Phonics, sight words, whole language approach. There are so many reading programs and approaches available. How do you know which one to choose? What do you do when your child struggles to learn to read?
Learning to read is hard work!
We have seen how hard it is first-hand. My older daughter learned to read quickly and easily using Charlotte Mason style reading lessons and she quickly went from sounding out words to reading easy chapter books. She didn’t progress quickly because of anything I did as a teacher or the program we used. She was simply ready.
My younger daughter has had a much slower journey learning to read. We had her first reading lesson on her sixth birthday. She showed signs that she was ready to read—interest, desire, able to ride a bike, able to skip with alternating arms and legs. We used Charlotte Mason style reading lessons and it was painful for both of us. The struggle was not for a lack of effort. She tried hard. She just wasn’t ready.
So we backed off. Way off. In fact, we didn’t do any reading lessons for six months. We tried reading lessons again and it was still a struggle. So we backed off again. We didn’t do any reading lessons for another six months. Yes, you read that correctly, we didn’t attempt reading lessons for a whole year! But we didn’t sit idle.
3 Things We Did To Help My Struggling Reader Become An Emerging Reader
Shored up her foundation
Taking a year off from reading lessons didn’t mean that we did nothing. Instead, we focused on some key areas that needed strengthening. We shored up her foundation. She was commonly reversing “b” and “d.” It was also difficult for her to remember a new word we had just worked on.
After talking with my mentor, I realized that we needed to improve her gross motor and visual discrimination skills. (Mastering gross motor skills helps build brain connections that improve reading skills.) We chose an activity each day that focused on these skills. Specifically, our week looked like this:
- Monday—reading game
- Tuesday—word search
- Wednesday—kaleidoscope activity
- Thursday—visual discrimination skill
- Friday—gross motor skill
- We also worked on her auditory skills every day.
Increased her confidence
We kept the focus positive. It was not a failure that she was having difficulty learning to read. We just needed to take a different approach and redefine reading lessons.
She knew that we were taking a break from learning new words. We talked about how we were going to work on some areas that would improve her ability to read. When we did a new activity, I pointed out how it would help her to read and what skill it was improving.
I never once told her she couldn’t read. She was still learning to read. She just wasn’t learning words quickly yet. I talked with family and made sure they knew where she was in the process so they could encourage her and avoid saying something like, “Oh, I thought you could read.”
We celebrated small successes. Anytime she read a word on her own, we rejoiced with her. When she wanted to read from the Bible during our family Bible time, we encouraged her and helped her sound out words and told her words she didn’t know. It was as slow as molasses, but she kept plugging away.
I have talked to so many parents who agree that kids have an internal switch that needs to be flipped on to learn to read. There are things we, as teachers, can do to help make sure that switch is ready to be flipped. You can:
- Read to your child when he is young.
- Ensure he is mastering gross motor, fine motor, and visual discrimination skills.
- Wait until he is at least six years old to begin to teach him to read.
- Protect his developing eyes by encouraging outside play and limiting screen time.
But we cannot flip that switch for our children. Some children are ready at four, evidenced by the fact that they taught themselves to read. Others are not ready until ten as in the case of my daughter and my mentor’s son. (My mentor’s son was a late bloomer and he is now a college graduate and doing amazing things.) You cannot and should not rush your child to read.
Is she reading now?
She is still slow, but is making forward progress and reads every day. As she says, “I can read just about anything now. It just takes me a little longer.”
As I was preparing this post, I asked her if she had anything to say about learning to read. Here is what she said, unedited.
Learning to read is hard, but after you get started and get going for a little bit it gets easier. All you need is the confidence to know that you can learn it and the courage to do it. It’s kind of fun actually.