Does Charlotte Mason Work for a Dyslexic Child?

I often get asked, “Does Charlotte Mason work for a dyslexic child? Because it seems like there’s a lot of emphasis on reading.” Joining me today is my friend Richele Baburina, who has experience with teaching a dyslexic learner, and we want to share with you what she has discovered about that and the Charlotte Mason approach.

Sonya: Richele, thanks for joining me again and especially for being willing to share about your experience with a child who learns in a unique way. We’re talking about your younger son. Can you give the audience a little bit of a background there? 

Richele: I’d love to. So you know, all of our children are different and unique, but his older brother, he was reading at four. He would sit still for his lessons at age six, and he just seemed to be advancing in the way that we traditionally think a student should be advancing.

Sonya: And then you think, “I’ve got this down.” I mean, at least that’s what I would do. 

Richele: Yes. And then his younger brother comes along, and, you know, he was different from pretty much from the get-go. But we know our children are unique, and where his sibling and his friends would be building towers of blocks that could barely stand, and they were knocking them over, everything Luca built looked like it was symmetrical, and you could actually write up a schematic for it. You could actually build an airplane or building from what he was designing. So that was a really cool thing to see in a child. 

But along with that came the fact that he could not remember words. He really had a hard time processing language. He couldn’t remember letters, just in the normal preschool writing, with the writing your letter with your finger in the tray of sand, things like that. And I remember specifically him saying to me once, “Why would you want to read about someone else’s adventure when you could go have one of your own?” And that question made sense. But when it came time for formal lessons, I kind of started to freak out. 

Sonya: Yeah, is a Charlotte Mason approach going to work with this child? 

Richele: Exactly. Because what first attracted me to Charlotte Mason was that it seemed like it was literature-based. But as I learned more about my student and about Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education, I found out that there was so much more. 

What first attracted me to Charlotte Mason was that it seemed like it was literature-based. But I found out that there was so much more. 

Sonya: So fast forward to reading lessons. You said he couldn’t remember the names of the letters or anything about those because they were abstract. How did you do reading lessons with him then? I know Charlotte has a unique approach to reading. Did the Charlotte Mason approach work? Or did you have to tweak it a little bit? Tell us about that. 

Richele: Well, the Charlotte Mason approach, actually, is so wonderful, and it really helps each style of learner because of its very different components. 

And I do want to say really quickly, I had started to find with my children that one liked to do indoor household chores, and the other liked to do outdoor chores, so I would always give the outdoor chores to one child that liked them and indoor to the other child. But then I realized that wasn’t strengthening them at all. I realized that I could give Charlotte Mason reading lessons, even though reading might not be his strength. So the only way that we actually changed Charlotte Mason reading lessons was by the amount of time that was given to them. This actually should be for every child, because once his mind starts to become tired, or his body needs to go let off some energy, or something like that, then the lesson should be over. So for my dyslexic child, that meant usually meeting him on the floor for about five minutes of reading lessons. 

Sonya: And if any of our readers are wondering what those lessons look like, we have videos on our YouTube channel that walk through the different phases of a Charlotte Mason reading approach and the actual reading lessons, so you can see what those look like. But yeah, five minutes, no more, and for some kids it might be fewer than five minutes. 

Richele: Yes, definitely. Part of the thing that helped my dyslexic learner with Charlotte Mason reading lessons was that he had some tactile objects to be moving with his hands. So he had loose letters; he was writing letters in the air or in a box of rice or a tray of sand. Also, Charlotte Mason thinks of letters as symbols for ideas, so in that way it becomes exciting for a child. Because once your child has learned say the letters that spell kitten, he has that idea in his mind of a kitten, and that’s a wonderful idea for a six-year-old to have. 

Sonya: And especially with Luca, it sounds like he thinks in pictures almost, or thinks in objects, if you will, because of the way he specially designed and engineered his block creations. So having that concrete picture in your mind of this abstract symbol, pointing to that concrete picture, it seems like that would really help, well, any child, but especially those unique learners who depend on the visual aspect of things. 

Richele: So since Charlotte Mason works with whole words, every time Luca would learn a word, he had a mental image. And he could take a picture in his mind of those letters put together and relate that to his mental image. 

Sonya: I love how as you said her reading lessons are multi-faceted, multi-sensory, and so you’re giving your child all these tools: whole words and word-building, tactile, visual, verbal, all of these tools, that child can use the ones that work best for him. Now let me ask you this. Did it take longer than you expected for him to learn to read, even using Charlotte’s wonderful methods? Did it take long? I’m assuming it took longer than his brother. 

Richele: It took much longer, and you know, even kind of what we would consider a “traditional learner” takes a lot of work to learn to read. Even though we might think they come out of the womb reading. 

Sonya: Sometimes, some of them, yeah. 

Richele: It actually can take a few years for a traditional learner to become a fluent reader. So there’s no reason to hurry or worry the dyslexic child through reading, and Luca became a fluent reader through time. He was maybe 12 when he first picked up a book in order to read it for enjoyment. 

It actually can take a few years for a traditional learner to become a fluent reader. So there’s no reason to hurry or worry the dyslexic child through reading.

Sonya: But because of Charlotte’s methods, he can be learning all that time even without being able to read fluently for himself. Because the teacher is reading aloud to that student. 

Richele: Right. There is a whole world of learning open to my son because of the living books that we were reading. So he was learning science; he was learning geography; he was learning history through these wonderful living books, and while he was learning all of these things, he was also seeing that books are enjoyable, even though he wasn’t a fluent reader. 

Sonya: He was learning about having an adventure through somebody else as well as your own adventure. 

Richele: Definitely. 

Sonya: You can get them both that way. Let’s talk a little bit about writing, because often those unique learners, if they have trouble with the letters for reading, they might also have trouble with the writing. How did you approach that? You’ve talked about writing them in a tray of sand or a pan of rice. Talk a little bit about the writing aspect. 

Richele: We did use Charlotte Mason’s writing lessons as well, and he had the tactile ability, but a wonderful thing about Charlotte Mason’s feast, with all of these different subjects, is he was gaining in his motor skills by doing things like handicrafts. Those were things that he did have an affinity for, so handicrafts, painting, drawing, brush drawing, paper sloyd. These were all things that were going to help his motor skills as he learned to write. 

Sonya: I bet his mind really clicked with paper sloyd. 

Richele: Yes. If you remember our math video, I struggled with paper sloyd. It was something that he definitely excelled at. 

Sonya: You mentioned the feast that came from the living books, but there’s a lot more to a Charlotte Mason feast than just the books. How did he do with the things like art appreciation, picture study, music study? They’re not tactile, they’re not book-based, they are something totally different. How did that work? 

Richele: So Charlotte Mason calls education the science of relations. When she says that, she means that a child wants to have relationships, form relations with all sorts of things, with how his body moves on the earth, with insects, with the sky and the stars, with history and people, his relationship to people, to God, all of these different things. A child longs to form relationships. Charlotte tells us that children want to really form relationships with basically everything, and so her feast, this feast that we spread, of all these different subjects and topics allowed him to not only gain confidence to see that there are things that do come easily to him, but also allowed him to use different parts of his brain. He really enjoyed picture study, and Shakespeare was probably his favorite subject in school. 

A child wants to form relations with all sorts of things, with how his body moves on the earth, with insects, with the sky and the stars, with history and people, his relationship to people, to God, all of these different things.

Sonya: Really? 

Richele: Yes, and I think it was the rhythm of words that he found in Shakespeare that he liked. So for his recitation, he would recite Shakespeare. He could form these mental pictures in his mind and meet this vast array of characters that weren’t black or white. They had many shades to them as people. 

Sonya: Yeah, that’s fascinating. And I love how you pointed out that spreading that wide variety of subjects, as Charlotte encourages us to, helps a unique learner find points of knowledge that don’t require as much mental effort for him. You said he gained confidence that he could have these other areas of interest, where he could excel, even without the reading and writing as strong. In a traditional school it seems like so much depends on the child being able to read and write in a traditional education, but I love how that in Charlotte’s approach, those do not have to be impediments. 

Richele: Right, not at all. I just recalled a couple of things. One is in art, in painting and drawing, he could add perspective to all of his drawings without ever having any formal lessons in perspective. And I have a really hard time with perspective.

Sonya: Me too. 

Richele: And I remember asking him, “How do you do this?” And he said, “Oh, I just take what I’m looking at and I lay it flat on a piece of paper in my mind.” And this is definitely not the way that I think at all. 

Sonya: But what a gift, and I love how you were able to view that as just a unique perspective, not “this is a problem that we must overcome” but respecting that child as a person, with that unique gift and ability of seeing things that way. 

Richele: Yes. We’ve definitely seen that it is a gift, and every child has certain gifts that we don’t think about in our traditional upbringing. But it definitely helped his confidence because there were times where people have said mean things, without trying to be mean, or put expectations on him without realizing that he has challenges in those areas. And because I was able to read to him living books in so many different subjects, I mean these living books they don’t talk down to a child, so he was never made to feel like a baby. He had the book while I was reading to him; he would have his own copy of a book that he could look at when he wanted to, but he also had objects he could manipulate, because that was important for him to be able to sit still and attend to the reading. But all of these living books, they are like exhibits of good grammar, of sentence structure, of thematic ideas he could compare and contrast. Because the student is using narration—and in the beginning it’s always oral narration—he was not held back from assimilating knowledge at all. 

Sonya: And you kept doing the oral narration until he was comfortable with the writing component. 

Richele: So we did just like Charlotte says. We started to slowly add some written narration, but again at a much later date than probably a traditional learner. So he began written narration probably more in high school, as he was becoming more fluent with being able to capture his ideas and assimilate them. Then where it had been oral, he would just start the writing slowly, because again it took him quite a bit of time to put his ideas down on paper. And it takes me quite a bit of time to put my ideas on paper, too, so in that way I think it wasn’t that much different. We took our time, we didn’t have this rigorous schedule of books to get through, instead he had his timed reading for his lesson. He might have 20 minutes for a lesson of history where he is beginning to read it on his own. He would read until he felt like he couldn’t read any longer and keep the letters straight, and then he would come to me and I would finish that chapter up for him, whatever that amount of time was. I just stopped at the end of the 20 minutes. In high school, he was reading one book usually, as far as the major literature books, it would be one. Instead of in one term, it would take three terms, but he was able to actually read Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and that’s, I mean we don’t need to go by page count, but it is a hefty book. 

Sonya: It is hefty. I mean I know adults who have not read that. 

Richele: Right, and in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations he met these characters, and he did through lots of books, but characters who face adversity. They’re diverse characters like he is, and Pip had all of these expectations, societal expectations, put upon him, and he could have let that define who he was, but he was able to rise above it. And he went through a lot of hardships while he was doing that. Then my son saw the character of Joe, and this could be one of his favorite characters so far of all time, and Joe couldn’t read, couldn’t write, and really had a hard time expressing himself, but Joe was the one person who stood by Pip, who forgave him and who was warm, loving, and kind. He built things; he was a blacksmith, which my son loves blacksmithing, so he was able to slowly, even though it took the entire year to read this book, gain these living ideas. 

Sonya: And we say it took the entire year, but what a great investment of that year. Those are lessons that shape who he is today rather than rushing him through, and he would miss those deep lessons, those deep truths that shape who he is now. Oh that’s so encouraging, but I’m sure that in the midst of it, there were days that you were not encouraged. 

Richele: There were days that were difficult. Even learning his multiplication facts, and even his addition and subtraction tables, he couldn’t keep those in his head. Although I did not give him the idea that he was behind, and he was actually quite quick in his math concepts, he grasped math concepts very quickly, and some very complex math concepts, I knew that it would hold him back if he didn’t learn his math tables. That took a long time. 

Internally, I felt like, “Will he ever learn these?” And he came to me after a Boy Scout meeting once and he was upset. He said, “Mom, all the boys know their math facts, but I don’t.” So I just encouraged him that Charlotte Mason said that with five minutes a day you will learn them. Five minutes of mental math a day. So we continued that, and he had addition and subtraction down, it took him until he was around 12 as well. And then it took a little longer for multiplication and division, and then we would still review those once a week, even in high school, because he was advancing very quickly through advanced math topics, and this allowed him to not be frustrated by having to think about what five times four is in this equation. 

I’m so glad that I realized that I didn’t have to find a different philosophy of education. Charlotte Mason said that every child is full of infinite possibilities, and so we spread this feast of a Charlotte Mason education, but we just allowed our unique learner time to eat and time to digest. 

Sonya: Yes.  And he’s turned into a wonderful young man. 

Richele: Oh it’s so funny, he took a part-time job as a cashier at the local grocery store, and he came home one day and he said, “Mom,” he said, “everyone tells me,” the managers and his other cashier friends, “how well-read I am.” And he just laughed. He said, “I wanted to tell them how well ‘read to’ I was.” 

Sonya: Because you read to him all those years. That’s so encouraging for our parents who are listening who might have a unique learner. And what would you say to encourage them, especially as they look at their children, it’s easy to focus on the limitations. 

Richele: Right. 

Sonya: So how would you encourage them? 

Richele: I would just say that your child with a Charlotte Mason education is not limited in any way due to this broad feast and the different types of lessons that they get to do. They get to be outside in nature, they get to be building with their hands, they get to be painting. It’s not all about reading and writing, and you get to take the time. It’s one of the blessings of homeschooling. You get to take the time to not only introduce captain ideas, you get to take the time with the mechanics. And as your child is learning the mechanics, or might not be gaining fluency in some of these mechanics, he still gets to have this whole world of ideas and form this science of relations with many many things. It’s a beautiful approach, and it all comes back to respecting each child as a whole person. 

Sonya: Thank you for sharing with us today. 

Richele: You’re welcome. 


  1. I really appreciate reading of this experience of doing Charlotte Mason with a disability. It encouraged me and gave me hope and ideas. Thank you so much!

  2. Hello,
    What a blessing and encouragement to find this email in my inbox with links to quality podcasts from SCM I missed. We have been incorporating Charlotte Mason’s methods slowly into our homeschool. Really discovered SCM for the first time this year while at the same time reading/researching how to help our middle son who struggles to read and with his math facts. This podcast brought those two prayers of my heart together into one place….how to lay a feast for my child and how to help him in his reading journey. It solidified for me that Charlotte Mason’s literature rich approach to education is a wonderful thing not only for our son who struggles to read on his own, but for our whole family!

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