From the time they are in kindergarten through third grade, all children need to be making weekly progress toward learning how to read.

In the early years, children should be learning sight words or high-frequency words like at, and, the, then, what, and when. By the end of kindergarten and into first grade your child’s teacher should be providing explicit phonics lessons, which means learning letter sounds, such as consonants (e.g. b, c, d, etc.), consonant blends (e.g. sh, th, ch, etc.), and short and long vowel sounds (a, e, i, o, u).

Ask the teacher

If your child is being taught high-frequency words but not learning to sound out words (teachers call this decoding), you need to ask a few more questions. All children need to be able to sound out (or decode) new words. By second grade, kids should not be trying to recognize new words or using picture clues to figure out words. They should be breaking words down into sound chunks and getting quicker and more sophisticated as the weeks go by.

Check in with your child’s teacher frequently to make sure your child is moving forward. You don’t want to hear vague assurances such as “your child is doing well” or “your child is poorly behaved,” or that your child raises their hand before speaking (or not), or knows how to use glue. Your child’s teacher should be able to describe to you in some detail your child’s incremental movement forward or the specific area where she is falling short in reading skills.

Plan of action

When your first grade child isn’t making progress in reading or seems to have reached a plateau, you need to move quickly. Ask for a meeting with your child’s teacher. If that’s not effective, ask for a meeting with the reading specialist at the school.

Your first question for the reading specialist should be asked privately. Ask the reading specialist to describe his or her training. In some schools, the job of reading specialist is given to a teacher with a high level of training in teaching kids to read. Sometimes this is a teacher who, year after year, was able to get and keep all their students at grade level. Often, though, the job of reading specialist is given to a longtime teacher as a reward. If you are meeting with a reading specialist who is the latter rather than the former, downscale your expectations for the meeting.

Once the teacher and specialist and maybe the principal have assembled, you’re looking for a plan of action. You don’t want to hear anyone say, “Your child’s just not ready,” or “Your child will catch up,” or “We need to wait another year until your child is farther behind in order to get help,” If you hear “Maybe we need to hold your child back until they are ready to read,” you’ll need to ask even more questions. There are some reasons for holding kids back that may make sense (although the research here is not clear). But for most struggling readers, learning to read is not a question of maturity.

Don’t wait until it’s too late

The real question is: “What about next year’s instruction will be different from this year’s instruction?” Giving your child the same ineffectual method of reading instruction for another year is not going to help. You want to leave that meeting with a thoughtful, targeted plan of attack, one that starts tomorrow. If you don’t get it, you may need to find the resources to bring in a specially trained tutor.