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If you have been following the blog for a while, then you might know that in my pre-blogging life I was an elementary school teacher.
I have worked with every grade level from first through sixth, but there is something very special about the younger grades and teaching kids to read. Seeing the lightbulb click on in their heads and knowing that you had a part in helping them figuring out how to crack that code, and you have given them a skill that will stay with them forever– that is magic!
It is no secret, though, that some kids struggle more than others along the way and reading is a challenge for them.
If you have a struggling reader at home, here are a few very easy strategies that you can put in place right away.
Ways to Help Struggling Readers
- Get a vision test. Sometimes what we think is an academic problem really just means that a child needs glasses. The basic vision screenings done at school do not catch everything. My first year in the classroom I taught first grade. I had about six students in my lowest reading group. I recommended at our parent-teacher conferences that all of their parents may want to consider having their vision checked by an eye doctor. Most of those parents did have their children checked. Four of those students did need glasses, and we saw huge improvements once their vision was corrected. This is an easy intervention you should always try if your child is not reading as well as his or her peers. I know I was kicking myself when we found out my son needed glasses in the second grade. After struggling in school for years, his grades started to improve the very next marking period!
- Break up the content. Sometimes, seeing too many words on a page at one time can seem overwhelming for struggling readers. They think “I’m going to have to read All OF THAT!” and then they just shut down. If you take a blank piece of paper or index card and hold it over most of the content so that only one line of text can be seen at a time, it will seem less overwhelming. If even one line still seems like too much, then cut a hole in the index card so that your struggling reader only needs to focus on one word at a time. After she has read the entire paragraph, take the card away and show her all the words she just read!
- Record your voice. Old-school tape recorders are perfect for this. Make a tape of yourself reading a favorite book. Put a green sticker on the play button and a red sticker on the stop button, to make it easier for a young child to stop the story as needed and catch up as he tries to follow along in a copy of the book. Hearing a fluent reader model how the words should sound is important. That is why Reading Rainbow was such a great show! Electronic story readers or computer programs work too, but it is more fun for your child if he/she knows the person who is reading the story. You may even be able to have out-of-town friends and relatives record cassettes to send to your child.
- Let them see you read. Practice makes perfect, and just like in sports, in reading practice is essential. Establish a time each day when everyone in the family reads anything they want. It is important for kids to see their parents modeling the behaviors of strong readers. I’m sorry, but e-readers do not count for as much here. Early readers need to see the direction in which you are turning the pages, how the words on the cover look upright (so they know they are not holding their own book upside-down), and how you might model highlighting and looking up a word you aren’t familiar with. When you read a novel, a newspaper, or magazine in front of a child those behaviors are modeled far more easily. They also know that you are reading for pleasure, and do not assume that you are checking your work email on your tablet or playing a game.
- Reading is reading. Yes, age-appropriate graphic novels (comic books) are fine. Magazines are fine. Even the recipe on the back of the cereal box is a procedural informational text, and that counts too! Words are words. Let early readers read anything and everything they want, as long as the content is age-appropriate. Allow kids to use reading as a way to explore their natural interests, just like adults do. If you have a child who loves animals, maybe a subscription to Ranger Rick Jr.or National Geographic Kids would be a good idea. Have a kids who love cars and motorcycles? Let them check out the automotive section of your local newspaper. Sometimes you have to get creative to get kids to see that reading can be fun and it doesn’t always have to feel like work for them.
- Read the same story multiple times. Parents rolls their eyes when kids ask to read Good Night Moon for the third time in a row, but the truth is that it is great for kids to hear the same story several times. They should also practice reading the same simple stories over and over again. That is how kids build fluency.
- Label things around your house. If you have ever been in a preschool or kindergarten classroom, you probably noticed that the door was labeled “door.” The window was labeled “window,” etc. Teachers do that on purpose so that their students associate those words with the real-life things that those words represent. Then when the kids see those words in their books, they recognize them more easily. Teachers also create “Word Walls” that are literally walls filled with words that their students have learned, usually in an alphabetized list. Every time the students learn a new word, it will be written on a piece of paper and hung on the wall as a visual reminder that says,“This word is familiar to us.”
No one wants to feel like they are being forced to do extra work against their will, but that is how reading does feel for some kids. When we are able to make it feel less like work and more like we are here to offer support and maybe, just maybe, it is true that reading really can be fun, then kids start to make great strides!
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Photo Credit: RainerPlendl