by Kathy Kamibayashi
While preparing to teach my children at home, I devoured numerous homeschool mom “must-reads.” Each book I consumed offered thoughtful guidance, but I was most profoundly affected by the writings and educational practices of Charlotte Mason, a nineteenth-century British educator. In The Original Homeschooling Series, she writes:
Children come into the world with a natural [appetite] for, and affinity with, all the material of knowledge; for interest in the heroic past and in the age of myths; for a desire to know about everything that moves and lives; about strange places and strange peoples; for a wish to handle material and to make; a desire to run and ride and row and do whatever the law of gravitation permits.
Children indeed seem to be infused with a natural desire to know and experience their reality. On the path to understanding, some move eagerly through their environment, while others pause to sit in more thoughtful contemplation. My children were a combination of both temperaments. While I provided useful, practical knowledge, I also made sure to allow them the time and space to explore, inquire about, and ponder their world’s complexity, goodness, and beauty.
Recognizing there were basic learning skills that needed to be mastered, such as how to effectively divide words into syllables, I structured each lesson to best fit my children’s needs. In the early years, I always kept lessons short in order to build habits of attention and excellence. For example, I taught my children to read and provided a foundation in math in short increments of 10 to 15 minutes. By 3rd grade, each of them had developed a strong habit of attention, and by 8th grade they were learning new subjects almost entirely independently. Without any prompting from me, they successfully tackled sophisticated high school subjects such as geometry, chemistry, rhetoric, and foreign language.
But our favorite time of day was when I read aloud to them, whether “biographies of historical figures, works of literature, stories about far away places, [or] fables” (Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, For the Children’s Sake, 28). We devoured piles of library books, including treasured works by authors ranging from James Herriot and Frances Hodgson Burnett to Howard Pyle and George MacDonald. And in the afternoon they enjoyed even more stories by listening to audiobooks: Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield, Johann David Wyss’s The Swiss Family Robinson, and anything narrated by David Frederick Case.
The hours spent listening to books—whether read aloud by me or by a professional narrator—helped to provide my children with a sophisticated vocabulary, an understanding of syntax, and an appreciation for the syncopation of language. When my oldest was sixteen, we hired a tutor to teach him to write. In an early conversation with his tutor, I apologized for failing to equip my son with stronger writing skills. I’ll never forget his tutor’s response: “You have read widely to him. His mind is full of the best stories in children’s literature, and he has a sophisticated vocabulary. Now I can teach him to write.”
My children are in their mid-twenties now. Both love to learn, are deeply passionate about reading and writing, and are defining their own paths in their chosen careers. My son is a high school English teacher. He uses art to teach writing because, as he puts it, “Children need to learn to observe before they can write effectively.” My daughter is a brand strategist and copywriter for a digital design firm. She thoughtfully identifies that which is good and right about a particular organization and tells its story creatively and masterfully.
After my own children left home, I continued to teach and help foster a love of reading and learning in other students. I now work with dyslexic children, teaching them to read and spell. While dyslexia is more often known for the deficiencies it creates, it can also be seen as a remarkable gift that predisposes children to unique talents and abilities. The dyslexic students with whom I work are deeply thoughtful, imaginative, creative, and articulate. Many possess strong leadership skills and excel in areas such as engineering, art, and sports. In his book The Dyslexic Advantage, Dr. Brock Eide writes:
Look at these same individuals when they’re doing almost anything else—particularly the kinds of tasks they excel at and enjoy. From this new perspective they not only cease to look disabled but they often appear remarkably skilled or even specially advantaged.
In teaching dyslexic students, I’ve become convinced that the educational practices I used with my own children are perfectly suited to dyslexic children as well. My dyslexic students learn most effectively when lessons are kept short and when a foundation in reading and math is established through brief but consistent instruction. Listening to books read aloud by their parents or other narrators helps to strengthen their language deficiencies while fueling a love for literature. As my dyslexic students become more capable scholars through these practices, and through other similar approaches tailored to match their unique talents and abilities, I see their appreciation of and love for learning also grow.
Kathy Kamibayashi is an experienced remediation specialist, having taught public, private, and homeschooled dyslexic students for over seven years. She also serves as a consultant to parents seeking to provide a rich education to their dyslexic children. She loves helping students embrace their unique abilities and uncover their love of learning. A native Californian, Kathy earned her degree from the University of California at Davis. She is currently based in Franklin, Tennessee. To learn more about her work with dyslexic students, visit her website, https://tandemlearning.co/.