How to help if your child is struggling with reading
When should I start to worry about my child's reading?
If, by the middle of their second term in school, your child has still not started to read at all, it's worth talking to their teacher to raise your concerns.
It may be that the teacher is still not worried because they recognise the reasons and are happy that appropriate progress is being made. Alternatively, they may recommend a vision test, a change in reading scheme or a range of new activities that you could help your child with at home.
Try not to communicate your anxieties to your child. Young children want to please you and if they think their inability to read is making you unhappy, they will become anxious and that will certainly delay a confident start to reading.
My child is not making the same progress as his/her friends
As children get older, slow progress in reading becomes more of a problem. This is largely because reading is something very public and children quickly learn to recognise that others can read books that are harder than the books they can read.
Lack of progress in reading during Key Stage 1 may be due to a slower start, but it may have other causes and is therefore more concerning.
If children are not making the same progress as their friends, many parents will question whether dyslexia is a possibility. Up to 10-15% of the population has some of the difficulties associated with dyslexia, but only 3-4% need specific interventions.
If your child's teacher is concerned about dyslexia, they will first ask for help from the school's special educational needs coordinator (SENCO). The SENCO will arrange for screening tests and, if they continue to indicate that there's a likelihood that your child is dyslexic, the diagnosis will need to be confirmed by an educational psychologist.
What can I do to help improve my child's reading?
Whether or not a child is dyslexic, there are a number of teaching techniques that are likely to help and that you can support at home. The most important thing is to be patient, and to recognise that your child is either trying hard or, if they're not, that they may be worried about failing.
In addition, your child:
- Will benefit from learning the same thing over and over again until it becomes automatic. Children who struggle with reading tend to forget one thing as soon as they learn another. They need to revisit each step until it is securely learned.
- Will learn more easily if they can see and do as well as hear. Use coloured magnetic shapes to reinforce spelling patterns; play detective games, hunting down target words, rhyming words, words that end with... and set up word searches to reinforce their weekly spelling lists.
- May need a reading card to keep them reading from one line of text and to help their eyes to return to the left of a new line.
- May struggle to see black print on a white background. Many opticians offer a test of 'scopic sensitivity' that will consider whether a coloured transparency will help words to stop shimmering on a page.
- Will benefit from games to flex their memory. These can be picture-based memory games or word-based games where you have to remember lists, such as 'I went shopping and I bought...'
- May struggle to split words into their component sounds. This could mean either saying boat and thinking b-oa-t or seeing boat and recognising that it's b-oa-t not b-o-a-t. Play games where you say the sounds in words to see who can guess the word, where you try to think of as many words as you can that rhyme with... and where you have to find the same spelling pattern in words on a page.
Any of these types of games and activities will support children who are struggling to read, whether or not they are dyslexic.
Motivating reluctant readers
Whether your child is struggling to read, or just choosing not to read, it's worth investing time to try to encourage them to read. As with most things, practice makes perfect and children who don't do much reading will find their education harder and less satisfying.
Talk to your child's teacher to see if they have any ideas that are tailor-made for your child, because the teacher will know what your child is, or could be, capable of.
But here are some additional ideas that may help you:
- Talk to your child about what the problem is. It may be that they're daunted by the length of book they're now expected to read. If this is the case, come to an agreement with them: for example, you will read every other paragraph or page or chapter.
- Set up a book club. Get together with some friends to set up a book club for your children. As in adult book clubs, there will be an expectation that each member will read (or listen to) a book each month and will get together to talk about the book. Choose somewhere that isn't school to host the meeting, make drinks and snacks available, allow time for socialising before and at the end, and allow the children to select the books (but ensure there's an adult on hand to orchestrate the meeting – at least for the first few).
- If your reluctant reader is a boy, try a 'dads 'n' lads' club. Sometimes, boys can feel more confident reading when there are only boys present - and having their dads there will reinforce that men enjoy books, too.
- Many children are motivated by competition. Most libraries have summer reading challenges to get children to read during the summer holidays. Failing that, talk to the PTA or the school and suggest that they hold a sponsored read.
- Make a pact with your child that you will watch the film, if there is one, as well as read the book. It often helps children to see the film before they read the book, because then the shape of the plot is embedded.
- Choose one of a series of books and read the first aloud to your child. If they like the book, they are more likely to want to read another in the series.
- Use bookshops and libraries. Spend time teaching your child to browse through books and to select one that they enjoy. The one they select may be too hard for them to read alone, so read it to them. But the quid pro quo is that they read the book that you select, too.