Over the years, I’ve taught around 124 children how to read. There were children who sat down with the book and just somehow miraculously started reading. Although I’d like to take credit for those kids, it likely had very little to do with me. There were children who progressed slowly, sounding out word after word while I coached them along. But my favorite kids to teach were the ones who struggled with reading.
Sounds a little backward, I know, but hear me out. The others simply needed me as a guiding point. Some needed very little. Day by day they progressed. But the strugglers needed me to hold their hands. Every single word was difficult. Most days they couldn’t remember all the letters and sounds. Well, they could, but once they were together on the page they looked foreign.
Those kids were the ones who made me laugh, cry, and want to throw something some days. (Mostly on the days when they couldn’t read a sentence they had mastered the day before.) But then one day, something clicked and they just got it. This is what made them my favorite. After all the tears and struggle (on both our parts) it just happened one day and they joined the ranks of “readers.” It’s one of the most beautiful transitions I’ve ever seen. It melts your heart every single time and makes you want to jump up and shout something crazy fun!
With this kind of experience, you’d think that teaching reading in my homeschool was a piece of cake. But it wasn’t. In fact, it was just as hard to teach my children to read as it was the other 124. I’ve presently got 3 readers and they fit into all three of the categories I mentioned. One pretty much taught herself. The other was slow but steady. The final involved more tears than either of us want to recount.
Friend, I’m guessing you are reading this because you’ve got one of those kids. Today I want to encourage you with some of my best tips and resources for helping your struggling reader.
What to do when your child struggles with reading
1. Know the truth about WHEN a child should learn to read.
The mistake most parents make about reading is pushing their little ones too hard. Remember, we are homeschooling for a reason. There are tremendous advantages, one of the most important being the ability to allow our children to grow and develop at their own pace without the pressures of an institution.
The school system isn’t set up to meet the needs and best interests of EACH child, it’s set up for the whole. Here’s the truth they don’t want you to know—> The average age for learning to read is 8. Go back and read that again. Yes, I said age 8. Yet the system isn’t set up like that. They bring in these little 5-year-olds and expect them all to be proficient by the end of 1st grade, despite the knowledge that the average child isn’t ready for that.
In your home, you get to decide. Stop thinking your 2nd grader is failing because he hasn’t yet mastered reading. It’s NOT true. Especially if he’s a boy. Relax and enjoy this process. Remember what I said about those kids who struggle? I promise when he finally does get it, that moment will be one you’ll never forget!
2. Evaluate the facts.
Of course, there does come a time when we need to be a little more proactive and a little less relaxed. Sometimes the problem isn’t one that can be fixed with time. As parents we need to be ready to accept that possibility AND ready to do something about it.
This isn’t about putting labels on your kids. I hate that idea. It’s about equipping you to help them with their specific struggle. Don’t be quick to slap on a label, but don’t ignore the possibilities either. This is a fine line I would suggest you take to the Lord first. He’ll guide you. After that, I’ve suggested some guidelines for when to get help below.
Vision- If you or your spouse needs glasses to see or read, have your child’s vision tested by an OPTOMETRIST (not the pediatrician) every year as long as he/she is struggling with reading or school in general. I wish I had done this so much earlier with my child. I trusted the handy chart at the pediatrician’s office and it was very unwise. As soon as we got my struggler in glasses, things improved drastically. Even though it was minor, it was a stumbling block in an already difficult situation. So don’t wait!
Attention- Another key cause for reading issues is the inability of children to focus. This one can be difficult because young children (especially boys) were not designed to sit still at a desk for hours or focus on the kinds of tasks we ask of them. Even just a few decades ago these same boys were out in the fields running wild until at least age 8. If your child can go 10-20 minutes focusing on school, he/she is normal.
If you have a child who can’t focus on school for 10-15 minutes at a time, you might need to consider an intervention. Give them more time to run and cut school into short spurts until age 8. Also allow your child to stand or move around while learning. The point is to get the information. Not sit like a church mouse.
If you find none of these things working, consider cutting sugar, artificial dyes, and even gluten out of your child’s diet. Trust me, it’s far better than the awful side effects of the medication that the docs will give you for this. And it’s more effective long term.
Dyslexia- I personally have very little experience with this one as the public schools won’t even consider testing for it until children are in the 3rd grade. (I always taught K-2.) Reversal of letters before this point can be normal, so don’t be alarmed. If your child is over the age of 8 and still struggling, I would encourage you to check out this site. Marianne is a veteran homeschooler with years of experience in this field.
3. Capitalize on their interests
Often I find that a struggling reader has one main problem- they don’t want to. Can you relate? Isn’t there anything in your life that you really don’t want to do? As adults we often ignore this, claiming that life is about doing things you don’t want to do and we insist that our children will learn to obey. And that’s true to an extent.
But my question to you is, when there is something you don’t like doing, don’t you look for some way to make the process more manageable for you? Over many years of life, you’ve come up with some good ways of managing these things, but kids don’t have that ability. They need us to help them learn this skill.
If your child is struggling to read, try allowing her to choose the books and topics she wants to read. I promise this is a game-changer. I did this with my struggler and the results were amazing. Just listen to what she had to say.
4. Pick the right tools
There are hundreds of reading programs out there. Do you remember the old commercial with the little girl belting out “Hooked on Phonics worked for me”? I think of that every time I sit down to recommend a reading curriculum for a family. I think of it because it’s actually telling the truth. The program worked for HER, which implies that it doesn’t work for everyone. And that’s true of every single program out there.
Don’t miss this. There is no single reading curriculum or program that will teach every single child to read. It doesn’t exist because our children are as different as the many flowers that God adorned the earth with. We can’t expect a one-size-fits-all. So if your current program isn’t working, it’s probably time to switch. Yes, it may have worked for big brother, but you’re going to have to let that go.
I hesitate to even give you suggestions because of this, but I will focus on 3 things that I think are particularly good fits for children who struggle with reading.
All About Reading and All About Spelling- this is a wonderful choice for learning to read. It builds a great foundation. It’s very tactile (kids touch letters) and helps children understand how our language really works. I highly recommend it for any student, but especially for those who struggle to sit still or maintain focus.
Reading Journal– this is the curriculum I mentioned above. I developed it specifically to allow my struggling reader to choose her own books while still getting the strong reading foundation she needed. The curriculum spans an entire year and can be used with chapter books or picture books. In addition to developing comprehension skills, it includes biblical worldview, comprehension, vocabulary, and critical thinking skills.
Reading Horizons– I was recently introduced to this fantastic program. I am so excited to share it with you because I think it’s a game-changer for parents with a child who struggles with reading. If you feel lost and really have no idea how to help your child, this curriculum will help.
Friend, I know this was a lot of information and I know that this struggle with reading thing is getting to your heart. Don’t let it consume you! We can get past this. Your kids will learn to read. Right now, click below and comment telling me one thing you are going to look into or change this week. Or if you have other ideas to share, please do!