Bob Books

#3 is ending his kindergarten career in a couple weeks. He is beginning to decode words, however, he has a hard time finding books at his reading level. He needs VERY EASY books that are phonetic.  Emphasis on the VERY EASY!

So often I find Level 1 reading books at the library like this:


Score!  This is going to be great! High interest in this house! Motivation will not be a problem.  Then my beginning reader tries to decode the words and the pages are like this:


Frustrating! This book is called 3rd grade reading in our house! Soldier? Capture? This is not for a beginning reader…especially a dyslexic one!  Sure they could look at the pictures and figure out something about the Death Star, but we want them reading….not guessing.

When #2 was in second grade I discovered Bob books.


They are short, phonetic, with controlled text, and the different levels move through phonetic skills sequentially.


With coaching, even severely dyslexic readers can find success with these books when they are just entering the world of reading.  #3 can read a couple of these books independently now, which grows his confidence and encourages him to read more.  This creates a positive reinforcement loop with reading.

If others have suggestions for great books for children to practice beginning reading skills with, please post them in the comments so we can learn from you.  I know I’m always looking for new suggestions!  (There is really only so much of Cat and Sam and Mat sitting on each other that I can take.) And remember…emphasis on VERY EASY!


Not exactly helpful

I have found that when you have a child struggling with something….academic, health, behavior, etc….it’s tempting to turn to the internet to look for a quick fix.

In March the New York Times had a short article about dyslexia, Video Games may Aid Children with Dyslexia.

Students trained (?!?) in action video games showed that they had improved reading scores. WOW!  Time to get to Target and load up on all those Wii games I say N-O to.  That’s it?  I can just shove my boys in front of the Wii with ACTION (non-action games didn’t have as dramatic of an effect) games and they will read well? Done and done.

But wait, the last paragraph of the article is this:

“The correlation between attention improvement and reading improvement was very high,” said the co-first author of the study, Simone Gori, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Padua. “The change in attentional abilities translates into better reading ability.”

Wait, is this news?  Of course your reading will be better if your attention is better, isn’t that the trick I wrote about yesterday?

I would argue that instead of plopping your child in front of a video game and hoping that they become a better reader (they won’t), they go outside and exercise to increase attention.  Shouldn’t the goal be healthy children who are confident about their reading skills and engaged in learning….instead of children nagging about needing to play more video games and THEN they will do their homework.

The New York Times has published many articles about the benefits of exercise, even while Phy Ed. and recess time are being cut.  In the last paragraph of Can Exercise Make Kids Smarter by Gretchen Reynolds she writes:

“But for now, the takeaway is clear. “More aerobic exercise” for young people, Mr. Kuhn said. Mr. Hillman agreed. So get kids moving, he added, and preferably away from their Wiis. A still-unpublished study from his lab compared the cognitive impact in young people of 20 minutes of running on a treadmill with 20 minutes of playing sports-style video games at a similar intensity. Running improved test scores immediately afterward. Playing video games did not.”

Hiking in Glacier

Get outside and play!

2 ends of the spectrum

Yesterday I wore shorts on my morning run. Today I hit off on the alarm and went back to sleep after I looked at the weather report and it said “WINTER STORM WARNING!”  Sometimes I just can’t deal with the continual shift between extremes and I want to shut down.

This was the scene on our front patio this weekend, ice melt next to sidewalk chalk.  Two ends of the weather spectrum are flip flopping.

winter and spring

This is also the life of a person with dyslexia, it operates at two extremes.  Even though my brain operates like this, I find it very difficult to teach to two extremes.

One of the essential pieces of teaching a student with dyslexia is progressing very SLOW through basic skills.  The student needs to gain automaticity so their working memory isn’t overloaded. When automaticity is achieved they can take in new knowledge instead of focusing on how to sound out a word or spell a word.  The more profound the dyslexia, the more practice and repetition is needed.

At the same time that basic skills are incredibly difficult, these children are also very intelligent and outrageously curious.  Many times critical thinking skills are well developed at an early age.  Children who can’t remember that -ed is placed at the end of a past tense verb can remember and put knowledge together about history (or another complex subject) very easily.

And that is where the difficulty lies.  I believe that basic knowledge of how to read and write are essential for education (I was a first grade teacher after all!), and the rest will follow.  How do you teach a very bright child that is yearning for more and more knowledge but takes a month of daily practice to learn the -ed ending? How do you keep him stimulated but teach the basic skills without completely boring him and even worse, having him believe that learning is the equivalent to shoveling snow in May (aka: horrible and to be avoided)?  Luckily, history and -ed both deal with the past tense.

To keep motivation up #2 is starting a project about Russian history.  Worksheets, flashcards and drills, while essential to helping him gain the amount of practice he needs, quickly bore him and he daydreams easily.  Also, I think he was getting a little tired of my blank stares when he would ask me questions about the political motivation of Stalin before, during and after World War II and I would answer with a weak, “Ummm…. let’s Google that.”  When I had no idea how to find Chechnya on a map (without Googling it) I realized I needed a little Russian history too.

Throughout this month we will flip flop between the complex history of Russia and summarizing what he learns by writing sentences in the past tense.  He will be practicing the skills he has learned this year with the Wilson Language System (syllables and suffixes) while learning about a subject he is interested in.  Check back throughout May and I’ll share other projects I come up with to help him review his basic skills from 4th grade.


If your child is having difficulty with reading, and you can afford it, get a Kindle, or other e-reader.

reading kindle

Not only will your child become more engaged and motivated with their new gadget, but with the Kindle you can make the font bigger and spacing between lines wider. This change makes complicated text (usually with a smaller font) look more like a beginning chapter book.  By changing the size of the font, it is easier for the reader to track the words, aiding with reading fluency.  (There is a reason those easy readers have a large font and fewer words on the page.)

Looking up vocabulary words is also instantaneously accomplished with a couple clicks.  If you want to see something laborious, ask a profoundly dyslexic student to find a word in a dictionary!  A deep vocabulary is one of the keys to reading comprehension.  Because of the ease, barriers are lifted and the child is no longer guessing about unknown words.

And it doesn’t hurt to be able to buy a book instantly.

Searching for concrete

This morning I woke up to another winter wonderland.


I’m searching for concrete.  I need something hard to run on because I’m sick of feeling like I’m running on sand, sheets of ice or running backwards.  I want to wake up in the morning and know what the surface beneath my feet is going to be like.  I don’t want to guess anymore.  Do I wear spikes? How many snow drifts will I have to hurdle?  Are there hidden sheets of ice under the 4 inches of snow?  The thing with running on smooth concrete is that you can go fast because you aren’t guessing and wondering about every step.  Running is automatic, and you don’t need to think while you are putting one foot in front of the other.  You can enjoy the beautiful scenery and a wonderful conversation with your friends while getting exercise.

A dyslexic reader is also searching for concrete.  Before they are taught the mechanics and system of the English language, English is just a jumble of symbols that don’t seem to make sense.  The letters are not reliable.  The letters sometimes have different sounds based on……what?  It’s very confusing for many people, but particularly someone with dyslexia.  Concrete concepts in reading and spelling are something that don’t come natural to a dyslexic, and their brain isn’t wired for this.  Rules need to be taught in a very systematic, concrete, repetitive way with a lot of guided practice.  You actually need to rewire the brain and train it to accept the concrete rules.

Try reading with a young dyslexic child.  When #2 was in first grade he would pick up the book Go, Dog, Go! during his read aloud time after school.  He would look at the picture, put his finger under the words and say,  “The two dogs rode their scooters toward each other and waved hello.  They were happy because they had on very interesting hats.  The big dog took the feather and that was OK.”  Here is the page:

Go, Dog, Go!

The letters and words didn’t matter, he knew there was a rule about getting the clue from the picture and that has something to do with these letters on the page.  Because the letters made no sense, he would give his best guess.  This reading strategy, when in absence of any phonics skills, doesn’t get a reader very far.

Imagine how exhausting it would be if you were asked to read and write for much of the day and you could only guess, hope for the best, and pray you weren’t absolutely humiliated at some point when you are asked to read aloud or write something.  Guessing wouldn’t get you very far and would be incredibly frustrating if everyone around you seems to know some secret code and you don’t.  Until I started teaching #2 with the Wilson Reading System I had always been confused by spelling and syllables and phonics.  Very quickly I realized how easy it is to spell when you understand there are concrete rules for spelling and syllable division.  Closed syllables, open syllables, vowel-consonant-e, etc.  Rules when there are double letters.  Rules when there is a schwa sound (a vowel that has an unexpected sound).  Rules for exactly where one syllable ends and the next one begins.  I had gone through my life thinking everyone was constantly guessing at this confusing thing called spelling and I just had a real knack for constantly guessing wrong….little did I know there was a concrete system!  Guessing is no way to go through life.

Dyslexics innately rely on higher level thinking skills to understand the world, not concrete rules.  Dyslexics can take a lot of random ideas and put them all together in one thought must faster and easier than a non-dyslexic (such as talking about the weather, running, phonics, reading, spelling and a little life history all in one thought. If you don’t at all understand this post…perhaps its because you aren’t dyslexic!)  Phonics, spelling and multiplication tables are concrete and systematic.  At first these rules are seemingly random to a dyslexic and must be memorized with repeated practice….lots and lots of practice.  Spelling and reading need to be taught with concrete rules where the students divide words into syllables, label the syllable type, mark vowels, locate blends and digraphs, and ultimately read or spell the word.

marking words

After these skills are practiced over and over with a teacher reminding the student of the steps the student slowly gains automaticity.  Automaticity is when you don’t need to constantly think of the rules.  The goal is for a dyslexic child to eventually write the word “dependable” without needing to go through all the concrete steps each time:

  1. How many syllables are in the word? 3
  2. Is there a suffix? Yes. I’ve memorized suffixes and I hear -able
  3. What is the base word?  depend
  4. Ok, spell the base word first.  Remember the suffix at the end of the baseword steps.
  5. What is the first syllable? de
  6. What kind of syllable is it? Let me think.
  7. I know its an open syllable because I hear a long vowel sound at the end and its not closed in by a consonant.
  8. How many sounds are in the first syllable? /d/ and long e.
  9. Now I’m going to write the first syllable.
  10. Stop…there is a /d/ sound.  Every time I hear that sound I need to think….donut door.  OK, I know how to write that.
  11. What was I doing? (working memory getting overloaded)
  12. Oh yes, the first syllable….what was the word? Oh yeah, dependable.
  13. Write the d…..e….because its an open syllable.
  14. And, the next syllable…..what was the word? Dependable.
  15. OK, second syllable. pend.  I know its pend because “able” is at the end and that’s a suffix.  Remember, only the base.
  16. spell base word first, then add the suffix.
  17. second syllable.  Its closed.  I heard a blend.  how many sounds. write the sounds.
  18. p….e…..n…..STOP!!!! WHICH WAY DO I MAKE THE D???? DONUT DOOR!!! OK, ……d.
  19. I’ve got the base.  Now the suffix.  able.  that was the one with the schwa sound that I had to memorize….its spelled a…b…l….e.
  20. OK, finally I have one word down….dependable.

Made it!  (Now try writing a paragraph!)  With constant guided practice, eventually a person with dyslexia can look at the word and read it quickly (reading fluency) and write the word automatically.  Gaining automaticity is vital to reading enjoyment, reading to learn and written expression.  Without it, the student will go back to guessing because, in a sense, that is infinitely easier than constantly remembering all the steps for each word you face.  With automaticity, working memory is not overloaded, the deep meaning of text can be appreciated and reading and writing become enjoyable and not a slog.  The student is confident they KNOW what the word is, there is no more guessing, they understand the concrete rules of language.


The goal is to be sure of your footing and run as fast as you can down the concrete, covering as much ground as you can….and loving every minute of it.

You can use your two ears to read too.

One component of the Wilson Reading System is listening comprehension.  The goal of this is to expand vocabulary, general knowledge, the love of literature/information and work on comprehension skills while not being bogged down by phonics, decoding, sight words, tracking, etc.  Yesterday I read aloud a fascinating article in the Smithsonian Magazine about a family that lived in isolation for 40 years in Siberia (super article…go read it!).



#2 was fascinated at had a lot of questions about Russian history, geography, religious freedom, nutrition, endurance athletes and life in Siberia, all of which we discussed. I also wove in questions about the characters in the story.  “What do you think the dad was like?” “Tell me know you know about Dmitry?” “How do you think the scientists felt when they discovered the family?” Drawing these inferences from text is so important to reading comprehension. When a dyslexic child is reading they sometimes are spending so much energy simply understanding the plot that asking high level questions would overwhelm them and make reading that much harder.  The skill needs practice, so I have moved high level comprehension to mainly a listening activity at this point for my homeschooled child.  Its amazing to me how much he can get out of a complicated article…many times he understands more than me because I’m the dyslexic one spending my working memory on decoding the text, I don’t have enough power left to deeply comprehend.


While he is listening to a complicated text I find its good for him to have something to do with his hands and so he knits hats with the aid of a circle loom. They are easy to use and he gets a sense of accomplishment, especially when you use extra bulky yarn!

You have dyslexia? Do you see things backwards?

Dyslexia is a much used and very misunderstood word.  I’ve had many people say, “Oh, so your kids see things backwards?” or “Is dyslexia when you write your letters backwards?”

Yes and no.  Sometimes, especially with a severe case of dyslexia, there are problems with directionality.  Which way is left? Which is right? Directionality is why some people with dyslexia have a problem knowing if its a b, d, q, p, or g.  Issues with working memory also exist, which I will explore later.

Dyslexia is a language processing disorder.  This means that a person with dyslexia has a different brain than people without dyslexia.  The dyslexic brain is constructed differently than the non-dyslexic brain.  Dyslexia is an unpredicted problem with learning how to read.  This means, that when a child has been given every opportunity to learn how to read sometimes they don’t….and sometimes this is because the child has dyslexia.  Because reading is so complex there are of course a variety of factors that could be causing problems, but dyslexia has nothing to do with eye sight, vision therapy or color coding words….and none of these are solutions for helping a child with dyslexia.

Most humans have the innate knowledge that a symbol goes with a sound.  This is why so many different languages are constructed that way.  However, the dyslexic brain does not innately put a sound with a symbol.  In fact, the dyslexic brain doesn’t really understand individual sounds in a word.  Most young children understand that the word cat is made up of 3 sounds…..K-AAAAAA-T.  In the least, most preschoolers can tell you that cat starts with the sound /k/.  If you ask a dyslexic child what sounds make up cat they will stare blankly at you….because cat is the word that means that slightly creepy animal that never likes me yet insists on sitting on my lap (editorial comment on my feelings towards cats!)….it is not a series of sounds. The concept of individual sounds going together to make up a word is enough to baffle and overwhelm young children with dyslexia.

Teaching phonics is the core of my homeschooling with child #2.  I use the Wilson Reading System which was designed to help people with dyslexia learn to read, spell and write.


Essentially children learn over and over and OVER that words are made up of individual sounds.  Letters represent these sounds. They learn how to put the sounds together to make words (reading) and take the words apart to make sounds (spelling).

-ed suffix

In book 6 (there are 12 books), students learn about base words and suffixes.  This week we are learning about -ed.  #2 can read all the words on green cards quite fluently.  However, categorizing them by ending sound….close to impossible.  It is a painstaking process by asking him to first say the baseword then understand what the -ed suffix sounds like.  The task was completed, some more phonemic awareness was achieved, and he was rewarded by taking the dog on a walk throughout the neighborhood and some free reading time (he is currently devouring the “I Survived” books).

On a recent ski weekend a friend suggested I bring the kids to China and have them learn Chinese so they don’t need to deal with individual letters and I wouldn’t have to go through all these flashcard exercises.  She may be on to something….