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My Child is Struggling to Read - What's Wrong?

Updated on April 12, 2015

At a glance

Reading is an essential life skill and the sooner children get on the path to being independent readers the easier they are going to find school.

So much of what children do in class requires competent reading and comprehension skills. From an early age there is a lot of self directed instruction in classrooms and they need to be able to work in groups and individually, from written instructions. They will research internet based information and present their findings in writing and verbally. A child who is struggling with reading will find it difficult to keep up in all subjects, and as they get older will often develop strategies to mask their reading problems.

What do I look for in a good reader?

  • Do they read easy texts smoothly? If a child’s reading is slow and laboured or they take an abnormal amount of time to work out most of the words it is difficult for them to understand what is being read.
  • Do they know most of the words? If a lot of effort is being put into working out many of the individual words then the book is too hard and they may need to work on their sight words.
  • Do they use a variety of strategies when they come across unfamiliar words? A struggling reader will often have a limited number of strategies so note how they address unfamiliar words. When listening to them read encourage them to try any of the following
    • sound out the word letter by letter,
    • read past the word and re-read to see if they can work out a word that makes sense,
    • break the word up into syllables or its parts,
    • attempt saying the word and check that they recognise it and it makes sense,
    • have a go then move on
  • Do they understand what they’re reading?
    • do they read alone and engage in the reading (ie laughing etc)?
    • can they answer a few questions about a piece of text they have read?

What can you do to help

There are lots of ways to help improve your child’s reading abilities:

  • Read to them as much as possible. Allow them to enjoy the features of books and novels even if they are out of their capabilities.
  • Always try to boost their confidence, encourage them to read as often as possible and read books of all difficulty.
  • Test out their sigh words skills. There are loads of available resources. Doing so will identify areas in which they struggle on.
  • Test their strengths and weaknesses. By working these out you can help boost your child’s confidence which will pave the pathway to them gaining the skills needed to succeed in reading.


What can I do to keep them reading?

  • Have a daily reading time that’s specially for them.
  • Read to them regularly so they can enjoy the stories in books and novels that are above their reading capability.
  • Read a chapter a day after dinner.
  • Read along with them, filling in unknown words, so they get to feel the rhythm of the normal rate of reading.
  • Take turns in reading aloud – one paragraph, page, sentence or chapter each.
  • Encourage them to do real world reading as often as possible. Read street signs, recipes, ingredient lists on packaged foods, shopping lists, menus – anything and everything.
  • Allow them to read books of all difficulty levels. Don’t worry if they choose “easy” books.
  • Encourage them to take a book to bed to read before “lights out”. A bed lamp is a useful reading aid.
  • Talk, discuss, explain, sing – build their vocabulary and general knowledge. It is hard to work out a word if you have never heard it before.
  • Ask them to retell what they have done – “we just made cakes, tell me what we did...”

Find some good reading apps

How do I build reading skills?

Reading should be in context and for a purpose as much as possible but short, fun, focussed skill building sessions can be really helpful. Try not to let a skill session go for more than 10 minutes, but do them every day for best effect.

  • Sight Words:
    • There are about 200 words that make up a large percentage of what we read. Being able to easily recognise each of these words will give them a lot of confidence.
    • You could use Dolch, Fry, Magic 100 or any other list. It doesn’t really matter.
    • You can use flash cards, games, or an App for practice
    • Phonics
      • Phonics skills should be taught at the same time as Sight Words. This is much harder for parents to get right, a good phonics app will help. Start with simple 3 letter words such as cat, ham etc then sh, th, wh, qu, ch. From here there are the pairs of letters such as oa, ea, ai, ar, er, ..
      • Blending – when shown a word they say the sounds and join them together to ”sound out” the word.
      • Segmenting – they write or tell you the sounds that make up a word that is said to them.
      • Meaning
        • Write a sentence, read it with them then cut it up. Get them to make the sentence. Ensure they read it to see if it makes sense.
        • See if they can make other sentences with some, or all, of the words.
        • Teach them to look for a capital letter at the beginning and a full stop or question mark at the end
        • Make the sentence and hide one of the words. Have them read the sentence and work out what is missing. Think of any other words that could make sense.

Key things to take away

Learning to read is like learning any other skill, it is made up of sub skills that all need to be learned and practised. The more practice they get the faster they will progress towards mastery and the better they will cope with learning in other subject areas.

Without your support and encouragement they may not get enough practice and may not have the confidence to take risks when they meet new words.

Helping your child in their progress to becoming an independent reader is an investment in their future and it can be be fun and rewarding for both of you.


Article written by: ParrotFish Studios


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