I started home educating before I had any idea that my daughter might have any learning difficulties. She was clearly a bright child, making her milestones, curious and interested, and extremely conversational. I am not British and was not impressed with what I saw as the products of the British educational system: Intelligent people with degrees whose knowledge was yet very weak. I investigated alternatives and eventually decided on home education.
I am naturally academic (my father was a professor of biochemistry and I grew up on the university campus; my mother a lover of literature who eventually trained as a librarian). I wanted to give my daughter a rigorous but engaging education that still followed her interests. We have attempted unschooling for a few months (it sounds like such a good idea!) but the truth is that neither of us thrive with unschooling. We are both much happier with a structured routine to our days — spelling then maths, history then violin practice. Short, intense, focussed lessons work well and provide for steady progress.
I first realised that my daughter might have learning difficulties with reading when she wanted to read (oh, so desperately!) and met all the “reading readiness markers”, but was still unable to learn to read. It was not until then that I learned that 3 out of 5 of my husband’s immediate family have severe dyslexia! We eventually paid for a diagnosis, which was reassuring in that they told me that I was already doing everything right and that she would eventually learn to read. (It was also helpful in dealing with members of my family who were not encouraging of home education; my husband’s family, experienced with dyslexia, were not worried!)
It was years of hard work for both of us. We slogged our way slowly through All About Reading (and are still finishing off its sister programme, All About Spelling). I would sit up every night writing extra reading practice for her, using the Lang fairy books as inspiration for stories she had never heard and which would be, to her, worth the work of decoding. I would recommend All About Reading; I also found The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller helpful. We also did hours of read-alouds (that is, me reading aloud!) and invested heavily in audiobooks. Audiobooks are wonderful for people with dyslexia; they provide access to great literature, proper grammar, and advanced vocabulary when children are still unable to read for themselves. Reading aloud does this too, of course, and also builds relationship; but I cannot hope to match the 90 or so hours of audiobooks that my daughter listens to every month! (Listening and re-listening to favourite books.) Librivox is a wonderful place for free audiobooks, if you search out the best readers (Karen Savage, Adrian Praetzellis, etc). We also did poetry teatimes once a month, taking turns choosing poems while we ate special treats.
Then one day my daughter picked up a book that we had done as a read-aloud previously (above her “age-appropriate” level!) and started reading. She now reads Shakespeare for pleasure, and spends hours immersed in the Oxford Book of English Verse. She wants a set of Jane Austens for Christmas. A few years ago I could not have imagined this!