When Reading is a Struggle: How to Help Your Child
Each child differs from the next in how they learn, what their strengths are, and what they prefer as they learn. Within traditional classrooms, whether at home or in school, many children struggle and others are unable to read at all. Children that struggle or are not able to read are very sensitive to their challenges, which gives rise to a whole new set of issues. The confidence that fuels success in learning is an emotional state that arises from our experiences. If we have confidence that we can accomplish something, we will perform to our maximum, but if we have lost our confidence, we will likely underperform or fail completely. Confidence or lack of it is directly tied to our experiences. If we have attempted something and have failed, depending on the importance attached to that task, we will shrug and try again, or we will shut down, convinced we are incapable.
When a child is struggling, we believe in looking at the child first and uncovering the beauty of their design. Next, we believe in tailoring instruction to them. Most of the time, this will not happen when a child is in a traditional setting. Testing as an option or solution will likely come up first and the child will be evaluated. For sensitive children, testing is a huge red flag telling them that something is wrong with their brains. The intention of testing is to detect the underlying issues so we can help the child. But what all too often happens in testing situations is that parents are told there is a disability present, but how to successfully remedy or make up for that disability is not forthcoming.
We believe that testing should not be the first line of defense. Testing puts the focus on the child as though something is wrong with them when the reality is what is lacking is a methodology that matches the child. Child1st resources utilize the primary learning modalities to help all children succeed.
Common Problem Areas in Reading
- Trouble with learning letters and their sounds
- Difficulty sounding out words
- Guessing words and getting them wrong
- Tedious reading – it is just plain too hard
- Trying to sound out every word
- Difficulty memorizing sight words
- Sounds out a word but can’t remember it a few minutes later
- Reads, but has no idea what they read
- Not understanding verbal directions
- Forgetting what you tell them
- Difficulty verbalizing what they want to say
- Poor spelling
- Illegible writing
As you read through the list, please identify those skills that are difficult for your child and then add anything else you are aware of that is not on that list.
All the skills noted above tend to be difficult for visual/right-brained children. It isn’t that your child can’t learn, it is that the way the material is presented doesn’t mesh with his or her learning strengths. Once you have materials that are designed for right-brain-dominant learners, your child will learn quickly.
Ways You Can Help
- The most effective way you can help your child learn letters and their sounds without it seeming like schoolwork is to read Alphabet Tales. Your child will listen to fun stories and enjoy colorful illustrations while the needed information will go into their memory in a way they will naturally remember.
- SnapWords® are great resources to help with reading challenges. Each word is delivered via a colorful image, includes a body motion for an extra learning aid, and is used in a sentence that brings comprehension. Once your child has learned all the SnapWords® he or she will read with far greater fluency. SnapWords® Mini-Lessons provide detailed lessons for each word, fun games, and activities that go far beyond just teaching sight words. Children learn to visualize each word in their imagination which greatly aids in reading and spelling the words. The focus is on correct usage, writing the word, phonics concepts, and word families.
- Receptive and expressive language issues can be helped by doing some simple activities daily. The reason your child might have difficulties with listening and speaking is that visual/right-brained children think in pictures, not words. If a visual child is under stress, tired, put on the spot, upset, or feels incapable, their ability to receive and use words will be greatly diminished.
- Help your child understand that images are powerful tools that can make learning easier for them. Explain that when speaking and listening, they will be turning those mental pictures into words.
- If your child likes to draw, get into the habit of having them draw a picture of anything they want, then write a brief story about what they drew. If they are too young to write much, have them tell you what they drew and write their words for them.
- When your child is having trouble expressing themself, encourage them to be calm and assure them that there is no hurry. Next, ask them what they see. What is the main thing they can see? Have them turn the focus away from their inability to pull out words and focus on the picture they can see in their head. Encourage them to describe what they see.
- Identify a picture that is interesting, maybe from a picture book your child likes, and have them describe it to you in words. First, identify the main object or person in the picture, and then have them use describing words such as size, color, shape, etc.
- If your child has difficulty following verbal directions, practice daily. Explain that you will say two things you want them to do, and for each, they will make a picture in their mind of what you said. They will picture the thing involved or picture themselves doing it. For example, if you say, “Please hang up your jacket and put your shoes in your room,” your child will picture their jacket and then their shoes. If you practice this skill daily, you will be surprised at the difference it will make and how it will strengthen your child’s ability to process verbal directions by linking them to images.
“My child is able to sound out letters in a word, but he laboriously sounds everything out. Years have passed and now he cannot sound out words that have more complex spellings, or he’s so sick of the tedious nature of sounding out words that he will not try any longer. Every time he comes to a word it is as though he’s never seen it before.”
1. Use 3" x 5" cards and choose a handful of words that are easy to sound out. Ideas are "help," "sand," "tent," "stop," "grass," "hand," "desk", and "tops." Write the words, one word per card, in nice block letters. Lay them out in front of your child and have him pick up a card and tell you what the word says. He will likely sound it out.
2. Next, ask him to think of ideas with you to help him remember that word the next time he sees it. It is NOT necessary to sound out a word… words are like faces that we can see and remember. Say he chooses the word “sand.” An idea you could use to help your child remember “sand” is to use colors or markers and make sandy-colored dots all over and around the word. If you want to pretend you are at the beach, he can put a head on the D and let it be a child who is sitting in the sand at the beach.
3. When he has finished decorating the word, have him choose another word and do the same thing. For “tent” he could draw a tent being held up by the two t's that are at the beginning and end of the word. Take your time with this and avoid the temptation to hurry through. The point of this exercise is to help your son learn how to help himself, which will result in him gaining confidence in his own ability to learn and his own ability to use his gifts to his advantage.
4. Over time, choose more difficult words. For example, one set of cards can be words that use the sound spelling OI in the middle of the words or the sound spelling AY at the end. Have all the words in the group contain the same target sound spelling.
5. Remember that your child will be his own best helper if he is encouraged to believe in his own abilities and be shown that he can help himself. Every child needs to feel their own competence!
“My child can recognize words, but reads one word at a time, tediously, without phrasing, and with very poor comprehension if at all.”
Nothing is wrong with your child’s brain. What is happening is that your child is doing what she thinks you taught her to do: name words she sees one after the other. We assume children understand why they are learning to call out the words we teach them. We most often don’t introduce the concept of reading as the magic communication that will open all sorts of worlds of rich images and concepts to our minds. We approach the teaching of reading with letter recognition and then with the tasks of sounding out words. Many, many children focus on doing just that and are never led into the skill of using words as messengers for ideas and images.
1. Choose a word that you feel your child is interested in. Maybe it is “truck” or “dinosaur” or “mountain” or “airplane” – any word you feel she would be drawn to conceptually. Talk about how those letters in the word are just symbols that are used to make many different words. It is the arrangement of the letters that make up the word “airplane” that make that word mean something totally different from the same letters arranged to make “a praline.” So, say you choose the word “airplane” to play around with.
2. Using the word airplane as a theme, ask your child what she imagines when she hears that word. If she likes to draw, let her draw a picture of what she’s imagining when he hears you say “airplane.”
3. Once the picture is complete, work together to write a sentence or two using the word “airplane” that tells what the drawing is about. Repeat this exercise several times over time. You are attempting to connect the symbols (words) to images and stories in your child’s head. However long it takes, keep it up if you see that your child is absorbing the point.
4. Next, choose a book that you feel your child will enjoy. Share with her that this time, the words are there already, and she will need to imagine or draw the pictures that go with the words she reads. Start with a short paragraph. She will read to you, think for a moment, and then draw what she read. This is a powerful exercise that at first will seem so very slow to execute but is effective to help your child perfect her ability to translate those black squiggles on the page into beautiful and colorful images in her head.
The more actively your child is involved in finding out wherein their talents lie, working through the learning process, and finding ways to help themselves, the more their confidence will rise which will, in turn, fuel greater and greater successes.
Above all, remember, there are no bad brains out there. Let’s purpose to run away from name-calling our children's particular learning tendencies. Let’s instead celebrate their unique design and focus on their strengths, gifts, and talents.
If you have any questions, we are happy to help!
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