A recent email from a fellow homeschool mom inspired me to pen a response to not only her, but also all of the homeschool parents out there. Learning Disabilities, including Dysgraphia, present a challenge to any homeschool parent. The email I received was a question from a reader struggling with teaching math to their eleven year old child, who has Dysgraphia. Here is a portion of the question she asked...
" I am a mom homeschooling my 11yr old son (5th grade) that has dysgraphia. This past year was our first year. He was tested / evaluated a year ago. and the private school he attended (since he was 4), told us the school will not make modifications, to find an alternative school, because dysgraphia is a learning disability. And, he would no longer be able to attend. So we started homeschooling. Since then its gone well, but our biggest problem is math. I would love to hear any suggestions you may have."
For those of you unfamiliar with Dysgraphia, it is considered a learning disability that makes written expression difficult. Organizing letters, numbers, words, and visual spacing can be a tedious process for those with Dysgraphia. Signs of this learning disability include difficulty forming letters and shapes, an inability to write within margins, exhaustion from writing tasks and trouble understanding upper and lowercase letters. This can be a challenge for students in math, as number orders, patterns and excessive writing calculations are prevalent. As each state varies it's definition of Dysgraphia, there is unfortunately no set standard for testing and follow up for a potential problem. In some areas a student with messy handwriting may be told he or she has Dysgraphia, which may or may not be the case.
For math instruction, using graph paper for working out number problems will help your child to organize his or her thoughts. If the paper sold in stores has squares that are too small for your child, with most being 1 cm squares, try getting a quilter's graphing booklet. With varied square sizes this is a potential option. Or, create your own to suit the specific needs of your child.
Besides graph paper, be sure to provide your child with math problems already written on a page, in a clear and uncluttered environment. Many children with Dysgraphia have difficulty copying problems from a text into a notebook or onto paper, so eliminate that step altogether.
Be sure to have a plan for your child when tackling word problems. Keep handy a set of procedures for reference such as:
1. Read the problem,
2. Think about and decide the operation needed to solve the problem.
3. Write the numerical sentence, or equation needed for an answer.
4. Calculate as needed to formulate an answer.
5. Label your answer and check your work.
Sometimes having this concrete list of line items can assist your homeschooler in tackling a word problem with a familiar and consistent method.
Use pictures, manipulatives and hands on materials whenever possible to demonstrate math lessons. For students with difficulty learning math facts, albeit addition or multiplication, offer songs and rhymes for fun, repetitive learning. Utilize charts, Venn Diagrams and pictographs when teaching a new concept to make it easier for your child to comprehend the lesson. Computer gaming, and using a keyboard or even a calculator, can also be a fun and effective way for many children with Dygraphia to practice math facts.
"Now for My Next Number!: Songs for Multiplying Fun" by Margaret Park is an excellent and entertaining singalong for homeschoolers. Jumpstart Adventures 6th Grade: Mission Earthquest from Knowledge Adventure is a wonderful resource for a sixth grade homeschooler. Maybe our fellow reader who inspired this article may find it useful and effective for teaching math. There are grade levels from Jumpstart for all grade levels as well, which are consistently resourceful and enjoyable for children. For anyone seeking additional information on Dysgraphia, a great book is "When Writing's a Problem: Understanding Dysgraphia and Helpful Hints for Reluctant Writers" by Regina G. Richards. Contact your pediatrician, school district or local learning center, too for support and resources.