25 Reading Experts' Advice - How to Help a Child Struggling with Reading
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Are you the parent of a child who needs to know how to help a child struggling with reading? We have asked the foremost experts and specialists in the areas of reading and literacy and asked them this question:
"What is your best piece of advice for the parent of a struggling reader?"
If you are that parent seeking to find out how to help your child or to know why students struggle with reading, read ahead to enjoy this treasure trove of rich information and great advice from experienced and researched professionals.
Allison McDonald B.A, B.Ed, M.S, No Time For Flashcards
My advice would be to find the right books for your child and provide access to them. When I say right books I’m not talking about the exact reading level, I’m talking about the right interest level. Books your child can’t put down. This might be a book you don’t love but we need to look at the big picture of getting kids to read with out micromanaging what they are reading. The reality is that the more a child reads the better they read. Let your child choose what they want to read at home and within your means provide as much of that material as you can to keep the momentum going.
Allison McDonald, B.A, B.Ed, M.S, has been in the field of education for 26 years and is the founder and editor of notimeforflashcards.com.
Jamie Reimer, Hands On As We Grow
When working with pre-readers, it's super helpful to just point out words to them in their environment and sound it out with them. As they get to reading on their own, let them try on their own, but be there to help them out. It's a hard balance to know when to swoop in and when to let them try, but you'll figure it out. I just think it's best to not push them to try on their own if they're really struggling, the goal is to make sure it is still fun for them and not a chore or feeling like it's something they're no good at.
Jamie is a Mom of three and owner of handsonaswegrow.com.
Vanessa Levin, Pre-K Pages
If a child is struggling to read I suggest trying to pinpoint the reasons why the child is struggling. Does the child have solid phonological awareness skills in place? Does the child have a solid understanding of concepts of print? Once you know the reasons behind why your child is struggling, you can start focusing on ways to help him succeed.
Vanessa Levin is an early childhood teacher, consultant, public speaker, author, and owner of pre-kpages.com.
Melissa Taylor, Imagination Soup
It's essential to find out why your reader is struggling. In my experience, there are four big reasons -- they haven't found the right book, they have vision issues, they have a learning issue, or they don't like to sit still. Once you get the reason, you can support your child more specifically. And remember, there is no shame in a learning issue. The sooner you get a child diagnosed and supported, the more successful they will be.
Melissa Taylor, M.A. in Education is a mom, writer, former elementary teacher, literacy trainer and owner at imaginationsoup.net.
Alison, Learning at the Primary Pond
Help your child find ways to enjoy books, even if they aren't through traditional reading! Reading aloud (even to "big kids") is great, and so are audio books.
Alison is a literacy specialist, consultant, and owner of learningattheprimarypond.com.
Rachel Lynette, Minds In Bloom
Help your child find ways to enjoy books, even if they aren't through traditional reading! Reading aloud (even to "big kids") is great, and so are audio books.
Rachel works as a full-time writer and creator/seller of teacher resources. She has over 100 nonfiction books for children in print, and is the owner of minds-in-bloom.com.
Alison Monk, The Literacy Garden
The secret to motivating children to want to read on their own is to read aloud to them! Through reading aloud to your child, you can increase their curiosity, engage their imagination, and introduce your child to the pleasures great stories can provide.
Kristin (Jordan) Riley, Ms. Jordan Reads
The best piece of advice I would give to parents of struggling readers is to help their children fall back in love with reading. More often than not, struggling readers develop a negative attitude toward reading. When reading becomes difficult it becomes less fun and children eventually dislike books and reading. At home, parents can try and make reading fun again!
A few ideas:
• Read books TOGETHER. As a parent, you can read books TO them (kids are never too old for this!), or you can read books WITH them (partner read every other page or chapter!).
• Listen to books on tape in the car and talk about what’s happening together. If your child doesn’t get carsick, encourage him/her to follow along with the book!
• Designate family reading times where everyone reads. It can be the same book or different books. Could even be magazines or graphic novels, as long as everyone is reading. Pop popcorn, build a reading fort, snuggle up under a giant blanket... just make it a positive reading experience where the focus isn’t on specific reading skills but on just reading for FUN. If it’s independent reading, let them pick books that are interesting and at their independent level. It’s ok if the books are a little too easy, as long as it gets them reading!
• Help them pick out new and interesting books! Go to the library weekly to pick out books for fun. These will be books of their choice and not ones that you or a teacher picks for them. Help them find books that match their interests (you may need to borrow a bunch and try new genres). Find a new series to HOOK them into reading!
• Host a book swap party! Put together a fun party for your child and his/her friends where they each bring their favorite book. They can bring it wrapped (so it’s a mystery and they can pick a few words to describe it) or bring it unwrapped so each child can look at the cover and skim through. The books can be new or used. The best part is, each child leaves with a new book and it may be one that they wouldn’t have picked for themselves!
Kristin is a Literacy Specialist in Western NY and the owner of msjordanreads.com.
Judith Araujo, M.Ed., CAGS, mrsjudyaraujo.com
On my website, I pinpoint 5 different problems students may have, and listed strategies for parents to help at home. Is the problem:
My biggest tip is perseverance. Kids learn to read by reading!
Judith Araujo M.Ed., CAGS Reading Specialist is owner of her comprehensive reading site at mrsjudyaraujo.com
Timothy Shanahan, Shanahan on Literacy
What do I tell parents who have kids who are struggling readers?
If you suspect or are being told that your child has a reading problem do something.
There was a time when parents were advised to wait to give the child a chance to “mature,” and parents often hope that reading problems are something their children will outgrow. However, age doesn’t typically solve these problems.
Getting the school to address the need, helping your child yourself, or even hiring a tutor are all reasonable responses—even if your child is only in kindergarten or first grade.
Don’t believe claims that if a reading problem isn't fixed early that it can’t be fixed.
This sounds like I’m arguing against my first point. I’m not. Sometimes, even when a child receives help they continue to lag; reading is a tough hill to climb for some children. There is so much emphasis on early intervention that I fear that parents of older struggling readers may be discouraged and will think the situation is hopeless.
That is not the case. Though older struggling readers tend to be further behind (so catching them up takes longer), they still can be taught to read effectively, and neither parents nor schools should give up on them!
Protect your child’s vocabulary.
Vocabulary development (knowing the meanings of lots of words) is implicated in academic success. A good deal of vocabulary learning comes from reading. But children who struggle with reading, tend to not read very much so their vocabularies lag.
Even when their reading problem has been successfully addressed, these kids may have fallen behind in vocabulary. Parents can play an important role in supporting their child’s language growth during remediation. Read to your child and talk about the words and ideas. Watch television together—especially documentaries and programs that expose them to science and history, and engage in discussions of this material. Read their social studies and science books with them. And, if there are museums, zoos, theatres, and other resources available access them. Don’t let children’s language atrophy just because reading is lagging.
Timothy Shanahan is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he was Founding Director of the UIC Center for Literacy. Previously, he was director of reading for the Chicago Public Schools. He is author/editor of more than 200 publications on literacy education. His research emphasizes the connections between reading and writing, literacy in the disciplines, and improvement of reading achievement. Visit his website at shanahanonliteracy.com.
Kim Yaris and Jan Burkins, burkinsandyaris.com
In our opinion, the biggest mistake that parents of children who are experiencing difficulty is that they step completely out of the parenting role and step squarely into the teacher role. While we understand the urgency parents feel and their drive to work with their children on reading skills, eliminating traditional parent roles around reading can backfire.
If you replace the bedtime interaction where the parent reads aloud to the child for pleasure, for example, with extra practice from a text sent home from school, it is likely to make the child more frustrated and less likely to see the purpose behind the work.
If, however, you continue reading aloud to your child with a different time dedicated to school practice, then you maintain that intimacy and you help the child understand the goal of all the hard work: joyful reading experiences.
Kim Yaris is the founder of Literacy Builders and spends more than 100 days per year consulting in schools. Jan Burkins, founder of Literacyhead, has authored and co-authored several books, including IRA’s bestseller, Preventing Misguided Reading.
Jan and Kim’s first book together, Reading Wellness (Stenhouse, 2014), shares field-tested, practical lessons designed to meet the rigorous demands of the Common Core while increasing joy in classrooms. With more than 40 combined years of experience in school districts, Jan and Kim’s work is steeped in literacy research but both have the heart of a practitioner. You can visit their website at burkinsandyaris.com.
Lori Rosenburg, Teaching With Love and Laughter
If your child is struggling with reading at home, make sure you conference with your child’s teacher because she’ll be able to tell you where his strengths and weaknesses are.
Just because your child is having difficulty reading doesn’t mean he has a learning disability. Many children need more time to mature and develop.
Understanding why your child is having difficulty will give you more confidence to help him succeed. If your child senses that you are worried or anxious, he will feel the same way. The last thing you want is for your daily reading sessions to be tense and stressful.
Choose your reading materials together, making sure to have a good selection of high interest reading materials available. Your child’s teacher can suggest good fit books.
Take turns reading with your child or read out loud together. Encourage your child to use the word attack skills he is learning in school and praise him for his efforts. Keep your reading sessions short and sweet. It’s important that your child views reading as fun, interesting, and important.
Lori has been teaching for 21 years, every grade from Pre-k through fifth grade, and owns teachingwithloveandlaughter.com.
Carla Fedeler, The Comprehension Connection
Most parents believe that their child will start school, learn the alphabet and sounds, and magically start reading. For many, it does just happen naturally, but for some, it's a much more challenging process. For those who struggle with learning to read, it's important to figure out the cause.
Is the child struggling with memory of letter shapes or letter sounds, struggling with how to blend sounds to make words, or struggling with matching spoken words to print, with reading accuracy or with fluency?
We can determine what the struggle is with a lot of kid watching during the reading process and as a child works with word building/decoding activities. Taking notes of what's observed helps pinpoint where the breakdown is. Those notes can help parents and teachers work together to create an intervention plan and determine if targeted lessons with a tutor or reading specialist is needed.
Sometimes, a checklist like THIS ONE helps parents know what is expected at certain grade levels. They can help in guiding parent teacher conferences. Reading skills develop in a specific order, so if we can identify what a child can do, what skills are in progress, and which skills he/she isn't ready for yet, then we have a "roadmap" to guide our next steps.
Carla Fedeler, author of Comprehension Connection, is a Certified Reading Specialist with 27 Years of Service in Grades K-5.
Jen Jones, Hello Literacy, Inc.
First of all, the term "struggling reader" should be used with caution because the term itself is negative so this doesn't set a good tone with parents or with the child.
In addition, the term "struggling" is subjective. For example, "struggling" according to what criteria? According to computer tests, benchmarks assessments or just the teacher's opinion, and "struggling" is a very broad term; a student probably doesn't struggle in ALL areas of literacy.
Teachers should be more specific about what exactly in reading or writing a child struggles with, and be purposeful in also telling parents what the child does do well as a reader and a writer.
With all that said, parents will not want to harp on the "struggles" their child is having in reading in front of their children. Although this seems counterintuitive as a parent, but taking their children to the library and letting them pick out ANY books they want to read is going to be essential to help students develop a positive reading identity.
Research shows that when children have the freedom to self-select the books they want to read, the more willing and motivated they will be to read them, especially if the books are on topics and subjects the child is interested in. For example, if a student motorcycles, dirt bikes and monster trucks, books about these topics will be very interesting for this child.
Developing as a reader takes time, specifically at least 15-20 minutes per day. Reading is a lot like bathing, or eating or working out; you must do it daily if you want it to be effective. Doing anything daily consistently over time, develops lifetime habits.
Parents will also want to read themselves. Having your child see you reading speak volumes to what you find important, when you read and your child sees you read, you send the message to your children that reading is in fact, important.
Parents will also want to read to their children. Choose a picture book or chapter book together with your child and read it out loud to your child. Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, says that parents should continue to read to their children long after they become a reader...and Sarah MacKenzie, author of The Read-Aloud Family, recommends reading out loud to your child from birth to their teenage years.
Jen Jones is a K-12 Reading Specialist, ELA Staff Developer, TpT Teacher Author & Blogger at Hello Literacy, Inc.
Janssen Bradshaw, Everyday Reading
Try audiobooks! When you're struggling with the mechanics of reading, it can completely kill the fun of a great story for a while. Listening to audiobooks (especially in the car when you're buckled in and there isn't much to do anyway) is such a great way for struggling readers to experience the magic of a good story, plus develop skills that help with reading like following a storyline and keeping track of characters.And most children can listen on a much higher level than they can read themselves, much like a 3-year-old can listen to and follow along with a picture book very well even if they could never read it themselves.
Janssen is a former elementary school librarian and the owner of www.everyday-reading.com.
Jill Castek, Literacy Beat
My best advice is to enjoy reading, listening, and talking together about anything the child is interested in. Pairing, reading, listening, and talking together about a topic encourages connections that may lead to making, creating, visualizing.
These literacy processes are all connected and encourage new vocabulary and knowledge building. Make it fun and have fun making connections.
Jill is a Research Assistant Professor at Portland State University, and a Literacy and Technology Researcher and former Reading Specialist with a decade of experience working with striving readers. She is a contributing author at literacybeat.com.
Colleen Noffsinger, Literacy Loving Gals
Now that I'm a parent (boy/girl twins in First Grade), I've seen the benefits of reading with, to, and alongside my children, every single day (if possible).
Following the works of Donalyn Miller, I've come to realize how much reading can actually be accomplished (for enjoyment and practice- kids), if you adhere to her advice of "reading in the edges of your day".
I've read numerous books, as have my kids, when we carry books with us where ever we go. Many parents feel large chunks of time each day are hard to schedule, especially when they work two jobs, have multiple children in the home with outside activities, dinner to prepare, and so on, to check off of their checklist before kids go to bed each evening. I've been there! I get it!
The hustle and bustle of the few hours when school ends and bedtime routines begin is feverish. 20-30 consecutive minutes to dedicate to reading may be hard to do, unless you change your mindset. When I grab my kids from school, they hop in and grab a book to read on the way home (10 mins), or read some pages of a book, while waiting for dinner, etc. During dinner, we chat about our school days (my hubby is a teacher, too) and stories we've listened to, heard about, read, etc.
Choosing and giving access to books that help my kids develop a love of reading is so beneficial, too. Going to the library so they can choose books they want to read is priceless.
Nowadays, in the world of "leveled texts", I feel children have become confined to reading only within their "level". Even my own kids get leveled books sent home to read with reading logs, and are required to stick within the book bins marked with their "level". They know in our home, they have choice and choice equals engagement! I feel it's a disservice to them and everyone involved to tell kids what they can and can't read. Reading the same books over and over should not be discouraged!
Levels are for teachers to use, not parents. Teachers are trained, parents are not. Reading books that are "easy" for kids to read has tremendous benefits, yet they are told to "move on" to more challenging books.
With independent/easy books, they can practice sight words in context, build fluency, as well as develop confidence as a reader and focus on the enjoyment of the stories. Once confidence is there, perseverance becomes apparent, too, especially when they find themselves reading more difficult books, that interest them.
On the other hand, reading books to my children that may be difficult for them to read on their own (at first), allows them to access the language structures and vocabulary that will help them in their future reading. Conversations around books are a must. Let them have opinions, dislikes, favorites, and so on. Also, read alongside your kids. Be a reading role model.
Overall, my advice is as follows:
- Read every day- with, to, alongside (even if it's for smaller chunks of time throughout the day and not in one sitting)
- Read all kinds of books, even if they are above and/or below the "assigned level" at school- forget about the levels
- Read for enjoyment and information (get a good mix of fiction and nonfiction- talk about the books- have fun conversations)
- Read magazines, comic books, books on computers or iPad apps, paperback/hardcover books (my favorite- love the smell of real books!), everything.
- Visit the library and make it an enjoyable experience (my kids decorated their own canvas bag with paint to bring to and from the library- motivator!)
- Give books as gifts- show books as something exciting to give and receive (The Wonky Donkey, Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, the "What if you had Animal...? series" are all favorites- a good mix of both fiction and nonfiction)
- Let kids see adults in the home reading for enjoyment (be a role model - get off your phones!)
Colleen has been an educator for 22 years, the last 8 as a Reading Specialist. She is the owner of Literacy Loving Gals.
Emily Gibbons, The Literacy Nest
Trust your instincts. Very often, the wait and see approach isn't always the best approach for a struggling reader. Seek help as soon as you can.
Keep praising your child at home. Stress and anxiety can weigh heavily on a struggling reader. Replace the language of self doubt for them with the language of success by practicing a growth mindset.
Emily Gibbons, M.Ed A/AOGPE & IDA Certified Dyslexia Practitioner, Owner of theliteracynest.com.
Shannon Olsen, Life Between Summers
Find ways to make reading fun instead of a chore, even if it sometimes means finding unconventional ways to do so.
Try this non-traditional reading log if you’d like to check out some fun ways to encourage reading! It’s geared toward teachers but parents can use it with their child at home.
Shannon has been teaching 2nd Grade for 13 years and is the owner of life-between-summers.com.
Maria Carlita, Kindermomma
My best advice would be to find high interest, easy reading material and allow time every night to read together.
Making reading fun and engaging is something schools don't always do as teaching skills is high on the priority list.
Maria has been a Kindergarten Teacher for 20 years and is the owner of kindermomma.com.
Faith Borkowsky, High Five Literacy
With parent-teacher conferences around the corner, you may hear that your child has gone up a level or two in reading based on the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System (F&P BAS).
What does this actually mean in terms of your child’s skill in learning to read? It might surprise you that your child can show improvement all year and yet still not be reading at a proficient level.
Most importantly, the F&P BAS does not have a specific trajectory for students to reach a goal. Since the teacher is observing reading behaviors rather than tracking reading skills, the teacher is left to figure out which underlying skills are causing a child to stagnate. Although the teacher is aware of the letters representing the actual level and the desired grade level, just determining a reading level does not pinpoint the skill deficits which need to be addressed.
Some students may move up in their reading levels naturally as they progress in the classroom without the teacher doing anything specialized to assist them. Progress, however, does not equate with proficiency, and parents should be asking what the teacher or reading specialist will do to specifically address their child’s needs.”
Read further in her article The Parent-Teacher Conference: Reading Progress vs. Proficiency to be prepared for your child's next parent-teacher conference, especially if your student is a struggling reader.
Faith is a Certified Dyslexia Practitioner and the founder of High Five Literacy and Academic Coaching. She has 30 years of experience as a Classroom Teacher, Reading and Learning Specialist, Regional Literacy Coach, Administrator, and Private Tut
Betsy Potash, Spark Creativity
It can be so hard for books to compete with everything else that attracts our kids today. For my high school readers, my best success comes from connecting them to the books that their peers love.
I like to keep a running list of the books that are viral for their age group. For example, I feel confident when I put The Outsiders, Harry Potter, Ender's Game, or The Hunger Games into the hands of a reluctant reader, that there's a good chance they will read the whole thing. Especially if I can give them a little time to start it in class.
Try to find out what the most popular books are for your child's age group. Then get the audiobook to listen to in the car or read the first chapter out loud at bedtime, or just keep making it available when there's not really anything else to do. If it's a series, so much the better.
My six-year-old son was reluctant to start reading independently, but after falling in love with the Junie B. Jones books at school when his teacher read them out loud, he read the whole first grade series himself over a couple of months in the period after we tucked him in at night. He had the choice to either read for fun or just go to bed, no screens were an option at that time.
Don't worry about giving your child a "classic" or "challenging" book. All that matters in hooking a reluctant reader is to get them a book they like (that's appropriate, of course). Get them through the gate, let them flex their reading muscles, and then watch in wonder at where they'll go.
Betsy helps ELA teachers escape from behind the podium, sharing strategies and activities to achieve meaningful creative community in class. Visit her website and podcast at nowsparkcreativity.com.
Mary Biagianti, A Million Ways to Learn
My best advice to a parent of a struggling reader is: Don’t be afraid of letting your child use a lower level and/or repetitive book to practice fluency. I know it may seem more productive to give your child that higher level reading book to push them, but in reality their comfort level and confidence will rise as they become overly familiar with their favorite books. Reading the same book repeatedly brings confidence and fluency. This is a building block to reading higher level books.
Mary is a teacher of more than 23 years, with certificates in special education, elementary education, teaching English as a second language, and holds a principal certificate of eligibility. She is also certified Wilson Level I and has a working knowledge of Spanish and American Sign Language. She is the owner of A Million Ways to Learn.
Shana Renee, Steps 2 Read
Struggling readers are usually children with pieces missing. It may be basic reading components that were taught when they weren't ready to learn.
Maybe they haven't mastered all of their letters or letter sounds. Maybe they can't blend sounds together to hear words. Maybe they can read, but don't hear themselves when their read, so they're not getting a message.
My best advice is to always find out what they know first, so you have a place to start with instruction. Then teach with instructional materials... not grade level materials. Reading materials too difficult will definitely slow their reading progress.
Shana is a retired teacher after 24 years of teaching primary students and reading recovery. She owns steps2read.com.
Marissa Rehder, Purposeful Teaching to Inspire
My advice for parents would be to take their child’s struggles seriously but not to dwell on or stress over it in front of their child.
Continue to make reading fun. Read to your kiddo, have your kiddo read words they know to you, play games that involve reading and try to make it enjoyable.
When reading becomes a chore, it loses it’s appeal and it can be detrimental to a students’ future love of reading.
Marissa is the K-5 interventionist in a northwest Iowa district and the owner of purposefulteachingtoinspire.com.
Michon Otuafi, Spiritus Mundi Teaching Blog
The best advice I could give to a parent with a struggling reader is to try your best to get your child excited about reading! I know, easier said than done.
The best thing I have found is to find genres or types of books with which your child can engage. Who is his/her/favorite super hero? Does he/she like sports? What interests him/her? Read to them, model for them what reading should sound like, and show your enthusiasm for reading.
I know this can be hard after a long, day at work but it’s so important. Our children pick up on our attitudes towards things, so if we act like it’s a chore then where is the fun in that? I’ve been an English teacher for the last 12 years, and I know the importance of creating life-long readers! I have found that my own children like the Bad Guys Series, Dog Man, Captain Underpants, What Should Danny Do?
Michon has been a 9th and 10th grade traditional and honors English courses as well as Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition at the 12 grade level for the last 12 years. She is also the English department chair, and I has her National Board Certification. She is the owner of Spiritus Mundi - Teaching Blog.
Thank you so very much to these experts in the field that took a moment of their day to help those of us as parents who are seeking to find ways to help our children become better readers!
If you are a parent of an emerging reader or seek to know how to help a child with reading difficulties, I hope this helps gives you some direction in how to help a child struggling with reading. All children can learn and grow! I noticed throughout that there were common threads of advice: read to your child often, listen to your gut instincts and get help for your child when you sense they need it, and find great books that will ignite a fire for reading in your student.
May your child grow to be a strong and avid reader! Please comment below if you have more great advice, or to let us know if you have enjoyed the article!