Why is my child struggling to learn to read? What can I do to help them?
Every child is different and learn to do things at different rates. We all know this don’t we? Some may walk at 12 months whilst others may walk at 16 months. They may speak their first words at 9 months or they may not utter anything until they are 14 months. With this in mind, why do parents worry so much about what reading level their child is on? Why do many parents put such importance on learning to read at a very early age? Why do some parents focus on this one aspect of their child’s learning?
When it comes to a child’s first few years of school, it is easy to think that each child will learn everything they are taught. That each year, the teacher teaches the curriculum and every child retains it, ready to learn new things the following year. However, this is not the nature of learning and many parents forget this. In reality, each child will take on different aspects of what they are taught and at different rates. This will mean that some children will need more input of varying concepts at different times than others. There can also be a huge difference between a child born in September (so they have a birthday at the beginning if the school year) than in August in both their maturation and ability to learn the same concepts.
I know that parents focus on reading as it is obviously a hugely important skill but I think because it is very visible to parents, as they practise reading with their child at home, some can tend to worry more than perhaps they should.
But what can you do if you are worried about your child’s reading?
- Firstly, don’t panic! Some children just take a little longer than others. If your child is making progress each term then that is great. Some children will suddenly make leaps with their learning whilst others move more steadily.
- Make an appointment to see your child’s teacher. Teachers really don’t mind you going in to talk to them! That’s part of their job. Try to explain exactly what is worrying you without blame or getting upset/cross. Remember teachers want to work with parents to ensure that each child makes the progression they should.
- Please do not compare your child to their friends. Please do not compare your child to their friends. Please do NOT compare your child to their friends.
- It is not a race! Each child will progress at their own pace. Do support them but don’t push them on too quickly.
- Encourage reading at home. Set good habits by making it part of your routine. The best time I think is after tea or a bath. In that way, your child is not hungry and is relaxed. It may be that this is when you have always read them a story. This is a perfect time to add in their reading too (as long as they are not too tired). I know other parents who have 5 minutes in the morning before school (not this household!). Whatever works for you.
- Don’t make your child read a text that is beyond their understanding. No, 6 year olds should not be reading Harry Potter! (Ok, the very, very exceptional may). I love Harry Potter but these books were written with 9/10 year old children in mind (I mean the first book). Technically your child could probably plough through Harry Potter but they also have to retain and UNDERSTAND the language used. These are two different skills. The best books are the ones they pick and this may mean “The Guinness Book of Records!”
- Encourage the reading of everything, not just books.
- Reading scheme books can be a bore BUT they are graded accordingly and are written with your child in mind so don’t show your child that you are bored! They probably love them!
- And finally, if your child is still struggling here are some strategies that have worked for some of the hundreds of children I have taught.
These are my opinions and they may not be those of other educators:
- Most children learn by using the letter sounds e.g phonics. ALL children learn this method in the UK and that is good. As a parent, I would advise you learn these too. Many of us are from the “Peter and Jane” or “Roger Red Hat” era and didn’t learn in this way. Early readers are asked to “sound out” unknown words; this means using their letter sounds. Please do not teach them the letter names e.g a is ay.
- Some children learn differently and phonics occasionally don’t work (I will be criticised here!). In my 20 years experience I HAVE met children where phonics have been like wading through mud for them. As soon as I have made them words in a tin to rote learn, they have excelled. I “shape” words. This means that I draw an outline around the whole word which shows the child its shape. Some children (especially those that find maths easy) have this kind of brain. Phonics purists don’t like this but I don’t care!
- Try a coloured overlay. I am a trained Irlens screener. Here is the link for more information: http://www.irlenuk.com/ This is the site for my lovely friend Marie Smith. The white background on a page for some children, can make text seem to move, wobble or spiral. Just think how awful that must be! Your child may not realise that this is not what should be happening! It can make learning to read very tricky. Do look at my friends site if you want to find out more.
- Have you ever had your child’s eyes tested or hearing checked? Both need checking regularly. You take them to the dentist, why not the optician? My daughter had hearing difficulties when she was very young and I didn’t notice. It’s very easy to miss this! The tubes in a child’s ears are tiny and often get blocked, especially when they have a cold. This means their hearing can come and go. If you are worried, take them to see your Health visitor or doctor.
- If you are still worried and your child’s teacher is also concerned, it may mean your child has a barrier to learning such as dyslexia. Your child will need to see an Educational Psychologist who will help with a diagnosis if that is what you want. Just remember, this can’t really be done before the age of 7 as children are still developing the skills they need. Also, a diagnosis doesn’t change your child; they are still the little one that you love. We know a lot more about dyslexia now so there is lots of help available.
Good luck. Please feel free to comment or contact me if you would like more information. I’m a trained teacher and although cannot diagnose things such as dyslexia, I may be able to help with tips and strategies as I have lots of experience.
OH THE JOYS OF LIVING IN THE OLD HOUSE IN THE SHIRES.