Homeschooling Bliss

As a certified educator, I have been researching educational theory and teaching philosophies for over two decades.  When my husband and I decided to home educate our son, I began reading about the methods used by educators such as Charlotte Mason, Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner.  Essentially every educational theorist holds some sort of belief that children being raised in a print-rich environment will naturally gravitate toward a desire to learn-to-read.  So in 2012, when my bright seven-year-old showed no interest in learning-to-read, nor recalled any of the literacy-related things I attempted to teach him, I sought more information.

          One day -- while browsing our local library -- I came across a book called, Overcoming Dyslexia, written by Dr. Sally Shaywitz, professor of Pediatric Neurology at Yale University.  I devoured the book and was convinced my son struggled with dyslexia. My suspicions were confirmed later that summer when Benjamin was formally diagnosed by a pediatric neuropsychologist.  At the time, I had already created and been using an admittedly DIY set of Orton-Gillingham-influenced daily reading lessons I had crudely pieced together from various sources on the web.  Only one source showed the most promise:  Reading Horizons.  At the time (and unbeknownst to me) the company was in the process of redesigning the program; I had discovered a handful of materials from Discover Intensive Phonics for Yourself.  Using knowledge from the free parent phonics training available online, I created a sort of fragmentary pre-Discovery K-3 program for my son.  But here is where things got exciting – it worked!

          Using only the knowledge I gleaned from sample PDFs and online phonics training, I was already seeing a difference in the way Benjamin processed the information.  After paying hundreds of dollars and wasting countless hours using a handful of popular reading programs with my son, I was already seeing a difference in the way he connected-the-dots using Reading Horizons.  I began using the Discover Intensive Phonics for Yourself materials with him in September of 2012.  The program, a precursor to Discovery K-3, included two instructor manuals, a spiral-bound book of blackline masters, multiple posters, a (now renamed) collection of Reverse Listening Cards and Little Books (early readers that coincided with each lesson).  We began using the materials immediately – replacing my DIY version of the program – and immediately, I saw results like nothing I had seen using any other program.

          In 2013 the Discovery K-3 program was launched, and we excitedly began using the home school version, Discovery-at-Home.  As a mom, I was absolutely delighted with the new materials.  The company’s decision to redesign the somewhat intimidating Instructor’s Manuals -- dividing two, thick tomes into six, thin manuals was a welcome improvement.  Entirely updated materials and new, in-color Little Books and an optional online component made using Reading Horizons Discovery-at-Home even more fun!  By this time, we had completed a good portion of the program and Benjamin was becoming a confident reader.  He began reading anything and everything in and around his text-rich environment...and I was elated!

          But what about this “strong foundation” I speak of in the title of this post? Well, we finished using the Discovery-at-Home program in early 2014.  Benjamin is ten-years-old and he now enjoys reading classic fiction and recently, he developed a passion for reading Louis L’Amour westerns.  But that isn’t all he enjoys.  He is passionate about writing.  You see, Reading Horizons isn’t only interested in teaching children to read.  The Discovery-at-Home program – its method and delivery – provides so much more than simple decoding lessons. Many programs promise to teach your child to read, but Reading Horizons teaches your child to read while promoting overall literacy.   

          As a certified educator, a home school mom, and the parent of a dyslexic, I often hear mothers asking, “How do I teach spelling?” and, “What about grammar?”  So many companies focus on only one or two components of their programs.  One product we tried early on was a complete mystery, denying parents access to future lessons – in other words, the company deliberately removed the parent from having a role in the success of the program.  I struggled to learn the method behind their programming and it never became clear, nor did Benjamin learn anything from their software.  He not only failed to learn to decode words, but he learned nothing of grammar or spelling strategies.  Discovery-at-Home, however, provided him with a strong foundation decoding unfamiliar words, using proper grammar and almost organically strengthening spelling strategies.  When young children begin using the Discovery-at-Home program they are introduced to consonants and vowels in a systematic, applicable manner.  After completion of only a handful of lessons emergent readers are equipped with tools required for reading important consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words.  The method known as “The Slide” allows children to develop effective pronunciation of CVC words, which in turn promotes confidence in their early attempts at reading as well as writing.  Soon, students are learning blends and digraphs, which also bolster their abilities.  As tools are added to the child’s literacy tool chest, sight words are introduced, providing additional opportunities for success.  Seeing my son experience success so early in the program, I felt confident he would learn-to-read, but honestly I did not think much about his writing skills or how the program might benefit him in that particular aspect of his overall literacy.  And of course, spelling was the least of my concerns at the time – I figured we would cross that bridge when we came to it!  In my next post I will go into detail, showing you how the strong literacy foundation provided by Discovery-at-Home resulted in my son’s love of reading and eventual desire to write his own letters, journal entries and creative stories.

Jessica Allen is an unschool mom who enjoys exploring the fields and forests of Pennsylvania with her artist-husband and ten-year-old son, a budding historian. She shares their experiences on her blog, Cattails and Cobwebs. When she isn’t lying on the damp earth photographing millipedes, she is quietly starting a revolution, tirelessly reminding her fellow homeschoolers it really is possible to meet the state requirements while nurturing their children’s unique passions. Her most recent essay, Frozen in Freedom, about her family's transition to unschooling after her diagnosis with breast cancer, was published in the Jan/Feb 2015 issue of Home Education Magazine.