Monday, October 26, 2015

Charlotte Mason and Dyslexia...

Some of you already know that I have dyslexic children.  Ruben has a formal diagnosis.  RileyAnn does not, but aside from reading, she shows many dyslexic tendencies.   I use the Charlotte Mason method of teaching and feel with a few simple modifications, it's the perfect method for students with dyslexia. I really believe it works! Charlotte's ideas on short lessons, habit training, living books, narration, and nature study give dyslexics the tools to thrive. Here's how I used Charlotte's methods with my children.

First off, let's break down language arts.  The goal of language arts is to be able to use language proficiently in order to communicate an idea.  It includes everything that relates to listening, speaking, reading, and writing.  According to Mirriam-Webster's online definition, dyslexia is "a variable often familial learning disability involving difficulties in acquiring and processing language that is typically manifested by a lack of proficiency in reading, spelling, and writing".  These areas of difficulty for a dyslexic, reading, spelling, and writing, obviously fall under this subject of language arts.  

Charlotte Mason's methods included: copywork, narration, prepared dictation, grammar, beginning reading, reading for instruction, recitation, and poetry.  Through these methods, she taught the language arts skills of handwriting, composition, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, parts of speech, sentence structure, vocabulary, how to read, reading comprehension, listening comprehension, and public speaking.  Some of the greatest modifications I have made to Charlotte's methods are in teaching reading and spelling.

I use copywork for handwriting practice.  It's also an aid in learning punctuation, capitalization, vocabulary, and spelling.  I say aid because research shows a proven method of teaching dyslexics to read, write and spell is the Orton-Gillingham method, which is explicit phonics using multi-sensory means, not necessarily a CM method.  Copywork alone would not be enough to teach a dyslexic to spell.  However, it's a great tool for the student to see how language flows as well as giving examples of good grammar.  I actually use All About Spelling to teach spelling. 

Something I love about the CM method is reading quality literature (living books) and narration with my dyslexics. Since dyslexia is not a cognitive delay linked to intelligence, they are very capable of understanding and appreciating literature far above their reading level.  I read aloud to them daily and they narrate or tell back in their own words what I read.   Since dyslexics often struggle with writing, oral narration allows the kids to think through the information and communicate it back in a way that truly reflects their intellectual ability.  They are not stifled by pencil/paper.  My kids narrate and do other work orally longer than Charlotte's recommended age, but eventually they do transition to pencil/paper. 

I use prepared dictation, again not necessarily only for spelling, but for sentence structure, punctuation, capitalization, and listening comprehension.  I've just started a more formal prepared dictation with RileyAnn this year in 6th grade.  We are using Spelling Wisdom by Simply Charlotte Mason two days per week.  I typically have her write only one sentence from prepared dictation and use the rest of the passage for copywork.  Since memorization is often an issue for dyslexics, using only one sentence at a time takes the pressure off and allows the student to focus on accuracy of a shorter passage.  I have not used prepared dictation with Ruben thus far.    

RileyAnn has been studying grammar in some shape for the past couple of years as Charlotte proposed beginning the study of grammar around age 10.  I've used Sonlight Language Arts and Michael Clay Thompson Town Level with her.  I tried Easy Grammar with Ruben last year in 4th grade, but he was not ready.  A child should be reading and beginning to write before studying grammar.

This year, both children are working through Using Language Well.  So far, it's going well.  I will go back to Michael Clay Thompson at some point with RileyAnn, possibly next year.  I also have Winston Grammar, which is more multi-sensory, on my shelf and may use it with Ruben down the road.  I don't believe grammar is a subject to be studied annually throughout a child's entire academia, but rather it should be used as a tool to improve writing.  

Beginning Reading is probably the area I stray from Charlotte's methods most.  Charlotte used the look-say or sight reading method.  As mentioned above the Orton-Gilliingham method or multi-sensory explicit phonics instruction is a preferred method for teaching dyslexics to read.  Programs like All About Reading, Barton Reading and Spelling, and ABeCeDarian work well for dyslexics beginning to read.

Charlotte advocated getting children into reading their own books as soon as possible.  Since reading is a laborious task for dyslexics, I advocate reading aloud to your dyslexic student or the use of audio books.  I do think it's possible for a dyslexic student to work through a program like Ambleside Online in an auditory fashion.  When Reading for Instruction, the key is to find the most accessible way for the child to take in, process, and give back the information.

Charlotte was a huge proponent of poetry, Plutarch, and Shakespeare.   RileyAnn does read poetry on her own using the Poetry for Young People series.  She also read Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare.  In addition, I read aloud poetry and Plutarch to both Riley and Ruben.  Ruben has not yet experienced Shakespeare.  I'm trying to decide whether I will read it aloud or use another audio source for him.

Something I love about the Charlotte Mason method is the integration of subjects.  I can incorporate many of the language arts methods listed above into history, science, Bible, geography, etc, while reading great living books.  Introducing students to people, places, and events through biographies, autobiographies, and historical fiction gives them ideas that build lasting connections rather than dry, isolated facts and dates, which will not stick in the dyslexic mind.

Lastly, Charlotte proposed teaching mathematics through the use of manipulatives rather than rote memorization and by giving the student practical examples of math in real life when it came to operations, fractions, measuring, money, etc.  This hands on, multi-sensory method is perfect for dyslexics.  It helps the child see the big picture and understand the why behind the how.  

Hopefully, I've shown you how to use the Charlotte Mason method successfully with dyslexics.  Through short lessons, varying the order of subjects, and with slight modifications, the Charlotte Mason method works!

For further explanation on using the Charlotte Mason method with dyslexics, check out The Best Homeschool Method for the Dyslexic Learner - Charlotte Mason by Marianne Sunderland or Charlotte Mason and Learning Disabilities at Gleams of Sunshine.  Ambleside Online also has a page dedicated to using Charlotte's methods with special needs students.  


  1. Thanks for sharing this valuable method for people who suffer from dyslexia. Recently, I came across with these glasses for visual disability which I found very interesting. Although this technology was originally created for visual disability, it does work for people who have reading difficulties, dyslexia or low vision.

  2. Hello,
    I have 5 kids, 2 of them were diagnosed dyslexic. I am wondering if written narrations were enough for your children? Our evaluator said they need explicit instruction in writing, spelling, and reading.

    1. That is an excellent question! My daughter, who has dyslexic tendencies but no formal diagnosis, is an outstanding narrator and more than capable of composing her thoughts, both orally and on paper. However, she needed a ton of explicit instruction in spelling. She reads well and did fine with explicit phonics instruction. My son, who has a formal dyslexia diagnosis, needed explicit instruction in reading and spelling and writing. However, he can also narrate orally and we're working on pencil/paper narrations. So, with that said, I would agree that explicit instruction can be necessary in various language arts areas. However, I wouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Narration absolutely serves a very important role in every child's life, including those with dyslexia. I love Charlotte Mason's methods with my dyslexic children for a variety of reasons, as stated, including short lessons, delayed formal writing expectations, so much oral work, living books, etc. Narration is difficult and like anything hard, requires diligence and effort. I believe it's an excellent way to exercise the mind!