NATHHAN National Challenged Homeschoolers Associated Network

Christian Families Homeschooling Special Needs Children

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Before Reading Begins   

By Tom and Sherry Bushnell

When we prioritize our children's education are we emulating government ideals for our blessings?

Do we look at the abilities God has given them and choose skills and subjects that honor God in their lives?

Due to the emphasis on education in our country, reading has the highest priority in government schools. Never mind if a young adult can do anything with his hands......can they read??????!

Sadly, the government schools are failing on all accounts in thousands of children. They graduate from high school, and neither can they read, write  or work with their hands. Perhaps this has something to do with public education's priorities being out of whack. Consistent failure always has its roots in a lack of Biblical priorities. When we prioritize our children's education are we emulating government ideals for our little blessings? Do we look at the abilities God has given them and choose skills and subjects that honor God in their lives? Although reading and writing are important and do open up a "whole world of education" for children, some children spend their entire childhood and early adulthood learning to read, and never attain a level to read the Bible (the best reason for learning to read.) They could have spent this cherished time memorizing many simple scriptures, implanting God's word in their hearts.

Speaking as parents, our goals for our children must parallel their abilities. Observation is key. As our children learn and grow, their capabilities become apparent or not apparent.

Here are some signs our children are ready to read. These signs do not include speech, as many children that cannot speak or verbalize their thoughts can still learn to read:

1. Has memorized colors and can tell them apart.

2. Has memorized shapes and can tell them apart.

3. Knows what a good many objects are in his world. This is for reading comprehension. What good is it for a child to read the word "dog" if he doesn't know what one is.

4. Can understand opposites such as up-down, big-small, hot-cold etc.

5. Can identify many, many objects in picture form.

How much writing is necessary for reading?

Our answer is none. If a child's fine and gross motor skills hold them back from making legible letters, yet they still seem to be comprehending reading concepts or learning words. Go on. Writing skills will become easier to practice later, and can become more of a priority (and more fun) when reading is established. If our children's future, because of disability, does not hold good promise of the ability to have handwriting or printing, a signature would be a priority.  If any skills at all exist, even an x is legal and sufficient for signing documents. In addition, there are speech modulated computer programs that now translates the verbal into the written. These are expensive now, but in a few years the prices will come down.

Phonics or Whole Word Reading Method? Which Is Right for Our Children?

If the ability to read becomes apparent, our goal for our children should be that they learn to read, not to conquer a learning method. Why frustrate our children and ourselves trying to learn phonics concepts, when hundreds of words could have been learned already through word memorization?

Positives for the Phonics Method for Special Needs Children:

1. Children who learn the phonics method are better spellers. This is a fact. IF they have the ability to understand spelling rules, they will be ahead in learning.

2. Children who can speak can pronounce words they do not know or even understand. This may enable them to communicate their wish to understand these new words, eliminating pointing.

Here are some signs that the Phonics Method may be practical.

1. Your child can memorize all of the letters and sounds.

2. They understand that some letters have more than one sound.

3. They are able, after identifying and memorizing the sounds of the letters, to sound out simple short vowel words such as cat or dog. Does this come together for your child, or do they look at you cross-eyed, simply saying "c" "a" "t"? If this happens consistently over a period of a year, consider the whole word method. Some children's brains are simply not wired to comprehend phonics concepts.

Positives for the Whole Word Approach to Reading

1. The method cuts out a lot of mental gymnastics and proceeds right to word memorization. This means instant success for readers that may not get beyond an elementary level. They are doing well from the very beginning. They do not feel like a failure as they struggle to understand concepts and hear the difference between vowel sounds.

2. The process of teaching whole words is easily implemented by parents and cheap!

Here are some signs that the Whole Word Approach is practical.

1. Your child can memorize shapes and colors and tell them apart from each other.

2. After practice, can your child find their written name out of a group of objects, and then a group of words?


Our first and best recommended resource is you, the parent. No program will accomplish what Mommy and Daddy can, with just a few minutes a day of one-on-one time. Get into the habit of reading lots of stories at bed time and before nap. In the car is a great place, because we have a captured audience. Sing learning songs such as the ABC song and 1,2,3,4,5, once I caught a fish alive, 6,7,8,9,lO..then I let him go again, complete with hand motions. Point out letters if they are ready. Write their name on things that are theirs.

Here are a few good resources for more suggestions:

First Grade Learning At Home By Ann Ward

Slow and Steady Get Me Ready

Birth to age 5

Bio-Alpha Inc.

P.O. Box 7190

Fairfax VA 22039


$19.95 shipping included - VA residents add sales tax


Sing, Spell Read and Write

Although expensive, it comes highly recommended by several NATHHAN families.

International Learning Systems of North America

1000 112th Circle North, Suite 100

St. Petersburg, FL 33716



At Last! A Reading Method for Every Child


Free catalog

440 Davis Court #405

San Francisco, CA 94111

$27.95 plus $2.95 CA residents add sales tax.



Phonics Resources


Phonics For Reading - A Primer

Pre-school, kindergarten and first grade material from Phonics For Reading and Spelling

By Bonnie Detmer around $22.95

Small Ventures

11023 Watterson Drive

Dallas, Tx 75228

(972)681-1728 Free Catalogue


Alpha Phonics - A Primer for Beginning Readers by Samuel Blumenfeld

Good book for phonics review for learning disabled children.

Family Christian Academy

487 Myatt Drive

Madison, TN 37115



Ball Stick Bird

P.O. Box 592

Stony Brook, NY 11790

Free brochure


Can't find the right program?

Parents can create their own phonics program, geared for their special needs child. With a good book on the basics and a little bit of creativity, design a curriculum that gives your child the work they need in the areas that need the most work. Maybe it is the short vowel's "e" as in elephant, and "i" as in the word Indian. (This is a classic trouble spot) Books that give parents an in depth explanation of phonics are: The Gift of Reading by Trudy Palmer and the Writing Road to Reading books by the Spaldings. These are available from Lifetime Books and Gifts. These folks have several good resources for parents working with learning disabled children. Get a catalog. It's well worth getting just to read!

Lifetime Books and Gifts

941-676-6311 * 1-800-377-0390

3900 Chalet Suzanne Dr.

Lake Wales, FL 33853-7763


Resources for the Whole Word Approach to Learning


Love and Learning has been a NATHHAN favorite for many years.

Love and Learning  

P.O. Box 4088  

Dearborn, MI 48126-4088

For more information visit the web site:

Love and Learning is an innovative technique for teaching language and reading skills. It combines the use of special audio tapes, video tape and books with an easily achievable amount of parental involvement. The series begins with teaching the alphabet and the sounds the letters make, proceeds to modeling simple sentences, introduces shapes and numbers and culminates with teaching conversation kinds of sentences. Love and Learning offers 6 kits, each designed to work on language development, vocabulary building and reading. All kits are useful, as well, for teaching individual vocabulary words. Each kit is $55.00.

You Can Teach Your Special Needs Child To Read Whole Words

The best resource for whole word reading is you, the parent. This is because you know what objects, feelings and the world view of your child. You probably already have a good idea what it takes for your child to remember something. Here is how we teach whole word reading:

1. Get a large, sturdy, 3 ring binder. Purchase card stock or index stock 8 1/2 by 11 size paper. Punch holes to fit the binder. Using a black marker, in neat, very large printing, on the lower part of the page, write your child's name on the cover or first page. Next tape a picture of your child that they recognize as themselves above their name.

2. On the second page, after printing your child's name in a spot on the page with the black marker, glue pictures of objects, things your child recognizes, around the name.

3. Do this for a couple of pages, depending on how much repetition your child needs.

4. Next, print your child's name on a page with words that are not the same length or size of printing as their name; for instance dog or cat, with the name Sally or Friday, but not Peg or Dan.

5. After your child can successfully pick out their name from among other words of different size and length, make their name blend more with other words on the page until they are reading in small print, as eye sight and coordination permits.

6. Repeat this process until they get the hang of memorizing words. Then use the words already learned "objects" on the page with a new word.

7. This process can be simplified or enlarged, depending on each child's ability to remember and learn.

8. It is time for simple sentences when your child knows a few words. Everyday review the words from previous days. Make this a time when your child isn't hungry or tired. He should be at his best, cognitively. If you see a moment where there seems to be more reception to instruction, capture it! This is what home schooling is all about.

Reading Resources For Blind, Deaf and Non-speaking Children

Whole word and phonics methods still apply to children who have vision and hearing impairments. Children should be able to

1. Communicate. Before any reading takes place, a means of communication must be established. For non-speaking children, this can be Exact English or American sign, a combination of verbal/sign, cued speech, pointing, using a communication board, using a Wolfe board, or typing on a computer.

2. Children need to be able to tell or sign shapes by feel or sight.

3. Opposites are of real importance, however if communication has been an issue, comprehension may lie in inadequate communication.

4. Name, sign or point, to many, many household objects and sign, verbalize or point to communicate them.

5. Name, sign or point to the letters of the alphabet and numbers. Some children may well benefit from moving straight to whole words if retention is poor. Learning to pick out their name is of more importance than the letter H or K.

6. For memorization practice, try learning simple scriptures. This gets their mind in the memorizing mode. Learning just a few fruits of the Spirit took some of our children many, many weeks to memorize.


Resources to Teach A Vision Impaired or Blind Child


For low vision:

 Get a camcorder. Making your machine stable, take pictures of the books you want your child to view. On a monitor or TV, enlarge the page until they can see clearly.

 Get in touch with low vision book networks.

The National Federation of the Blind may be able to help.

1800 Johnson Street

 Baltimore, MD 21230


For the Blind


Get twin vision books to read together. They read the Braille and you read the print.

Seedlings Braille books

P.O. Box 51924

Livonia, MI 48151-5924

Better yet, you learn Braille. This is so important. Teaching Braille to a blind child if you do not know Braille, is like teaching French to your child when all you know is English. Learn Braille letters and the contractions.

Use the Sally Mangold Tracking program, to teach your child the good tracking skills necessary and to learn the letters of the alphabet.


Exceptional Teaching Aids

20102 Woodbine Ave   

Castro Valley,   CA 94546  


Decide on whole word or phonetics approach and start early words, then sentences. Spell daily.

Type words in braille on tape or paper and affix on objects your child comes in contact with. Cup, clothes basket, phone, crayon, brailler etc... The object is to immerse your child in braille letters, just like immersing a sighted child in letters or words when they are learning to read

There a really a lot of good books to encourage parents in teaching Braille. NATHHAN members have access to the NATHHAN Lending Library which has several.

Resources For Teaching a Hearing Impaired or Deaf Child to Read

Sing and Sign. This is not only fun, but encourages word and expression practice. Talk to these families that are doing it!


Deaf Homeschool Network

c/o The Agenbroads

116 Jerome  Silverton,   OR 97381 (503) 873-8451   E-mail

For families homeschooling deaf or hard-of-hearing children.


This website has lots of resources:

Earl and Shirley Wilbers 

221 West Gay St.  Harrisonburg, VA 22808 


They can answer questions such as, Where are the Christian mission organizations Christian Sign Videos Christian Sign Camps Christian colleges for the Deaf.