Making Reading FUN | The Struggling Reader
Jonathon walked through the door. He was six years old and had been identified as a struggling reader. His parents had told me he did not enjoy tutoring and especially did not like reading; I told them to just get him in the door. Here he was. We spent the next 45 minutes fishing, traveling to distant islands, throwing confetti, talking, and being silly while his dad watched through one-way glass. When he left, Jonathon had no idea we had just worked on his reading skills, or that I had identified that he knew six sight words and roughly two-thirds of the alphabet. His dad asked me where I had learned how to do that, and Jonathon asked his dad if he could come back tomorrow. He reads on grade level now.
Children naturally acquire spoken language; we often expect them to pick up reading just as easily. While sometimes children do easily pick up reading, others struggle to figure out how to read and are left behind by their peers. This can become a vicious cycle, the student who sees others thriving often does not want to put forth effort because they don’t think they can, thus falling even further behind!
This hub is for the parent, teacher, or tutor of the struggling reader. Or simply for those who want to make reading as enjoyable as possible! This hub is targeted for the younger child (8 and younger) but some of the ideas may be adapted for the older child.
Environment: Children who are immersed in literature will be more likely to read. Kind of like the adult who is surrounded by chocolate will most likely eat it! Visit the library often, buy books instead of toys, and make sure there are books in most rooms your child visits. This preparation will ensure there is a book nearby when your child starts wanting to read!
Allow your child to pick their own literature; a love for books begins when they are allowed to select what suits their own tastes. If your child doesn’t like the “reading” part of books, try books like Where’s Waldo? and I SPY. These are extremely popular with beginning readers; children love searching for the hidden pictures and begin building a love for books in general—which is important!
Attitude: If your child is a struggling reader, forcing them to read is not likely to be effective. Instead, be sneaky about reading. Work on reading skills through games or read wordless picture books, like Flotsam and Tuesday, and let your child come up with the story. The best thing you can do for the child who dreads reading is to get them to love words and books. If you can get them to love both, it is only a matter of time before they love reading!
Skills: Most children who struggle with reading, lack proficiency in reading skills. As a teacher, I encourage parents to play a reading game, instead of reading for homework, if they have a struggling reader. Basically, take the words or letters or sounds your child doesn’t know and be silly enough that they want to learn them! This is the premise for all of the following games. Here are a few sure-fire ideas to get you thinking:
Fishing: Remember that carnival game with the magnetic fishing pole that you threw over the plywood ocean and someone on the other end attached a prize that you hauled back over? It’s quite easy to grab a yardstick, some yarn, a magnet, and a few paperclips to fish behind your couch. Make the fish into whatever it is your child needs to learn, be it words, sounds, or letters and let the fun begin!
Obstacle Course: Go ahead and turn your living room or classroom into a reading machine! Set up jumping, tightrope walking, crawling, squeezing, and spinning obstacles for your child. The catch? They must correctly say the word at each obstacle before passing through.
Laundry Basket-Ball: Get out some laundry baskets and a ball. Let your child throw the ball into baskets of different difficulties (further, higher, smaller, etc.) with words attached to each basket. If they get the ball in AND read word correctly, they get however many points you wish! (Go ahead and join them, winning against mom or dad is more fun!)
Be creative, allow your children to make up their own games, as long as it includes repeated, meaningful exposure to what they need to know, it really doesn’t matter how they want to do it! You can look here for more games.
Work on about 10 words, word parts, or letters at a time, when one is completely mastered, phase it out, checking back occasionally.
Reading: Once your child is armed with words they know, allow them to read you “their words” as you come across them reading a book. Give your child a choice between highly engaging books like Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type and The Cat in The Hat. Or for slightly older children, The Magic Treehouse, and Junie B. Jones books. Don’t be surprised if your child doesn’t recognize “their words” in this new context, the struggling reader sometimes has trouble understanding that a word is always a word, no matter where it is! Show them the word on the paper you have been playing with and compare it with the word in the book.
Remember to keep it fun, take as long as your child needs on any given word, sound, or letter. Jonathon took a very, very long time to learn the word “the” but when he started making connections, his attitude went from “I can’t read” to “I can read, let me read that!” What a difference self-confidence makes!
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Activity-based learning is the acquirement of schematic concepts through activities that involve the task or concept to be learned. The old 4-H motto “learn to do by doing” sums up this approach.
Reading to children of all ages can be a rewarding experience. It can also be a ho-hum activity. My hope is that this guide will help make your own read-aloud experience an active adventure instead of a passive activity!