5 Simple steps to beat writing homework overwhelm

The thing about adolescents is: they are often elusive, independent creatures…until they aren’t. They often want to be independent, but they don’t realize they lack the executive functioning skills to get the job done alone.

So when the teen in your life gets overwhelmed by homework or falls behind in school, it can feel really overwhelming for you, too. Maybe for a couple months now, school has seemed fine. A late assignment or missed homework here or there, but kids are only human. And then BAM! The progress report hits you like a ton of bricks. Your child has some catching up to do.

And while I do believe that teens should experience age appropriate consequences for their choices, I also don’t think we learn by failing. Struggle, yes. Failure, no. So if you find your family in this situation, here’s what I recommend.

Make a list

Gather all the information you need in one place.

Start with the progress report. Every worrisome grade tells a story of some assignments that need follow up.

Log into your school’s parent portal, or have your child log into their system. Some schools use Canvas, others use Google Classroom or another platform. And unfortunately, some schools use more than one, with can complicate this process. Teachers tend to use these platforms in unexpected ways, so here are some things to look for:

“Gradebook” listing of assignments and their status. If the assignment isn’t described, check the assignment date against other info sources.

  • Notice/Memo/Announcement fields. Sometimes these are used for due date reminders or important assignment info.
  • Daily posts. Google Classroom calls this the Stream. It’s where you can see the history of assignments in chronological order, including any comments or details from the teacher.
  • If there’s information you can’t find, it’s time for an email to the teacher. I strongly recommend that kids, from about 6th grade on, participate in the writing of that email. By high school, it should come from them, even if you have to sit by them and help with the wording.

Quick wins

Take the list of missing assignments and do some triage. Is anything too old to turn in for credit? Let it go!

Are there things in there that are done, but not turned in? Turn them in now! If it’s work that can be turned in digitally, do it! If it’s on paper, I suggest snapping pictures and emailing them to the teacher, before filing them in the folder. That way, if the backpack gremlins attack, or if your kid is like mine and tunes out at the most inconvenient times, the teacher will at least know to ask about it.

OK, the rest of the stuff on this list is real work. If you’ve been sorting through the piles for a while, it might be time for a break. But is there some piece of work that could be finished tonight? Something that’s half-finished? Something that’s just a couple of days old and fresh in their memory? You want your child to walk away from this planning session feeling calmer and more confident that they can sort this out.

Do the dumb stuff

Next time you sit down with your child to work through the homework backlog, start with the low hanging fruit. Because of the way grading works, there are some points in a class that are much easier to earn than others. Like class participation. In some classes, that’s remembering to say “present” when they call your name and not audibly snoring. In others, the teacher has specific criteria for the quantity and quality of participation.

And sometimes homework points can be easier to earn than test grade points, or project points. Take a look at the small things, like notebook checks, worksheets, study guides, that are quick to complete. The points add up! Unfortunately, those “dumb” assignments can seem like they aren’t worth your student’s time on a day-to-day basis, but over time they make a difference.

Due dates? Do dates.

All that homework comes with a due date (or maybe it came with a due date, but that ship has sailed and you’re trying to catch up). That date is based on the teacher’s plans – other lesson plans, school events, marking period dates – along with his estimation of how much time students need to do the work.

What the teacher doesn’t know when he writes the due date is what your week looks like. That’s why, next to every assignment on the list, you need a DO date. This is the date you are planning to do the thing. This takes into account your family’s schedule and the student’s capacity for taking on more work. Sometimes this means rearranging family responsibilities, temporarily. Can someone else unload the dishwasher tonight if it means your kid can turn in a missing Spanish assignment? If your family needs some tools for better time management, to fill in some gaps in executive functioning skills, read more here!

Guard against next time

Well, this isn’t fun. I have been in many of these situations, as a teacher, as a tutor, as a parent, as a friend or family member, and as the struggling student, too. One thing all those experiences have in common is that no one had a good time! This is a painful, embarrassing, overwhelming problem to solve. Kids would avoid it if they could.

I can hear you now: But it’s their work, and I’m busy too! I know it feels like a huge step backwards to go back to checking your teen’s homework every night. And you probably don’t have to go that far. But remember bumper bowling? A 50-pound kid’s 5-pound ball would wobble down a regular bowling lane and into the gutter 9 times out of 10. He’d never get a chance to knock down the pins! You have to be your kid’s bumpers here. Adolescents are still developing their executive functioning skills. What seems obvious to you, including how they should spend their study time, may completely elude them.

To help prevent problems and catch them earlier next term, here’s what I recommend:

  1. Take that list of info you gathered at the beginning. Where does most of the info come from?
  2. Make a daily and weekly checklist to help your student collect all the work they need to do (until they are doing it independently).
  3. Schedule a very quick after school check in. Your goal isn’t to tell your child what to work on. It is to ask them if they have made a plan for what they need to work on.
  4. Consider a whiteboard for your student’s wall where they can list the assignments for today and erase them as they are done. That way they (and you) can see at a glance what kind of evening lies ahead.
  5. Plan a more substantial weekly checklist. I like to do either a Friday afternoon debrief or a Sunday evening planning session at home. But for my students, we check in when I see them, even if it’s the middle of the week. Include planning for the week ahead (sports, appointments) and checking in about any homework or ongoing projects. Remember to set “do” dates!

Hang in there

Your kids have come so far over the years! Remember when you had to hold their hands when they walked, or they would fall over?

They don’t need that anymore. But there was a time when they really, really, did. Think of this kind of homework support as that. While your child’s executive functioning skills are still developing through the teen years, you are there to provide structure, guidance, and balance, while your child does the hard work of learning to stand on their own. This too shall pass!

Checklists are a great tool for getting and staying organized. Grab my free checklists for editing and revising writing right here:

What is visual dyslexia?

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What is dyslexia?

According to the International Dyslexia Association , dyslexia is: 

“Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

Dyslexia looks different for different people and even the same person at different ages. It can be quite severe, making it difficult for a child to read or spell at all, even after lots of teaching and practice. Dyslexia can also be very mild and students might “fly under the radar” for years or just be considered “careless” spellers or “reluctant” readers. Students with this profile are sometimes identified as having “visual dyslexia,” to distinguish them from students who have difficulties with the phonological (sounds) part of reading and spelling. But what is visual dyslexia?

Are there different types of dyslexia? 

The International Dyslexia Association is widely recognized as an authority on the subject of dyslexia. They do not recognize visual dyslexia as a subtype of dyslexia. In fact, they emphasize that dyslexia is not a vision problem. And therefore, glasses, colored filters and vision exercises are not treatments for dyslexia. But just the same, kids with dyslexia can be very different from each other. Terms like “visual dyslexia” and “phonological dyslexia” have gained popularity with some professionals because they describe how students are unique and help evalutaors and tutors communicate about what students need.

What is visual dyslexia?

Visual dyslexia is also known as surface dyslexia or dyseidetic dyslexia. These terms describe a reader who has difficulty remembering how to read and spell words, but who does not have significant problems with the phonological or sound parts of language. There is some research that shows this is a true distinction and may help us understand causes and improved treatments for dyslexia. However, these subtypes of dyslexia don’t completely explain differences between different students and there isn’t enough evidence to support giving these readers a different kind of treatment or intervention.

What is phonological dyslexia?

Phonological dyslexia is a term used to describe readers who have difficulty with the phonological or sound parts of reading. The might struggle with oral language skills like rhyming or repeating multisyllabic words when other kids their age are mastering the skill (kids who say pah-sketti for spaghetti beyond preschool, for example). Readers with this profile might not include all the sounds when they read or spell a word or might say the wrong sound for a letter they see.

Are there other types of dyslexia?

While there are not clear cut “types” of dyslexia, students can have varying degrees of need in different skills. They are similar, the same way a pink striped sock and a pink polka dot sock are similar. They might both match your sweater and be made of wool. That doesn’t mean they’re a perfect match!

Some people with dyslexia mainly have weaknesses in their phonological skills. They might need a lot of practice to learn to read long science words or a lot of practice counting the sounds in words and making sure to include all the letters.

Others might have no problem with phonological skills, but have a great deal of difficulty rapidly and fluently applying rules and patterns they know to words on the page. This often shows up in testing as a weakness in Rapid Automatic Naming (RAN), the ability to quickly and accurately recall knowledge, like letter and number names. 

Still other students have difficulty in both of these areas. This profile is known as “double-deficit dyslexia” in which students have difficulty in both phonological skills and RAN. These students often make slow progress and need more repetition and review than those with only one deficit.

What helps with visual dyslexia?

If a student is evaluated and given a diagnosis of dyslexia, the chief recommendation is usually an explicit, sequential, program of reading instruction that includes instruction in letter-sound relationships, spelling rules, vocabulary and comprehension. Orton-Gillingham (OG) is one approach for teaching dyslexic readers. These approaches may also be known as “structured literacy” and, while OG is older and well-known, there are many other programs and instructional approaches that can also be quite effective.

Students whose signs of dyslexia are mostly visual (poor spelling) and not phonological (segmenting and blending sounds in spoken words) might need more spelling and morphology instruction, and less practice with phonemic awareness exercises or letter-sound drills. But this is still done effectively under the umbrella of structured literacy or Orton-Gillingham instruction. As an educator certified in Orton-Gillingham, I’ve taught students who fit each of these profiles, and some who didn’t quite fit any. I’ve had other students without a dyslexia diagnosis at all. For all of these different students, the Orton-Gillingham approach has been effective, as long as we are accurately recognizing the skills they need.

As different as these profiles seem, their needs are very similar, at the core. We use the language parts of our brain for reading (not the same visual parts we use to recognize faces or objects). So whether a reader is struggling with mostly spelling or mostly decoding or mostly fluency, the answer still lies in studying the English language. 

For example, I work with some middle grades students (4-7th grade) who are adequate readers and are good at spelling the sounds in words, but they forget which there/their/they’re or to/two/too to use. Their writing might be phonetically readable for other words, but not correct. They may spell compete as cumpeet or walked as wockt. It helps tremendously when they learn the patterns and rules behind English spelling. They learn about words that come from Anglo-Saxon, and those that come from French, Latin and Greek. They learn how often a certain spelling is used in English words so they can start to make educated guesses about words they aren’t sure of. They learn how meaning impacts spelling. Walk + ed sounds like /wokt/ but it means that someone did the action (walk) in the past (-ed) and that’s how we spell it.

So is it wrong to say my child has “visual dyslexia?”

I wouldn’t say it’s wrong to use the term “visual dyslexia,” but I would say it’s imprecise and sometimes not a useful piece of information. Our scientific understanding of dyslexia and reading development has come a long way, but it is still growing. Scientists use brain imaging and studies of people with dyslexia over years to learn more about what kind of instruction is effective. We may learn something different through this research that helps us help students more promptly and more efficiently by tailoring instruction to their needs.

But for now, no matter how your child’s dyslexia presents, the most important thing is to get connected with teachers or tutors who are experts in the process of learning to read. Finding a tutor certified in Orton-Gillingham or an OG-based program (Wilson, Sonday, etc.) is one way to make sure the person has sufficient expertise. It’s more important to recognize that a child is struggling and give them the instruction they need than it is to give that struggle a specific label. 

And that’s what we do at Deep Roots Learning Solutions, Inc. We offer Orton-Gillingham instruction in a convenient, effective, online format. If your child needs explicit, systematic reading instruction, contact us for a free consultation and demo lesson . Let’s talk about how we can help!

Too Much Homework and Not Enough Time

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Homework comes and goes as a hot topic in the news. Sometimes the focus is on what percent of students stay up late doing homework. Other times it’s on the idea that too much homework can be harmful, that kids aren’t playing outside or spending time with their families. Sometimes it’s about how students are suffering, other times it’s about the burden on parents. I don’t think the data are conclusive on whether homework is, on balance, a good or a bad thing for students. What I do worry about more, though, is the impact of too much homework and not enough time on students who are struggling. 

Child keeps forgetting homework
Boy bent over papers on a table in a dark room

Why too much homework is bad for struggling students

I asked my son’s first grade teacher how long homework should take. Her answer? “Not too long.” It’s usually a math worksheet that’s totally within his capabilities. If I look at it with my teacher eyes, I’d say it’s a 10-minute task for any kid who understood and remembers that day’s math lesson. But there are so many other things that can interfere with that quick 10-minute task. At my house, my child keeps forgetting his homework – like literally forgets it exists between the time he puts it down (on the couch? in the bathroom? by the fridge?) and the time he wanders into the next room. By the time we defeat the many distractions and get him seated, with a pencil, in the general vicinity of a parent, we might already have 30 minutes on the clock! And that was 30 minutes of nagging, negotiating, prompting, reminding, and sometimes whining (although I try not to whine at the children…).

My point is that the teacher is planning homework with the best-case scenario in mind. She’s imagining routines like in her classroom: Everyone takes out their pencil from their desk while she passes out papers. She reads the instructions out loud. Everyone begins quietly scratching away with their pencils.*

* It is painfully clear to me that classrooms rarely actually run this way, but we teachers are often optimistic about what we can get done on that perfect unicorn of a school day!

In real life, struggling students might not remember how to do this work because they didn’t master it in class. They might not be able to read the directions. They might not be able to articulate to their parents what exactly they are supposed to do with an ambiguous worksheet. They might be just plain exhausted from working on the things that are hardest for them all day long. 

How to talk to the school about homework problems

When I assigned homework to my special education students, I always made it clear to the students and their parents at the beginning of the year that I was happy to assign homework if they wanted it, but it was always, always, up to parent discretion. If it was taking an unreasonable amount of time, or if the directions didn’t make sense, we would always defer to the experts in home learning: parents. For my students being assigned homework along with their grade-level peers, I encouraged parents to write a note on the homework or send an email to the teacher with feedback about challenging assignments. Teachers don’t know that homework took hours. They have no idea that buckets of tears were shed over an assignment if it comes in looking perfect (or doesn’t come in at all!).

Child keeps forgetting homework

Here are some things about homework that the teacher needs to know to help your child:

  • “It’s taking X amount of time.” If you are working with and supervising your child, and homework is taking hours, something is wrong. There is some kind of mismatch between the child and the assignment. 
  • “He doesn’t know what the word __ means.” If the directions don’t make sense, or if he doesn’t remember how to do the assigned work, he may need a quick review or more extended support.
  • “She cries every time she has to read.” Maybe she’s tired or sad to be missing out on time with friends, but if the problem is specific to one acdemic area (reading, writing, math), there may be weaker skills in that area. 
  • “I had to type/write it myself to get it done.” Some teachers don’t care who is holding the pencil when those vocabulary sentences get written. Sometimes the focus of homework is the thinking and idea generation. Other times (and the older students get, the more true this is) teachers expect full independence in the area of homework, and may be grading the results. If it’s not possible for your child to do the homework on their own, find out if there’s a way to shorten the writing, or an option for them to type if that would make it go more smoothly. 

Remember, you and the teacher have the same goal: for your child to learn the content and skills for this year’s classes. If your child is struggling with homework more than their peers, you need to ask more questions than the other parents and try to figure out the best path through the challenges.

If your child is having trouble keeping track of homework all together, check out my 7-part free email series, “Academic Planners for Success” for strategies for using a planner to identify and prioritize homework.


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My child won’t do his homework

If the child isn’t even attempting the homework, there can be a few things going on. It could be a pure “behavior” situation. But I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Ross Greene that “Children do well if they can.” If your child is refusing to do homework, think about what that behavior is telling you about them and what they need.

If the child refuses to attempt the homework, consider:

  • The timing: Fatigue and hunger make it hard to work.
  • Amount: If they don’t see any light at the end of the homework tunnel, why begin?
  • Directions: Where and how should they start? What does that even look like?
  • And content: Did they understand it in class?

My child keeps forgetting homework

Forgetting homework goes along with the “won’t do his homework” problem in many cases. Leaving everything at school can be an attempt to avoid the unpleasant situation of facing homework at the end of a long day of school. In other cases, though, children forget their homework at school because they are overwhelmed or rushed through routines. 

Here are some troubleshooting steps:

  • Set up a simple homework folder. Label the two sides “Keep at home” and “Return to school.” Homework goes in the “Return to school” side and comes home.
  • Find a planner system that works for your child. It might be paper or digital
  • Use the school’s online resources. For older children, many schools use Canvas, Google Classroom, or another website to post assignments. Find out from your child’s teachers how they notify students of assignments, and create a home routine of checking it with your child.
  • Make a locker or backpack checklist for your child. Laminate it and put it in the homework folder or backpack, or hang it on the inside of their locker. 
  • Have them find a buddy. Brainstorm a reliable friend (or a few) who always have their homework done. This will be the person to ask if they’re not sure what page the homework was on, or if they forget a due date.
  • Make homework part of the daily routine. Ask about it when you see them at the end of the day, and establish a time and a place for getting it done.

Whose homework is it, anyway?

Homework is a sensitive subject for me. It tends to be a one-size-fits-no-one solution to the problem of trying to cram too much teaching into a school day full of obstacles and challenges. “Good” homework can be a helpful way to reinforce skills taught in class. “Bad” homework steals a student’s personal time and causes stress.

Homework is a sensitive subject for me. It tends to be a one-size-fits-no-one solution to the problem of trying to cram too much teaching into a school day full of obstacles and challenges. Click To Tweet

At the end of the day, homework is part of the academic relationship between students and teachers. If you find that your child’s homework is causing you stress and taking as much of your time as it is your child’s, it’s time to talk to the teacher and work on a plan to make homework more effective.

For more about homework, check out these other blog posts:

Too much homework and not enough time
Is homework helping your child or harming them? What to do if the burden of homework is ruining your family’s evenings.

What I’m reading about reading

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The thing about reading researchers is they just write so much. It’s like they expect reading experts to read constantly or something! I have a long and growing list of books to read about reading and writing. From time to time, I plan to share some highlights on the blog.

Information comes in many forms

Books

There are so many books just here in my little office. I have books from courses I took, books that changed my reading life, and books that I know are important that I can’t quite bring myself to pick up. So the ones I’ve chosen here are just a couple that stand out in my mind. If you’re curious about how reading works and how to help the readers in your life, any of these would be a great investment of your time.

  • How We Learn by Stanislas Dehaene is a pretty heavy read about how our brain processes information and how learning to do something like read and write changes the way different parts of the brain are used. It’s not an easy read by any means but it gave me a lot of “aha” moments about why certain kinds of teaching work the way they do.
  • Speech to Print by Louisa Moats. I read this during my Orton-Gillingham training but when the new edition came out, I picked it up right away. 
  • Reader, Come Home by Maryanne Wolf – this is the most readable of my current recommendations. It’s laid out as a series of letters on different aspects of reading. Wolf explores reading as a technology (our brains weren’t designed to read, but our brains have done an incredible job accommodating our new habit of reading and writing language) and what it means to read on a screen instead of on paper. It’s thought-provoking and very readable for the non-expert.

Blogs

I click links all week long and have a pile of blogs and research to read. But these are sources I look at consistently. 

  • Tim Shanahan – Dr. Shanahan is my go-to source for evidence-based, common-sense, interpretations of reading research and instructional trends. 
  • Fordham Institute’s Flypaper Blog – I often disagree with their conclusions, but I think it’s important to look at education data through another lens and I often learn new things.
  • Margaret Goldberg’s Right to Read blog – I was recently introduced to Margaret Goldberg when she was interviewed on Science of Reading – The Podcast. I haven’t been reading her blog for very long, but every post I’ve read has answered a need I’ve had as a teacher or a reading tutor. This post on questions to ask about the reading instruction at your child’s school is very readable and pure gold!

If you want to chat about some nerdy books about reading and learning, come check out my new Deep Roots Learning Solutions Book Club. We’ll chat on Facebook about our books. Right now, we’re reading Deep Work by Cal Newport.

Social Media

Text (Write down the words if you cannot easily formulate sentences.)

  • The Literacy Nest – Emily Gibbons is an Orton-Gillingham tutor as well as a prodigious creator of resources for literacy teaching. Everything she posts gives me something to use or something to think about.
  • Science of Reading-What I Should Have Learned in College is a Facebook group that does just what it says: give teachers, parents and other stakeholders a platform to get their questions about reading answered and gather resources to make reading instruction better for students. The group is professional and kind and inspiring! There are lots of posts to wade through but it’s one I always take the time to check.
  • Lindbergh: Leaders in Literacy is a Facebook page run by parents in a school district in Missouri. They advocate for strengthening literacy in their schools by “embracing the science behind reading instruction.” This is a great example of what community advocacy can do for reading and a wonderful resource for parents just digging into the science of reading. 

You have to start somewhere

I have trouble starting a book, or even committing to an article, podcast, or video sometimes. I have limited time for professional development and I know that once I start learning something exciting, I won’t want to stop to feed my kids or tutor my students. I also don’t want to waste time reading the wrong thing – something repetitive, out of date, or not detailed enough. 

So here’s my advice to me, and also to any of you that are interestd in learning about reading. Just. Start. Pick something from this blog post or pick one source like Reading Rockets and start to get your feet wet. One resource always leads to another. And you can come back here for more recommendations next month, too!

Want some reading company? Join us in the Deep Roots Learning Solutions Book Club!

Can schools diagnose dyslexia?

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What is up with schools and their weird dyslexia myths?

Even though dyslexia is listed by name in IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, lots of public schools in the US get really weird when a parent asks for evaluation for dyslexia, or when a student receives a dyslexia diagnosis from a provider outside of the school. Teachers, even special educators, are quietly asking each other, “Can schools diagnose dyslexia?” And the answers are totally inconsistent! It shouldn’t be this way.

IDEA has been a US law since 1975, and it was amended in 1990 and reauthorized in 2004 and 2015. Along with the laws in individual states, IDEA governs the whole system of special education for children with disabilities, including requiring that children with disabilities receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). While states have their own varying laws about education, including serving children with disabilities, no one is allowed to do less than is outlined in the IDEA.

OK, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let’s talk about how some schools handle requests around dyslexia services and what approaches are effective.

What IDEA actually says about dyslexia

The IDEA identifies a “specific learning disability” as “a disorder in 1 or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which disorder may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations” and goes on to say “Such term includes such conditions as dyslexia.” It’s right there in the law. 

IDEA also includes a component referred to as “Child Find” that requires “All children with disabilities residing in the State … regardless of the severity of their disabilities, and who are in need of special education and related services, are identified, located, and evaluated.

This seems pretty straightforward, right? But school districts, including many I have worked in, absolutely refused to bring up dyslexia in IEP meetings. Teachers received little to no training in identifying or supporting students with dyslexia. Even as a graduate student in special education in the early 2000s, I learned about dyslexia only in the most general way, certainly not enough to meet my students’ needs. And I had plenty of students who fit the dyslexia profile over the years, with and without diagnoses.

In fact, there was so much confusion and contention about dyslexia in public education that in 2015, Michael Yudin, the assistant secretary of the US Department of Education, published what is known as the “Dear Colleague letter.” In the letter, Yudin highlights the definition of specific learning disability under the law and reinforces the requirement that schools evaluate students for these conditions. He also clarifies that, while districts or states may use RTI (Response to Intervention) to teach students at risk for “poor learning outcomes,” the process cannot be used to delay a formal evaluation. Parents can also request an evaluation at any time, even if the child is participating in the RTI process. Further, Yudin encourages schools to consider the use of the specific terms “dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia” to describe children’s needs in evaluations and IEPs.  

Can schools diagnose dyslexia?

Many parents are being told by school special education teams the school “doesn’t diagnose dyslexia” or, even worse, that the school “doesn’t recognize dyslexia.” Um, there are lots of people I wouldn’t recognize if I saw them on the street, but they do continue to exist, and so does dyslexia! Unfortunately, whether there is someone in the school qualified to actually diagnose dyslexia varies by state, and even by district.

According to the International Dyslexia Association, a thorough dyslexia evaluation should include assessments of: 

  • Oral language skills: speaking, listening, following directions, making inferences from spoken language, etc.
  • Word recognition: reading words in lists
  • Decoding: sounding out words, particularly nonsense words that can’t be memorized
  • Spelling: this counterpart to decoding involves writing words using knowledge about letter-sound relationships and spelling conventions (like dropping the e to change bake to baking.)
  • Phonological processing: identifying and manipulating sounds in spoken words. 
  • Fluency: reading accurately, smoothly, and automatically.
  • Comprehension: understanding what is read
  • Vocabulary: understanding and defining individual words both in written and spoken forms

A thorough assessment will also discuss the child’s performance in the classroom and background information about educational and family history. A cognitive assessment is often part of an evaluation for dyslexia, but more recent research shows that intelligence is not directly tied to success in reading and writing, so an intelligence test is not the best way to show that a student is underperforming.

OK, but can a school provide that? It depends. Different states have different guidelines about who is qualified to provide those assessments and to provide a formal diagnosis of dyslexia. A school-based team, which may include a school psychologist, special educator, speech-language pathologist, or others, can evaluate in all these areas, but may not be permitted in the state to give the dyslexia diagnosis. In other states, school-based professionals with expertise in dyslexia and/or formal assessment tools may be able to diagnose dyslexia in-house.

Where should we go for an evaluation for dyslexia?

If the school won’t address your child’s dyslexia, you may need the support of another assessor. If you have formally, in writing, asked the school for a special education evaluation, and you are not satisfied with the results, find out about your state’s Procedural Safeguards. These guidelines (states are required by IDEA to have them) explain what steps parents can take if the school does not provide special educatoin evaluation and services as required by law. 

In many cases, parents choose to seek the support of a special education advocate or an attorney to help them navigate these challenges. A lot of the experience a family can expect in this process depends on the school district and its administration, unfortunately. 

If you do choose to get a private evaluation, rather than pursuing an independent evaluation through the school district, a neuropsychologist or, in some cases, an educational psychologist can provide a formal diagnosis. This process can be lengthy, expensive, and frustrating. Check your local Decoding Dyslexia chapter or network with local parents to get recommendations for evaluations in your local area. It can be difficult to tell if someone will be a fit for your child’s needs just by looking at their website. Neuropsychologists and psychologists are humans. Some are great with kids and terrible with paperwork. Others are less pleasant to meet with but write detailed reports. And some are all-around fabulous. If you find one of those, don’t lose their card! You may need more testing down the road.

What if my child's school doesn't "recognize" dyslexia?
Dyslexia could not be any more real, but schools have the strange (and wrong) idea that they can’t or don’t have to talk about it. Here’s what to do if your child won’t recognize dyslexia and support your child.


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What kinds of services should a student with dyslexia have?

Another disturbing lie that some school districts have told parents is “We don’t give IEPs for dyslexia.” I’ve heard repeatedly from parents that they were told they could get a 504 (a different federal law governs this program and provides accommodations to help students access the curriculum but doesn’t provide any specialized instruction in the areas of need) but not an IEP. 

can schools diagnose dyslexia
Photo by Adam Winger on Unsplash

Students with dyslexia, or other specific learning disabilities, should have services that constitute a Free and Appropriate Public Education, according to IDEA. Students with dyslexia, in particular, need a structured literacy approach to learn to decode and spell words, work with the sounds of spoken language, and read fluently and with comprehension. Evidence-based approaches (also referred to as the Science of Reading) are based on research findings that support their effectiveness. Orton-Gillingham is one widespread approach under the structured literacy umbrella, and OG, in turn, has informed and influenced many different programs and curricula. 

My child’s school is doing it wrong. Now what?

I’m sorry you’re struggling with this. With all the many things we know about the brain and how we learn to read, it is so frustrating and disappointing that parents have to beg and fight for the things their children need in school. There is no reason that there are so many different answers to the question, “Can schools diagnose dyslexia?”

Here are some tools and resources that can help empower you to push for informed educational decisions for your children:

  • Get connected: Join your local Decoding Dyslexia chapter (find them on Facebook) and look for groups connected to The Reading League and “Science of Reading.” The first one is more parent and education-focused and the second and third are great resources to educate yourself on how we learn to read and what the best practices are.
  • Get educated: There are many, many, excellent books that explain dyslexia. Some that I highly recommend are:
    • Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz – a researcher at Yale, Shaywitz has written an incredible book describing the science of dyslexia and shedding light on the experience of people with dyslexia. A new edition came out a year or two ago, with lots of excellent updates.
    • The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan by Ben Foss – I had the opportunity to see Foss speak a few years ago and it was memorable. He is an adult with dyslexia and hearing him speak about his experience of growing up and attending school, as well as hearing about his strengths and needs as an adult, was eye-opening and encouraging.
    • Reversed: A Memoir  by Lois Letchford – the parent of a child with dyslexia, Letchford educated herself so she could help her son who (spoiler alert!) went on to complete his PhD. It’s an incredible story.
  • Get support: Connect with an educational advocate or attorney if possible, and connect with local parent groups who can give insight into how things work in your local school district (which is often very different from how things should work according to state and federal law). 
  • Look into reading instruction outside of school: There are non-profits like the Children’s Dyslexia Center, as well as other local organizations that provide less expensive or no-cost tutoring to students with dyslexia. You can also look for tutors who are completing a practicum in Orton-Gillingham or Wilson Reading who need students to tutor as part of their training. And, of course you can also find help through a tutor trained to help students with dyslexia.

If you’re ready to get your child some individual reading support and you’re wondering if online Orton-Gillingham tutoring is the way to go, contact us for a consultation today!

Becoming an Orton-Gillingham Tutor

When I realized I wanted to get out of the special education position I was in, I had no idea where I would go. I had heard of Orton-Gillingham but I didn’t really know what it was.

I was still passionate about education and I felt committed to the students I was teaching. But I was exhausted. My program was substantially separate, meaning my middle school students were in my class for the majority of the day, and when they attended other classes, like social studies or gym, they were attending with the support of paraprofessionals. Coordinating all those people and schedules, never having an empty classroom, and supporting children in both academics and social-emotional needs was more than a full-time job and I felt like someone was always getting short-changed.

Although being in a public school classroom limited what I could do in some ways, I also found a lot of satisfaction working with a team and helping my students succeed in our school community. But I felt like I really didn’t know everything I needed to to help them grow. Then I had a couple of lucky experiences that led me to become an Orton-Gillingham tutor.

Frustrations and Opportunities

Teaching Reading

I got my undergrad degree in psychology, with an elementary teaching license, at a time when my university was just beginning to rebuild their special education department. My state (Massachusetts) had just rolled out its standardized tests for teachers (MTEL) and the entire school of education was trying to learn together what was expected of new teachers. 

My courses on reading were almost all from a balanced literacy perspective. We learned about how to foster a love of reading, how to incorporate diverse literature, and how to engage students with books and learning. But we had just a couple of short class sessions on basic reading skills – phonics, sounds in English, assessment. The message was that, while we had to learn that stuff for the test, it wasn’t really what teaching elementary school would be about.

My entire master’s program in special education included one single class on reading and math instruction, called “Literacy and Numeracy.” I finished that master’s, went into a classroom teaching students with autism, and didn’t really question why we were only using sight word instruction programs. I moved on to a new school where some students were getting a bit of phonics instruction, others were getting mostly sight words, and no one was talking about whether one was better than the other or why. I dug into the closets and pulled out some dusty old readers to use with my groups. But I was still piecing it all together.

Orton-Gillingham, Finally!

In 2014, a new administrator brought in an Orton-Gillingham trainer to train a cohort of teachers. Up until that point, many of the teachers of students with moderate special needs were trained in the Wilson curriculum, and students whose needs were different, or who needed more intensive reading instruction, were often being taught by tutors who contracted with the district. The administration decided to get some of their own teachers trained so they no longer had to outsource those services.

From the first class, my mind was blown! Here was all the stuff that I felt like I was missing. I had known just enough to know I didn’t know enough to teach reading effectively, and here was the missing piece. Or the many, many, missing pieces. 

I realized that not only had I not been taught to teach phonemic awareness, decoding or spelling, but I hadn’t even been taught these skills myself. When I was growing up, whole language was the main method of teaching reading. Anything I knew about the writing system of our language came from my English teacher mother or things I inferred on my own from lots and lots of reading.

After 6 months of classes, papers and reading, and 100 lessons written and taught with feedback from our trainer, I was certified at the teacher level to teach using the Orton-Gillingham approach. 

If you’re an educator who wants to learn more about becoming a tutor, check out my educator resources.

The Grass isn’t Always Greener…Until it is

With my new Orton-Gillingham qualifications, I applied for a different position in my building. I moved from teaching students with severe special needs (the designation in Massachusetts for the highest-need students) to students with moderate special needs, in a resource room setting. That meant they came to me for only certain subjects. I taught reading to some students, math to others, and a study hall-type tutorial to many of the middle schoolers. Better than before, but with a schedule of 30-45 minute groups throughout the day, nothing was as intensive as my students needed. 

I started to tutor privately on evenings and weekends. At first, I was reluctant to offer Orton-Gillingham tutoring online, but as I learned new tools, I was able to offer better reading instruction online and I realized that there is certainly a demand for OG services everywhere, and some places just do not have enough trained teachers. Eventually, among the many changes brought in 2020 by the coronavirus pandemic, I quit my teaching job and started to tutor full time. 

Aah, finally. Now, through Deep Roots Learning Solutions, Inc., I have the freedom to meet students’ learning needs flexibly. I’m not limited by “service delivery minutes” or district policy. I love working with families to decide what students need, and how often, and offer it to them. And I love watching my students learn and grow as readers, as writers, and as people as their reading catches up to their other skills. 

A Happy Ending…For Now

I’m so thankful to spend every work day teaching what I love. I am helping students learn to read and spell in a way that they will use every day for the rest of their lives. 

Sometimes I get itchy, though, thinking about the students I’m not reaching. I know there are a lot of students, like the ones I used to teach in school, whose teachers don’t have the skills and resources yet to teach them in a way that’s consistent with the Science of Reading. So, while I don’t know exactly what the future holds for me or for my company, my goal is to bring good reading instruction to more kids, especially kids in my community. 

If your child needs more help to become a skilled, confident reader and writer, contact us today for a consultation and free demo lesson!

What to look for in an online Orton-Gillingham Tutor

What to Look For and Where to Find Them

For many parents and students, the possibility of online tutoring has opened up a world of options. Students who did not have any professional private reading tutors in their small towns can now find online Orton-Gillingham tutors to teach them. There has been an explosion in tutors offering their services across the United States and all over the world. Overall, this is incredible positive for students struggling to read. But it does mean parents have more complex decisions to make.

What to look for in an Online Orton-Gillingham Tutor

Certified Orton-Gillingham Tutors vs. Trained Tutors

There are an almost unlimited number of trainings that educators and parents can take about reading and writing. The Orton-Gillingham approach to teaching reading is considered to be a “direct, explicit, multisensory, structured, sequential, diagnostic, and prescriptive way to teach literacy.” Orton-Gillingham tutoring is one type of “multi-sensory language education.” It is recommended by the International Dyslexia Association for teaching students with dyslexia. It’s also beneficial for students who are struggling to read but may not be diagnosed with dyslexia.

When you are looking for an online Orton-Gillingham tutor for your child, make sure that you are comparing apples to apples. One important thing to check is whether the tutor is certified in Orton-Gillingham or trained. Certified indicates that the teacher has completed a supervised practicum. They have taught a certain number of lessons under the supervision of a trainer. This is valuable because it helps them become more efficient, effective, and responsive teachers. Several of these programs also offer exams that educators can take to prove their knowledge.

There are several main organizations that accredit teacher training programs and train and certify Orton-Gillingham providers.

  • IDA – The International Dyslexia Association accredits literacy programs for professionals. It also provides individual certification in Structured Literacy through the Center for Effective Reading Instruction. Professionals who meet the qualifications and pass the exam are listed in their directory as Classroom Teachers, Dyslexia Interventionists or Dyslexia Specialists.
  • IMSLEC – The International Multisensory Structured Language Education Council is a group that accredits programs and set standards for educators learning about Orton-Gillingham, but does not certify individuals. 
  • ALTA – Like, IDA, the Academic Language Therapy Association also offers a certification exam for teachers who have completed qualified programs. Educators can test to become either a Certified Academic Language Practitioner (CALP), or with further training, a Certified Academic Language Therapist.
  • AOGPE (OGA) – The Orton-Gillingham Academy, (formerly known as the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and educators) is the third major organization for training and certifying educators in Orton-Gillingham. Like the other programs, a provider can be a Classroom Educator Level, an Associate or a Certified member, and each one signifies a different level of training and different supervised practicum requirements.
  • IMSE – The Institute for Multi-Sensory Education also offers Orton-Gillingham training and certification. This organization seems to be a popular first step for teachers learning about Orton-Gillingham for the first time, although they do also offer a supervised practicum.
  • Various programs and curricula – There are many reading programs that are based on the principles of Orton-Gillingham or structured literacy. These include some well-known programs like Wilson Reading and Barton and others that are less well-known. Like with the large OG organizations, teachers can be trained or certified in a particular curriculum and it’s important for you to know what that means. How long was their training? Did it cover students at all levels of learning, from beginning readers to students mastering upper level fluency and vocabulary?

Experience Online

Experience working online is another important piece of the puzzle when you’re looking for an online Orton-Gillingham tutor. Now that it’s become so common to tutor online, lots of tutors who prefer to work in-person are offering an online option, either temporarily during the pandemic or long-term now that they’ve discovered the benefits. 

But not all online tutors are created equal. Some have taken the opportunity to become online tutoring experts and some are offering it reluctantly because, although their students need it, they don’t feel comfortable. Tutors who don’t enjoy working online, frankly, aren’t as good. They might be distracted by technology challenges or limited in the tools they can use in lessons. So when you are interviewing an online Orton-Gillingham tutor, don’t just ask if they tutor online. Ask why they tutor online. Or ask what benefits they see of tutoring online.

If you need an online Orton-Gillingham tutor now, get in touch and schedule a free demo lesson today!

Experience with kids like yours

Everyone has a specialty, and online Orton-Gillingham tutors are no exception. Some are incredible at engaging young children and bringing fun and magic to the early stages of reading. Others have a way with older children who might feel embarrassed about working on basic skills with a tutor. Some have experience with children with different diagnoses or learning characteristics, such as learners with ADHD or autism. And of course, every student comes to tutoring with different strengths and needs, but the transition to tutoring can be easier when the tutor has some tools that have worked for kids like yours before.

If your child has particular needs, make sure you ask how the tutor might approach a student with that need. Even if they haven’t worked with a child just like yours, they should have some ideas to start with. If they sound clueless, you might not have found the right tutor!

Conclusion

Online Orton-Gillingham tutoring can open up a whole new world of reading and writing skills for children who are struggling, especially if there aren’t a lot of local services in your area. The good news is, you’re not limited to tutors in your town anymore. The bad news is tutors and their students are spread out all over the U.S. so it can be harder to get a good word-of-mouth recommendation. Know that you may have to speak with a few different tutors before you find one that is the right fit for your child but be patient! When you find the right tutor, the results are worth it!

Still have questions? Book a consult and free demo lesson today to see how online Orton-Gillingham tutoring works!

What are Sight Words?

And Why do they Matter?

Hey parents! Welcome to the school year! Here’s your supply list and oh, here’s the list of 50 or 100 sight words your child needs to master this year. Please practice at home. And here you are wondering, “What are sight words?” 

Usually, when we talk about sight words, what we really mean are irregular words, words that cannot be sounded out with the rules that a child knows at this stage. Many reading programs – whether they are consistent with the Science of Reading or not – have sight word lists that students need to master.

Teachers may call these sight words, trick words, high frequency words, or irregular words. Usually, they’re referring to the same thing: a list of words like the, a, for, once, two, too, to and who, what, when, where, why, and how that are frequently found in stories for children but that do not follow the early rules we teach kids for recognizing words.

Ideally, these words should be taught thoughtfully and systematically as part of comprehensive classroom reading instruction. For some reason, though, they are often turned over to parents or volunteers and these adults are given very little direction except to help children learn the words. 

Some teachers send home a few words every week as part of their classroom instruction. Others send the whole list and just let you know when it needs to be learned. If teaching sight words is left up to you, what should you do?

What’s the best way to help kids learn sight words?

Even though we often focus on what makes these words “weird” or hard to read, at the end of the day they are just words, made up of sounds. In fact, very few words are totally irregular. Almost all words on a typical early grade sight word list have just one irregular sound. That makes it much easier to teach these words because you can use what a child already knows about letter and sounds and build on that.

Decide where to start

You may have gotten a long list of words that is supposed to last the entire year. Or you might have gotten a shorter selection of words for this week or this month. Either way, the first step is to assess what your child already knows. Looking at the whole list of words can be overwhelming for kids, so consider putting a few at a time on a whiteboard or on index cards. If you can, make a game out of it. You can put numbers on the words and roll dice for your child to choose which one to read next. For school, your child may be required to read and spell the target words, or read them only. Either way, writing the words will help build a stronger memory than reading them alone.

Some of these words may fit patterns your child already knows. For example, if your child can sound out the word cat, they can read the high frequency word can. If they don’t know it right away, remind them of the strategies they already have for sounding out words, like tapping sounds on their fingers. On the other hand, don’t worry if your child is sounding out words that the teacher says should be sight words. Being able to automatically read those words comes from multiple exposures, not from some kind of magic that leads children to recognize them as whole words.

A sight word is really any word that we can recognize without focusing on the sounds. For example grandma, grandpa, McDonald’s, and their own names maybe sight words for your children even if they are words they cannot yet sound out. They recognize those few words visually, maybe even before they can really read. The trouble comes when kids try to learn all the words they read visually. The

(Good) Practice Makes Perfect

Study the parts

Looking at the irregular sight word was and chanting “w-a-s, w-a-s, w-a-s,” maybe with multi-colored tracing or writing and rewriting, is a popular strategy for practicing sight words, but these flashcards and games are also mostly practicing the look of the word. 

Instead, focus on the sounds of the word and how each sound is spelled. 

Kids often spell was “wuz” because they hear the /w/ sound and spell it with a w, then hear the /u/ and /z/ sounds and spell those the same way they’d usually spell those sounds. To spell was correctly, they need to notice that the /u/ sound has an unusual spelling here, letter a. Same with the /z/ sound. It might help to remember that s can spell the /z/ sound in other words they might know, like is and has. By drawing their attention to the unusual spellings in the word, parents can help kids remember these irregular parts.

The really cool thing is that once kids start to think about words this way, they notice the irregular sounds in other words and start to teach themselves to “map” sight words this way. I noticed my 6-year-old started doing this with new sight words after about six months of me taking the lead in introducing tricky irregular words. 

So don’t worry, you probably won’t be helping your child learn sight words forever! Instead, you’re helping them build a set of tools that’s going to help them learn on their own.

Learn the history

Another tool that really helps when teaching sight words is remembering that we spoke English long before we started writing it. Spelling was invented as a way to write down that spoken language. The way we spell words doesn’t just reflect how they sound. It also reflects their history and where they come from (Anglo-Saxon, French, Latin, Greek – so many influences on English).

Sometimes a sight word doesn’t make sense because it’s an old spelling pattern (like in though and said) where the pronunciation has changed over time. Sometimes comparing an irregular word to another word you know can help you remember the spelling.

For example:

  • say  They say, “Hi!” (It’s happening now)
  • say + s = says She says, “Hi!” (It’s happening now)
  • say + ed = said She said, “Hi,” yesterday. (It happened in the past)

When kids write “said,” they often spell it “sed.” This makes sense because it’s what they hear. But if they think about this pattern and remember it’s a form of the word “say,” it’s easier to remember to spell it with an e. 

(Older students might also know that sometimes when a word ends in y, we change it to i when we add an ending, like happy and happier.)

Going through the words this way is slower. You might only practice one or two words at a time. But the good news is, once you teach a word this way today, it will be much quicker to review tomorrow.

What does sight word mean, anyway?

OK, now that we have the nuts and bolts of sight word study at home, you might still be left with the question, “What are sight words, really?”

Scientists used to think that readers recognized words automatically by knowing them as a visual whole. Now we know that the brain uses its language system to recognize and store printed words. Basically, mature readers see a word and convert it into sounds so fast that we’re not aware of it. That’s what lets us read words in all capital letters or different fonts.

Yet, the visual approach is what most teachers emphasize. Even in groups of highly trained teachers, I often see questions about how to explain the spelling of a word like “though” and a comment like, “that’s just a sight word.” It’s not just a sight word. Sight words are incredibly important because the more words a reader recognizes automatically, the more fluently she can read, and the more she can focus on understanding the story. 

When we tell a kid, “that’s just a sight word,” we’re shutting down the conversation and missing an opportunity for learning. If they know it, it becomes a sight word. And if they don’t, telling them “it’s a sight word” doesn’t help them. 

Can you tell I get a little fired up about this? 

Hopefully these tools for learning sight words will help your child become a more confident, knowledgeable reader and save you some time supervising homework!

If your child still needs some help with their reading and writing development, contact me for a free tutoring consult. We have openings for one-on-one tutoring and some small groups, too!

Is your child hyperactive or does he need better core strength?

A couple years ago, I read about an eye-opening study by an ADHD researcher named Dr. Carsten Vogt that put the whole “kids need recess” debate into perspective for me. Intuitively, we know kids need to move and we know we feel better when we move than when we are stuck in an airplane seat or flopped on the couch all weekend. It’s all about core strength!

But this study demonstrated that kids with weak core muscles who were being evaluated for ADHD had higher levels of movement (which could cause them to be rated hyperactive) than kids with strong core muscles. Basically, kids with weak muscles can’t sit still so they look fidgety and inattentive, so they are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD! But it’s not their brains that can’t pay attention, it’s their bodies! Or rather, what their brains need is a stronger body to sit on top of!

Whoa.

A diagnosis of ADHD can have life-long consequences and it comes with a whole host of educational, medical, and social-emotional challenges and work to be done. But what if some of those kids who can’t sit still just lack physical strength?

Even without the large consequences of an ADHD diagnosis, poor core strength can affect kids in many ways. Throughout the school day, we ask them to sit and stand and reach and write. It all starts with a strong, stable core.

But do you have to put your preschooler through core strengthening boot camp? Nope! Read on for some playful ways to get your kids off to a (physically) strong start at school.

What does poor core strength look like?

Kids with poor core strength slump their shoulders forward when they sit. They might get fatigued easily when they run, or have poor balance. They might always be looking for someone to push them on the swings or boost them up a ladder on the playground.

Miss Jaime, O.T. adds that leaning on you, the couch, or the table are more signs of poor core strength. So is sitting on the floor with legs in a W shape, with their feet behind them. A weak core can make kids fidget, swing their feet, or frequently switch position. Are you always asking your child to, “sit up,” “sit down,” or “just sit STILL!”? Maybe the problem is their bodies aren’t ready for those challenges.

This post from Skills for Action has a ton of photos and illustrations of what a child’s posture should look like. It really helped me understand what core muscles do.

Why is a weak core a problem?

At school, kids often have to sit on the rug or in chairs, or on backless benches in the cafeteria. Without core strength they lean and slump. They may be distracted by their uncomfortable bodies or feel tired. Try it now. Pull yourself up into your best charm school posture. Then slump down into your regular Friday afternoon, barely awake, posture. Which one makes you feel more energetic? Smarter? More alert and ready to learn?

Poor core strength can make it harder for kids to learn to write and read. They have to be able to control and coordinate their eyes, hands, arms and fingers and that’s harder if they are focused on just keeping their bodies upright.

Outside the classroom, weak core strength can affect kids’ performance in sports because it impacts their stamina and their balance. It can affect some classic kid activities like climbing the ladder to the slide, swinging on swings, biking and swimming.

And kids don’t want to do activities where they don’t feel successful, so a kid with a weak core isn’t going to be the one begging to practice riding his bike! So if you notice your child has a weak core and is having trouble with these activities, you may have to trick them into getting excited about core work with some of these fun activities!

Strengthen your child’s core (and yours!) through play

While this post from the Child’s Play Therapy Center recommends “good old fashioned outdoor play” to develop kids’ core strength, you might want a little more direction or guidance. Here are some of my favorite activities, collected from the sites I mentioned above:

  • Wheelbarrow walks
  • Play Twister
  • Pumping on a swing
  • Swimming
  • Biking
  • Chores like shoveling snow or carrying groceries (OK, this is secretly my favorite because I’m the mean mom that makes my 4-year-old do these things already)
  • Obstacle courses with crawling  
  • Simon Says with whole body movements (Simon says “do a bear crawl” or “hop like a frog”)
  • Yoga – I like the Cosmic Kids Yoga channel on YouTube for keeping my 4-year-old engaged and moving
  • If you’re looking for something with more clear instructions, this ebook from OT Mom looks great. I haven’t gotten it yet, but you can’t beat $5 for an ebook full of photographs of activities.

Good habits for building core strength

I hate to say this because it was a time of misery and strife at our house, but it’s time to work in some tummy time. I know! You thought you would never have to torture your children with it again once they could crawl and walk but working in that position is great for developing the neck and back muscles that support your child’s core. Lie down on the floor with them to drive cars, do a puzzle, or read a story. Bonus points if your activity has them shifting their weight to use their arms.

Another good habit that was frequently recommended is to have kids pay attention to the way they’re sitting. If they sit down to draw or write, remind them they want their feet on the floor (which reminds me, I need a small stool to put under the dining room table!) and their backs nice and straight. Give them seating options like backless stools and exercise balls while they are watching TV so they are less tempted to sprawl on the couch.

And model good habits! Maybe start reading bedtime stories sitting on the floor instead of curled up on the couch. Be active with your kids to help make you both stronger! Plus, it’s fun!

This is personal

My son is struggling a little with core strength now. He loves to write and draw and he loves to run and jump but he has never been a confident climber nor does he have the best balance. He’s an active kid with lots of terrific, age-appropriate skills. But when I watch him struggle to kick across the pool in a swimming lesson, my heart sinks. I want him to be able to do everything he wants to do and I feel like I’ve neglected this part of his development.

My plan this summer is to change the way we move, mix up our activities and give us both more opportunities to build core strength! Here’s to lots of bike rides and endless games of Simon Says!

What’s your favorite way to encourage core strength development in kids?


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Is your child hyperactive or are his core muscles weak?


Can my child fail her kindergarten screening?

Schools have a variety of different practices for kindergarten screening. Some have kids come in during the spring for a tour, screening, or orientation. Other schools do it right before school starts at the end of the summer, or even on the first few days of school. If you are wondering about your child’s kindergarten screening, the best source of information is the school itself. The second best source is any group of local parents, in person or on social media.

No matter when they schedule it, your child’s new school will probably have one or more events before kindergarten starts, so kids can get used to the new school building and teachers and other staff have the chance to meet the students. This often includes a brief screening assessment. A kindergarten screening is a great opportunity for teachers to get to know students and for kids to meet some new adults and show off what they know by playing some short learning games.

Even though kindergarten screening can be a very positive experience, I have rarely seen a parent look as anxious as parents do as they watch their freshly scrubbed and combed little boy or girl walk away with a teacher for their screening. It’s totally understandable. I mean, before your children turn 5, how many times do you really just have them walk away from you with another adult for set for any reason? Maybe they’ve been with babysitters or daycare or preschool teachers but for the most part, you’ve been along to at least ease the transition.

I promise you, kindergarten screenings are nothing for either you or your child to be nervous about. Hopefully, reading this post will take some of the mystery out of the process and help you and your child enjoy their introduction to their new school!

Why do kindergartens do screenings?

Take a moment to see the world through kindergarten teacher’s eyes. All of a sudden, on the first day of school, about 20 little people enter your classroom. They’re excited, they’re curious, they’re shy, they’re crying, and they’re wondering when it’s time for snack. The teacher has to keep the class moving through the day and engaged to give them a great first day of school, so she doesn’t have a lot of chances to sit and chat with individual kids that first day. Kindergarten screening is where children have the opportunity to interact one-on-one with one of the professionals that work within the school and they are incredibly valuable for teachers. It can speed up the process of the teachers at school getting to know your child’s strengths and their needs.

What will they ask my child to do at kindergarten screening?

Schools use many different tools for the kindergarten screening process. Regardless of whether they have published assessment tool that they use or whether they have put together their own set of activities, they are often looking for some of these skills:

  • Communicating verbally – this can include chatting with the adults in the room, giving information like their full name, naming pictures and saying what words mean
  • Following directions to do physical and tabletop tasks, like hopping on one foot and pointing to your nose and making a pattern like my pattern with your blocks.
  • Motor skills including ability to use a pencil and scissors
  • Knowledge of common preschool material like letters, numbers, and colors.
  • Behavioral observations like whether the child separates easily from a parent, is friendly or shy, or is impulsive about touching the assessment materials

What happens if my kid isn’t good at that stuff?

As long as your child meet the age requirements for kindergarten and is in the right neighborhood for the school they’re attending, the school cannot turn them away. There’s no such thing as failing a kindergarten screening.

Teachers use the information they gain from kindergarten screenings to plan strategic groups for different skills. For example, a teacher might have a whole group of entering kindergartners who don’t know all their letter sounds and she might plan to work with those students more frequently until they master the skill. Sometimes other experts come in to work with groups in the classroom, like occupational therapists or speech therapists, and they may pay special attention to a group who’s having trouble with a particular skill, like making a certain speech sound or using scissors.

In some cases, teachers might note significant concerns about a child’s development. Often, these are children who we already know needed extra help with speech and language or motor skills as young children. They might have had early intervention services or they might have been seeing a therapist privately before starting school. It’s still helpful for teachers to see these kids in action in the screening environment and get a perspective on what they might need when school starts. In other cases, teachers may have concerns about a student who has not been identified previously. Teachers use information they get from the kindergarten screening to make a note of who to keep a closer eye on as school begins so that they can provide extra support, gather more information, and communicate with the parents as soon as possible about any concerns they have.

Will I find out how my child did at kindergarten screening?

This depends on the school. In some schools, parents get a written report that gives them scores for the kindergarten screening tool that the school uses. In other places, parents might get a more generic letter that states that their child participated and no concerns were noted. You may also get follow-up communication that your child has been selected for short-term extra help with a professional in the school, or that the school would like to talk about some things they noticed or recommend further testing. If you have questions about any of these communications, it is a great idea to get in touch with the person who sent you the letter or with the child’s teacher to find out more about what they are noticing with your child as he or she starts school.

While the process of sending children’s kindergarten screening can cause a lot of anxiety for parents, please remember that the purpose of the whole process is to get your child off to a good start in kindergarten and make sure they have the tools they need to succeed there. Everything that teachers ask or do during the screening process serves that purpose. Teachers want kids to have a good experience with the screening and we want them to enter kindergarten feeling confident and excited about all the things they will learn!