When Your Child Struggles With Reading

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By Kim Jaworski, Homeschool Resource Specialist

Your child may have learned the alphabet and the sounds each letter makes, but then reading stalled as vowel combinations came into play. This is quite typical. Not all children read easily by 2nd grade. In fact, a full third of third graders don’t read at grade level (these are statistics from the MN Dept of Education on public school kids). For children who don’t take readily to reading (reluctant readers) it can take until 4th and even 5th grade for reading to emerge from the shadows. You might be worried about a learning disability, but the truth is that it’s too soon to diagnose that. Even the specialists prefer to wait until about 5th grade to see if I child outgrows the difficulty. This approach will help even if there is an underlying learning disability, so why not give your child the foundation skills he/she needs?

There are strategies that can help. Most importantly, slow down and take phonics in a deliberate order and a non-threatening pace.  Spend a week exploring AY words (say, play, day, way) or OA words (goat, float, moat, boat). Just one word family per week. Use flashcards of as many words as you can think of that fit the pattern. Have your child flip through these flashcards twice a day for the week. Just flip through them—don’t study them intently.

Write the words with sidewalk chalk all over the driveway (or on the sliding glass doors with wipe off markers), play hangman with words from the list, arrange the words with scrabble tiles to create a crossword puzzle formation on the dining room table. These activities build an imprinted memory of the word pattern and create speedy recognition and reading fluency. If books and printed pages seem to make your child cringe, stick to these activities until things seem to flow better.  The game set “boggle Junior” comes with over-sized alphabet cubes. These can be used by your child to spell out some of the words off the weekly list. Mix up these activities so you are doing something different with the words each day.

Another activity is to make circle the size of dinner plates all over the sidewalk and put one letter in each circle until you have the whole alphabet. Then call out one word for the list and challenge your child to step (or hop) on the letters in the right order to spell the word.  For indoor fun, you can flip over the mat that comes with a ‘Twister’ game and put your circles and letters on the back in permanent marker. Or put a letter on each paper plate and toss them around on the floor.

The next week means a new family of words. Maybe OY or EA words. And each week will be another set of words to play with. It will feel like baby steps, but 3 months from now you’ll be amazed how much ground you have covered. It was just 3 months into this strategy with my son when he said “now it feels like I can read and not just ‘sound out’ words.” Before I knew it, he was actually checking out books at the library.

When you start this process, it’s helpful to begin with even short vowel words to smooth out fluency. Some weeks you will have a big pile of words to work with, and other weeks there won’t be many. You can use not only the root words, but add prefixes and suffixes, too. So your list might include bright, sight, fight and fright, and also delight, fighting, frighten, delightful and frightening. At the start of the week, sit down with the list of words. With your child next to you, read the list as you point to each word. Then have your child read the list to you. From there the child can work on making the flashcards. Colored pens, glitter pens, markers—let your child use whatever interests him or her to make the flashcards. Out of date business cards are a great resource for making flash cards. See if anyone you know has an old box.

Here’s a game you can play with your stack of flashcards each week. Deal them out like you would for any card game, 5 or 7 to each player. Lay one word down on the table and then your child plays a card from his hand that rhymes with the start word. If you don’t have a word that rhymes, you have to draw from the draw pile. Shuffle in a few “switch” cards that will give you the chance to select a new base word for rhyming.

It’s ok for you to do the reading that might be needed in other subjects- or use videos (kids’ documentaries, Magic schoolbus, National Geographic, etc) to cover science and social studies topics until your child’s reading skills are up to the task. Netflix and youtube have an awesome selection, and your library will, too.

If your child is struggling, give this a try for just 3 months and see if you don’t notice improvement. Or do it over the summer and see how things improve by the start of your next school year. Like with any subject that causes stress or serious struggle for your child, don’t be afraid to slow down or even put it aside for a few months and come back to it. The beauty of homeschooling is that we can do what makes sense. We can march to our own drummer. And so can our children.

Also see my article on “imprinting, a trick of the brain”.