Hands-On Activities For The Struggling Reader (that really work!)
All week long, I have shared how I plan for a new school year.
For Friday Fun-Day, I wanted to wrap up the week with some real life examples of how hands-on learning layers into my curriculum choices, particularly for my youngest son.
Although I add as much hands-on as I can to every single subject, the truth is, the one that gets most of my creativity and attention is reading. Because he is profoundly dyslexic, this is the area that needs the most practice. It is also the one that requires a drastically different approach than what I find in typical learning programs.
With that in mind, I am sharing this still, very present, part of our days post from 2016.
Friday Fun-days: 52 weeks of Easy For Mom Activities
My youngest son is ten years old.
He is 100% sure that he is a man now, except for the times that he is 100% sure that he would much rather be a little boy. He waffles between asserting his independence and crawling up on my lap to snuggle.
And the older he gets, the more he worries about his reading level.
My son is profoundly dyslexic. He has been patiently, diligently, painfully studying this complex thing we call written language for six full years now. And, most of the time, it still escapes him.
At ten, he has become fatigued with it all. He is tired of the flashcards, the read-alouds, and the worksheets.
At ten, he looks at his older brother, with his nose shoved in a college level book and says, “I just want to read. For real. Not the baby books.”
At ten, he is beginning to feel defeated. For the first time, I have seen him begin to doubt that it is going to work – that his hard work will pay off. He is losing confidence in eventually learning to read fluently.
In addition to praying for patience for me, and encouragement for him, I have found the only way to keep my all boy, super active, wicked smart, but still wavering between a 1st and 2nd grade reading level boy engaged, is to make his reading lessons as hands on, and physical as possible.
And guess what? The more I incorporate hands-on activities into our day, the more he is learning.
He is learning to read faster.
It is “sticking” more than it ever did.
He is growing in confidence, because for whatever reason when he is engaged in physical activities, the words click with less effort.
Hands-on activities have changed our entire approach to learning.
Today, I want to share some of his favorites activities for reading practice.
1. Bubble Wrap Flash Cards
This is by far one of his favorites. It involves a piece of bubble wrap on the floor and flashcards placed in rows on top of it. He stomps on the card, once he has read the word, and the bubble wrap does what bubble wrap does. It satisfyingly pops.
2. Soapy Spelling
In this activity, I mix a little bit of non-toxic dish soap with water, in a bowl. Then we head outside to the sidewalk, pour the mixture out, and practice writing his spelling words. This one is great because it is so easy to clean up. Just a little more water and it’s clean as a whistle.
3. Sight Word Twister
This one is so much fun, for both of us. Using the Twister Game Mat, I place flash cards with sight words in various circles. Then, as he plays the game, he reads the cards as his moves his hands and feet from one circle to the next.
4. Play-Doh Phonograms
Anytime I introduce a new phonogram (i.e. -ck or -th), the very first thing we do is create the letters in Play-Doh. This serves two purposes. Number one, it keeps his hands busy and brain engaged, while I explain the sounds and their uses in language. And number two, it allows him to three-dimensionally see the letters. This has been HUGE for us. For years, he struggled to understand the difference between ‘H’ and ‘I’. The reason is that when you write a capital ‘I’, it is with the line on the top and on the bottom. If you take that capital ‘I’ in written form, and turn it on its side, it becomes an ‘H’. To him, it was like taking a chair and putting it on its side and then trying to tell him it was no longer a chair, but something new. But we have found that by forming the letters himself, he is able to more concretely see the difference.
The best part about these activities is that they are super simple and actually time savers! Because they require very little prep for me (and very little clean-up), and because he is engaged and excited to complete them, we actually spend less time on reading now (because we are not arguing and melting down over another worksheet or baby reader).
5. Wooden Montessori Letters
I use All About Reading and All About Spelling to guide me in teaching my son. I have found them to be the most flexible and user-friendly – and I love that they were designed by a mom whose son struggled for years to learn to read! I highly, highly recommend this program for struggling readers or readers that need a unique approach.
I find myself often using these wooden letters along with the AAR program. Honestly, these gorgeous, hands-on tools for spelling and reading are one of the best investments I have ever made in my son’s learning!
Update: It’s been more than two years since we started using these types of activities in our learning, and we still use them today. (The only difference is that my ten year old is now twelve and thinks Play-Doh is for babies. We use potter’s clay instead, but the learning is exactly the same!)
Hands-on reading activities have been a huge benefit in our home. Perhaps they will work for your struggling reader as well!
Shawna Wingert is a special education teacher turned educational consultant, and mom of two brilliant boys who have learning differences and special needs.
Shawna has also written four books: Everyday Autism, Special Education at Home, Parenting Chaos, and Homeschooling Your Child With Special Needs. A passionate advocate for individualized education, Shawna is frequently featured on Today.com, Simple Homeschool, Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers and The Mighty. She can also be found supporting parents online at her own site, DifferentByDesignLearning.com.