Learn the 8 ways you need to adapt Charlotte Mason for your dyslexic child
You just recently got the diagnosis: dyslexia. Maybe you feel some (or great!) relief, because you finally have a reason that your child is having so many struggles with reading, writing, and spelling.
You know now that it’s not that you’re a terrible teacher. And it’s not that your child just isn’t trying.
But with the relief comes that thought: can we still continue with Charlotte Mason? Is it even possible?
And if it is possible … how?
Modifications for dyslexia
While a Charlotte Mason education is well suited to students with learning differences, there are some adjustments that you’ll need to make.
What can you keep? The books, the writing, handwork, art and music, reading … Really, you can keep everything!
You’ll just need to make some tweaks to how you use them.
Let’s walk through the eight adaptations you will probably make to your homeschool.
#1 — Use Audiobooks or Audio Readers
Even if your child is reading, the sheer number of books in a CM education can be overwhelming. For a child who is a slow reader, or who struggles with decoding and comprehension, audio books can be an education-saver.
We often think of using audio books or readers as cheating, because the students aren’t doing the “work” of reading for themselves.
But there are three kinds of reading– reading with your eyes, reading with your fingers, and reading with your ears.
We would never tell a person who is visually impaired and using Braille to read a book that they weren’t really reading.
And yet this is exactly what we think when we let our kids use audio books.
That it’s not really reading.
New research has shown that audio books activate the same areas of the brain as reading with the eyes. That’s because it’s all in how language is processed.
Your child will get all the benefits of reading – activating the same language centers, developing vocabulary, gaining cultural and background knowledge – while separating out the actual reading instruction.
Audiobooks can be used both for instructional books and for the lighter, literature portions of the curriculum.
Good places to get audiobooks
First stop is your local library. Ask how to access their digital collection if you aren’t already familiar with it. I can access OverDrive, Hoopla, and Freading through various local libraries, but every county is different.
Learning Ally — if you have a diagnosis of dyslexia or a visual impairment you are eligible to use this huge collection
Learning Ally has professionally produced books and costs $135 per year, but also requires verification of a print disability.
You can also use Bookshare. Bookshare uses good computerized voices to read the books, so if you want professionally read audiobooks this is not a choice. They require a diagnosis of a print disability that interferes with the ability to use traditional print materials.
Audible is a division of Amazon, and has many books that are professionally produced. The membership costs $15 per month, and you get 1 audiobook plus 2 “Audible Originals” for that price. You also get discounts on additional books, and access to member-only sales.
For ebooks that don’t have professional audio, if you can get them in .epub format you can use a computer program like Natural Reader to read them to your child.
My profoundly dyslexic, non-reading daughter relies on the free Natural Reader browser extension to figure out the print on web pages.
# 2 — Change the way you teach reading
The reading instruction in Home Education (Charlotte Mason’s first book) was based on a combination of sight words, phonics, and word building. While this can be a fine way to learn to read for 80% of the population, students with dyslexia need something different.
They need a reading program that is specific, sequential, and explicit.
Orton-Gillingham is a research-backed approach to teaching reading, not a method, system, or program. There are several Orton-Gillingham based programs that we can buy for homeschool. They vary in how quickly they move, how explicit the instruction is, and how scripted they are for the parent.
Examples of Orton-Gillingham based programs are
Logic of English and All About Reading are good for most mild-moderate dyslexic kids, but they moved too fast and made too big of leaps for my profoundly dyslexic child.
Rooted in Language has online workshops where they teach you how to teach your child using an Orton-Gillingham approach.
Barton is considered the gold standard for dyslexic students being tutored at home. The downside is the cost, which seems exhorbitantly expensive when compared to other reading programs. Even Logic of English and All About Reading look downright cheap in comparison.
There are ways to bring down the cost, including buying used and reselling. If there is more than one student in your homeschool group who needs Barton, going in together and then sharing the program among families is another option.
Before buying any of these programs, it will pay to give the Barton Student Screening to your child. If your student can’t pass this screening, he is not ready for any reading program and needs more work on the phonological parts of language.
More reading instruction
For ages 6-9, all of the PNEU timetables scheduled 10 to 20 minutes per day for reading instruction and practice. If you are using an Orton-Gillingham based program, you will need to spend 20-30 minutes per day.
They usually recommend an hour per day several times per week. But since we are following Charlotte Mason’s guidelines, we want to keep the lessons shorter.
#3– spelling, copywork, and dictation
Another area where we’re going to veer from Charlotte Mason’s method is in spelling, copy work, and dictation.
You’re not going to skip these, but we are going to do them a little bit differently.
Charlotte Mason’s method consisted of choosing a paragraph, passage, or pages of from the books being read to use for spelling, copy work, and dictation. The length of the passage depended on the age of the child.
A student would copy that work, paying attention to the spelling of words and to punctuation, with the help of the parent.
Spelling was done through visualization, but the words in general were ones that the student didn’t know how to spell. They were not taught “explicitly and sequentially,” and a student did not necessarily learn the spelling rules.
Instead of using the passages from your literature or reading books, to modify for dyslexia you will use the spelling, copy work, or dictation provided with your reading program.
If you child does read well but the dyslexia is showing up spelling (this is more common than you might think!), use a spelling program for dyslexic students like All About Spelling or Sequential Spelling.
Sequential Spelling was the program that unlocked the spelling code for my two older children who could read but couldn’t spell.
Rooted in Language has an online workshop for parents about Intentional Copywork and Dictation. Though I don’t have experience with it, it looks like it would mesh very well with Charlotte Mason’s philosophy.
#4 — Readers
Rather than using the readers suggested in a Charlotte Mason curriculum, you will use readers suggested in your reading program.
One of the draws to Charlotte Mason are the wonderful living books, particularly as “readers”.
But when teaching reading with an Orton-Gillingham based program, you use leveled readers. These are not living books, but they are necessary for a student who is struggling with dyslexia, particularly in the earlier stages of learning to read.
You will not be able to use readers recommended in Charlotte Mason curricula for “reading with the eyes” until your child has reached a certain level of proficiency in their OG reading program.
It’s so easy to feel like if your child isn’t reading the assigned books in a curriculum that he’s going to be “behind”.
Get rid of that thought right now.
We have to meet our children where they’re at, not where we think they should be.
And not where someone who has never met your child, thinks an “average” child will be. Remember that homeschooling means we get to tailor the education to our child, not the other way around.
We don’t want to entirely eliminate those readers, though. They are (usually!) engaging and full of adventure, and just plain old good stories. They’re also full of rich vocabulary and background knowledge that are the hallmark of a living book.
How do we get these benefits without frustrating your child? Go back up to modification #1 and use audio versions. The same areas of the brain are stimulated, your child still is exposed to the vocabulary and adventure, but the physical act of reading is separated out.
# 5 — Narrations and Composition
One great thing about Charlotte Mason’s method is that she splits up writing mechanics and composition. If your student is younger and in Form 1, there will be little modification needed here. Simply do narrations orally, which is what a student would usually be doing anyways.
Occasional written narrations were begun in upper 1A at about age eight.
We are going to delay this even further though, and wait until the student is strong in both reading and the physical act of writing before expecting written narrations.
As your child gets older, we’ll keep working on composition through oral narrations, but we’re not going to expect the student to write them down by hand until she’s a proficient reader and able to physically write easily.
We still want to reap the benefits of written narration, though. To do that, once your child is about 8 or 9, add in a few other things.
Read up on the Natural Stages of Growth in Writing and the Absolutely Free Program at Brave Writer.
Introduce graphic organizers if your student is reading well enough that he can understand them.
Do sensory awareness exercises, like those in this post from Nature Mentor. (I share several of these same exercises in my emails, because we had the same mentors)
Help your child come up with words to describe what they’re sensing, or smelling, or feeling.
#6 Writing and Composition
As with reading, students with dyslexia need explicit and sequential instruction in writing or composition.
Specific writing instruction was not beginning begun until Form 3 (ages 12-14) in Charlotte Mason’s method. Before that composition was in the form of narration.
Two of my favorite programs for the elementary and middle school years are Brave Writer and Write On! Writer’s Jungle from Brave Writer will teach you how to develop your writer, while Write On! uses a guided method of explicit instruction to teach your child while still using plenty of wordplay and giving as much support as they need.
They are both for grades 3-8.
For both of these programs, do as much as you can orally.
It is at the junior high level that I would deviate from Brave Writer. Not because I don’t like her material, but because it was not sequential or explicit enough for my dyslexic student.
Too much was expected that she would simply infer at the high school level, about the structure of various forms of writing.
When they are in high school, some students simply need help editing their papers, and just showing them a model of different kinds of writing will be enough.
But for our students who struggle with reading and writing, it’s not.
They need to work through a solid writing program.
What are other good options then?
- use the modeled and guided Write On! through jr. high
- Michael Clay Thompson (begin with Writing of Literature before moving into Academic Writing)
- Beyond the Book Report from Analytical Grammar)
#7 — Use Software
Because physically, writing can be very difficult for a dyslexic student, consider using dictation software.
Dictation software is best for middle school and up.
One good free option is to enable Google Voice Typing used in Google docs.
This blog post talks about how using Dragon Naturally Speaking (a paid program) helped several dyslexic and dysgraphic students.
The work still requires editing, but sitting next to your child and going through their paper to edit has a lot of value.
Finish it off with Grammarly.
#8– Foreign Language
I admit it — this was the hardest modification for me to swallow.
Foreign language is such an integral part of a Charlotte Mason education that I felt like I was stopping a large part of what makes a CM education, well … CM.
But our reading specialist, also a homeschooling mom and familiar with Charlotte Mason, explained to me two things:
First, that adding sounds of another language when my child is struggling with the sounds of English will just delay her progress in English, and second, that someone who is dyslexic is dyslexic in all languages.
Dyslexia’s difficulties “typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language” (from the International Dyslexia Association).
It’s difficult for people with dyslexia to learn to read, write, and spell in one language. It’s very, very difficult for them to learn to read, write, and spell in more than one language.
People with dyslexia process language differently than the rest of the population.
But what about Charlotte Mason’s method of just using learning oral language first?
If your student is still struggling with the sounds of English, adding new sounds from a different language will delay her progress in English.
A good alternative is American Sign Language. Obviously if you are in not in America use whatever your local sign language is.
ASL allows the student to learn a different language without having to process new sounds or the writing of a new language.
If your child is mildly or only moderately dyslexic you can try learning a foreign language orally. But be prepared to stop if it’s very difficult or if he seems to be stalling his progress in learning to read and speak English clearly.
If you notice either of these, then you should delay working on that second language until your child is reading and spelling proficiently and at grade level in English.
Besides American sign language, one foreign language that might work is Esperanto. It is a created language, and as a created language it is phonetically regular with no exceptions to spelling or pronunciation rules.
The problem with Esperanto is that there are very few materials for children, and the materials for adults are pretty much all print-based.
This means that if you as a parent are not already proficient in teaching a foreign language, you will need to translate a children’s program from a different foreign language into Esperanto.
That takes a lot of time and effort, time that we often don’t have because we are doing additional instruction in reading.
The Most Important Thing to Remember
We have a tendency that when our children are struggling in one area, to focus our attention on that area until they can be “brought up to speed”.
But remember that a Charlotte Mason education is about is a liberal education, a broad education.
Do not neglect the other areas of a Charlotte Mason education – the arts, physical education, and work, music, drawing, and nature connection- in order to focus on reading and writing.
Helpful video resources
- The True Gifts of a Dyslexic Mind
- What is dyslexia by the International dyslexia Association
- How Difficult Can This Be – The F.A.T. City Workshop
- Videos by Susan Barton from Bright Solutions
While we can definitely do a Charlotte Mason education with students with dyslexia, we do need to modify some portions.
- Use audio books and audio screen readers
Resources: Learning Ally, Bookshare, public library digital collection, Audible, Natural Reader
- Use Orton-Gillingham based reading instruction
Resources: Logic of English, All About Reading, Rooted in Language, Barton, Foundation in Sounds, sightwords.com, LiPS
- Spelling, dictation, and copy work should be only those provided in your reading program
- Use readers from your reading program, rather than those assigned in the CM curriculum. Use audio books for the readers in your curriculum
- Composition and narration should be oral only until physical writing is strong.
Resources: Write On!, Brave Writer
- Explicit, sequential writing instruction in Form 3 and above
Resources: Write On!, Beyond the Book Report, Michael Clay Thompson
- Dictation software like Google Voice or Dragon Naturally Speaking
- Wait on foreign language until your student is reading well, and strongly consider using American Sign Language instead of a spoken language
Was this helpful to you? If you’ve found other areas you need to change, let me know in the comments. The more we collaborate, the easier it is for all families homeschooling with dyslexia.