8 Ways to Help a Struggling Reader
If you have a child or student who is struggling to learn how to read, you know how frustrating it can be to watch them fall behind. Reading is foundational to almost all learning, and if your little one is having a hard time putting letters together, they’re probably struggling in most other subjects. On top of that, they may be feeling inadequate compared to their peers, which only hinders the hope of catching up.
Becoming a good reader may take some children more time and effort than others. And that’s okay.
Each child is on their own developmental track with their own unique strengths and weaknesses. While your child may not have an aptitude towards reading, with a little patience and knowledge, you can support them towards becoming a competent and even avid reader.
Here are eight ways to help:
1. Make books available
Whether in your classroom or at home, have a variety of books available to your child. Having a shelf or a nook full of new books can be inviting and exciting for kids. If they don’t have access to books other than what they bring home from school, they might be less likely to become free-time readers.
Countless studies have shown that the number of books a child has available in their home affects how accurately and fluently they read.
What’s more, when kids grow up in a home where many books are available, they’re likely to achieve more educational success in the future. Think about the message you send when you make books available to children: books are exciting and reading is important.
Create a culture that values and encourages reading, whether at home or at school.
Want tips to build your library?
Take your child to a second-hand book store and let them pick out several books.
Get a library card and set aside a time to go each month.
Give books as gifts! For birthdays, in Easter baskets, or whatever the occasion may be, celebrate with a book.
Think of books you loved as a child and introduce them to your kids.
Get a variety of books on all subjects and topics. Invite your kids to explore the world through books.
2. Make it a routine
Do your kids have designated play time, TV time, or iPad time? Reading is just as important—if not more so! It contributes to the development of their language abilities, their success at school, and especially the expansion of their imagination.
Create a book-time routine to communicate the importance of reading to your child, and to make it more natural for them to pick up a book on their own.
Creaiting a reading time routine (or even a rule) might be challenging at first. You may get pushback and your child may initially view reading as a chore. But with the right book and some consistency, their reading and their enjoyment of reading will improve.
If your child struggles to pick up the routine by themself, try reading together. Shared reading has incredible benefits and can further accelerate their development.
3. Talk about what they’re reading
Whether the book your child is reading is for a school assignment or just for fun, talk about it. Discussing a book reinforces comprehension. It communicates the value you place on reading, and it can help increase your child’s interest in the book.
Ask them about the book, what they’re learning, and what they think about it.
Everyone loves to have their opinions heard, and kids especially will benefit from the attention. Book conversations can also help them make real-life connections to what they read.
4. Find books they enjoy
Have you ever tried to read a book on a subject you have zero interest in? Your child may not be interested in popular children’s books about fantasy or historical fiction. Maybe they love mystery books or science fiction, instead.
Let your kids experiment. Encourage them to read a variety of different books that play off of their interests.
If they love animals, find a book series that explores different species. If they love a particular TV show or movie, find the book. Their top pick may not be a literary classic—but it’s still a book. For struggling readers, the single best thing you can do is get them to read more.
5. Be involved
A lot of reading problems primarily stem from a lack of involvement. Your kids will be less likely to sit down with a book—especially if reading is a struggle for them—if you aren’t involved in the process.
The frequency and quality of shared reading has a massive impact on kids’ ability to read and how they feel about reading.
Your involvement in reading time opens the door for your child to interact more with the text. You can ask questions, point out the illustrations, and connect elements to real-life experiences. A child can read on their own and still get a lot out of it. But guided reading can broaden their perspective and help them think more deeply about what they reads.
Being involved can look different in different situations.
One way to be involved is to simply have a conversation with your child about what they’re reading. You can sit down and read with them, or you can take them to the bookstore or library todiscover new books. Don’t have time to be directly involved? Consider finding a tutor that can offer your child the one-on-one support they need.
Do what you can and remember that your involvement in reading communicates that you value it—and that your child should, too!
6. Read out loud and let them stumble
Reading out loud can be extremely helpful for a struggling reader. It’s important for them to hear the way words sound and to sound out words they don’t yet know. It will also help them become more articulate and understand diction and expression.
Take time to read out loud to your kids and encourage them to read out loud to you (and to themselves).
Sometimes when your child reads out loud, they might stop when they come upon an unfamiliar word, hoping you’ll jump in and help.
Don’t always rush to do this.
Encourage your child to sound it out and be okay with the discomfort. Getting through a short book may take a long time, but be patient. Your child will learn best through their own struggle.
7. Limit other media
How much time do your children spend with electronics opposed to books? In a given week, track the hours they spend on devices (iPad, phone, and TV). Then track the hours they spend reading (homework counts). There may be a massive dimbalance!
TV, movies, and videos are fast, easy entertainment. And that’s not to say they’re bad. But if this type of input is high, it can have detrimental effects.
Reading can be a great form of entertainment for kids because not only can it captivate their attention, it also comes with a sense of achievement. You probably feel it yourself when you finish a book. You may not tell anyone, but when you close a book on the final chapter, you feel accomplished. Your children will feel this too as they read.
Consider limiting time spent on other media to 30 minutes a day, or perhaps an hour a week. If your child spends a lot of time with electronics, wean them off slowly and introduce more books.
8. Encourage them
Have you ever heard it said that kids live up to the expectations they’re given? You’ve lived long enough to know how much your own confidence and beliefs affect what you do—and even what you are able to do.
Kids who struggle with reading often have lower self-esteem.
Poor reading abilities usually make school less enjoyable and more challenging. It’s likely that your child compares themself to their classmates or siblings who might love to read and be better readers. All of this can result in poor self-confidence, and when a child lacks confidence, they often lack motivation.
Why should I even try? I’m a bad reader.
If your child believes they lack the ability to develop reading skills, they’re entering a dangerous place. Remind them that this is not about ability, but rather about effort. Some people have to work harder than others to become good at something, but it doesn’t mean they’re less capable or less intelligent. Remind your child that they are capable, and that reading requires a lot of effort.
Let them know you believe in them—and then give them the support and coaching to prove it.
Literacy has a massive impact on children’s lives—now and in the future. If they struggle with reading and don’t have the support system in place to help them improve, they’re on a trajectory towards less success and lower confidence. In fact, researchers have found a connection with reading difficulties and decreased emotional abilities—or, lower emotional intelligence.
This suggests that kids who are better readers have greater emotional abilities and that reading can be an excellent way to boost your child’s EQ.
Many children struggle with reading. If this is true of your child or student, don’t be alarmed. View it as an opportunity to teach them that with some applied effort, they can improve and even become great at reading. Work to understand what your child needs and do your best to offer it. Your support and involvement will be game-changing. Your child may even surprise you by developing from a struggling reader to an outright bookwo!
Marjanovič-Umek, Ljubica, et al. “The Quality of Mother-Child Shared Reading: Its Relations to Child's Storytelling and Home Literacy Environment.” Early Child Development and Care, vol. 189, no. 7, 2019, pp. 1135–1146.
Nachshon, Ohad, and Tzipi Horowitz‐Kraus. “Cognitive and Emotional Challenges in Children with Reading Difficulties.” Acta Paediatrica, vol. 108, no. 6, 2018, pp. 1110–1114., doi:10.1111/apa.14672.