5 Ways to Help Your Struggling Reader: A Reading Specialist Speaks on Parental Involvement and Strategies for Success

Struggles with reading can cause frustration throughout a child’s school experience, and classroom teachers are often overworked and ill-equipped to help children who are falling below grade-level. As a parent, you are in a unique position to reduce your child’s frustration and provide the support they need.

Here are 5 ways you can help your child overcome reading struggles and become an excellent reader.

Step 1: Find the right materials for your child to read aloud with you. 

Frustration can mount quickly when a child tries to read material that is too difficult. Taking time to struggle and “sound out” words can interrupt the flow of the story. This can demoralize a child and they might not remember what they’re reading about.

How to do it: Make sure the materials you use for practice are at your child’s current reading level. If you’re not sure what that is, talk to their teacher, find a simple online assessment, or check the reading level of a book you know they can already read. It’s easy to check the grade level of a book at www.arbookfind.com.

Quick Tip: When your child stumbles on a word, give them the first sound, or give them the word and let them move on! You can work on sounding out words in games and multi-sensory activities.

Step 2. Use multi-sensory activities to practice decoding. 

Decoding is the ability to look at an unfamiliar word and use phonics (an understanding of the sounds letters stand for) to figure it out.

When you use multi-sensory techniques to practice sounding out a word, you engage more of your child’s brain for deeper understanding and easier memorization of the word—not to mention it’s a lot more fun!

How to do it: Basic multi-sensory practice involves tracing the letters that make up a word while slowly saying each sound. (Tip: make sure not to add extra sounds! For instance, avoid saying “caw” for the letter C instead of just the “ck” sound.) For visual and tactile stimulation, your child could write the words in shaving cream, glitter, rice, or on a screen board! Otherwise, brightly colored markers work well. If you have an iPad or tablet, write the words with the Glow Draw app.

Step 3: Use audio books to increase fluency and inspire a love of reading!

How to do it: Take the time to obtain both the printed and the audio version of a book at or slightly above your child’s reading level—audio books can be somewhat higher than a child’s current reading level because of the support they provide.  Select a story on a topic your child will like.

Play the audio book, and have your child follow along with their finger on the printed version while listening to the narrator. After several paragraphs, stop the audio recording, and have them read back a short passage they just heard. You will hear a much more enthusiastic and fluent version of your child reading!

This list of audio books is arranged by grade level and most are available through your public library: http://readingbydesign.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Appendix-3-3.pdf

Step 4: Use games to constantly vary activities.

Practicing the same, simple words over and over can be dull, so vary the practice day to day with new games to make practice fun. This could be as simple as writing the words on pieces of paper and scattering them on the floor; then have your child jump to them before doing the multi-sensory practice. You can even create a board game to practice with your child!  For directions on creating 6 games: http://readingbydesign.net/?page_id=13512

Work with your child’s interests, and almost anything can become a game: bingo, shoot a basket, play a memory game, do a karate kick. The key is to vary activities, and keep your reading practice as a special, fun time you share together.

Step 5: Is practice a chore? Create a rewards program.
Some children have been struggling with reading for a long time, and a negative attitude has already developed. To create a positive atmosphere for your reading time together, create a rewards program tailored to your child. Finish a page? Get a sticker. Practice your words? Earn points. Tally up points that they can use to get something they want!

The key is to create a positive mood and avoid frustration, so make goals easy to reach. Small rewards can be earned daily. A larger reward can be earned with the point system. Just keep the time frame reasonable. A week is a long time for a child!

As a reading specialist, I work with parents every day to develop individualized programs so they can help their own children in overcoming their challenges and learning to read. From dyslexia to auditory processing disorders to the simpler challenges of childhood, I’ve watched parents make all the difference in helping their children attain reading mastery. You are the number one predictor of reading success. What their teachers and their classroom cannot provide, you can.

By reducing frustration, finding the perfect materials to build mastery, engaging more of the brain and building a positive atmosphere, you can make the difference that lets your child love reading.

Cathy Pelzmann is a certified reading specialist with a Master’s degree in Special Education. Her undergraduate degree is in elementary education and she has completed additional graduate work in teaching reading. Her experience includes over twenty years of teaching students with learning problems and helping families tutor their children at home.