Knowing and recognizing when your child is struggling is the first step to remedying the problem. “Have kids do the Five Finger Rule to help them determine if a book is a good fit,” says Williams. “Students will go into the middle of the book, begin reading a page, and put a finger up for every word they don't know. If they have five fingers up by the end of the page, that is an indication that this book may be too challenging to read independently — but could be a good choice for a shared reading or read-aloud.”
Once you become familiar with your child’s unique reading needs, you can reach out and communicate with their teacher for next steps.
“When children struggle to read or become embarrassed in front of their peers because they see them as higher readers, they can become discouraged and stop trying,” says Hart. “You will notice as they start to dislike reading at night. They might struggle with some words but don’t try to sound them out or figure out their meaning."
One of the best things you can do is develop a relationship with their teacher, says Hart. Check in with them to see how your child is doing in class. Are they avoiding reading, fake reading, etc.? Don’t rely solely on test scores — their reading habits in class will help you get a full picture.
Sometimes the underlying cause of reading struggles is dyslexia. Screening for dyslexia requires a trained expert: The best way to get help and guidance is by connecting with your child's school district for support.
Ask your child questions before, during, and after reading. Questions should be within the text (so they can find the answer in the book), about the text (they can answer considering what was read, but these questions also require critical thinking), and beyond the text (they can make connections to other books, experiences, subjects in school, and so forth for these higher-order thinking questions), according to Malinowsky.
Reading levels can sometimes be a little confusing, so it’s important to understand them from the get-go. “Reading level is actually more beneficial to me as the teacher rather than the student or the parent,” says Williams.
“Independent reading levels are the indicator of a text type or complexity they can read without adult support. From there, you can begin to select books that are appropriate to either read together or have your child read independently.”
Talk to your child's teacher if you have questions about reading level. Here's what goes into determining the reading level of a book, along with more details on strategies to improve your child's reading level.
Whether you set aside time to read after school, before meals, or right before bedtime, coming up with a reading routine that works best for your family is key to improving reading skills.
“Set aside quiet time for the whole family to read, even if only a few days a week,” says Malinowsky. “Reading aloud should be encouraged. Have siblings read to each other, or have your child read to a grandparent. The whole family can be involved!”
Practice, practice, practice! Consistency is still key to improving reading levels. “One of the biggest factors in improving reading is to get kids to read,” says Williams. “The biggest determining factor in keeping kids interested in reading is choosing books they like even when a book is challenging. If they really want to read it, they will persevere.”
According to the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report, children are more likely to want to continue reading when they’re given the freedom to choose what they want to read.
“Support striving readers by encouraging them to choose books they would like to read,” says Malinowsky. “There’s evidence that proves children who are able to select books they want to read show more interest in reading and they continue to read.”
If your child prefers fiction books and graphic novels, find out the kind of stories they’re interested in, whether it’s fantasy, comedy, or anything in between, and find a series you can enjoy together.
If your child leans more towards nonfiction books, find out what captures their imaginations the most — whether it’s space, animals, or history — and have fun choosing new books to explore together. Here are simple questions to gauge your child's interests.
Remember to share your own love of books by being a reading role model. When your kids see how excited you are to continue reading, they’ll be just as enthusiastic about their own books.
“Parents can support their striving readers by showing how important reading is to them,” says Williams. “Ask their kids what they are reading and what kinds of books they like. Let your children see you reading and give books as gifts. Praise your child when you see them reading.”
Also, don't limit what your child reads too much: Let them explore different mediums, such as websites, newspapers, magazines, journals, cookbooks, and more.
“For striving readers, selecting books that have relatable characters, approachable text, and represent both fiction and nonfiction are important to consider,” says Malinowsky. A few of her favorites: Who Would Win, Fly Guy, Pete the Cat, and “I Can Read” books.
“I like these books, in particular, because the text is approachable and striving readers are often attracted to the characters,” says Malinowsky. “For the nonfiction books, the text is a bit harder, but the pictures are vibrant and keep students interested.”
It may be tempting to read for your child, but Williams recommends parents take a step back.
"In their attempt to help their striving reader, many parents foster dependency and discourage risk-taking by telling kids the words,” says Williams. “As difficult as it may be, encourage your kid to try it and ask 'What do you think this word is? What do you think we should do now?'”
These questions will guide kids to use strategies and techniques learned in school to help them figure out unknown words, adds Williams. Also, avoid correcting every single mistake. Let your child make them and then say, "I am so proud of you for getting through this text. I think we should reread this text again tomorrow to make sure we understood the message the author wanted us to get." This will help kids get comfortable with rereading, which is what we want them to do when they are confused.
Finally, staying positive during moments of frustration will also give your child the boost they need when they’re feeling unsure of themselves.
“Remind them that they are a reader and we all start somewhere,” says Hart. “We have to practice reading to become better readers. It’s like anything we want to become better at.”
Shop fun books to improve reading levels below! You can find all books and activities at The Scholastic Store.
For more tips on finding books at the right level for your child, visit our guide on reading levels for kids.