The thought that her child was significantly behind in reading kept her awake at night. Hannah thought: my child can’t read at 8. She wondered if it was time to find help. Her daughter no longer wanted to go to school. When Hannah told her friends and relatives about Ava’s reading difficulties, they all seemed unconcerned, saying things like: “Oh, she’ll catch on. My neighbor’s kid caught on.” Or “You just need to give her good books!”
Hannah had waited and waited for years for Ava to “catch on” to reading. Pretty soon, she found herself saying, “My child can’t read at 8.” Through this unending process of waiting, Ava’s confidence as a learner began to erode. Soon, Ava was convinced she was stupid.
“My child can’t read at 8,” Hannah’s mind repeated. Furthermore, Hanna was frustrated that others kept recommending “good books.” Of course I give Ava good books—what mother doesn’t?? she thought. To show people the severity of the problem, one morning Hannah recorded her daughter before school.
On the recording, Ava began to sob. “I can’t go to school mom,” she said. “I can’t. Do you know how it feels? It hurts so bad. I can’t read.” Hannah was taken aback by her daughter’s bluntness. Ava dug her face in her pillow and continued to cry. At the end of the recording, Hannah said, “This is every single morning. My daughter is afraid to go to school because she can’t read.”
Every parent of a struggling reader knows this scene. At some point, without a reading intervention, kids that can’t read begin to define themselves as failures. They begin to hate school.
My child can’t read at 8
Every parent of a child that has fallen years below grade level can empathize with Hannah. Parents that think: my child can’t read at 8, have commonalities. They’ve all seen their kid cry due to reading difficulties. They’ve all painfully watched as their child says, “I can’t read. I must be stupid.” Also, they’ve all heard the unhelpful advice to “wait, wait, wait.”
Parents of struggling readers often hear the stories of kids that “catch on” to reading. Parents of kids that read with ease are vocal. As a reading specialist, I understand this. Often, these parents say, “Oh all kids need to read is a book they enjoy. That’s how my kids learned to read.”
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The my child can’t read at 8 club
In contrast, the moms of true struggling readers stay silent. Often for years. They don’t shares stories about how their child never “caught on.” They don’t describe the feeling of lying awake at night knowing their child will sob in the morning because he’s afraid to go to school. They also don’t share that, “hey, it’s actually hurtful for struggling readers to wait, wait, wait, because all that waiting puts kids even further behind.
Hannah sought help when her daughter was in grade 3. At that point, Ava’s reading difficulties were so severe that Ava was three years below grade level. In retrospect, Hannah wished she would’ve gotten help earlier. Once she finally got help, Hannah realized she was part of a club…there were many other struggling readers in her community. Many of these parents could say, “my child can’t read at 8.” All of these kids felt ostracized. All were years behind. The interventions at school weren’t working for anyone.
Parents that google things like, “my child can’t read at 8,” are part of a club. No parent wants to be in this club.
You know you are part of the parents of struggling readers club if you:
-have a strong desire to help other parents of struggling readers
-pass out free helpful information to other members of this community
-sought multiple reading interventions and nothing has worked
-have been told that something is wrong with you or your child
-multiple people say that your child’s reading difficulties are fleeting, a result of bad parenting or because you don’t have enough good books in your house
-wondered what in the world you should do when your child came home from school sobbing—on a daily basis
-been shocked by your child’s perspicuity when he said things like, “I guess I’m not going to college then. If I can’t read, I can’t go to college.”
Kids in European countries can read late, because the orthography in their language is much simpler. Not so for English-speaking kids.
The French neuroscientist Stanislaus Dehaene highlighted in his book Reading in the Brain that English is the most difficult European language to learn to read. Among European languages, English orthography is the most opaque, meaning our spelling patterns are the most unpredictable. In contrast, Swedish is a very transparent language. Their spelling patterns are regular. Most European languages have predictable spelling patterns. In English, there are tons of exceptions to rules. This is because English is borrowed from many languages. As a result, it takes English-speaking kids many years to learn to read.
If you are a parent of a struggling reader, someone has probably told you, “Oh don’t worry, Swedish kids don’t learn to read until age 7.” You know intuitively that something is off here. Now you can response with, “Yes, that’s because their language is transparent. It takes Swedish kids a matter of months to learn to read. In contrast, it takes English-speaking kids FOUR years to learn to read.” If you are a parent of a struggling reader, you might have to add a few years to this timeline. Furthermore, ALL European languages have more predictable spelling patterns than English.
Struggling readers will not teach themselves to read
The idea that a bad reader just needs a good book is almost ubiquitous. Yet, we know from reading research, that struggling readers require intensive systematic phonics instruction. A “good book” will not solve reading failure. The myth that a good book can essentially teach a struggling reader comes from the Whole Language movement. Whole language promises that good literature will get kids reading. The whole language method was implemented in California in 1987 and led to disastrous reading scores. The functional illiteracy rate soared to 60%. Reading scores got so bad, California dropped to the lowest performing state in the continental United States. Record numbers of parents found themselves in the “my child can’t read at 8” situation. Yet, the idea that good literature teaches kids to read still prevails.
If you find yourself thinking, “my child can’t read at 8,” what are the first steps?
Talk to other parents of struggling readers. Find other parents of struggling readers who think: my child can’t read at 8? Other parents of struggling readers can share their story. I’m talking about true struggling readers. Trust me, you will KNOW when you find this community. Parents of struggling readers can tell you about people in the your community that have helped them. They might recommend the best reading tutor, the best decodable texts, and tactics that helped their own child. Also, if you think: my child can’t read at 8, find a reading interventionist.
Find a reading interventionist that can tell you exactly what your child knows and doesn’t know
An expert reading interventionist will share precise information. My child can’t read at 8, thought Hannah, but she was relieved when she found someone that could help. With a qualified reading interventionist, you can learn exactly what sound units your child can’t read. You can learn why your child seems almost blind to sight words. Also, you can discover decodable texts your child CAN read. In addition, a reading expert can recommend reading intervention programs for your child. Contrary to what many intervention programs say, there are many programs that can help struggling readers and dyslexic students. Funnily enough, each one of these programs falsely claims none of the other programs work! It all can be very confusing territory for parents.
If you are interested in what makes a reading intervention program work, learn more about systematic phonics instruction that teaches phonemic awareness and uses decodable texts.
Discover printable phonics books in our my child can’t read at 8 library.