“The Bible is the Word of God; a sacred library of 66 books.”
As a six-year old in Mrs. Tunder’s first grade Sunday School class, I recited that statement with my classmates every single week. I was an eager reader, and loved looking at Mrs. Tunder’s neat printing on the bulletin boards as we read. The idea that one book was a whole LIBRARY was exciting! In addition to the information about the Bible, Mrs. Tunder also had us read John 3:16 each week as she pointed to the words on the bulletin board. By the end of the year, each of us knew it “by heart.”
Parents and Sunday School teachers alike want kids to read and love God’s word. We all agree that reading scripture is a primary means of spiritual growth. However, for students with dyslexia, or other learning disabilities, reading a “grown up” book like the Bible evokes fear, panic and frustration. In addition, kids may experience shame because they aren’t able to read scripture like a “good Christian.” By understanding reading difficulties and employing some strategies in our classrooms and at home, we can help these students overcome their “fear” of the Bible.
Competent readers are able to decode (or “sound out”) unfamiliar words, read fluently, and understand what they have read. They also have well-developed vocabularies, and can monitor their own reading, adjusting their reading rate to enhance comprehension. In contrast, students with dyslexia have poor decoding skills. Their reading rate is often slow and labored, making comprehension difficult. These students sometimes have difficulty with oral language as well, and struggle to find the right words or retrieve information quickly.
Many times, when we think of dyslexia, we assume that kids with this disorder read and write “backwards.” Although their written work may contain reversed letters and numbers, the “backwards theory” is untrue. However, students with dyslexia have poor memory for symbols and their ability to interpret them rapidly is affected; they need specialized instruction to master these skills. It is important to note that dyslexia is not caused by low intelligence or lack of motivation. Research tells us that the brains of students with dyslexia process language differently. We also know that as many as 1 in five students exhibits difficulty with reading tasks.
Perhaps the most concerning aspect of dyslexia is poor self-esteem. Reading and writing are critically important to academic success. Students who have dyslexia may believe that they are incapable of learning. Sometimes, they are the target of teasing and name-calling. Their disability can become a source of shame and anxiety as they struggle to keep pace in the classroom. Approximately one-third of students with dyslexia also have Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorders, compounding their difficulty and reinforcing their feelings of inadequacy.
As parents and church volunteers, most of us are not trained to remediate these disabilities. However, we CAN work together to make reading the Bible and participating in church a positive experience! Tomorrow, we’ll discuss some easy-to-use strategies that can help all kids feel successful with their Bibles, so they learn God’s word not just by reading, but ”by heart.”