Many new homeschoolers’ first stumbling block is the realization that, despite assurances by teachers over the years, their child’s reading ability is not nearly as good as parents had assumed. As a parent, our first instinct is to grab every reading help workbook, comprehension worksheet, and vocabulary list we can find, plunk our child down with some chapter books, and increase reading lesson times. We panic because our child is “behind” and “not at grade level,” but those good intentions that come from love for our children can sometimes lead us in the wrong direction. For help with reading skills, more is not necessarily better, and trudging onward without a backward glance can hinder more than it can help.
Meet Your Child Where She Is Now
Put aside the “grade level” books and back up to meet your child where her skills currently sit. If she has mastered most phonics but still has trouble with certain vowel blends, then stop and work solely on those blends. Trouble with endings, silent letters, syllable divisions, or compound words? Back up and work on those, then move forward with reading at a lower level that is still challenging, but not too far beyond her current skill level. Yes, this may mean she’s now reading “below grade level.” However, it is the choice between destroying your child’s love of reading and learning by pushing books too difficult, or inspiring confidence and joy in the written word by making the challenge a stretch but still attainable.
Go Back to Basics
Start over from square one phonics and work from there. Your child had to walk before he ran, and he had to crawl before he walked. The same goes for reading. A child who does not know his basic letters and all the sounds will not be able to read. Many schools emphasize sight words over phonics, mainly for pace. It is much easier to memorize individual words than it is to teach the myriad of sounds, blends, and exceptions that are the English language. But sight words do not teach a child how to segment words into identifiable parts to which standard phonics rules can be applied. No matter the age (yes, this means high schoolers too!), phonics are the building blocks of reading.
Allow your student to follow along with an audiobook by reading his own print or digital copy as he listens. This can help with fluency and pronunciation, as well as help familiarize him with cadences of language, turns of phrases, and “hearing” expression in the spoken word. Audiobooks can be a great boost to a reader who just needs a little helping hand to get over his reading slump, but they aren’t only for struggling readers. They are a great quality activity for adults and children alike while driving, folding laundry, or cooking dinner.
Wait? Sing? This is an article about reading! Yes, and singing, or, more accurately rhyming is an important part of reading well and fluently. Sing songs with simple rhymes like silly Mother Goose songs or folk songs. Sing complex rhymes and elevated language of hymns. Have rhyming games and competitions.
Singing also helps naturally segment words into syllables, another essential phonemic skill. Being able to identify first, middle, and ending sounds helps train the ear to hear individual sounds that blend together to make words. Singing does this naturally using rhythm and beat that breaks words into sounds and syllables. It also teaches the ear to intentionally hear different vowel sounds of the same vowel in context, another essential phonemic skill.
Reading aloud gives you the benefits of family time, shared memories and experiences, and the opportunity to meet and live with new literary characters that can inspire your struggling reader to be hungry for more. Choose a book slightly above your child’s current reading level; not too hard, but nothing too easy. Take turns reading a page or even by paragraph. Over time, this can help with fluency and also build a thirst for more and better literature. Picking a special book to be read with just that one child can also help strengthen the relationship and create a very sweet and special memory just for the two of you.
Keep Lessons Short and Fun
Struggling readers already dread reading. No need to compound that frustration by forcing an endless reading lesson or mandating hours per day of personal reading. Keep lessons short. Add games and oral exercises to change up the routine. Ask your student what he wants to read, then find a book at his level about that topic. Alternate scheduled (short) daily personal reading times with family read-alouds or a special read-aloud just for you and him.
Be Patient and Positive
Children learn at their own pace. Pushing them faster than they can go often can destroy their curiosity and love of learning. That’s not to say never challenge your children, but keep the challenges attainable and appropriate to your child where he is now. Don’t try to hold your child to an arbitrary grade level standard. Allow him to progress at his own pace. Doing so will inspire confidence and renewed enthusiasm for reading and literature.
When in Doubt, Get Professional Help
If you suspect dyslexia or other reading, eyesight, or processing disorders, seek help from qualified professionals. Getting the tools early can help grow your child’s fluency, and more importantly, her love of the written word.