Erin Chawla: The Kiducation Learning Curve


10 (Plus 1) Tips To Help A Struggling Reader

Painful Parenting Problem Solved!

A parent recently contacted me, concerned because her child was having difficulty learning to read. It’s painful to see your child struggle when gaining a skill, and worrisome to know they are falling behind their peers. 

Don't worry, I'm here to help! Try these 10 (plus 1) tips to help your beginning reader catch on and catch up.

  1. Don’t forget to breathe. Try not to be stressed. If you are anxious, your child will pick up on it and will feel anxiety around reading, too. Fretfulness and stress are the enemy of understanding. Learning occurs fastest when it is enjoyable. 
  1. Figure out if your child knows the letter names and sounds. Beginning readers must understand that letters represent specific sounds (phonics). If your student is stuck there, then you will need to practice phonics. Put out letter tiles and get the child to pick which one says “ah” or “rr,” etc. Play rhyming games and word games in which the child identifies starting and ending sounds.
  1. Build on success! You want your child to feel good about reading. Read simple books together, but just have the student read two words that you are sure they know. For example, if you are confident your child knows “the” and “and,” every time you get to those words in the story, pause, point to the word, and have them say it. Start with common words (such as to, it, I, me, a, there, etc.) then build on more difficult words. Eventually, you can have your child read one page and you read the next. By sharing the workload and letting a child start with what they already know, you will be able to build confidence and excitement.
  1. Read the same books over and over. Let your child feel successful, because they know a text really well. It doesn’t matter if your child is “reading” from memory. Every time a struggling learner feels confident at interacting with words, you are taking a step in the right direction.
  1. Read books to your kids often. Write notes to them, as well. Frequently, let your struggling reader just listen and enjoyendlessly trying to sound out words can be frustrating and make reading a tedious chore. Show that reading is about enjoyment and communication.
  1. Use what your child loves! Is your child excited about dance? Basketball? Horses? Computers? Cooking? No matter what excites your child, if you tie reading and writing to your their passions, they will connect and respond better. 
  2. Many children need to get their hands involved in their learning. Let your child try making letters and words out of Play-Doh or pipe cleaners. Practice spelling words into sand, flour, slime, or any other tactile medium. Sometimes engaging more senses helps children activate memory and understanding.
  1. Sometimes kids have trouble focusing on a single word when there is too much text of the page. You can make a reading window by cutting a small, rectangular hole out of a strip of cardboard (I like to use a bookmark). Then you can place the window over one word at a time, blocking out any other distractions. Later, you can move to putting the bookmark just under the line that is being read.
  2. Help your child notice words everywhere. Find familiar words (or even letters) on signs, menus, computer screens, toys, text messages, etc. Practice reading or letter sounds in a fun, easy, on-the-go fashion.
  1. Talk to child’s teacher for more ideas. Explain your concerns and have the teacher articulate their concerns (if any). Ask about extra reading opportunities in the classroom, and what the teacher’s program is for addressing struggling learners. Trust me, your child is not the only one having a difficult time! Children learn differently and at different rates (and sometimes those who take the longest to get started go the furthest in the end).

Bonus tip: Take a break. Give your student a break. Have some non-reading related fun together. Downtime is vital to any skill acquisition. Don’t feel guilty if sometimes reading practice gets bumped for soccer, building a snowman, or even (gasp) watching a little TV. Learning to read is a marathon, not a sprint, and those muscles need their rest (as do you). 

For more info on a free non-profit website that supports children with reading difficulties and the parents struggling to help them, click here

Don’t forget to enjoy the journey!