Children learn to read at vastly different rates. Some will be able to read independently in kindergarten; others need a full year or more of instruction to build vocabulary and phonetic skills. The best way to tell if your child has a problem is to observe your child reading. Intermediate readers (generally first and second graders) have grasped basic reading skills and are learning to sound out words on their own, but aren’t quite able to work their way through chapter books. Most readers at this level can read beginner books to themselves.
Your child may need extra help if she:
- Shows no interest in books.
- Becomes moody and frustrated while reading.
- Has difficulty keeping up with school assignments.
- Regularly misunderstands basic words or sentence meanings in assigned reading.
- Refuses to read in front of you or with you.
- Has difficulty distinguishing the beginning, middle, and end of a story.
If your child seems to have trouble learning to read, don’t blame yourself or your child. Your child’s struggle could be rooted vision or hearing problems, a teacher’s teaching approach, or reading material that’s too advanced for his age.
Here are six steps you can take to identify and correct a problem:
Watch and listen to your child read. Note problem areas, but try not to interfere. Simply observe.
Talk to your child without sounding too worried or frustrated. You don’t want to scare your child away from books. Ask your child about school. Does the teacher move too quickly during class? Are the books boring or too difficult? Try to get information without comparing your child to other kids in class. Don’t say, “Does everyone else read faster than you?” Instead ask, “Does the teacher separate the class into reading groups?”
Arrange to speak to your child’s teacher or to a reading specialist. Prepare questions before you go, and share whatever problems you’ve observed at home. Something you think is a problem might be a typical difficulty for an intermediate reader. Ask the teacher about the school’s reading curriculum and any reading assessments that have been given to your child. The teacher will be able to tell you your child’s reading level, discuss any problem areas indicated by those tests, and offer help.
With the teacher, try to identify the source of the problem. Consider the obvious first: Have you checked your child’s eyesight and hearing? Vision problems could mean your child has difficulty reading the board during vocabulary and reading exercises, or has trouble deciphering letters on a page. Hearing problems can seriously affect a child’s ability to read, because many new words are introduced orally during the first few years of school.
As you work on the reading problem, praise your child’s progress. Many children are nervous about reading and keeping up with their classmates, so try to help your child feel as if he’s mastering reading. If you’re out shopping and you see a sign your child knows such as McDonald’s or Toys R Us, ask your child, “Can you read that sign?” Write down your child’s name or the names of everyone in the family, and ask your child to read them. “Let them see themselves as readers,” says reading specialist and first-grade teacher Cindy Pfost. Find a copy of the book When Will I Read? by Miriam Cohen; it reassures children who are having trouble.
Don’t discuss your child’s reading problem with other adults and friends in front of your child. It’s best to keep the problem between yourself, your spouse, and the teacher or reading specialist.