How to help a struggling reader? Yep, in our decade+ long homeschooling journey, we’ve been there. We had a struggling reader. So let’s try to help your struggling reader. First things first, discard all of the guilt you feel and all of the pressure you’re placing on him. None of us are good at everything. Your little guy or gal is great at something — perhaps he’s observant and can stay micro-focused on an ant pile and can assemble complicated things. Or maybe she’s in tune with how people feel, and knows exactly when Daddy has had a hard day at work and needs a batch of cookies fresh from the oven. These are examples from our household; I know you have many, too.
My point is — not all of us are good at being micro-focused. And not all of us are good at noticing how someone feels. And not all of us are good at picking up reading.
This is not a big deal. It’s not eternal. Reading is a skill, and it can be learned.
“Most teachers can tell you that the kids who were early readers in kindergarten aren’t necessarily the ones devouring books in sixth grade.”
~ from Under the Chinaberry Tree by A. Ruethling & P. Pitcher
I really like that quote. I found it when our struggling reader was struggling, and copied it into my Evernote. Here’s a graphic I made for your Pinterest board, or for your Evernote:
How to Help a Struggling Reader
First of all, let’s assume your child has the basics of ABC…that he or she knows their ABCs. If not, of course, begin there. Visit a site that teaches ABCs or, even better, sit down with your child and a panful of sand or macaroni or beans and make letters, saying the names of the letters of the alphabet and their sounds as you go.
Here’s how we helped our struggling reader:
When our struggling reader doubts himself, we encourage him
We have one who is a bit like Eeyore. Not entirely – he doesn’t think a good weather day is simply one without an earthquake – but he is one who would hang his head and say, “I can’t read.” He’d tell his grandmother that when he’d visit her. “I can’t read.” You can imagine how well that went for me! I’d have to convince her he can too read, he just can’t read everything yet, so he says he can’t. She’d drive away with increased concern for him and our homeschooling methods.
One day, my little Eeyore was in the van and as I was trying to encourage him, he said again, in a forlorn voice, “I can’t read,” and I said, “Yes, you can. Read that,” pointing to a STOP sign. “I know that says ‘stop,’ but I just know it; I didn’t read it.” That admittance was enough for us to win this battle, because I let him know that once you’ve learned how a word looks, you say it, you just know it, and that’s called “reading.” I said, “I don’t sound out the word ‘s st sto stop,” I have seen it enough to just know it says ‘stop,’ and usually when I read a book, I just skim along, reading without sounding out each word.” “That’s what reading is?” “Yes. That’s what reading is. You can read. You’re a reader!”
And from then on, he believed he could read. So he read! And his grandmother was relieved.
When the readers are dry or boring or uninspiring, we put them down to try real books.
There’s a phonics curriculum that I used with our four when they were preschoolers. I wouldn’t have chosen it – it’s expensive and rather rigid, but our eldest used it and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, so I used it with the other kids, too. But the readers that came with the program? Yeah, those went into the trash from the start. The readers were boring and dry and absolutely uninspiring. Nobody wants to read those.
Our reluctant, struggling reader – the little Eeyore I mentioned above – needed to find books he liked. First, we tried different books around the house. He read Junie B. Jones from his sister’s shelf. We tried several choices from our favorite free Charlotte Mason curriculum. I gave him an old Western from his great-grandpa’s bookshelf. He read, reluctantly, then… his big brother gave him a Redwall book.
Finally! We hit the target — our struggling, reluctant reader was an avid reader.
We take a book everywhere; keeping one within reach at all times
Do you take something to read nearly everywhere you go? Keep a book in the car, one on the nightstand, one in the living room? It’s a good way to keep yourself reading — and this habit can pass on to your kids; they’ll take books with them, too. You never know when you’ll get a spare minute. Above is a photo of our daughter who found a moment to read while we visited a National Park.
And here is our other daughter, finding a spot after a 5 mile hike…
Of course, this won’t work for every child. Our reluctant reader wouldn’t ever think of reading on the spot like our two girls will. But I take a book with us in the car, just in case he is “bored” (gasp) in the dental office waiting room, while I’m enjoying a coffee, or when our errands run beyond his patience. Books that don’t require a lot of attention work well for this — books of poetry, books with very short chapters, or even quality comic books.
We make him curious how the story ends
I wanted our eldest to read a classic book. He opened the large book and saw all the text. It looked boring. He set the book down.
I asked him a couple days later if he’d started reading it — “no.” A couple days later? “Not yet.”
So I picked up the book and started reading it aloud. Over a week, I read two chapters, began the third chapter, got into paragraph three, and right in the middle of action….I put it down.
He looked up, startled, “Aren’t you going to keep reading?”
I said, “You go ahead and finish this, if you like. I’ve read it already.”
When I passed him with a basketful of laundry several minutes later, he was engrossed in the book and didn’t notice me passing by.
How to Teach Your Child to Love Reading
Okay, now that you’re on your way with your struggling reader, how about keeping him on that track? I wrote an article about how we helped our children have a love of learning. All four do not love reading the same — one reads daily for at least an hour or so on her own; one reads just a book in a year. But they all do love reading (though not at the same pace). Here’s our homeschooling family’s advice on how to teach your child to love reading.
images from our family’s homeschool