Jan Bedell, PhD, Master NeuroDevelopmentalist

The controversy, almost hostile conflict, over the best way to teach reading has been waged for decades. The pendulum seems to swing to one side or the other to an extreme. When the extreme is reached on either side of the issue, many children struggle to read and the pendulum swings back in the other direction. If you are a homeschool teacher of young children, chances are very good that phonics is your go-to approach. A conviction that phonics is basically the ONLY way to teach reading leaves many parents purchasing one phonics program after another to no avail. Maybe your current phonics program is failing to produce the reading level that you desire or maybe it worked for other children in the family but not for this particular child. Sound familiar?

Many years ago, when I was in elementary school, reading instruction was a whole word approach. I know that method works as I got through college on the Dean’s List. My first job after graduation was teaching kindergarten where phonics was required. I learned right along with the children and find it very helpful in decoding unknown words to this day.  

Don’t get me wrong, I love, love, love phonics as a way of teaching reading! I “taught” both of my girls to read in our homeschool with an intense phonics program. Actually, I successfully taught one of my girls to read with phonics and the other one struggled to read anything past a three-letter-word even though she mastered all 70 phonograms in isolation. I was perplexed, to say the least!

“Many families have been helped with the alternate approach to teaching reading. Children’s belief in themselves as readers has been restored with this different approach. “

I discovered that there are prerequisites to reading in general and for phonics specifically. One of those prerequisites is good auditory processing. Phonics is an auditory approach to reading. You have to hold pieces of information in sequential order and sometimes even a rule together in your short-term memory to decode the word. The capacity to hold auditory sequential pieces of information together is called your auditory processing ability. Without good auditory processing, phonics is a painful, frustrating and often an ineffective way to learn to read. The good news is that with practice, a person’s auditory processing can be raised and then phonics can be successful. An individual needs a strong level 5 or better yet, a 6 auditory digit span for phonics to work well. To get a free test kit to discover processing levels for your family members go to www.LittleGiantSteps.com. This information will give you a clue as to whether low processing is a root cause of an individual’s reading struggle. 

If your child’s auditory processing is low and reading recognition, as well as reading comprehension, are a challenge, a sight word approach to reading may be helpful. I know the following statements are almost heresy in the homeschool community, but let me ask you a question. Do you sound out each word when you read? No, absolutely not. After you learn a word, you never sound it out again as it would be to slow and laborious. 

Many families have been helped with the alternate approach to teaching reading. Children’s belief in themselves as readers has been restored with this different approach. 

  • While you are working on the child’s auditory processing for two minutes twice a day, teach “sight words” by flashing cards and telling the child what the word is. 
  • You can also read a sentence and have the child read the same sentence after you. This is called Echo Reading and is a temporary but very effective approach to building reading confidence!  

So how do you square up your belief that phonics is the best way to teach reading with this new information? Simple, as soon as your child’s auditory processing is at a level to handle phonics, go back to the phonics approach. In the meantime, your child has developed a really good sight word vocabulary and will feel encouraged by a new ability to read. The best of both worlds is now achieved! Your child has a head-start on identifying a word immediately and then will master an ability to phonically decode unknown words.     

If a phonics approach or the sight word approach is not effective in teaching a child to read, one must explore other root causes by looking at how the eyes are working or where information is being stored in the brain. For more information about The NeuroDevelopmental Approach to reading struggles, go to www.BrainCoachTips.com or Brain Coach Tips channel on YouTube and search “reading”.






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Jan Bedell Ph.D., M ND

God has truly given us an amazing gift that we are just now beginning to fully appreciate and use to help individuals function better. Scientists once thought that the brain was hard-wired and actually stopped developing after the first 18-20 years of life. They thought that connections were put in place between the brain’s cells during early “critical windows” and then were fixed in place as we age. Because of this belief, scientists also thought that if a particular area of the adult brain was damaged, the brain cells could not form new connections or regenerate, and the functions controlled by that area of the brain would be permanently lost.

The Amazing Brain
Neuro Developmentalists have demonstrated for over 60 years, and our recent imaging technology has proven the earlier scientists’ assumption of an unchangeable brain to be false. The brain has the ability to change and grow (neuroplasticity) throughout life. This is especially good news for our children with special or unique educational and functional needs.

We can all understand neuroplasticity in a practical way when we consider the recovery from a stroke. A stroke damages part of the brain and then the function of the individual is diminished. If the stroke victim regains function, this is proof of the life-long gift of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is, by definition, the brain’s ability to continue to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life.

Homeschooling Strategies for the Brain
What does this have to do with homeschool you might ask? It really has everything to do with your job as a homeschooling parent. You are actively using neuroplasticity every day with your children from birth and on through high school. You just may not have known the term for what you are doing before now.

When you stimulate an individual’s brain, you are building brain pathways. If those pathways are reinforced with enough frequency, intensity, and over a long enough period of time (duration), permanent function is achieved. We all want to be strategic with what we do, so let’s look at what actually constitutes effective stimulation.

Random Verses Specific Stimulation
There is a difference between specific and random stimulation. Random stimulation will not produce change quickly or efficiently. It produces change almost by accident. For example, in most kindergarten classrooms you will see a myriad of “random stimulation.” There are community helpers on this wall, number lines on that wall, on still another wall, you might find colors, shapes, and mixed in there somewhere is a calendar full of leaves for each day of the month inscribed with a number. Oh, and don’t forget the alphabet that is displayed with each letter being in the shape of an animal that starts with that sound. It is often hard to pick out the real letter from all the other “stuff” that surrounds it. This is all random information.

If you really want a child to know the letters by name and sound, show one letter on a single card in an easy to read font and tell the child what the letter and sound is. Better yet, teach all the letter names and then come back at a later time and just say the sound when you show the card. This is “specific” stimulation and will yield long-term retention of the information. If you teach these letters and sounds with the frequency, intensity, and duration principles, it will take you less time and will be more effective than asking for information to come out as often as most of us are inclined to do. Think about it, how many of us point to a letter or number and ask a small child to identify it instead of telling the child what it is? Me – guilty!

How to Get Specific in Your Teaching Strategy

Use these same frequency, intensity and duration principles to give input to the brain to teach anything you want a child to learn:

Frequency means having enough opportunity and repetition in order for the stimulation to produce a change in the brain and become learned information. Often we are focused on “testing” without ever properly putting the information in, and yet if I asked you if you test your child every day, you would probably say, “no.” Think of it this way. If you are asking a child to fill in a blank, it is really a “test” of his ability to do that task. When you have done a good job of putting information into the brain, the “test” is easy.

Intensity refers to the strength of the input of the stimulation. Is the stimulation at a level the individual is actively engaged with the information? Or has he/she “tuned out” through lack of intensity? In other words, you can drag an individual through an activity, but without a high level of involvement and interaction, lasting pathways will not be built and changes in the brain or learning will not occur.

Duration has a dual meaning. It refers to the time the stimulation is being given. Usually the shorter the duration the higher the intensity. Five or ten minutes of mathematics will have a far greater impact than coaxing a child through an hour of math that is done on his own. Duration also refers to staying with the stimulation for however long it takes to produce change. This could be days, weeks or months.

Learn more about how this principle of neuroplasticity through stimulating the brain with frequency, intensity, and duration applies to all learning in the podcast: Three Keys to Learning Anything found at this link or on our YouTube Channel – Brain Coach Tips.

Also, make sure to check out all the  SPED Homeschool podcasts.  Each week we interview a new guest on our show, covering a wide array of topics related to special education and homeschooling. 



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By Jan Bedell, PhD, M.ND

We all want our children to read so they can read God’s Word and get along better in the world. Much of learning comes through the ability to read. As moms, we often make it “our mission” for our children to read well. This is an admirable mission.

The Truth About Phonics
I am going to say something controversial now and get it out of the way. Are you ready? Here it is: Phonics may not be the best way for you to teach reading to a particular child. Unless foundational skills are in place, phonics will be ineffective. I know it may be a shock to hear me say that about phonics. This was quite a surprise when I first heard it as well. I had diligently been trying to teach my daughter with special needs to read with a phonics approach for five years!

Before my own attempts at this reading quest, the public and private school were also trying to teach her to read with phonics. She was a phonics dropout, but she was a phonogram champ! She knew the sounds of all 70 phonograms, even the ones like “ough” that have six sounds. Even though the sounds of the phonograms were solid, she couldn’t hold the sounds together past a three letter word to read anything! This was rather confusing, and I have to admit extremely frustrating.

I found out after my five-year, miserable struggle with phonics that she had low auditory processing. That meant she couldn’t hold the pieces (phonograms) in her short term memory long enough to put them together to get the word out. We were in an endless loop of sounding out the same word over and over until something sort of like the word came out. So, by the time she got to the end of the sentence, she had no clue about the meaning of what she read. WOW!

The Auditory Processing Disconnect
For some children, learning to read using the phonics approach is a breeze, but for others it is a huge struggle like it was for my daughter. When children have low sequential auditory processing abilities (an inability to hold a series of items in consecutive order in short-term memory), phonics doesn’t work well. Why is auditory processing so important for using phonics? Phonics is an auditory learning system, meaning the child must be able to hold all the pieces of the word and the rules together in his brain long enough to get the word out of his brain. Phonics is a fabulous way to learn to read for those with good auditory sequential processing! I love, love, love it! For those with low auditory abilities though, it can be a nightmare for parents and students alike.

When auditory processing is low and words get longer and more complicated, the child gets lost by the end of the word and starts guessing. There are also some developmental issues with the eyes that can make reading in general difficult. You can listen to Podcast #17 – Make Reading Easier for a better understanding of other developmental challenges. Number 17 at  www.BrainCoachTips.com will also help you learn how to raise your child’s auditory processing abilities so he can be more successful with phonics in the future.

Some Brain Coach Tips for More Reading Success: 

  • Determine if your child is struggling with low sequential auditory processing by ordering your Free Auditory Processing Test Kit. Your child should have a strong 5 digit span and preferably working on a 6 digit span before reading with phonics is effective.
  • Do some auditory processing activities twice a day for two minutes (instructions included in your free kit). In my opinion, this would be the best investment of your homeschooling time that you will ever make! The benefits go far beyond phonics help.
  • Read to your child with him following word by word. Then have the child read the same sentence or paragraph immediately after you (Echo Reading). I know this sounds a bit like cheating and memorizing, but prepare for another shocker that you might not have realized yet: We are all sight readers! Once we know a word, we don’t sound it out again. I know that is hard to believe, but read the statement at the end of this article: Phonics vs. Sight Reading. Now tell me if you read it with phonics. 
  • Don’t let your child struggle. Tell him the words he doesn’t know or sound it out for him.
  • Have your child listen to auditory books daily and read aloud daily. At least an hour a day of listening will help develop the auditory processing.
  • Teach your child sight words while building auditory processing levels. Then work more successfully with the phonics approach when the foundation of processing is set. Find resources here. We become sight readers once we know a word, so by combining these approaches you have the best of both worlds and a happier, more successful reader.




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