What To Do about Late Readers
Let’s look at what you can do with late readers in your family.
First of all, don’t fall for the idea that if your kids were in school, they’d be reading. Plenty of kids fall through the cracks in school too, and many are put in the wretched position of having to be identified as poor readers by virtue of being gathered together into a late readers group! Not only that, the primary function of school is to get a group of kids to assimilate skills and information at about the same pace. That means falling behind is a problem to be solved. It means that your child is a problem to be solved. At home, there is no “falling behind.” Your child is not a problem.The only goal is to move at a pace that supports and affirms your child’s progress.
Second, reading is a challenging skill to adopt. It’s a bit like learning to ride a bike. At first, the reader’s “balance” is all off. The sounding out of certain letters comes quickly while putting them together, skipping silent ones, adjusting to capital letters after being used to lowercase (and vice versa) creates lots of stall outs (where you think your child has made progress and suddenly she slips back to bleary-eyed pauses). Support your daughter’s attempts by modeling sounding out, putting your finger under the letters, affirming good attempts, and so on. Just like training wheels.
On bikes, some kids use training wheels a lot longer than they need to. They like the security. Same with reading. Your children may prefer to put their own fingers under the letters, may like to look to you for confirmation that they are sounding out correctly, they may memorize certain pages of a book to help them “feel” like they are reading. These acts are all part of a normal progression toward reading and are not to be dismissed.
Eventually, a breakthrough moment occurs and your child will “get it.” In fact, when a child catches onto reading, he skips all kinds of phonetic steps and is suddenly reading digraphs and several syllable words that you never taught him because he “caught” on to what reading is, feels like. Just like bike riding – a sudden balance. You only learn to read once. It’s a kind of art and skill that can be transferred to any language, any alphabet once mastered. It does happen for just about everyone who attempts it, if they persist in their attempts to get it.
Still, if your child hasn’t caught on by 8, 9 or 10, panic is totally reasonable! I’ve lived it. The trick is to not shame your child into reading. I know this approach doesn’t work because I’ve tried it. It’s too easy to criticize your child as not trying hard enough, not paying attention, ignoring your perfectly clear explanations for how letters make sounds that blend together. But with a motivated a child? A child who wants to read but is not successful? What are the odds that he or she is being willfully resistant or lazy? Totally unlikely! In fact, if anything, a mounting internal pressure is growing. Shaming your child for failure adds to that pressure and makes it even harder to learn!
Think of it this way: you shouldn’t shame your child for not yet reading the same way you wouldn’t shame your child for bedwetting. It’s hard enough to be a kid who can’t read at 9 years old! There are plenty of kids in Sunday school, on the soccer team, at the slumber party who can read, who can play board games with cards, who can fill out forms and read billboards and menus, to remind your non-reading children that they not yet successful.
Your job is to support your child through this difficult passage by reminding her that she will definitely, most assuredly, absolutely read one day. That a day is coming and will come when reading will “click,” and on that day, you will have the most fabulous celebration! Until then, here’s what you will do to help.
1. Try various phonics programs.
Don’t assume that one didn’t work so none will work. A process of elimination is a good idea. Listen to your child. If he or she doesn’t like a program, then that’s a clue that it’s not right for that child.
2. White boards are wonderful.
Write short notes or single words and leave those up for a day. You might even try all sound alike words (we did this a lot). Listing sound alike words like cat, hat, mat, fat, bat then reading them, then looking for those items to tag in the house with the words can be a way to jump start the process of putting sounds with letters with items.
3. Take extended breaks.
Don’t keep pushing, pushing, pushing. If you reach a threshold, take a week or month off. Tears, resistance, and more tears are your clue that a break is a must! Take it.
4. You might try a different alphabet.
I know this sounds absurd. But see if you can approximate for your own experience the struggle it is to read and sound out by forming words with the Greek alphabet, for instance. It may help you to remember what you have to do to remember which letter makes what sound. If you struggle with your child, you’ll be on the same team (not one who knows it all and one who knows nothing).
5. Reward all progress.
Hugs, kisses, laughter, cookies. Then take a break.
6. Intercede for your child.
If you know your kid will be in a context with readers and reading matters to the context, give a private head’s up to the leader (Brownies, Sunday School, art class, piano lesson, camping trip). Ask the leader not to call on your child to read anything aloud, and ask the leader to assign someone as a buddy to your child to do the reading on his or her behalf. If you forget to do this, you may face the uncomfortable moment where a leader mocks your child as pretending not to be able to read to get out of group work. I’ve experienced this and it is painful and horrific so don’t forget to prepare the circumstance to support your 9, 10 year old who can’t yet read!
7. Read to your non-reader every day.
Keep the joy of reading uppermost! Help your child experience the pleasure of reading vicariously so that the motivation to work on it remains high.
8. Don’t be afraid to get help from a language and reading specialist.
I did it for two of my kids and that help was invaluable! If your child is really struggling then it’s well worth the money to have an expert analyze and offer you some strategies you may not have tried yet.
Hope these help!