Strategies for Hyperlexia – Part 1

Now that we’ve read about a gazillion articles on what it is…let’s get to work helping our little tykes out.  These first 3 strategies are easy to implement.  Part 2 will be a little more involved, and I’m working on finishing that right now.

Strategy 1: Embrace the written word.42079248

Captions:    This one is easy.  Start with captioning tv.  I don’t know about other parents, but we got rid of cable a couple of years ago and live off of Amazon now.  I love no commercials.  The great thing about this is that I can select the shows that I want the kids to watch – without commercials.  Besides, I’ve got a hunch that commercials are probably pretty confusing to a hyperlexic kiddo. For that matter, I’ll bet commercials are confusing to lots of young kids. Why interrupt the story for an advertisement for Legos?

Anyways, for every single show or movie they watch, make sure that the captions are always on.  Your hyperlexic kid is probably reading them.  The best part of this is that kids watch the same thing over and over and over… this means that they memorize where the written words are and are able to follow the actions and facial cues and expressions.  You are effectively putting words to actions.  That’s something that books have trouble doing – conveying actions and emotions with pictures. You have to look really hard to find one. This way, it isn’t work to the kids.  They have already memorized the movie anyways. This way they learn to comprehend reading the movie too.  And isn’t that really the goal?

Strategy 2: Embrace the technology at your fingertips. 

The iPad and Kindle have been some of the best tools for us in the years between 2 1/2 to 5.  There are so many apps that have visual tools for teaching vocabulary with pictures.  Some of them are fun.  Some of them are boring.  Here are a few that work for us. (In this case, sorry to Kindle but the iPad had more apps and it was generally more user friendly. I know the cost of an iPad is astronomical.  That’s why we buy them refurbished from Amazon and put an OtterBox on them.  Here’s one (as long as the link lasts).

Amazon apps:
       ABC Mouse – This one works great on a laptop too.  I was able to teach my son to use a mousepad on a small Mac laptop just before he turned 5 very easily using this program. We signed up for the year.  This is a really great one for learning reading comprehension.

 The classic Green Eggs and Ham

Oh the Places You’ll Go.

Really, you can’t go wrong with Dr. Seuss apps.  All are available in iTunes too!

iTunes Apps:  

(I’m working on getting these links – for now, a search in the App Store will pull these up quickly).

SpeechBox  (This one was really a hit)

Reading Raven 1 and 2 (fun and engaging, while teaching phonetics too – Win!)

Tally Tots

Oceans  (From Touch and Tilt, by Scholastic)

Dinosaurs  ((From Touch and Tilt, by Scholastic)

Flashcard apps (There are lots of these)

Bugs and Numbers 1 & 2 (This is actually a problem solving gaming app but it works awesome for the natural decoding nature of the hyperlexic kid)

Goodnight ABC

Alphabet Tracing

Pocket Chart Pro  (For your spacial learning kiddo – this one isn’t as “pretty” as other apps but it works great for reasoning out actions along with words)

Dexteria  and Dexteria Jr.  (helps with physical manipulation – which helps later when you teach them the mousepad on the laptop)

Articulation Station Pro  (This one works best as a homeschooling tool – meaning it’s not one they will naturally play with.  What I love about it? It helps to relate letters and phonetic sounds to where they might appear in a word – along with the flash cards to demonstrate it.)

 

Strategy 3:  YouTube can be your friend too

There area several channels on YouTube that can help your child more than you know.  A few of them may be designed for different situations, but they seem to help tremendously. I’d recommend setting up an account so that you can create a “favorites” list so that the you can get to the channels quickly. You have to set up a YouTube account to do that. However, if creating a YouTube account is not your thing, just type in these channel names and you will be all set.

StoryLine Online     This one is awesome and pretty soothing to the parent’s ears too.  These books are read by famous and talented screen actors who know how to bring lines to life.  Now I know, that doesn’t sound like something a Hyperlexic kid would get into – audible book reading.  I get it. Audible comprehension is often a big problem. But in this case, they use dramatic music, even some light animation, background sounds, and the actors are very talented at using voice inflection.  It makes the story jump off of the page for kids.  What’s great is that you can then buy the books so the kids can follow along.  They learn the inflection in the words and sounds and it does relay emotion, meaning, and context.  A few of our favorites were:  Library Lion, I Need My Monster, Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch, StellalunaHarry the Dirty Dog, The Rainbow Fish, and Gugi Gugi.

English Singsing   This is an interesting one, and a real eye opener for my kiddo. The animation is not exactly Pixar, but it is aimed at teaching kids who do not speak English as a primary language to learn English conversation and context- sound familiar?  I think it was created for kids who speak Mandarin but I could be way off.  They use dialogue situations, they put the words right on the screen, highlighting each word as they go.  They speak slowly and clearly. My son took to this so fast that he started correctly using the words and phrases within a day. Think about it – if we recognize we are teaching language as if it were a second language, there are tons of resources out there to help kids all around the world do that very thing . So tap into them.

Have Fun Teaching    Okay, so this isn’t one “specifically” geared to a hyperlexic kiddo. And yes, it sounds like the early 90’s boy band (remember New Kids on the Block?). But the kids LOVE this.  The science videos for seasons, weather, the water cycle, the planets, are a big hit for hyperlexic kids.  Why? Because they seem to respond really well to science, don’t they.  They love the stuff.  It’s not fiction so they aren’t just struggling to comprehend complex human interactions. They get to just have fun with some of their favorite subjects and dance and hop around at the same time.  This channel even has an exercise video. I was shocked to find my 5 year old hyperlexic kiddo doing pushups in the living room one day.  Remember that It’s okay for some things to just be fun.  Besides…I may or may not have danced to some of these songs too.  If you can actually listen to this music for 5 minutes and not bust out a move…you are stronger than I, my friend.

 

Summary of Strategies 1, 2, 3:   These are meant to be easy things to inject into your kid’s life.  They don’t require a ton of interaction from you just yet.  That’s okay.  Remember, these kids are already teaching themselves the written word (which is actually a human invention – and that’s kind of awesome by itself). It’s okay that a lot of these tools are ones that you can set up and run on auto pilot.  You’ve got a lot of your plate.  You probably have about a gazillion other things pulling your attention anyways.  These are meant to be aides and they do a good job, without driving you crazy.

Just remember this.  In the past, your little hyperlexic kiddo was called “bookish”.  It wasn’t a derogatory remark and I like it a lot.  This kind of description was one that wasn’t a snub.  At the end of the day,  your hyperlexic kiddo has his (or her) own journey and path to follow and we are really just the facilitators getting them to successful adulthood. These kids are destined for great things.  It’s sometimes referred to as the “Einstein syndrome” for a reason.  Enjoy the journey – and the challenges -and don’t be scared.  It’s a fun ride if you let it be.

A Very Visual Learner – So Which Curriculum?

A Comparison of A.C.E. vs Horizons For a Very Visual Learner. 

I’m early in my Homeschooling adventure.  My kids are 5, 4, and 2 1/2 (and minus 7 months but who’s counting). I will not claim to be good at this yet nor will I pretend to provide professional or experienced advice…because frankly, I just don’t have it yet.

They say experience is the name we give to our mistakes.  Let me introduce you to my first one and maybe I can help someone out there avoid making the same costly mistake.

IMG_3488I was so excited to get started homeschooling that when my son was the ripe old age of 3, I spent nearly $300 on a full scale curriculum.  I thought I had done my homework. I attended the homeschool conference in my area and I really liked what I saw with this curriculum.  It was HUGE. These 4 volumes are full and they are just the teacher’s manual.  It outlined
what you should do for every minute of every day.  It was a type A users dream come true (probably should have been my first warning).  It looked fantastic and exactly what I would have wanted for myself were I back in kindergarten. The program was A.C.E.  It had a gazillion of weekly workbooks covering lots of subjects.

The only problem was, I didn’t really know enough about my son’s learning abilities to recognize that it absolutely wouldn’t work for us.  The program was a highly “audible based” style of learning.  The parent (or teacher) would read a long story, with 1 picture only, and the kids were supposed to sit and listen and comprehend the story.  That sounds great…right up until you find out that you have a child who excels at learning visually and struggles audibly.

IMG_3487This program had a huge amount of weekly workbooks, and that looked great too – right up until I realized they did not include written instructions.  These were parent led instructions given “audibly” so you probably wouldn’t be able to pick one up and work through any of it without the lesson planning books to go along with them. The reading books were not really reading books.  They were pictures that supplemented a story that you read aloud – only.  At least, that’s as far as we got.

For my very visual learner with a couple auditory challenges, this wouldn’t cut it.  I went back to the drawing board.  For one thing, I needed to know more about my son and that took another couple of years.  He’s not just a visual learner, he is also hyperlexic.  Basically, this means that he is a natural de-coder of language and he was teaching himself to read using visual cues and basically memorizing his way through the entire English language.  This is good, even great…but challenging.  His comprehension didn’t work at the same speed as his memorization and decoding so we had to struggle to help him learn to fully understand what he was reading – and hearing!  Having him just “listen” wasn’t going to happen, because processing auditory language was at the other end of his abilities.  He could read it, but if I spoke it to him, his eyes would glaze over as I realized I probably sounded a lot like the teacher in a Charlie Brown  cartoon.  (Wha wha wha, wha wha!) This means that we have to go about learning language the hard way – i.e. as if audible language were his second language and reading was his first.

None of this is really a big deal though – unless you bought a curriculum that expects him to listen to a story and understand it.  It was utterly useless for us.

I visited the big homeschool store here in the Greater Houston area run by a homeschool family.  I asked the owner to show me very visual based programs for kindergarten.  She directed me to the Horizons program.

What a difference!    This program doesn’t require you to read 3-6 pages of “here is what you are going to do minute by minute for the entire day/week/month/year”.  I’m not saying that is bad.  It just didn’t work for me either.

Instead, this program has a small teachers guide that briefly and visually instructs you how to  demonstrate the daily lessons for that day using a whiteboard or other tactile objects.  It’s concise and let’s you get the information across quickly and succinctly – and most important, it’s very very very visual.

IMG_3489The instructions for each section are right on the workbook page too.  This means that my visual son was beginning to learn the pattern of the instructions and watch for changes between sections.  After 2 weeks, he was reading the instructions for the sections by himself and then following them correctly.  That’s not to say he just magically got it.  We had to work at that.  Lots of times, he would assume he knew what the instructions were asking and just start working away.  Hello big eraser!  Instead, I made him focus on the instructions, recognizing what instructions are, and how important they are because they tell us what to do.

One way I made him focus on comprehension was I made him start to underline certain words in the instructions. So if the instructions asked him to circle something, I would have him underline or circle that word in the instructions and then underline and circle whatever item the instructions indicated.

Another aspect of this program that I really like is it’s attention to learning spacial concepts very early: left, right, top, bottom, first, beginning, middle, end, inside, outside and so forth. They cover left and right very early and so it is easy to explain why we read and count from left to right and work that way too.  They cover beginning, middle, and end  as well because it’s important to recognize where letters might appear inside of words. The approach just makes sense.  It uses a spiral learning approach so that the same topic would be covered, and then reviewed, and the covered again so that it isn’t a “once and done” program.  In fairness to A.C.E, we didn’t get far enough into it to know if this is the same or different.  We sort of flopped right out the gate.  I did attempt to restart it a year later, but the results were no better.

Basically, we have progress and it is going so well.  My sons (I made the 4 year old start too) love the school room and getting to do “school”.  They love the workbook pages and they really love my whiteboard and large flip charts.

The ACE program went about things one way, and Horizons took a different approach.  Like I said, for some kids and classrooms, I bet the ACE program is outstanding.  But if you have a very visual learner – and especially if that learner has auditory challenges, this might not be as helpful as you think.  The Horizons program seems to be a better fit for us.  From a Mama perspective, I’d look long and hard look at both – especially the teacher’s manuals.  If it overwhelms you to look at the detail for a single day…

Please understand that I am not trying to say that A.C.E. is a bad program. The problem happens when  you don’t know much about your kids learning style – and really, how would you truly know that until you start getting into a kindergarten program.  And if you are a super overzealous parent like me, maybe hold off on buying an entire curriculum at 3, thinking you can get a head start.  I’ve got nothing against head starts, but reading the wise words of Charlotte Mason…don’t start too early.  But even if you do, try not to open up your wallet just yet.

 

Homeschool Meltdowns

We all have this idea – when we contemplate homeschooling – that homeschooling is going to be a little bit like learning while our kids exist in a constant state of wonder.  The environment will be engaging, beautiful, insightful, and little minds will naturally gravitate to the knowledge being gently unrolled in before them.

That’s…such a pretty thought. And so very very wrong.

For most of us, acquiring knowledge is a bit of struggle!  Especially for little ones.

Learning to read, learning phonics, following directions, proper penmanship, learning math rules…it can be a lot.  Add to that, you’ve got a parent that just wants to finish the day’s material…

It just doesn’t go that smoothly and one of the biggest reasons is that we don’t “give” our kids a pass.  They actually have to do, and comprehend, the material. If they zone out, you are going to know it. Unlike traditional classrooms, they are not hidden in a class of 30.  This means they are being scrutinized a lot more too.  That scrutiny, that demand for completion and correct action is absolute and from their perspective, we as parents may seem relentless in our demands.

That can be a lot for any kid.  So, expect meltdowns.  They are unavoidable.  At our house, they happen en masse.  If one starts, the others join in – including the 2 year old for reasons I don’t understand.

I read a beautiful blog post here.  It said something insightful about meltdowns.  They are not a hindrance to learning.  They are the opportunity.

Meltdowns will happen because education is not about curriculum.  Education is about becoming.  “…if education is about formation–about becoming something other than we are–then meltdowns are an opportunity.”

I wish I could have put that into words.  Thankfully, another Mama who has been in the homeschooling trenches did it for me – because I needed to read that today.