“MOM!!! I finished the entire book!!!” exclaimed our 8-year-old son as he bounded down the stairs at 9:30pm…a full hour after it should have been “lights out”. He was waving his chapter book in his hand as evidence. At first I wasn’t sure if I should reprimand him for not being asleep or congratulate him on the completion of his first chapter book. Quickly, my common sense took over and I hugged the excited boy and congratulated him on his accomplishment.
This may not seem like a big deal to most people but our son is a struggling reader, as is his older half-brother and father. I, on the other hand, learned to love to read at an early age and had a voracious appetite for reading throughout both childhood and adulthood. To learn that the reason our son was a struggling reader was a result of being dyslexic just broke my heart. I had awful visions of him preferring to hang by his fingernails rather than read a book, just as my husband and step-son do today, because it was such an unpleasant activity. To deprive himself of all the wonderful journeys that books could take him on was incomprehensible to me. And so began my own personal journey into how to make sure that our son didn’t become part of the “I hate to read” group and instead foster the “I love to read” attitude in him that I had grown up with.
In the past year, that journey has taken many diverse paths to help our son become a better reader, from vision correction to occupational therapy and everything in-between, and it is far from over. But I would like to share one tool that has really helped our son improve his reading, and more importantly, foster the love of reading that all children should have.
It all started last summer, when a fellow homeschool mom shared with me a wonderful tool she uses with her children to help them become better readers. She visits the local library and borrows books on CD (or tape) along with the corresponding book. Each day she has her children read one chapter out of the book with the CD playing along – TWICE. After they’ve read the chapter twice they then read the chapter back to her without the aid of the CD. This method offered her children the ability to practice reading with limited assistance from mom! What a great idea! I can’t wait to get started!
The problem with this method for our child, however, was that he was not yet able to read chapter books and the local library had a limited supply of audio CDs and tapes for early readers. Additionally, our child had difficulty following along with the narrator either because the pace was too fast, or he simply was unable to keep track of where he was on the page (a common symptom of dyslexia). For us, it was a frustrating process of trying to rewind, or go forward, to find his place over and over again. It was anything but enjoyable and before we knew it we had exhausted all the few easy reader titles available at the library anyway.
Then one day while sharing a waiting room at the occupational therapist’s office, another mom shared with me about a non-profit organization called Recordings for the Blind & Dyslexic (RFBD) (www.rfbd.org). She had an 11-year old daughter who was profoundly dyslexic and whose reading greatly improved as a result of using RFBD’s services and in conjunction with other remediation methods. I was intrigued and needed to know more.
RFBD has an online catalog of over 53,000 books, including text books, available on Audio CD. All a member has to do is place an order for the Audio CD(s) they want, then borrow the corresponding edition of the book from the local library so the child can follow along in the book while listening to the Audio CD.
Big deal, you say. I can get a book on CD or tape from the bookstore or library. That’s true, but here’s what makes these RFBD Audio CDs unique:
The Audio CDs themselves are produced on proprietary media with unique navigational features. They look like ordinary Audio CDs but they won’t play in ordinary CD players. They will only play in special players offered by RFBD. These special players have key navigational features that ordinary CD players do not have. Most notably:
- The ability to go to a specific page or heading simply by pressing the “Go To Page” button on the player. This is a key feature for our son. No more guessing in how far to rewind or move forward the CD! He could get to where he needed to be at the push of a button!
- The ability to slow down or speed up the cadence of the narrator. This, too, was critical for our son’s reading success. The CDs are recorded by volunteers at normal talking speed but a struggling reader can’t keep up with reading print at that pace. By pushing either the Speed Up or Down buttons, the child can select the pace of the narrator that is just right for him. Now, not only can he can read the words and not have to stress about trying to keep up and miss the meaning of the words but he’s no longer limited to readers; he can read and follow along in chapter books, too!
- The ability to tell my son where he left off in his book. Often times, the bookmark falls out of my son’s book and because he can rarely remember what page he was last on, it’s quite the challenge to find the right page by resuming play on a player. However, by simply pressing the “Where Am I” button on the player, it tells him exactly what page he’s on!
- The ability to bookmark pages…up to 10,000 if desired (although I’m not sure who would ever use that many).
RFBD has a comprehensive catalog of over 53,000 available books, including textbooks, on Audio CD. That’s far more than any local library will have available on hand! Once the order is placed via their website, the Audio CD usually arrives within 1-2 weeks (sent via Free Matter). And if you’re looking for a certain book that isn’t part of their 53,000 book catalog, then you can request for them to record one for you.
The Audio CDs are FREE to qualifying members. That’s right…FREE! You are not charged for the Audio CD and are not even required to return it. It’s yours to reuse as often as you keep it in your possession. There is a one-time registration fee of $65 and an annual membership fee of $35. There’s also the one-time cost of the proprietary CD player which costs from $259 – $895. To qualify as a member, your child’s disability must be certified by an acceptable professional such as a physician, ophthalmologist, optometrist, vocational rehabilitation counselor, neurologist, learning disability specialist, or a psychologist with a background in learning disabilities.
Initially, I had our son using RFBD’s Audio CDs twice a day. In the morning, I had him take an easy to read/follow-along book (eg. Frog and Toad) and had him read a chapter twice before reading it back to me without the use of the Audio CD (these sessions were independent of his bible reading time and my read-aloud times with him). At bedtime, he would take a more difficult chapter book (eg. Boxcar Children) and read for 20 minutes using a timer. Except that, to my complete surprise, the 20 minutes never took! Of his own volition, his reading sessions at bedtime lasted from 60-90 minutes! In the three months that we have been using RFBD, he has become a much better reader, expanding his vocabulary, and improving his fluency AND comprehension. The real payoff, however, is the absolute JOY that exudes from him after reading several chapters or finishing a book and begging me for the next one. Begging me!!! For him to have that wonderful, joy of reading is exactly what I had been hoping and praying for!
Our precious son was born a dyslexic and will die a dyslexic. He will continue to learn to become a better reader as we continue on this journey but it will never come easy for him. With tools like RFBD, however, he has already won half the battle because he has learned to love to read despite those difficulties!