about special needs

Homeschooling a Child with Dyslexia

When one of my children was eight years old, she was diagnosed with severe to profound dyslexia. The person who tested her suggested that I lower my expectations, focus on the basics of English reading, and give up on Hebrew altogether. Fortunately, we had already been homeschooling all of our children, which gave this child the optimal environment to learn at her own pace and in her own way. Now she is in high school and, thank G-d, doing well academically. She especially enjoys Judaic studies and is able to study Hebrew texts in the original.

Many parents of children with learning differences find that their children thrive when homeschooling. Without the pressure of school and the need to conform to a standardized curriculum, children with dyslexia defy all expectations and, in the long term, are no less successful than typical learners.

Here is what I learned in my experience of homeschooling two children with dyslexia.

First off, a dyslexia diagnosis is not a tragedy. Your child is not defective and does not need to be fixed. He or she just learns in a different way. It’s not better or worse. It’s different. In fact, Drs. Brock and Fernette Eide wrote a book entitled The Dyslexic Advantage, where they argue that dyslexia is not a disability but a unique learning style that creates certain advantages in school, at work, and at home.

Once your child is all grown up, nobody will care when they learned to read. It makes no difference long term, as long as the child is given the space to be themselves and learn in their own way. My completely unprofessional opinion is that the worst consequence of dyslexia is not the learning issues themselves, but the reaction of the people surrounding the child. When people constantly comment, with a deep sigh, that this child is 7, or 8, or 9, or 10, and is still not reading, that’s what hurts the child. Not only in terms of self-esteem, but in terms of motivation. If the rest of the world feels that they’re not measuring up, then they’ll internalize this attitude and believe that they’re not capable. And then they’ll stop trying. And then it will be much harder to get them beyond kindergarten reading level. Kids learn to read when they believe they can learn. Instead of bemoaning dyslexia or comparing their reading progress to other children their age, it’s very important to explain to these kids that they will get there eventually, just in their own way and at their own pace.

That’s probably the most important point, more important than which reading program you use. Normalize the child’s experience. Put them in touch with others, especially adults, with dyslexia, who can reassure them that they’ll do just fine. Tell them about famous people with dyslexia who were tremendously successful. Talk to them about the advantages of dyslexia that can help them succeed in life. Note that in order for your words of encouragement to reach your child’s heart you must truly believe in them yourself. If you still feel that dyslexia is a tragedy, you might want to read some relevant books, like The Dyslexic Advantage mentioned above.

Next in importance: capitalize on the child’s strengths. Reading and spelling do not define your child. There is a lot more to your child than their learning difference. Get to know them and truly appreciate them for the amazing young people they are. Point out their strengths, give the child time and space to pursue their talents, encourage them to spend time on the things they are good at. That will build up their confidence and resilience and give them the strength to tackle those areas where they are struggling.

A word of caution: do not praise your child for succeeding in pursuits that you do not truly value, especially in contrast to their difficulties with something that is more important to you. Do not tell them that even though they are struggling with reading they are good at cooking, unless you truly value cooking as much as you value reading. Be sincere in expressing your appreciation for what your child does well. If you can’t think of anything your child is good at that is at least as valuable to you as reading and spelling then perhaps you should spend more time with your child and discover aspects of them that you’d previously missed.

Next: exercise patience. No matter which program you choose, it might take a looong time for the child to get to grade level in reading and spelling, even if they are above grade level in other subjects. Find other ways for the child to get access to other subjects and things they’re interested in. This could be audiobooks, videos, hands on activities, and my personal favorite: read aloud to your child.

That should be a point on its own: in order for your child to be motivated to learn to read, they need to love books. They develop this love by spending much time with parents and siblings listening to books read to them. They must be good books, engaging enough so that the child can’t wait to listen to the next chapter.

Another advantage of reading aloud and audiobooks is that the child develops an advanced vocabulary, which makes it easier for them later on to recognize words they read.

Next: look into underlying issues of your child’s struggles and address them if necessary. Test the child’s hearing. If hearing is fine but the child still has trouble distinguishing between different sounds, speech therapy could make a big difference. Also test the child’s vision. If vision is fine, but the child sees letters as wiggling bouncing, they may benefit from vision therapy. Also look into symbol processing and see if your child could use extra help with that.

Finally, which reading program is best? There is no one answer. Each child is different, and choosing the right program often involves trial and error. And more patience. In my experience, more important than the program is the child’s readiness for it. Learning to read proceeds in a certain sequence. As long as you’re doing the right things — talking about sounds and syllables, rhyming, and other pre-reading stuff — you’re on the right track.

For the daughter I mentioned above, we hired a tutor who worked with her twice a week using the Orton Gillingham approach. For another child with dyslexia, we were fortunate enough to get a free trial of CAPIT Reading, developed by fellow Jewish homeschoolers Tzippy and Eyal Rav-Noy. It was still in the development stage then, and we got lots of support from Tzippy and Eyal. They’ve been very helpful and encouraging. Their website is capitlearning.com

But really, all these programs just give the kids the tools. It’s up to them to pick up a book and put these tools to good use. And for that they need motivation and self-confidence, as I mentioned above. My daughter is now reading the same thick books for pleasure as her non-dyslexic siblings. She came so far because she was very motivated and worked hard on her own.

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Update — More User-Friendly Tanach Curriculum Guide

We’ve made the Tanach Curriculum Guide easier to use! The Jewish literature, music, and art for each month are now all linked online on their respective pages. If you bought the paperback version of the curriculum, you no longer need to retype the long URLs into your browser. Just go to these pages!

Jewish literature for the Tanach Curriculum Guide

Music for the Tanach Curriculum Guide

Art for the Tanach Curriculum

In addition, The Return and Other Stories by Yehudis Litvak, used in the Tanach Curriculum Guide, is now available in two formats: PDF and Amazon Kindle.

Hope these updates will help you in your homeschooling! As usual, we welcome your feedback. Please let us know if there is anything else we can do to enhance your family’s homeschooling journey!

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What’s New for the New Year

With the approach of Rosh Hashana, we reflect on our accomplishments of the past year and resolve to accomplish even more in the coming year. At Ani VeAmi, at this time of introspection we’ve put much thought into homeschooling our own children. We’ve designed the kind of curriculum that we’ve always wanted to use with our families, and last year, we successfully used it in our homes. This year, we strove to improve on last year’s successes.

To this end, we recently redesigned the first level of our history curriculum, the Tanakh era, and added another level, the Talmud era. We’ve also added the Talmud Curriculum Guide, with pre-planned materials for each week of the school year, in the same format as the Tanach Curriculum Guide. We are delighted to share this year’s new additions with all of you, and we hope your family enjoys them as much as ours have.

Other updates:

We’ve added a video Welcome Tour to our website that will, hopefully, make it easier for you to navigate the curriculum and use it as best fits your family’s needs.

We’ve partnered with Cheder at Home to provide you with video reviews of our recommended products and to let you know about their other informative videos.

We’ve also partnered with Charlotte Mason Plenary and hope to soon bring you custom plans for your family. If you need additional help in making Ani VeAmi work for you, private consultations with our own Amy Bodkin are available through Charlotte Mason Plenary. Amy is a treasure trove of homeschooling information for all families, and she is especially passionate about customizing the curriculum for children with special needs.

We hope these new additions will enhance your homeschooling experience this year. We wish you much success in this precious endeavor! Shana tova from all of us at Ani VeAmi!

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Back to School Giveaway

Barbara Diamond Goldin’s Family Book of Midrash Giveaway!

This week’s giveaway is the book The Family Book of Midrash: 52 Jewish Stories from the Sages by Barbara Diamond Goldin. It’s a collection of beautifully retold classic stories from the Talmud and Midrash. The stories introduce children to a wide range of Biblical and Talmudic personalities. While dialog and historically appropriate details are added to the stories, the author stays very close to the original sources, which are cited after each story. Clearly, a tremendous amount of reseach went into this book, and we are grateful to the author for her generosity in sharing this wonderful book with us. This book will be included in the Ani Ve-Ami curriculum, in the Talmud time period.

A table of contents and a sample are available on Amazon at the link below:

To enter the giveaway, please do one or more of the following. You may have up to six entries.

  1. Visit Barbara Diamond Goldin’s website and comment on this post about which of her books you’d like to read.
  2. Like Ani Ve-Ami on Facebook and comment on this post to let us know
  3. Subscribe to Ani Ve-Ami and comment on this post to let us know
  4. Join Ani Ve-Ami group on Facebook and comment on this post to let us know
  5. Share this giveaway on any social media platform and comment on this post to let us know where you shared it
  6. Let us know in a comment on this post what your favorite part of Ani Ve-Ami has been so far

Good luck!

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about Ani ve-ami

Coming soon: Ani Ve-Ami Curriculum Guide: Tanach

The following is the Foreword from the curriculum guide that I’m currently working on, just to give you an idea of what it will contain. I’d love feedback! Please let me know if there is anything else you’d like to see included.

————-

Welcome to the Ani Ve-ami Curriculum! This guide will help you navigate the curriculum and customize it to best fit your family’s needs.
This guide covers:
– Tanach
– Jewish history
– Jewish literature
– Grammar
– Jewish music
– Jewish art
– Jewish poetry
– Geography

Additional materials needed:
– notebook (for each child)
– drawing paper
– pens, pencils, crayons

Books:
– Tanach (Hebrew, English, or both)
– A Treasury of Aggadah on the Torah (4 volume set) and A Treasury of Aggadah on Nach (4 volume set) OR Little Midrash Says on the Parsha (5 volume set) and Family Midrash Says (7 volume set)
– The Prisoner and Other Tales of Faith by Salomon Alter Halpern (published by Feldheim)

To complete the curriculum, you will need:
– Ani Ve-ami Jewish Year Guide
– Ani Ve-ami Weekly Parsha Guide
– Ani Ve-ami Secular History and Literature Guide: Early Ancient
– a math curriculum of your choice (see ani-ve-ami.com for recommendations)
– a science curriculum of your choice (see ani-ve-ami.com for recommendations)
– a Hebrew language curriculum of your choice, as well as textual study resources, if desired (see ani-ve-ami.com for recommendations)

A list of books for (optional) additional reading, as well as a list of recommended music and art, can be found in Appendix A.

This guide breaks up the school year into ten month-long units. While most homeschoolers will begin using this curriculum in September, some families might structure their school year differently, or might begin Ani Ve-ami mid-year. For this reason, the months are numbered, but not named. It is up to each family to decide how the monthly breakdown corresponds to their own schedule.
In addition, some families may choose to go through the curriculum at a quicker pace, while others may find it more effective to slow down and spend more than a month on each unit. Perhaps your children are especially interested in a specific unit, or perhaps, you have a child with special needs who takes longer to absorb the material, or perhaps your family loves to travel or is otherwise too busy to fit everything in this guide into a tight schedule. That’s perfectly fine. There is no right or wrong here. This curriculum is meant to be adjusted for your family’s unique needs.
This guide is intended for the whole family. The guidelines below describe how to use it for multiple children of different ages. Each child will be working on their own level, while at the same time participating in relevant family activities.
For each monthly unit, this guide offers a brief summary, as well as recommended reading and, sometimes, additional reading. The additional reading will sometimes take longer and overlap with the next monthly unit. Don’t worry — some months don’t have additional reading, and you won’t fall behind.
If your children are young, you might want to omit the additional reading. If you have both older and younger children, you might use the recommended reading as a read aloud for the whole family and the additional reading as independent reading for your older children. If all your children are older, you can use both recommended and additional reading as read alouds, or you might assign some of either recommended or additional reading to your children to read independently. Feel free to experiment and see what works best for your family.
The monthly units also introduce your children to Jewish art, music, and poetry, with selections for each month that are relevant to the time period, either in content or because it was produced in that time period.

Each monthly unit contains three or four weekly units. Each weekly unit is based on a short story or a passage from the Tanach. In the beginning of the week, you can read the story or passage aloud to your children. In the following days, each of your children will do narration and copy work or dictation on the story or passage.
Depending on the age of the child, narration could be oral, pictorial, or written. For more on narration, see the How It Works section of the Ani Ve-ami website.
Each weekly unit contains a paragraph for copy work or dictation and a grammar exercise based on that paragraph. A younger child should only copy a sentence or two. An older child should copy the whole paragraph and do the grammar exercise that accompanies it. For more on copy work and dictation, see the How It Works section of the Ani Ve-ami website.
Some weekly units also contain maps and directions for map work. We recommend that you make a copy of the map for each of your children and let them do the map work on their own level, with your help if necessary.

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about Ani ve-ami

Original Texts vs. Midrashic Retelling: When to Use What

When approaching Torah studies, we recommended two categories of books: original sources and midrashic retellings. In this post, we will discuss when and how to use each of these categories.

According to Jewish tradition, the Torah that G-d gave to the Jewish people on Mt. Sinai consisted of two parts: written and oral. The Written Torah, known as the Chumash, or the Five Books of Moses, is impossible to understand without the much more extensive Oral Torah, which elaborates on the details not mentioned in writing. For example, while the Written Torah tells us to refrain from work Shabbos, it does not explain what is considered work. For practical guidance, we consult the oral tradition.

For generations, the Oral Torah was passed down from parents to children, from teachers to students. They took great care to pass the tradition accurately. Just like in homeschooling, the relationship between the teacher and the student, as well as between the student and the text, played an important role in the transmission.

Eventually came the time when, exiled and persecuted, the Jewish people were busy with basic survival and no longer able to assure accurate transmission of the oral tradition. The Sages decided to write down parts of the Oral Torah. We will elaborate on this, G-d willing, when we get to the next time period, the period of the Talmud.

Meanwhile, as we learn the Five Books of Moses, or the books of the Prophets, or Writings, it is important to keep in mind that they are meant to be understood within the context of the whole of Jewish tradition. Originally, the student would learn the text, and the teacher would fill in the gaps by providing the context of the oral tradition. Later in history, commentators, such as Rashi, committed this context into writing. Today, Torah teachers usually teach their students both the text and the traditional commentary.

The midrashic retellings we recommend in Ani Ve-Ami are based on the Oral Torah. Midrash (pl. midrashim) literally means an interpretation. Midrashim interpret the text, making it more accessible and palatable to its students.

Which brings us to our topic. What should homeschooling parents do?

The answer, as often the case in Judaism, is, it depends. If the parent is thoroughly familiar with Jewish tradition and feels confident teaching the texts directly and providing the context orally, that’s wonderful. Unfortunately, in today’s day and age, most of us are not so well educated. We tend to rely on books rather than our own memories and our own grasp of oral tradition. That is why the midrashic retellings are so valuable. They teach our children, and ourselves, the stories from the Torah in a much more enjoyable and memorable way. Instead of cut and dry text, we are given vivid details that touch our hearts and minds and stay with us for the rest of our lives.

So should we just give up on the original texts and only study midrashic interpretations? Absolutely not! It is important to distinguish between the text itself and the midrash, for several reasons.

First, there are various collections of midrashim, compiled by early Jewish sages. Some of these midrashim contradict each other. Clearly, they can’t all be true. Not all midrashim were meant to be understood literally. Many are parables, meant to teach us values, not facts. How do we know which midrashim are metaphorical? Well, the truth is, we don’t. But we do know that each and every midrash contains a valuable teaching. The midrashim need to be studied, over and over again, not as historical, but as ethical, truth.

Therefore, when a midrashic retelling adds details to a Torah story, we need to prepare our children, and ourselves, for the possibility that we might encounter another midrash that contradicts those details. Neither of the midrashim is “wrong.” They are both valuable. But as we learn more Torah, it is important to keep in mind what is in the text itself and forms the basis of Jewish tradition vs. what came from a midrash and constitutes a secondary teaching.

Second, there are different types of midrashim. By studying and analyzing them, we form a bigger picture of the Jewish tradition. More of that in the next time period, G-d willing.

And third, as a midrash says, there are seventy facets of the Torah. Each verse in the Torah is multifaceted and contains layers of meaning. Those who don’t distinguish between the text of the Torah and the midrashim are limiting themselves to the one and only understanding of the stories – the one in the particular midrashim they happen to study. But they might be missing as many as sixty nine other facets of the same text! There might be other midrashim, no less traditional, that they are simply not aware of, because they are too stuck on the ones that are familiar to them.

So where does this leave us practically? For young children, who do not yet have the capacity for abstract thought and the understanding that the same passage may have more than one meaning, the midrashic retellings are sufficient. As children grow and begin to think more abstractly, I continue reading midrashic retellings to them, but I point out which parts are written directly in the Torah and which come from a midrash. At the same time, we work on their textual skills and introduce the Chumash in the original, a little bit at a time. When the children are older, they begin studying the texts in the original, first with Rashi, then with other traditional commentators, who may bring contradictory opinions and midrashim.

And this learning continues throughout life, because we can never exhaust the whole body of Jewish tradition. There are always more facets to discover, more ways to gain a deeper and more complex understanding. So take a deep breath, don’t worry about getting it right – there is no such thing – and, most importantly, have fun! Learning Torah as a family is a wonderful experience that your children will remember for years to come.

 

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