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6 Signs Your Child is Struggling with Reading & 8 Ways to Help

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If you’ve found yourself looking for ways to help a struggling reader, you aren’t alone. 

We all know that literacy skills are fundamental for learners, but reading doesn’t come easy for every child. And it’s important to identify and provide help early on to prevent future issues.

As a parent, you should not feel like you’ve done anything wrong if your child struggles to read. Reading problems are not uncommon. Instead, it’s best to focus on finding the right resources and support to fit your child’s needs and improve their reading skills. 

This article gives an overview of the reasons why children struggle with reading, how to spot the signs of reading problems in your child early and what to do to support your child. 

Main reasons children struggle in English class

A child may be a reluctant reader for a number of reasons, with the situation being unique to each child. For some children, reading problems can be a sign of other learning difficulties that they are experiencing.

Lack of building blocks

Kids gain most of their early literacy skills between the ages of 6 and 8. These skills include phonological awareness, fluency and vocabulary. 

If this window is missed for learning these skills, children can struggle to meet their grade level requirements. For example, a high school student might struggle to create complex sentences if they do not know age-appropriate vocabulary words.

English as a second language

There are also unique challenges if a child is learning English as their second language. 

English is a difficult language to learn with contractions and exceptions to various rules. Especially if a child isn’t getting constant practice at home because their family speaks a different language, they can fall behind their peers. 

Additionally, if English isn’t your first language, you may not feel confident in how to help your child with their English reading.

Learning difficulties

A child’s reading skills may also be falling behind because the child is also experiencing other learning difficulties. For example, they may have a visual or auditory impairment that is affecting their reading abilities.

Children can also experience learning disabilities like dyslexia, where they have challenges with decoding. Decoding is connecting how words sound to how those sounds are represented by letters. 

They may end up overcompensating by memorizing the whole word since they struggle to hold phonemes in their working memory. While this works for some words, it’s not possible with every word in the English language and ends up creating more problems. 

Another fairly common problem that affects reading skills is attention disorders like ADHD or ADD. These disorders can make it hard to focus on reading in the classroom or even in a homeschool environment. 

Readers with ADHD also can forget what they just read. Then their reading comprehension suffers, and they end up re-reading sections over and over.

Not enough practice

Sometimes, there's no big issue at play that's preventing a child from succeeding at reading. The child may simply needs more time to practice reading. 

They may not have enough time because they’re in a large classroom where there’s not enough time to dedicate to classroom reading practice. Or it may not be a part of their routine at home. 

A lot of times not enough practice will negatively impact a student’s self-esteem. They need time to build confidence in their skills.

6 Signs of struggling readers

While we’re talking about a single problem, struggling readers, the ways this problem shows up can vary from child to child. 

It’s important to be involved in your child’s learning so you see whatever signs they exhibit of struggling to read. Working with their teacher can also help you get a full picture of how their learning is going. 

Next, we’ll cover six common signs that your child may be struggling with reading. None of these indicate a definite issue, but they do warrant further investigation.

1. Difficulty sounding out words

You might notice your child struggling with pronouncing words or reading sight words by phonics instead of identifying them by their letters. They may also just be randomly guessing words based on the picture. 

Or you may notice your child struggle with completing nursery rhymes because they do not understand the sounds.

2. Poor spelling

Your child may also struggle with spelling words or writing comprehensive sentences. Reading and writing words go hand in hand, so it’s important your child has both skills.

3. They have a hard time reading fluently

You may notice when your child is reading out loud that they use one, flat tone and take a lot of pauses. This can be a sign that they are working hard to sound out words and don’t have the fluency skills that are age appropriate.

4. Reading anxiety

Your child may exhibit signs of anxiety when they are asked to read materials out loud. They may try to find a way to not do the task, display strong negative emotions or take an exceptionally long time to complete reading tasks. 

If this is the case, your child may say to you, “I don’t know” or “I can’t do it.” Reading anxiety is very real for some children and needs to be addressed to be overcome.

5. Trouble comprehending what they read

Some children don’t have a problem knowing what the words say, but they have poor reading comprehension. If this is the problem, your child may have trouble summarizing and recalling what they just read to you. 

Sometimes this is because they can phonetically sound out the words, but they don’t know what the meaning of the word is. So, working on growing a child's vocabulary can really help improve their reading comprehension.

6. Behind on meeting milestones

You may be noticing that your child is falling behind grade-level expectations and find yourself wondering if it’s related to their reading skills. 

For example, by second and third grade most children are able to revise and create their own narrative stories. If they can’t, it may be because they lack vocabulary or spelling skills. 

Check-in with your child’s teachers to see how they are meeting various expectations.

How to help improve your child’s reading

Parents reading with child on floor.

There are many fun activities you do at home to support your struggling reader. It may be as simple as using a program like Hooked on Phonics. 

Or you may need to take more serious steps with the help of teachers and professionals. Either way, you do not have to navigate this situation alone. Reach out to your child’s teacher to make a plan and find out what resources are available. 

Here are a few more ideas to help your child at home!

1. Make it fun with games

Many students find reading more engaging through games and apps since they're often more appealing than traditional books. Children have better retention of skills when they enjoy how they learn. 

Practice is key for learning any new skill, especially reading. The more a child does it, the more comfortable they will become. Finding an activity they truly enjoy will make this a lot easier. 

Tip: try Prodigy English

Prodigy English is an engaging way for kids to build their reading and language skills in a game-based learning platform. By correctly answering reading questions your child's character will gain energy they can use to create their own world. And as they play, you'll get frequent reports that let you follow your child’s progress.

See how it works

2. Keep practicing at home

A large part of children struggling with reading is not having the dedicated practice time. We all know that life can get so busy, but it's imperative to set aside time to read with your child. Try keeping a collection of books at home that relates to their interests to get them excited about this time. 

Make sure they spend part of this time reading out loud to you. This will help you know where they need help and build their confidence. 

Visiting the public library often can be a great way to always have new books and build their love of reading.

Tip: Reading time in your house can look a lot of ways. And you should do whatever works best for your family! Maybe bedtime is too late for your child to practice, so you have them read to you on the way to school or over breakfast.

3. Collaborate with your child’s teacher

Collaborate with your child’s teacher to create a comprehensive action plan for improvement. Working together will make the time you spend working with your child on reading so much more effective! 

You and your child’s teacher can both share information, such as what works for your child at home. A lot of times you can provide info that the teacher would not be able to observe at school and vice versa. 

Teachers can also provide resources that you didn’t know about or answer questions you have from their extensive experience.

Tip: If a learning disability is suspected, this is the perfect time to work with your child’s teacher on coordinating assessments and outlining what support can be provided.

4. Make reading tactile

Try to make reading something that your child can touch instead of just see. 

Having multiple sensory experiences with letters can help children be more engaged than when they are simply tracing or re-reading over and over. Also, some children learn better when they can move their bodies when learning.

One idea is to create magnetic letters out of Scrabble titles for your child to sound out and create 3-4 letter sight words.

Tip: Make character magnets from your child’s favorite series like Pete the Cat, Fancy Nancy, Wild Kratts, etc. by printing them or having your child draw them. With magnets on the back, you can place them on your fridge, washer, or even a cookie sheet. Your child can then “write” and act out stories with them.

5. Listen to audiobooks

Audiobooks are a great way to introduce longer chapter books to older children. Or they can expose younger children to complex vocabulary and ideas that they can’t yet decode by reading.

Listening to audiobooks in the car is also an option if you are often on the go. This will get more reading time into your child’s day.

Tip: Pairing audiobooks with a calming activity like coloring or building legos can help boost retention as well as create a more relaxing and enjoyable reading experience. Plus, linking movement with reading helps cement their learning.

6. Make reading frustration-free

For children with reading anxiety or other reading struggles, it’s crucial to make sure that they are not too stressed when reading. If your child is frustrated with reading at school, try to create a safe, relaxing environment at home to read. Encourage them to get extra practice at home without pressuring them about it. 

Reading at home should be a way to make reading more approachable and fun for your child.

7. Change up the reading selection

You may think that there are certain staple books that every child should read. Or you may have gotten a list of suggested reading material from your child’s teachers.
While these are likely all great books, the best way to improve your child’s engagement with reading is choosing materials they’re interested in. Graphic novels tend to be great for early readers to strengthen vocabulary, build reading stamina and develop a deeper appreciation of storytelling.

Graphic novels can even be found on nonfiction topics like history, social sciences, math and science which can help expand your reader’s knowledge on various topics.

Tip: Enlist the help of your local librarians. They are trained to not only match your child with the right level of books but also will have the most up-to-date knowledge on books that your child might find worth reading.

8. Use specialized fonts

If your child is struggling with dyslexia or another visual reading difficulty, there may be accommodations like special fonts that will help. Find workbooks with fonts specifically designed for dyslexia to take some of the frustration out of reading.

Tip: OpenDyslexic is a free dyslexia-friendly font you can install on your devices to test and see if it helps with both on-screen and printed reading work.

Chart showing open dyslexic font compared to other fonts.

OpenDyslexic font can make it easier for dyslexics to tell the difference between letters that have the same shapes.

Final thoughts on helping struggling readers

Having a struggling reader can be discouraging and difficult to navigate. But there are plenty of ways to help your child improve their literacy skills. Consult your child’s teachers and other professionals to make a plan that will help get them reading on grade level in time. 

Prodigy English is a great resource if you’re not sure where to start. See how it works below!

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