Helping Your Child Overcome Reading Difficulties
Today I went to conference with my first graders’ teacher who had nothing but positive things to say about their progress. However two years ago, I was sitting in that very same seat with the very same teacher but not the very same conversation. You see, three months before the school year was up, my son was very behind in reading which spilled into other subjects at school. He was so behind that the teacher mentioned holding him back as a possible option. I was devasted to say the least. To give some background, my son never attended preschool and when it was time for kindergarten, our school district was one of the few that still only offered a half day program. Just my luck.
Once he began school, it was clear very early on that he was a child that was going to need more assistance when it came to schoolwork. So there I was in that very same seat just two years prior thinking about all the things his teacher had said and wondering what I was going to do. Holding him back, in my opinion, would only discourage him more. But I also knew I couldn’t push him forward to continue in an environment where he was struggling. I knew that he needed more than I could give him at home and the nights of reading just ended up leaving us both flustered and irritated with one another. But I pressed on. Each month his teacher would flag me down after school or give me a call letting me know how much he had improved, I was estastic and she was just as excited as I was. The end of the school year came and he was still two levels below reading level. *Sigh* However, the teacher was so impressed with his improvement that she said that if I could get him in a reading program that summer, she would pass him to the second grade. That meant more to me than she will ever know. You see, as parents we always want to believe and hope for the best in our children but at that very moment I felt like she believed in my son as much as I did. I was going to do everything I could to get him caught him, I felt I owed him that. I know I’m not alone in the literacy struggle so I wanted to share some tips on how we overcame this obstacle.
Reading Courses – In addition, to the basis tutoring centers like Sylvan and Tutor Time, you can probably find a summer reading program to enroll your child in. These are costly but because they are taught with a group of children, they are usually less expensive than one-on-one tutoring. I signed my son up for a $300 6-week (and only six session!) reading course that summer . I’ll be honest, I really wasn’t confident that this course would bring us up to our goal but my options were few and the course was starting soon. What I found most beneficial was that you received a book with a CD and there was plenty of homework to get additional assistance throughout the week. In addition, parents could stay during the entire course–in fact it was strongly encouraged! This allows you to note how the teacher teaches the class and use these pointers when you are going through the material at home. When looking for a summer reading program, be sure to ask what is offered to determine whether it’s the best fit for you and your child.
Summer School – Most schools have summer school as an option for at-risk students. That year, we weren’t sure whether summer school would happen with the budget cuts. But right when his reading program had ended, I received a letter in the mail inviting him to summer school. Two weeks, 4 days a week and 4 hours a day of extra instruction. He sure wasn’t very excited about going to summer school but I just saw it as another means to acheive our goal. Note: Even if your child is not invited to summer school, if you feel that they need extra help, contact the school. If they end up with open spaces, you can usually choose to enroll your child. When deciding whether summer school is the right option for your child, consider what subjects will be taught during summer session. If your child could use extra assistance in another area that is being taught – then go for it. If not, you may feel that your child’s time is best spent concentrating on reading.
Reading at Home – Yeah, I know you heard this a million times but the more reading a child does, the better reader he/she will be. Of course this must be supervised reading where you can correct your child as they go. And remember bigger isn’t always better. The key is to make sure you are reading appropriate reading-level books and if your child is behind, you can’t always rely on the age recommendation. Reading assessments are usually done at school and with the help of your child’s teacher, use that score to help pick out appropriate reading-level books. Here are some additional tips when reading with your young ones:
- Don’t spend too much time on one word. While it’s important for a child to try and sound out words, it’s also ok to help them out when they are struggling. Remember – a lot of early reading involves memorization of commonly used words (also known as site words).
- Pick a time when your child is in a good mood. Trying to read right before dinner or bedtime may make your child more frustrated. Your reading time will be more productive when there’s not other distracting factors.
- Take turns reading – This takes some of the pressure off your child and makes them feel more like they are spending with you and less like they are doing homework. There are books that are designed just for this purpose.
Capitalize on Your Child’s Strengths – Use other strengths that your child may have to help them along with their reading. My son has a great memory. Part of learning to read is the ability to recognize sight words. So we often practiced these words on flash cards. The more he started recognizing the words, the easier it was to get through our daily readings and the more encouraged he became.
Online Resources – There are many great websites online to aid the early reader. Your child’s school and/or teacher should have resources that are already being used at school that you can use at home as well. Some sites that my children’s school recommend are:
Library - What better way to show your child the value of reading than to take them to the one place that will give them a plethora of reading options. Introducing your child to the library early may get them excited about reading. It also gives them the opportunity to select the books they want which gives them a feeling of control. Try and let your children pick the books that they want. If you feel they are picking out books that are too difficult and aren’t beneficial during your reading time, make a deal with them that they can pick out whatever book they want but they must also read a book that you pick out.
As of today my son is in the 3rd grade and is already reading at a 4th grade level. He loves going to the library and reading for pleasure. As I proudly told his former teacher this at conference. She was equally excited and as we sat and discussed his progress, I saw us both get sort of teary eyed at his accomplishment. So if you are in this position, I urge you not to get discourage. Address the matter immediately, be patient and seek outside help if necessary.