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Ask the Experts

How do I help a struggling reader?

By Dr. Ruth Jacoby, Educational Consultant

Question:

My first-grader is struggling with reading. She did not score very well on her beginning of the year assessment and it seems that has discouraged her from wanting to try to read. I think this is also making her dislike school. We are reading with her every night and she is more than happy to listen but gives me a hard time when I ask her to read. She is normally a very happy child, an overachiever and a perfectionist. Do you have any suggestions to help her enjoy reading? I know that once she gets it she will like it!

Answer:

Your child may be feeling pressured and may have become frustrated. She may even be shutting down her learning mode in fear of failure. Try making reading a fun time and if she doesn't want to read one night, don't force the issue. Some activities you may wish to try are:

  • 1. Play "Taking Turns." Make a deal with her that you read a word and then she reads the next word. When that becomes successful, go to sentences and then pages. Reward and praise her along the way to encourage her progress and let her know how proud you are of her.
  • 2. Go on an outing to the library and then out to eat. Let her choose what books she would like to share with you.
  • 3. If you have a computer at home, try phonics and reading games. There are many Web sites where there is no charge. Two that you might try are www.starfall.com and www.scholastic.com/kids. Check with your school media specialist and teacher for other suggestions. There are also games on other sites that you can purchase.
  • 4. Children love to listen to stories. Record your child's favorite story and have her listen on her own. Every few sentences leave out a word you know she has memorized.
  • 5. Label the common objects in your home with sentence strips or lined paper. On some items, write simple sentences. For example, label the telephone, television, refrigerator and bed. Put a sentence on the light switch that reads, "Shut the lights off," or put a sentence near the sink that says, "Wash the dishes, please."
  • 6. Many studies have shown that the more a child writes the better she will read. Have your daughter write stories or short sentences and then illustrate them. Staple them together and turn them into mini-books. Have her read them back to you and to relatives. She won't realize it, but she just became an author and she is actually reading.

Dr. Ruth Jacoby has been involved in education for more than 30 years as an educator, principal and currently as an educational consultant in Florida. She is the co-author of the School Talk! Success Series including Parent Talk!: The Art of Effective Communication With the School and Your Child, Homework Talk!: The Art of Effective Communication About Your Child's Homework and Test Talk!: Understanding the Stakes and Helping Your Children Do Their Best.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

07/19/2010:
"Assuming there is not a learning or visual disability of some kind, have you tried the BOB books. They are the best way I have seen to help kids learn to read. I used them with all three of my kids. They keep the words to pretty much just three letters at first, and they are all similar sounding, so they are able to sound them out (i.e. mat, sat, cat, hat). They are available at the book store in the kids section for around $10-12 for a set, from what I remember:)"
05/13/2010:
"My daughter is in the first grade and does not dislike reading but struggles with it. We found out she has vision issues. She cannot see the words clearly and cannot move her eyes in a smooth manner across the words. Have her vision checked by a person that specializes in Vision Therapy. "
01/26/2010:
"My son who is in the 6 grade class is reading at a 4 grade level.when he read at home with me, he brake up the words and he can read the word, but when he's in school he is afraid to do so. He's also having some other problems.His Math and Sci. are very good.Reading and writing is just not his thing. Now his teacher want to put him in a Special ed class,but I was thinking of a CTT class. I don't know what to do, please give me an advice."
02/18/2009:
"My son is 6-1/2 in 1st grade. He does very well in everything except reading. He loves to read and knows all of his spelling words. when reading he will say luck instead of look. (He gets 100 in his spelling tests). Maybe he is too confident."
07/29/2008:
"i have a child who is reading at a 2nd grade level, is in the 4th grade, and was held back 1 year. he has a reading disorder among other problems. my question is; is there a site or do you know how we can help him with his reading with this disorder? thank you"
07/10/2008:
"This information on struggling for my 1st grader's reading skills were helpful to me. Thank you for the information. I even printed out the six steps listed, so as a parent I won't get frustrated when my son comes up against these struggles. I have tried alot of books, and Scholastic Hooked on Phonics. He needs much improvement, but when it comes to reading to me, he loses interest and so I plan on taking turns reading words, until he gets to know alot more words and LOVES to me!! Thanks again, "
03/18/2008:
"I am having the same problem with my daughter who is in First Grade. I know she gets fustrated and wants to give up. "
03/13/2008:
"Thank you this was very helpful. My first grader is also having difficulties reading. It can be very frustrating at times. I'm trying to help her as much as I can, and she has improved her reading skills, but seems to be struggling in school."
09/12/2007:
"I have a 7 year old son who was just held back in school because of reading. I found this infomation very helpful, thank you so much."
04/26/2007:
"I LIKED YOUR IDEAS; I HAVEN'T TRIED ALL OF THEM AND NOW I WILL. I ENJOYED YOUR ANSWERS. THIS SHOWS WHY YOU ARE A DOCTOR; YOU ARE APPRECIATED FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART! YOU HIT THE NAIL ON THE HEAD AND IT'S NICE TO KNOW THAT MY SON ISN'T ALONE AND NEITHER AM I. THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!!"
12/15/2006:
"This was helpful my son's been struggling with his reading and I needed some more idea's.I will try them thank you."
10/25/2006:
"This artice was helpful. Thank you."
10/20/2006:
"This sounds like my situation just a few weeks ago. Well, coming from a catholic school that used phonics, grammar, vocabulary and spelling as the backbone to teaching, my soon who was in public school was failing because these were not being used. I realized that he did not do any phonics and yet the teacher expected him to read. I then changed schools and believe me, he's reading! He doesn't only enjoy story time, but likes to read to me as well and he's doing well in his reading comprehension and phonics tests. My girls learned to read in school (not public), so this was my hint to knowing the difference in what schools teach. Although I like the overall scope of their liberal teaching, reading must occur for everything else to happen. Good luck to you and your child."
10/12/2006:
"My first grader also had difficulty reading and I discovered that her eyes did not focus on the same thing. Have her eyes checked as now my daughter is enjoying reading since we have corrected her peye problem. The solution was a 20 week computer program that trains the eyes to focus and track. "
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