For most of us, reading is as natural as breathing,but it didn’t begin that way. Children don’t enter the world reading.
Much like math, reading is a composed of a variety of skills that work pretty seamlessly together for most of us. So when we are teaching our children to read, we often neglect some of the basic skills that a child needs to develop in order to read fluently with understanding. Here are a few:
- letter recognition
- the ability to scan letters in the correct order
- the ability for the eyes to scan back and forth across the page
- sounding out individual letters and letter combinations
- recognition of whole words
- understanding reading
As I’ve worked with students, I’ve discovered two major challenges that students have:
- inability to read words
- inability to understand what is read
The inability to read words can be due to vision problems, sensory processing problems or imbalances in the brain. Many of these students are diagnosed with dyslexia. Letters aren’t seen in the correct order, or their eyes bounce all over the page. They can’t seem to scan a page of writing and keep their place. My own daughter struggled with this. If a student has a brain imbalance, they will also struggle to remember the sounds of letters. So parents will find themselves reviewing the same sounds over and over and over. It seems like the sounds won’t “stick”. It’s frustrating.
To read more about brain imbalances, check out The Disconnected Kid by Robert Melillo.
Here are simple things to try if your child struggles to read:
- Use a note card or sheet of paper to cover up the words they aren’t reading. The top of the card or paper should be right underneath the line of text they are reading. This keeps them on the right line.
- For some kids, using their finger is helpful. The moving finger will keep them focused and it keeps them from losing their place as they read.
- Do vision scanning exercises.
These exercises are outlined in The Disconnected Kid. You will find lots of great information in this book along with many other exercises.
- Have your child keep his or her head facing forward. Without moving their head, have them follow your finger as far to the right as possible and as far to the left as possible. Move slowly. Watch both of their eyes to check for movement.
- Lazy eights are another exercise that can be done. Have the child stretch out their arm in front of them with their thumb pointing upward. Then move the thumb in a figure eight motion at a moderate speed. Like the exercise above, they should follow their thumb with their eyes only. If your child is having trouble keeping their eyes focused on the thumb, put a colorful sticker on their thumb to draw their attention.
- Read together consistently every day.
When reading is difficult, the temptation is to avoid reading. Unfortunately, this approach can actually prolong the time it takes for a child to become a better reader. I suggest reading a little bit every day.
Start with a small time, like 5 minutes. Start with reading that is easy. You’re trying to create a habit of reading. This will also help your child to gain confidence in their reading ability. These small victories will do wonders in helping them to continue reading as the reading becomes more difficult.
Gradually add more and more time to their reading.
- Recognize that reading is work.
It may not be work for you, but it is for the early reader. Sounding out all of those words, can be exhausting! Having to think about every word, stay on the right line, and remember what you’ve read doesn’t come easily for some kids. That’s why short reading lessons are so great! It gives your child an opportunity to take a break.
- Read to them and listen to books on tape.
This allows them to enjoy books and will perhaps inspire them to become good readers themselves.
- Find a good phonics based program, and persist in completing lessons daily.
- lessons should be short and repetitive
- Here are many good programs out there. I used: A Reading Lesson: Teach your Child to Read in 20 Easy Lessons (I used this for three of my own children. My struggling reader needed additional phonics instruction outside of this book.)
- Ask them questions about their reading.
These questions are meant to help with reading comprehension. Here are the kind of questions that you can ask:
- Why did ____ happen?”
- In the middle of the story, stop and ask “What do you think will happen next?”
- “what was he/she doing?”
- “How would you feel if that happened to you?”
- “What if ________ happened? How would that change the story?”
- “What do you think he/she saw?”
- Have them give you a summary of the story. (you don’t want them to retell the story in detail. Just the highlights.
- Have them tell you what the story was about in one or two sentences
- Ask about one or two details in the story.
- Ask something like, “What happened before/after____ happened?”
- Don’t give up!
I hope these ideas give you a great place to start if you’re child is struggling to read. I’d love to hear from you. What kind of reading struggle is your child having? Which tip was most helpful to you?