can be really valuable in that way.
And because of that difference in the way a child learns, we run into a difficulty. And I remember very clearly the day that I decided that I would begin to experiment with allowing more than one reading and just see what happened for a little bit. And my son had looked at me, it was time for a narration, I asked him to tell me what we had read. And he gave me a blank look. And I just looked at him and I said, would you like to read it again? And his eyes teared up. It still makes me almost cry when I think about it. And he said, 'would I be allowed to?' I said, 'yes, I want you to know this. And I think you want to know this.' And he said, 'I do.' And he went and he listened to the story again. And he came back and he had a beautiful narration to share. And he told me how much it meant to him that I understood that he really didn't remember what he had read and I gave him the second chance. And to me that's a picture of redemption. It's a picture of the Gospels.
But I think most importantly, it's an acknowledgment that children with dyslexia have attention struggles - that one of the most important things is review for them, that they need to hear things more than once, and being willing to allow them to do that is an acknowledgment of who they are as a person. So, I would just like to remind you as you work through this that Mason does talk about the neurotypical child and that there are some accommodations that I think we need to make because our children do have difficulties with listening and with speaking.
We know we could do things and we could get involved, but we intentionally hold ourselves back and let the child move forward in their learning.
So, not only listening, but with being able to actually put that into words to tell back to us. When my oldest son, when he was about 11, I walked into our living room, our library room with all of our books, and I saw him running his hand along the spines of the books and there were tears running down his face and he said to me, 'I just wish that I could read all of them.' And it really broke my heart because he loved books so much, but they were closed to him unless I read them to him. And that's where we began our own journey of increasing our audio library, of increasing our audio resources. And that's part of the time period that we moved ahead with getting an official professional diagnosis in order to allow us to access more of that.
I feel like a diagnosis doesn't change things, but it often does give you access to materials that you wouldn't otherwise have available to you and can be really valuable in that way. It also allows for ongoing documentation that can be useful later on in life for accommodations in a college setting and that sort of thing.
One of the most important things to me as I educated my children was that they would love learning - that they would love books for all of their life.
Just this afternoon, I spoke with my 19 year old son. He called me from where he was working and he said, 'I just want to say a couple of things because I know you're going into this session this afternoon. And I think the biggest thing that I want to tell everybody is, like, don't do the hard work for them. Don't pity them because that makes them feel, like, not worthy and really stupid. Just allow them the time to struggle to find the right words. Be encouraging, be supportive, but don't jump in and do the work for them. And do respect when they're deeply vested in a process and they're learning, not to interrupt that flow.'
Dyslexics, like I mentioned before, often have attention deficits. And one of the things that we see most frequently with people with attention deficits is that there's a common misconception that people think that everything they do is really short focus, but anyone who lives close to somebody with attention deficit disorder knows that their attention is usually that long or else it's seven hours long and they can hyper-focus on something for an absolutely incredible amount of time and not know that any time has passed. And so I think, again, this is kind of different because in a typical structure for a neurotypical child, we talk a lot about short lessons. And that's going to be really important most days, most of the time, in keeping the child moving from one thing to the next and not burning them out. When you are able to arrange your schedule in a way that has something that takes a lot of difficult work and then a subject that is a little bit easier and then a harder subject that takes a lot of focus and then something that's more restorative that goes a long way in helping to ease the fatigue of the hard work that's happening and needs to be the standard, but you also need to allow space.
And this is where we come to that whole concept of despise not, hinder not, and offend not. That when someone's deeply vested in something, we don't want to interrupt that state of flow. And that was something that was really difficult for me to unlearn. Children who are concentrating are just immensely happy. So, train yourself to notice and to really protect those moments of focus. And it can be broken so easily. Just even, it can be as simple as praise, just saying something good about what they're doing or trying to step in and help with something. So, it's even just eye contact is just enough to break the concentration of a really engrossed child. And you can break that spell and the magic moment that resides in that concentration is gone. And you really can't get it back. So, being able to see that and kind of not break it, not get involved.
You're going to need to become a student of your particular child, your particular situation, and do more of what works and less of what doesn't.
Mason talks about it as the masterly inactivity. It's that we know we could do things and we could get involved, but we intentionally hold ourselves back and let the child move forward in their learning. So, short lessons are a gift, not minimizing that, but just the insertion of ourselves between the child and the material is definitely to be avoided whenever possible - and just being aware of those attention windows and being prepared for them - that you're gonna hit a day that your child is, is really, really excited about an area of science or geography - a lot of dyslexic kids just have this incredible love for maths and geography and they're going to want to listen to a whole lot more of the book and they're going to want to explore a subject a lot deeper. And just going back to what I said about audiobooks and allowing them to repeat listen is incredibly important. So, even if you have a lesson schedule and you want to go through this sequentially, it's okay to let a child listen through the entire book in the afternoon and then come back to chapter two again next week and listen to chapter two and then the following week listen to chapter three. I had one student who loved a particular book so much and we kept our daily lessons, but I allowed that student to access the material other times. He listened to a book a total of 13 times. And to this day, it's his favorite book. It didn't ruin anything at all. He wanted to incorporate all of that material. He wanted to know it cover to cover, front to back and back to front. And it took 13 times listening to it. We did our slow progress of lessons through it, but we would have lost so much if I had just said, 'no, you can't have this book until we're totally done.' So, just allow - make that allowance. Understand that they need the repeat. They need to be able to access that material more. It doesn't mean that you can't - that you have to throw out your lesson plans, but you need to provide the chance for them to revisit that material.
I guess just to reaffirm that whenever we're not actively working on language acquisition, you know, you'll accommodate heavily, so that you can keep that love for learning alive. One of the most important things to me as I educated my children was that they would love learning - that they would love books for all of their life. And then discovering that I had a severely dyslexic child and a moderate dyslexic, which shouldn't have come as a surprise given that it's significantly reflected in my family background, but I had this fear that they would hate learning, that they would hate books. And it's really beautiful to see that that didn't happen - that we've been able to keep that love for learning alive, that they still come to me asking for book requests and are self-directing lots of learning on their own. So, just keep that desire to learn alive - protect that above all else so that you don't limit their progress in the future. You just want to make sure that their knowledge-hunger levels are met even though, and because, especially a lot of times that level is going to be above their decoding level, especially in the early days. Continue to focus on what's working for you. You're going to need to become a student of your particular child, your particular situation, and do more of what works and less of what doesn't. Don't be afraid to individualize this and make it personal for your child. You can be true to the principles in a Mason education and still individualize this to make it work for your student and it's something that is just incredibly important. And I want to give you the freedom today to walk away and be inspired to do that and not be concerned that you're doing it wrong.
You can be true to the principles in a Mason education and still individualize this to make it work for your student.
One of the biggest challenges for dyslexia is the emotional challenge. It's not just the academic challenge. And a really, really big part of successful dyslexia support is addressing those needs and making sure that they reach their potential is important, but making sure that we answer those questions - that the emotional questions is even, if not more important, it's at least equally important. And that question of 'am I good enough?' So many students come up feeling like they're just stupid and they're not. They're smart, but they learn differently. And being aware of that in the way that we interact - and a lot of times that means that we do need to make accommodations. We do have to be willing to think outside the box ourselves and figure out what works and figure out new approaches. And that's okay. And not only okay, it's absolutely incredibly important.
I'd like to share a couple things that each of my sons shared with me: I'm their 'little mama' now as they're a good foot taller than I am. And just last week, I'm gonna actually read this, one of my sons, he's six foot three inches, he said, 'the single thing that was the most helpful to me when you were teaching me was knowing that a subject that I found hard wouldn't last long and I knew I could do anything for just a few more minutes.
It really helped me to focus and stretch my attention knowing that the sand timer would run out and we could begin another lesson that was enjoyable really soon.' My 19-year-old probably had even more specific things that he wanted to share. Find engaging material, try to make sure that your child's connecting with the books and material, and provide lots and lots of audio books. He said that over multiple times. He said, 'Make sure you tell them that audio books is like the most important thing' and so I promised I'd pass that on.
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