If your child is having difficulty learning to read, you aren’t alone — the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s latest report card found that as many as 33% of fourth graders’ reading abilities are below where they should be.
It’s not always easy to tell whether a kid is just learning at her own pace or seriously falling behind, but as a general rule, before they reach kindergarten, children should already know the alphabet and what sounds are attached to each letter, as well as being able to play with sounds and language, such as rhyming and Pig Latin and recognizing alliteration, says Joanne Meier, research director of Reading Rockets (readingrockets.org), WETA Television’s reading resource for parents and teachers in helping struggling readers. Kids having difficulty will labor over words and guess at them, or they’ll read the words with no recognition of the meaning attached, she says.
The best thing parents can do is to play an active role in their children’s literary development. This means reading to them, pointing out things in their environment to talk about, using interesting vocabulary and make reading a happy, positive experience. And be proactive about it, Meier says. “Kids having trouble aren’t dying to sit down to read.”
Early action makes a big difference. Get in touch with your child’s teacher, don’t wait for the report card to come out, because by that time a real lack of motivation will have set it, Meyer says. “Children who have trouble reading easily get left behind their classmates,” who by the third and fourth grades are expected to read textbooks and magazines as part of their school assignments.
To engage your child in the act of reading, pick up on one of his interests or find an author she likes. Second- and third-grade kids seem to respond particularly well to series of books, which makes things even easier, Meyer says. “When you’ve found one book they like, there maybe 60 more in the same line that’ll work just as well.”
Libraries are great sources for advice, but there are plenty of online resources as well. Reading Rockets, for one, has “a ton” of book lists organized by interest, Meyer says.
Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix or easy cure for slow learners — all those ads on TV for miracle breakthroughs don’t work; they just play on parents’ anxieties, Meier says. Getting a kid up to speed with reading takes careful instruction at school, close monitoring at home and good communication between both.
If it turns out the problem is dyslexia, schools have standardized tests and intervention programs to monitor a child’s progress through a tiered program and the child can start receiving additional special-education services.
But often, struggling readers just need a little extra tutoring and plenty of support, Meyer says. Outside of home, some schools offer free tutoring on site, often during the day. Where schools don’t have programs, community resources such as libraries and Girls and Boys Clubs may have programs to help out.