How a Simple Children’s Story and Spelling U See Helped My Son With Learning Differences

Homeschooling a child with special needs is not always easy. There are times when it can be quite challenging. I have thought about giving up more times than I can recall. I have felt alone. I have cried many, many tears. I have prayed over and over again. And I still pray, everyday. moment. by. moment. I am thankful for the realization that I was never meant to walk this journey alone. As I humbled myself and poured my heart out before God, He began working in my heart. Teaching, guiding, and giving me insights into my child that no one else, but the One who intricately fashioned my son, could give. On this journey of homeschooling a child with special needs, God has taught me over and over again what it means to trust His leading and the people He carefully places into my life to walk this challenging, yet most rewarding path.

There are very special people that I have had the opportunity to work with as a team to help meet the needs of my son. I am beyond grateful for all the moms I have come into contact with who have children with special needs. I truly miss the once a month meetings we used to have to share our hearts with one another as special needs mothers. I am beyond thankful for the Speech Language Pathologists and Occupational Therapists who have poured into my son in so many different ways. Not only do they help my son, they share so many ways I can help and work with him at home.

Due to my son’s apraxia/dyspraxia diagnosis, along with some unknown learning disabilities (we are waiting on testing), reading and spelling pose a great challenge for him. We made huge gains as he memorized his letters, sounds, basic sight words, and began the reading journey. So much excitement filled our hearts as we listened to him whole heartedly say the sounds of each individual letter. After a while, his progress plateaued as he could not move beyond “sounding out” each letter in a word; unless the words were memorized. Blending and fluency did not exist. I also noticed during our spelling lessons the order of writing his letters were inconsistent. For example, for the word “cat”, my son might spell it, t-c-a. He couldn’t place the letters in the proper order to form the word “cat”. I requested a meeting with his current Speech Language Pathologist to share his gains in his language and also present the above challenges to her. This meeting was an answered prayer. At my son’s next therapy session, his SLP gave him an assessment. The results of this assessment opened a door to new learning goals and just what he needed to progress in spelling and reading. It also opened a door to more tests and a possible diagnosis of why my son was experiencing these challenges in addition to his apraxia diagnosis.

Although hearing the results of this assessment was very hard, it also brought so much relief. It was just what we needed to move forward. From this assessment, one of the goals my son’s dear SLP set was to identify beginning, middle, and end sounds. This concept can be easy for a child without special needs. My other children, as we work through our reading curricula, understand beginning, middle, and end sounds fairly quickly. Not my son with learning differences. Depending on a child’s diagnosis, the severity, and whether the diagnosis is intertwined with other learning disabilities, these simple concepts often times first have to be learned and understood before moving forward. My son simply did not understand beginning, middle, and end. It was something he just could not grasp. So, here I was, at a loss on how to begin this next step of teaching beginning, middle, and end sounds. After so much prayer, the thought of The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, a caterpillar drawing, and Spelling U See popped into my mind.

My son has always acquired a high interest in insects and amphibians. In the spring and summer, you may find him exploring outside with a frog or two tucked safely in his hands. He also likes to create little habitats for caterpillars and praying mantises that roam around our property.

So I thought to myself, “What critter can I use as a visual to teach spelling, beginning, middle, and end sounds?” After receiving a container full of caterpillars and witnessing the caterpillar life cycle, caterpillars had to be it! So, we tied the caterpillar into his spelling lessons. Prior to the assessment his SLP gave him, I used Spelling U See more for reinforcement of sounds and writing letters from memory. I felt that if the spelling matured along with the reinforcements, it would be an added bonus. The short, daily activities Spelling U See offers and the method it uses, really helped my son retain writing his letters from memory. He moved along wonderfully in this way. However, he struggled with the order of where the letters were placed. We began drawing a caterpillar over the squares in his workbook. Three circles, each circle representing a letter/sound. First we discussed the three circles as the anatomy of the caterpillar. The beginning of the caterpillar’s body is the head. The middle portion is his stomach, and the end is well, his end. Whether this is really the anatomy of a caterpillar or not, this concept helped my son learn and understand beginning, middle, and end. Next, every time we began the spelling exercises, we said the same line over and over, “Here is a very hungry caterpillar! He is hungry for letters. Which sound will the hungry caterpillar eat first? What sound will he eat second? What is the last sound he will eat?” And again, we also used beginning, middle, and end wording for the anatomy, “Which letter will you write at the beginning (while pointing to the head), which letter will you write in the middle (while pointing to his stomach), and which letter will you write at the end (while pointing to the last circle)”. Do you notice the + symbols inside the caterpillars? This is an easy and fast way to take data. If he wrote the correct letter in the square, I would place a + symbol. If he wrote the wrong letter, I would place a – symbol. If my son self-corrected, I recorded with a +/-. This helped me to keep up with his progress. This data keeping also helped me to see if this method worked or not. At first, it seemed to be slow and I wondered if I needed to change to a different method. But as I looked through his work, I could clearly see the progress. Do you also see the words with lines under them, “dot” and “log”? My son draws a line from the beginning sound to the end sound when he forgets the end letter. It really helps him!

Next, we tied in a multisensory approach. I was skeptical about this because of the noise, but my son really loved this exercise! We placed three buzzers from the Dollar Tree above his workbook. Each buzzer representing a letter/sound. As he repeated the word and sound, he hit the buzzer for each sound. In the photos below, you can see him hit the buzzer per sound for beginning, middle, and end. Then he wrote the word in his workbook.

To shake things up a bit, we took a further step, and added enlarged blank dice from the Dollar Tree. We purchased three to represent the cvc words he is learning; beginning, middle, and end; and we purchased two of the same color (yellow) to represent the consonants and the red color to represent the vowel. Again, we placed the dice above his workbook. As he repeated the word to himself, he wrote on the dice with expo marker to spell the word! Then wrote the word again in his workbook. After all the white spaces were filled with letters, we shook the dice up out of order to create our own words.

We also took the butterfly life cycle and simplified it into three easy steps. When we receive our caterpillars from Insect Lore, they arrive as little caterpillars and very hungry. So while talking with my son, we downsized the caterpillar life cycle into three basic categories: baby caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly. We focused over and over again, first, the caterpillar is tiny and very hungry; second, the caterpillar turns into a chrysalis; and third, the caterpillar transforms into a beautiful butterfly. Then we used the words beginning, middle, and end to replace first, second, and third. In the beginning the caterpillar is tiny and hungry and eats a lot to grow. During the middle stage, the caterpillar turns into a chrysalis. At the very end, the caterpillar transforms into a beautiful butterfly! This also lead into reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar story. Although my son and I have read this story time and time again, we read it with beginning, middle, and end in mind. We took a picture walk through the book discussing what happens in those three important sections.

My son has always learned the best with a multisensory approach. He soaks in information when he sees the same concepts over and over and over again in different ways, with a lot of repetition. When we work on our spelling exercises, the words must be repeated over and over again, slowly. He repeats the words too. His SLP asks him to touch his lips with his hand to feel the formation of his mouth when he makes that particular sound to help him hear the beginning sound. During his most recent therapy visit, he received a 10/10 for identifying beginning, middle, and end sounds. He was so excited and so proud! He is such a trooper and a hard worker. I must say, his reading of cvc words have improved significantly. I am so thankful for my son’s SLP in helping with weeding out what he needed to help progress in reading and spelling. The assessment she gave to him has proven fruitful. Now we are off to the next goal. So I will be praying more to see how to help him for the next part of our adventure!

“A child is like a butterfly in the wind. Some can fly higher than others, but each one flies the best it can. Why compare one against the other? Each one is different. Each one is special. Each one is beautiful.” ~ Author Unknown

Copyright © 2021 Jamie Gault

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