Don’t fill up on Dessert

My oldest was a natural born student.  When I started homeschooling him for Kindergarten, he was already reading well.  I had just one other child at the time, a baby.  The meat and potatoes of our school day were easily and quickly accomplished, leaving lots of time for dessert: history, science and enrichment.

Things have been different this time around.  My second-born, now 9 years old, has dyslexia.  He wasn’t reading when he started Kindergarten.  Not even when he started first grade.  And only painstakingly by the end of second grade.

His younger brother is bright and lively, full of the energy that characterizes little boys.  He started doing in preschool what his dyslexic brother was doing, and they’ve basically kept a close pace with each other ever since, despite their two year difference in age.

Today, the dyslexic fourth grader is FINALLY, ACTUALLY reading on grade level!!  He isn’t spelling on grade level yet, but he is definitely achieving spelling success.  He is learning rules and words, and doing way better on dictation exercises than ever before.  My second grader is slightly above grade level, and learning to write and spell with more ease.

How did we get here?  Little by little.

I’ll be honest:  history, science, literature, art, and music are my favorite things to teach.  With my oldest, it was a virtual buffet of enrichment.  But these younger boys have needed a LOT more time dedicated to just getting down the basics.  They needed more time to build the foundation upon which all these other exciting subjects could rest.

It hasn’t been easy for me to back off on enrichment topics and spend much of our day on the 3 R’s.  But it is yielding incredible results.  I’ve never given up on history or science altogether…it is important for kids to have those subjects as a regular part of their school week.  But I’ve learned to treat it as the dessert, to be enjoyed in moderation after the meat and potatoes have been eaten.

And now we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.  I am confident that by the time we begin our next school year, both of these boys will be “reading to learn”.  In other words, they’ll be able to sit down with an age-appropriate book on a history or science topic and read it to themselves.  This will open a whole new world for them, and more opportunities to delve into the dessert.  Also on the horizon is the ability to write a few original sentences about a given topic.  This was something my dyslexic son was completely incapable of doing 2 years ago when he was tested.  But little by little, we are getting there!

In addition to math, our morning “meat and potatoes” includes:

Spelling:  We are using All About Spelling.  This has been a fantastic program for both boys, helping them learn spelling rules as well as how to apply them.  The magnets appeal to my kinesthetic, busy 2nd grader.  The rules have helped my dyslexic son make sense of spelling, giving him some mental pegs to hang things on.

Writing:  We put creative writing on hold for the time being.  Instead, we are doing Writing with Ease by Susan Wise Bauer.  It dovetails well with her grammar program, which we are also using. Doing both programs means that common grammar and writing themes are regularly reinforced.

Writing with Ease (we’re in book 2 currently) gives sentences for the children to copy, and then to write from dictation.  They are also being taught how to summarize a passage of literature.  The combination of summarization and dictation are preparing them for the next step: original writing.  I’ve heard book 3 is overly challenging, with very long dictation passages.  We are enjoying book 2, though, and it is helping the boys with handwriting, grammar, narration skills and learning the mechanics of writing sentences.  Dictation teaches them to form a picture in their minds of a sentence and then transfer that onto paper, strengthening their visual memory.  For more about this series, read my review on Curriculum Choice.

Reading:  For more detail on how I approach reading, please read my article about the four types of reading for emerging readers.  My boys each use a graded reader currently (Pathway readers are wonderful, gradually increasing a child’s skill without him even realizing it from level to level).  Until recently, the boys would always read these books aloud to me.  Now they are getting to a level that I can trust they understand what they are reading, so they are beginning to read these books silently to themselves.  This is a good transition for a child to make, as he will spend most of his school career reading silently.  We also read faster and often understand more when we read silently.

One concern, particularly with dyslexics, is that they will probably skip words.  I’ve made my peace with this.  The main point is whether he understands what he read.  I sit down regularly with each boy and ask several detailed questions about their reading to check comprehension.  We began doing this daily and now I check a couple times a week, as their reading ability and comprehension have improved dramatically.

We also do choral reading of chapter books: the two boys and I sit down together daily and each of us take turns reading the pages.  This is really building confidence, as they are easily making it through chapter books working together in this fashion.  The next step is sitting down with a chapter book alone.  Truth be told, both of them could do it already if they just had that confidence in themselves!  They’ll get there soon, though.  I always choose chapter books that are about history topics.  This is an important way to kill two birds with one stone: we are getting some enrichment time while practicing reading at the same time. Most importantly, it is teaching the boys that they can read to learn, not just for fun.

Learning by listening:
We also do a lot of read-alouds and, of course, My Audio School books daily.  This strengthens the boys’ vocabulary, increases comprehension, and stretches their ability to read new words which they’ve heard during their listening time.  They also love it.  I can honestly say that the introduction of audio books has caused my dyslexic child to enjoy school for the first time. It’s his favorite part of the day.

There have been many, many days over the years when this steady diet of meat and potatoes has become bland, for me as well as for them!  Sometimes I have felt guilty that their school experience hasn’t had all the bells and whistles that my oldest son got to enjoy.  But perseverance has truly begun to yield its fruits.  I try to keep all lessons fairly brief, Charlotte Mason style, making sure to cover each subject every day.  We can fit all of this in before lunch, and still have some time left in the day’s schedule for dessert.

This is the second post in the series The Dyslexic Child.  Click here to read Could My Child Be Dyslexic?

I also have two posts about spelling for dyslexics:  Spelling with Clay and File Folder Spelling.


  1. With your 4th grade son when did you start First Language Lessons? (I’m assuming you used it because you said Writing with Ease went well with your grammar program.) My 2nd grade son is reading still very slowly. We’re using All About Spelling and it is wonderful! I had tried to start FLL at the beginning of the year and I just fizzled out. He probably could have done it though. Did you use it with your dyslexic son when he was older? I was wondering if I should try it with my son next year or if I should try to find something else.

  2. I can relate to several things in this post, but one comment that grabbed my attention was when you said that you feel guilty that you can’t do all the extras that you did with your first child.
    I have felt that exact same way. When I was schooling just one and the other was a baby, it seemed my creativity and time was abundant. Slowly, over the years, we’ve had to go to more of the basics and cut out alot of the “dessert”.

    In fact, I just told my younger one yesterday, that we were going to be concentrating on the three “R’s” from now until the end of the year, and that his other subjects would have to be put aside for a while.

    Sometimes it’s better and more effective to just do the basics.

  3. Thank you for your curriculum suggestions. I have 3 dyslexics, but my youngest one, who is 9 is my most severely dyslexic child. He is still struggling with 1st grade books in 3rd grade!

  4. First Language Lessons is designed to be spread out over two years (first and second grade). I also tried this when my dyslexic son was younger and he just wasn’t ready for grammar. So we are doing it this year, but speeding up the pace to complete the entire book in one school year. My dyslexic son is in 4th grade and his younger brother is in 2nd grade.

    It has been fairly easy this time to get through this book, doing a few lessons daily. I skip most of the copywork and all of the narration, since we are also doing Writing with Ease.

    Next year I plan to do Bauer’s 3rd grade grammar book with the boys. To me, it makes sense to add in grammar as a child is ready and not before. If they don’t have a good grasp of reading, writing and spelling, grammar is of little use anyway and will just be confusing. Waiting awhile has helped and now he is picking up concepts easily.

    We do a lot of the book orally, too. My dyslexic is an audio learner, so Bauer’s grammar chants and focus on discussion has been a great fit for him.

  5. Thank you Molly 🙂 I will try FLL again later when I think he might be more ready.

  6. Your post in many ways reminds me of some of the things I am dealing with in our homeschool. One child took to reading like a duck to water; for another it was the slowly but surely approach. One child spells well and phonetically; another has no clue about the rhyme and reason of spelling.

    This is our first year of actually doing spelling as a subject, and next year I hope to use something different for that child. Something hopefully that will be more helpful for her and for me.

    Writing with ease is a resource unfamiliar to me. Thank you for sharing what you are using and how helpful it is. I am going to prayerfully look at this. We have been doing copywork this year and dictation. WWE may be a good way to combine the two and get added benefits in return.

  7. I feel so encouraged by your post. I began h’sing our oldest (a reluctant reader/writer) at age 5. I went heavy on the “dessert” b/c I wanted to fuel a love or learning and not concentrate on the topics he loathed (reading/writing). He is finally an independent reader and enjoys it now, but this year I am concentrating more heavily on the 3R’s (especially handwriting) and not doing as much dessert. I feel somewhat guilty b/c he remembers all the fun stuff we did and wonders why we don’t do as much now, but hopefully this is just a season. We also use Writing With Ease and All About Spelling and both have made these subjects less painful for us. 🙂


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