Before I could read, I remember wanting to know how. There was something strange and magical about silently staring at pages that “spoke.” Books told stories about everything, about people from places I’d never been, about fun things like magic pebbles and kids owning dinosaurs as pets.
I asked my dad to read, “Where’s Spot” over and over until I memorized the words. Of course, I still didn’t know how to read. But I pretended I could.
KIDS ARE EXCITED TO LEARN TO READ
Nearly all children, starting from toddlerhood, pretend to read. They show us just how much they want to read. They want to understand the weird squiggles written on nearly everything, from books, to food items, to traffic signs. Reading is mysterious. Since words are everywhere, children view reading as a gateway into another world, a world that only older kids and adults understand.
In K-2, we must “catch” this enthusiasm for reading. If a child has reading problems, this enthusiasm fades. They begin to resent reading time. Since they can’t read many of the words, their confidence dwindles. A child with reading problems might wonder, “Why can Aidan read cool chapter books, while I’m stuck on Sam’s Hat?”
ENTHUSIASM FOR READING FADES
Children with reading problems can make significant gains in reading. Unfortunately, most children are not diagnosed with reading problems until third grade (from Why Kids Can’t Read by Reid Lyon, pg. 25).
Of course, parents keep a watchful eye on how their child is doing in reading. However, many schools claim students will “catch on.” Schools reassure parents their struggling reader is simply not developmentally ready to read. This reassurance keeps parents waiting and waiting for that moment when their child will finally “catch on” to reading—a moment that never arrives.
In fact, the idea that a child with reading problems will “catch on” is counter to everything we know about reading. Studies such as the Connecticut Longitudinal Study of Learning monitor children’s reading progress from Kindergarten to high school. These studies show that students that are behind in reading, stay behind. Without a research-based reading intervention, reading problems are persistent and chronic. We know research-based reading interventions work. Oftentimes, these interventions are the only way a child will learn to read.
Many concerned parents feel lost once they decide to get help. My child is behind in reading? My child has significant reading problems. What do I do? The following are some tips to help guide parents on this journey.
FIVE TIPS TO HELP CHILDREN WITH READING PROBLEMS:
1) AUDIBLE BOOKS
Sure, audible books don’t solve the immediate problem. You’re child isn’t reading. She’s way, way behind. You’re focused on getting her reading—as you should be!
In addition to getting a reading intervention, get her listening to books. Did you know there’s a major shift that happens in language development? Once children learn how to read, they start learning MORE words from BOOKS than from SPEECH! If a child isn’t reading, her vocabulary is basically at a standstill.
If you get her hooked on audible books, she’ll learn lots of new words. Her listening comprehension will improve. In later grades, a child’s listening comprehension is directly linked to reading comprehension (Biemiller, A, 1999). Invest in audible and some nice headphones Before bedtime, have your struggling reader listen to an audible book for 30 minutes. Pick a book she likes!
2) FOCUS ON DECODING SKILLS
Children with reading problems needs decoding skills. Many children in K-3 struggle with decoding. They struggle with actually reading the words! Get a reading assessment. English orthography (spelling) is complex. If you try to figure out your child’s decoding weaknesses, you might find yourself overwhelmed.
If your student is in the very beginning stages of reading, start with letter sounds. After letter sounds, she can start reading printable short vowel books.
If your student is beyond letter sounds, I highly recommend hiring a reading tutor that specializes in reading interventions. Make sure your reading tutor follows a step-by-step research-based reading curriculum. Get references.
3) FIND LEVELED BOOKS
All reading students need leveled books, but children with reading problems especially need them. How do you know if a book is leveled? Here’s a rough guide: If your student is missing 8 out of every 100 words, the book is too hard. If your student always reads hard books, she’ll hate reading. I mean hate reading like it’s a scorpion racing after her. She’ll also feel like a failure. Set her up for success!
However, books can be too easy too. If your student is missing 2 out of every 100 words, the book is too easy. As you can see, these numbers are incredibly precise. Yes, finding “leveled books” is a challenge. But it’s so worth it!
4) DECIDE YOUR ROLE
Should you even work with the student? If you are the parent, do your reading sessions turn into epic battles? One mom said, “My son and I fight during reading time. You’ve no idea. He says, ‘Mom, the words are so hard. I’m tired! I can’t read!’ It ends with both of us crying.”
Parent child relationships are unique, beautiful and precious. But, this doesn’t mean working with your child is a good idea. Sometimes the emotions that arise during a time of reading failure are intense. Moms find their child’s reading problems so heartbreaking. Children get easily irritated with their parents that so desperately want to help. Sometimes, working together makes matters worse.
Also, you want to find someone that can really target your child’s instructional level. A reading intervention will push your child’s reading limits just enough. A reading specialist will know how to create a leveled lesson for your student.
PRAISE THEIR SUCCESSES, BUT BE GENUINE
When a child experiences reading failure and she finally starts making real progress, everyone jumps in to praise her. Be conscientious with your praise. Kids can sniff inauthenticity. We all know this, yet it’s still tempting to blurt out “great job!” after every word they read.
“Great job!” a hundred times over can make kids feel belittled. They start thinking, “I’m such a bad reader, I get praise for reading anything!” Instead, take a different approach.
Remind them where they once were. Show them how far they’ve come. Say, “You’re making great progress.” Praise them if they make an error and correct their error. Praise them in moments when you’re genuinely excited. They will appreciate your authenticity.
Also, when reading time is over, it’s over. Yes, they need to focus on reading often. At all other times, try not to remind them of reading unless it’s in a very positive way. Reward your student with some inattention to reading.