Why You Need to Know How Reading is Taught in Your Kid’s School

As a medical pediatric speech-language pathologist, I was not privy to school-based curricula until I began my private speech practice. As I slowly immersed myself into schools and began working with educators, I realized that there was a really wide variety of ways reading and writing were being taught with many, many programs out there. I was very overwhelmed when parents came to me asking what program would fit their child best. As someone in the field, I had a hard time figuring it out, so I could only imagine what parents must have been feeling. So after a few years of experience, here are the nuts and bolts of it all and why it is essential that you ask your child’s teacher, not school, but teacher, how he or she will teach reading this year since it varies from classroom to classroom.

I’ll start by saying something professionals and parents confuse:


Yes, that’s right. Reading, like a sport, needs to be taught explicitly. What happened to Hooked on Phonics? Classrooms these days are teaching implicitly. Teachers are being told that if we simply expose children to books and just “read, read, read” they will begin to learn the rules naturally as a result of a now debunked approach called “Whole Language” instruction. This is simply not true and not based in evidence. Google it, I dare you.

READING is a learned skill.

Reading must be taught. In fact, a systemic and explicit phonics program is necessary in order to learn how to read. This is not just for kids who have trouble. All kids need phonics instruction taught in a step-wise manner. Those kids who struggle with reading still need this type of instruction but perhaps with a bit more of a multi-sensory approach . However, that explicit, step-wise and multi-sensory approach still works for all kids!


Did you know that about 5-10% of the world’s population has trouble reading and that 70-80% of those folks are dyslexic?

Dyslexia is real.


Dyslexia is a language disorder.

I can’t stress this enough. So many professionals are attributing dyslexia to a visual problem. It’s super confusing for parents and for other professionals, like me! Dyslexia is a problem learning the phonological aspects (the sound system among other things) of literacy. It is also one of the most common disorders in people diagnosed with ADHD (about 50-60% via attitudemag). Having said all of that, one very important point to make is that:

Dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence.

While many kids with dyslexia may have attention difficulties and/or a language disorder, it does not affect their intelligence or cognitive skills. Some kids who may not even have dyslexia at all are being labeled as delayed simply because they have not had explicit phonics instruction. Kids with dyslexia sometimes think that because they need to learn how to read differently, they are stupid or slow. NO. These words and ways of thinking pervade older children’s thoughts because we are not teaching reading explicitly or noticing the signs of dyslexia early enough. Sure, we may not always be able to formally diagnose dyslexia by the time a kid is in pre-k or kindergarten to prevent these difficulties from emerging, but if we started to teach reading correctly then many of these concerns would be lessened. Offering all kids a way to learn literacy through explicit instruction via multi-sensory and movement activities actually WORKS. Here’s my main point:

The way KIDS WITH DYSLEXIA learn to read works for all kids.

Yep. I said it. It’s the architectural term, “Universal Design” at its best. What works for people with difficulties, works for everyone else too. Not only that, but in my experience, it works BEST. This is what got me motivated to start my Playful Literacy class.

So what should you know in order to ask the right questions about your child’s literacy development and the program offered at school?

Here are my list of top 5 critical aspects of a reading program:

  1. Explicit Instruction

  2. Multi-Sensory Approach

  3. Incorporation of Movement

  4. Play-Based

  5. Repetition

There are many, many programs out there. The ones that provide an Orton-Gillingham approach (FYI this is not a program but a method to teach reading explicitly through multi-sensory strategies) work. Programs like Lindamood-Bell, Wilson, IMSE Orton-Gillingham and Fundations work. All others may not have the same systematic, explicit and multi-sensory combination needed to teach reading in an evidence-based manner. If your child’s school does not teach reading explicitly, please ask more questions! Ask them to consider more of the research behind reading science.

Here’s a good link to get you started: NY Times Why Are We Still Teaching Reading The Wrong Way.

Join our after school Playful Literacy class this fall to see what we are talking about. No, we will not be sitting at desks! We will be moving, playing and curiously discovering literacy to get your child the play-based literacy instruction that is founded in what really works—research!

I'm a Speech Pathologist and I Lost My Voice, Here is What I Learned

A couple of weeks ago, I woke up to say good morning to my husband and baby, but instead of my normal voice coming out, I heard a screechy, high-pitched, barely-audible voice. I felt perfectly healthy, but since I am a speech pathologist, I knew I had laryngitis. The best recommendation is vocal rest. Meaning, no talking at all. I still went to the office. I felt fine! But, without a voice, I could not do my job. So I begrudgingly either began cancelling my appointments or co-treating with our Clinical Director, Taylor, to see students together. I had to tell everyone I was sick, but when they saw me at work they said, “Oh, I heard you were sick today!” I smiled and tried speaking. Nothing came out. “Oh,” the person would laugh, “I see.” I spent about a week like this. It was fine. I had back up and I could still do office work, but I realized something really important with such a small and trivial little cold—my students, whom have speech and language disorders, walk around everyday with invisible challenges that they have trouble explaining and it likely weighs on them without us even noticing or remembering.

When we see people’s physical handicaps, we (most of us anyhow) try to be respectful by giving that person our seat, opening a door or lending a hand in a small way. The thing is, many challenges are not physical. The challenges my students with speech and language disorders have are sometimes even hard for their own parents to see. That is no one’s fault. It is because they are not always consistent and they change based on context. In other words, some of their challenges are only visible in very specific situations. I am very sensitive to my student’s needs and make every attempt to be their advocate in different situations, but when I had this small cold this realization made me take a step back. This invisible feeling I had that no one knew what was really going on with me, must be a feeling that my students have everyday. The confusing, “You don’t know what is going on with me right now” kind of feeling. The obvious difference was that my little voice issue was kind of funny and ironic, nothing in comparison to their daily struggles. When I thought about it more, I could easily imagine my students not having the emotional capacity or maturity to understand these feelings, let alone express them. I felt like it was part of my job to continue building awareness around individual differences and around the language to use when you see or hear something that sounds like someone is struggling. As sensitive as I thought I was, I felt like this little cold checked my basic assumptions again, which I was grateful for because as cliche as it sounds, things aren’t always what they seem.

This one's for the MOMS

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When I started writing this article, I wanted to title it, “This one’s for the parents” and then thought about how the majority of us women out there, juggling a million things on top of baby need to continue bringing awareness to how much we do and how much support we need, from many different places. So, I’m sorry if you are offended and this title is not inclusive enough, but I am keeping “moms” and hope you can get past that to read the main purpose of this post!

See, I thought I knew. Before my baby-wearing, furiously typing, trying to balance work and mom-hood way of life, I thought I knew exactly what to tell you, parents. I thought I knew how to guide you as parents with your children because I was a professional speech pathologist. I thought I knew what to say to children to get them to comply and what to do to get them to behave, so I relayed that to you. I thought I was that therapist that parents confided in to give them advice above and beyond the suggestions and recommendations prescribed by my degree in speech-language pathology because what I suggested actually helped. I thought I gave parents advice on how to manage behavior, structure routines and discipline their kids. Mind boggling how I came up with anything seeing as I had zero children myself! But alas, I had a degree. So that alone was enough for me and for my families. No one ever let on that I might have not known what I was talking about. I did get a lot of “that’s a good idea” type replies, but see, I never actually LIVED it until I had my baby. I knew my stuff when it came to diagnosing and treating speech and language concerns, but I was giving advice on basic daily behavior issues. I often shook my head when parents gave in, thinking that if only they applied my suggestions in the moment or if they knew a bit more, then it would all go over better. I thought tantrumming babies and toddlers were totally based on the lack of parents accurately responding to a child’s cues. I thought I knew more than parents about what it actually took to help a child in many ways. Then, I had my baby.

It’s actually laughable. It’s laughable to think that I had it all figured out before I had a child. Now having had one (she’s 10 months and the best, most amazing nugget ever!) I was completely humbled by the experience and, I’m sorry. I realized that all of this, “raising children” thing, is purely trial and error. It’s all a guessing game. And guess what, a lot of what we “figure out” and treat in therapy is too. It’s all about having a really keen eye. Watching. Observing. Trialing. That’s what we do best as moms because we want to help our kids through whatever they are experiencing. I realized that being a mom made me a better therapist. I have gained additional skills that I can now apply to real problems, but now I am also completely sympathetic and empathetic to my individual families’ needs and concerns. I feel their pain in my core and want to do better by them to help. I stopped questioning or trying to rationalize their actions and just tried to be there as their therapist. I now try to help create calm and clarity through muddled situations that are multidimensional and complex. I realized that I may not know all the answers, but I know that I’m willing to figure it out with them. Most of the time, that’s all you need. You need someone to just figure it out with you; to bounce ideas off each other, to be there and be present.

Now, I don’t judge. I don’t try to understand or rationalize things I see or hear what a mom does with their child. I give that mom the benefit of the doubt. There’s a damn good reason that mom is doing whatever she is doing in the moment that you feel like passing judgment. I know, because I am often there too. I’m glad I’m a mom. It’s opened my heart and mind to an empathetic side that clearly needed attention in my practice.