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Support a Struggling Reader

Updated on June 19, 2013

My son is a struggling reader. He gets support at school, but it is still difficult to watch him when his work becomes too challenging. My husband and I were always strong readers and we couldn't relate to his academic delays.

A struggling reader like him can still enjoy books and literature. As a teacher, I learned about a number of books that can excite a young reader. As a mother, I learned to remember that just because he is my child, it doesn't mean that he is going to read the same way I did. Some of these strategies for struggling readers have worked for us and other families.

Read to Your Child

Even though my struggling reader is 10 years old, I still read to him every night. We always pick something that is at his interest level but a few grade levels above what he can read independently. Even kindergarteners will enjoy one chapter at a time from classics like Charlotte's Web. If he hears about a book from one of his friends or his teacher, we will put it on his list to read together so he can contribute to conversations about the favorite kids books.

Jim Trelease is a reading expert who is best known for his Read-Aloud Handbook. Not only does it give ideas about a positive reading environment, reading strategies for pre-readers through teen, and support for parents, it also has a long list of children's books that are appropriate for a wide range of ages. Though Jim Trelease retired, his insight on literacy is one of the reasons that his handbook is required reading for education majors and an aid for a child's first teacher - the parent.

Read with Your Child

Some schools and classrooms have D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read) or SSR (Silent Sustained Reading). It is when students take time out of their classwork to read for enjoyment. Avid readers will drop everything at home, find their favorite books and reading nook, and just read. Some struggling readers, however, do not know how to do that at home or they have their own distractions such as television, siblings, homework, or chores. The whole family can take 20 minutes out of their evening to just read anything they want: books, magazines, newspapers, or picture books. Homes with preschoolers or other early readers can see parents and older siblings take turns reading aloud.

What is the significance of 20 minutes? Twenty minutes is enough time that can sustain the attention of children before they are ready to move on to the next thing. If the family has a favorite hour-long TV show, they can record it on the DVR. When the show is suppose to start, everyone starts reading. After twenty minutes, they can talk about what they were reading, recommend to another family member, or just start the TV show with the ability to fast-forward through all of the commercials and still finish on time.

One of my son's favorite ways to read is to set the timer and read next to me. It models the expectation and I am available to help with a word or a concept he is trying to understand. Those twenty minutes are more enjoyable when they are shared. I can read my own books or keep up with books that interest him.

Think Outside of the Book

Teachers goes to educator workshops and parents need to have fresh ideas as well. There is a bounty of information in parenting magazines, publication websites, and school newsletters. Like I found out, I couldn't use my favorite ways to read from my youth with my son. We learned other ideas together.

Books are not the only way that children read. Magazines match topics to a child's interests, such as sports, wildlife, celebrities, or interests specific to boys or girls. The newspaper can connect sports fans with their national or local teams. Community sections can inform them about activities their neighbors are doing, which may inspire the reader to take action as well.

The library is one of the things my son and I have in common. He finds books sooner than I could ever buy them and he has formed a relationship with the librarians who can guide him to the newest books or his latest topic. School-age programs have introduced him to books and related activities that make reading even more interesting.

The Internet can help locate resources or even be the resource. E-books can be downloaded, but there are free websites that bring books to the children. WeGiveBooks has a small library but donates books to worthy causes. To improve reading comprehension and motivate readers, is a free website in which children can take short quizzes about the books they read and the parents can help by creating incentives. While the website provides some prizes for readers, parents can design their own certificates whether it is an extra 30 minutes of video games or a special treat.

Support a Struggling Reader in their Academics

As the schoolwork gets more complication, it becomes more difficult for my son to remember and comprehend names, dates, and relationships in subjects like social studies. At home I have books on topics at his reading level to help him acquire instructional vocabulary and background knowledge on a subject.

When learning about the Lexington and Concord, one of the vocabulary words was "minutemen". He wanted to know more about how these colonists could be ready at a minute's notice, but didn't have the fluency to go through a lengthy book on the topic. Sam the Minuteman was easy enough to read independently without taking a lot of time while giving him the understanding he needed on the topic.

The American Revolution is a list of names and dates including battles that did not happen in our backyard. While I would love to take him to Boston to see where the Sons of Liberty held the Boston Tea Party or visit the battlefields of that area, we can do so with books. Jean Fritz is my go-to for easy biographies about that time period. It is not dry reading and he can know more about the important events and people that are mentioned in his social studies books.

Jean Fritz Biographies from the American Revolution

A Struggling Reader Can Still be a Reader

So long as my son has a passion for books and an interest in reading, he will continue to grow as a reader. Whether it is the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series or the Sunday newspaper, he is going to read what interests him and continue to ask questions. I still get frustrated when I see articles with suggestions that seem fail-proof, but did not meet his needs. It takes time and patience to support him beyond what he gets at school. What is important is that I never give up on him, but rather continue driving him to the library, give him time to read on the computer, provide him with the background knowledge that helps, or read aloud the stories that he enjoys.


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    • Rachel Horon profile image

      Rachel Horon 2 years ago from Indiana

      Thanks for your feedback, Siclone. Reading is a part of everyday life so there is always something around for practice and someone around to enjoy it with you.

    • Siclone profile image

      Simon 2 years ago from NSW, Australia

      I'm a great believer in encouraging children to read anything, whether it is books, comics, magazines or even cereal boxes. It is all great practice. Also reading to them is very important as well as being a nice way to spend quality time with your children. Nice hub.

    • Rachel Horon profile image

      Rachel Horon 4 years ago from Indiana

      Thanks for your support, LKMore01. Your sister's skills are definitely needed and not lost in the regular classroom.

    • LKMore01 profile image

      LKMore01 4 years ago


      My sister has been a teacher for almost thirty years and she was almost assigned as the schools reading specialist last year but they needed her in the classroom. She would love and support this article as much as I did.