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What NOT To Do If Your Child is a Struggling Reader

Geoff Nixon

By Geoff Nixon

Reading at home is crucial to the learning to read journey

Parents have such an important role to play in their child’s learning to read journey. Reading at home is so important. And so it is important for parents to have a clear idea of their role and what they want for their child, which in not always aligned with what the school wants.

Each elementary teacher has a brief to move each child along in reading, no matter what.  While this sounds good and right, sometimes the urgency of meeting short term self-imposed reading goals for a class can end up turning children off reading, an impact that can have a much more negative and lasting impact on your child as a reader than any  loss of ground in a year early on..

The love of reading goal

Reading is an essential lifelong career and life skill.  And really, so-called reading to learn does not kick in for earnest until high school.  And so if your child is in elementary or middle school, you have time.  Your mission in terms of managing reading at home for your child is create a pathway to reading that attaches reading to positive and good things, not stress and frustration.

If you can do that your child can learn tp love reading and be a lifelong read

The period of development when a child is learning to read is exciting for both the child and the parent. Children see the benefits of hard work as they gain a new understanding and sense of independence, and the parent acknowledges the success of the child with some personal pride in their child’s growth.

However, if the child has problem with reading, or a slowed pace of learning, this can be frustrating for the child as well as unnerving for the parent. Is this slower pace a sign of larger issues? Should reading  at home be pushed onto the child at a constant pace to ensure that the child will develop along with their peers?

Parenthood is filled with all sorts of anxieties regarding children’s development—reading is only one facet. But there are aspects of learning to read of which all parents should be aware to best support their child’s personal development.

Learning to Read Takes Time

Reading is a skill that takes time to develop, and every child will learn at a different pace. That pace is dictated by many factors, one of which is natural cognitive skill development, in particular language processing skills and attentiveness.  For most children, these skills have developed by the age of 7 years ago, at which time your child is ready to read.

For some children however these essential reading skills do take a little longer to develop.

It does not matter much when a child starts reading, as reading skills tend to fill in for children as they get older. Some countries don’t even start reading instruction until children turn seven and so by US standards, where the pressure is on from five, there is time.

The more important priority is that your child ends up being a reader, a lifelong reader. Your two North Stars in guiding your child on a path to a lifelong love of reading:

  1. Decoding needs to be effortless – by 3rd or 4th grade
  2. Don’t turn your child off to reading

Regarding #1, be vigilant. If decoding is labored in 3rd or 4th grade, if fluency does not really progress, you should see reading help. If reading is not automatic, reading will always be a chore and a love of reading is probably not achievable.

Reading at Home  – What NOT To Do

Consequently, there are key elements of which you should be aware in shepherding your child through the period of reading development, particularly if they are a struggling reader.

Don’t compare

Don’t over-anticipate your child’s development compared to siblings or peers. Yes, your child might be among the group that is able to recognize the ABCs at eighteen months of age, and that is exciting. But that doesn’t mean that your child will continue at a lightning pace into the skills necessary for reading.

It is important to be aware of the child’s rhythms, not only moment to moment, but month to month and year to year. Do not compare your child to classmates or siblings as that can serve to erode a child’s confidence, and a sample of one or a few is not that instructive.

If you are concerned, keep a journal to track progress. With a diary that tracks the child’s development, parents might be less inclined to over-focus on the day-to-day success or failure of each lesson and become more aware of the overall gains that the child is accruing.  If you notice decoding is not progress, yes, it’s time to take action.

Don’t teach bad reading habits

Many educators, and consequently many parents, will try to help a child when learning to read at home by having them guess at particular words with which they have trouble.

The guessing is usually based on the pictures or drawings that accompany texts in the child’s workbook. The problem with that strategy is that as the child develops, there will be fewer visual cues that accompany each story. If the child learns to guess, there is less of an opportunity for success in the long run. Instead, parents should help the child to sound out each word.

While this process might be time consuming and occasionally frustrating for both parent and child, the skills that are developed through sounding out words are the same skills that they will take with them through a lifetime of reading.

Don’t become too fixated on reading levels – ZPD

Many schools will organize books by reading levels, which is a great idea.  We love the whole idea of “just right” books.

To have your child reading just right books, especially the kinds of books that can turn your child onto reading for life – for young children en or  9-11 year olds,-  you do need to know your child’s reading level, approximately.

But please understand that a reading level is somewhat indicative only.  Reading test results can vary one day to another, and different tests prioritize and weigh different factors, e.g., Gemm Learning’s test focuses on phonemic awareness and decoding, others focus more on vocabulary.

And that actually, your child should be reading a wide range of books in her Zone of Proximal Development, defined at Renaissance Learning as ” the readability range within which pupils should read to best develop their reading, while avoiding frustration.”

This includes books that are easy, and some that are just above their reading level. Here’s a primer how to select books for your child, staying the reading zone.  It’s navigating a path between building confidence, and challenging in a way that be extraordinary confidence boosters as the child works to improve.

Don’t ignore the possibility of an underlying learning issue

A child is not out of the woods reading-wise until he is reading at an 8th grade level – fluently, with reading comprehension and metacognition.

Yes, children develop at different paces. And yes, parents should be patient with their children and recognize when the child needs more time with a particular task. But parents should also be aware of the possibility of issues that are preventing the child from learning at a pace that is within the timely framework of their learning development. Particularly if they notice that their child doesn’t seem to be progressing at all.

If the child has underlying cognitive skill delays, the sooner those issues are acknowledged the better. The sooner that child can receive the help and guidance that will serve them throughout their learning careers and their lifetimes.

Lastly, don’t turn reading at home into a chore or, worse, a punishment

Learning to read can be frustrating and tiring for a child. The pressure of having to succeed, particularly in the setting of a classroom with a friend group that is progressing at variable speeds, makes failure an extremely upsetting prospect for children. Take the time necessary for the child to proceed and reap as much from each learning or practice session as possible.

While both you and your child might wish that the whole process could be streamlined, part of learning is the process itself: take time to enjoy the time you spend reading at home with your child, and celebrate the successes.

Remember, the goal of learning to read is not simply the learning itself, but also instilling in the child a lifelong love of reading that they can take with them wherever they go.

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