By Nancy Da Silva
Your child dreads reading time at school and runs screaming in the opposite direction if you suggest sitting down and reading a story together. If your child is well past the age where he should be adept at reading and yet still has great difficulty, what could be the reason? More importantly, is there anything you could do to not only bring him up to the reading level where he should be, but also make it an enjoyable task for him?
For the purposes of this article, we’ll be looking at school-age children who should have some reading skill, but seem to be struggling.
Struggling to Read Versus Dyslexia
Most people think any reading difficulty must be an automatic sign of dyslexia. That is certainly a possibility, but more often than not, your child may just need some extra help to grasp words and their relationships in sentences and sounds. They may just be intimidated by the sheer volume of words in books and feel easily discouraged if he mispronounces a word in school and gets laughed at. Maybe the way they were taught to read didn’t really work for them. Not everyone learns in the same manner.
Before we discount dyslexia as a cause, let’s look more closely at what exactly it is. The most basic definition is ‘an impairment of the ability to read’. That is a pretty broad diagnosis that could apply to anyone of us at any time. Want proof? Ever try reading assembly instructions for anything? I’m convinced those are designed to make us all think we’re illiterate. A more definitive definition of dyslexia is a deficiency of the language system that processes speech in the brain. The general consensus in the medical community is that this deficiency can’t really be cured but it can be worked around and compensated for with different learning methods.
Ask your doctor if they can test your child for dyslexia, and if he is unable to, he will refer you to the right next step so that you can know exactly what you’re dealing with. Together with your child’s teacher, you can tailor how you help your child to where exactly his difficulty lies.
In the cases where dyslexia is not the cause, some children are put off by trying to string words into coherent sentences. Try starting off with simple lists of words on flash cards and gradually add words like ‘to’, ‘the’, or ‘by’ to string words together in short sentences. Your child will get encouraged by these small steps and be more willing to try longer sentences.
Strategies for Slower Learners
Maybe you could ask your child’s teacher to hold off calling on him during reading out loud until his reading skills improve. It’s hard enough being put on the spot in a class full of kids your own age, if you’re not up to the same reading level as they are, it can be downright brutal. The key to overcoming any reading difficulty is not to let your child become discouraged, because the more he becomes discouraged, the less he will want to try. Many adults who had a hard time reading in school will cite reading in class as the activity they hated the most and this contributed to their illiteracy as they grew into adulthood.
Some kids have difficulty with identifying different word sounds especially if the pronunciation is similar like fine/find or key/keep etc. Try playing games like ‘Find the word’ to search out words specifically that sound the same so that your child will become familiar with their differences and be able to recognize them on his own.
Your child may be embarrassed if you search out books to help him that are well below his age group such as getting a toddler’s book to help a fifth grader. Make sure that you use the same books that his classmates read. You’ll just have to amend your teaching methods to give him time to reach their level. Take it one sentence at a time, or one word at a time if that what he needs.
The inability to read at their current grade level will influence every aspect of their school curriculum because difficulty reading will mean that they can’t understand concepts in their other subjects, causing them to fall behind across the board.
A child’s difficulty with reading is directly proportioned to their exposure to opportunities and patience to learn. The earlier you start giving them chances to learn about new things and take the time to engage in learning activities with them, the easier it will be for them to grasp more complicated concepts later. Research shows that if a child isn’t reading at his grade level by the age of nine, he will have more difficulty with illiteracy in adulthood. Look for reading programs and games that emphasize things like phonics and direct learning of vocabulary that guides the child towards reading comprehension.
It may feel like a lot of the responsibility is placed on you, the parent, to help your child over the reading hurdle. The sad reality is with overcrowding in classrooms and the poor state of the educational system, teachers simply do not have the ability to give your child the focused attention he needs to catch up to his classmates, so, unfortunately, it does fall to you to pick up the slack. It’s encouraging to know that there are tutors and learning centers available that can cater to your child’s specific reading needs if, because of work or your own reading difficulties, you’re not able to give him the extra help he needs.
All it takes it a little extra patience and creativity and you’ll soon find with every small victory, your child’s confidence will grow and this will allow him to learn even faster. Before you know it, he’ll be caught up with his friends and be one of the first to get up in class and read out loud.