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How to Help a Child Who is a Reluctant Reader

Learning to read is such an important milestone in a child’s education because it opens up other learning to them. Once kids can read, they can also work more independently on their school assignments. And yet, as I assessed my girls’ reading skills a few months into the year, I realized I had a reluctant reader. While her older sisters were pouring through huge books, reading was a struggle for Jade. Something had to change.

If you also have a reluctant reader, here are my tips for helping him or her learn to read.

How to Help a Child Who is a Reluctant Reader

1. Assess for a Learning Difficulty

About 20% of children have dyslexia, a brain-based learning difference that makes learning to read more difficult. When I first noticed Jade’s struggles to read, I began looking up information about dyslexia. I talked to several friends whose kids have dyslexia or other learning disorders. I did some online assessments for Jade’s reading, and she hit a few of the markers for dyslexia.

If you suspect that your child is a reluctant reader because of a learning disability, speak to your child’s teacher about it. They may be able to access assessments and supports to help your child’s learning. There may be a wait list in many places to access these assessments or supports, and they may take time. Here in BC, even homeschoolers can access a wealth of learning supports for students with various disabilities. It’s always worth asking the question to find out what resources are available to you.

There are pros and cons to going through the diagnosis process. One of my friends had her son go through all the assessments to get diagnosed, and said it made a huge difference for his learning, because they were then able to adapt his education to suit his needs. Another friend hasn’t officially had her daughter diagnosed for dyslexia, but uses quite a few dyslexia-friendly resources in teaching her. You may want to talk to friends (as I did) and decide which path is best for your child.

2. Change Your Curriculum

After considering whether or not Jade had dyslexia, I chose to change her reading curriculum. Even if your child doesn’t have a learning disorder, a curriculum change can often help a student get past a learning difficulty. I realized Jade was now in her third year of working on the same reading curriculum (which her older two sisters had finished in a year), and she was still disliking it. Clearly, for whatever reason, the program wasn’t a good fit for her (even though it had been for her sisters).

At the recommendation of a friend, and after reading numerous online reviews, I ordered All About Reading for Jade. This is a fun, multi-sensory, open-and-go reading program with five levels. I did an online assessment to decide which level to place her in. Although she was doing Grade 2, I ordered the Level 1 materials. Level 2 seemed to be just a bit beyond her, and knowing that Jade gives up easily if things are too hard, I figured it was best to go back to the basics and keep it easy. If it was too easy, then she’d fly through it and gain some confidence.

Jade loved All About Reading. She went from dreading reading to being excited to see what activities were planned for the day. All About Reading had flash cards, brightly coloured worksheet pages, and three easy readers with lots of pictures. Jade loved feeding words to monsters, matching mama ducks to baby ducks, and creating word flippers. There was cutting and gluing to do each day. The stories themselves were easy to read, with two sentences per page and a pretty picture, helping her develop confidence in her reading as she turned the pages.

When Jade finished All About Reading Level 1, I moved back to the Catholic Heritage Curriculum readers for Grade 2. She is now finding books on her own at the library and flying through the easy readers from CHC. Something about the different teaching and learning methods in AAR helped her get over her reading difficulty.

Other reading curriculum ideas for students with dyslexia:

3. Read Aloud

Many of us read aloud to our kids when they are preschoolers, and then stop reading to them once they start reading for themselves. I realized I probably read less to Jaclyn than to her older sisters because by the time Jaclyn was interested in her books, her older sisters were reading on their own or reading to her. This year, we’ve done a lot more reading aloud together. I’m reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to the girls, and we’re also listening to a lot of audiobooks together as we drive to and from school twice a week.

Unlike textbooks, audiobooks don’t simply define words for us and then expect us to understand what we are reading. Instead, they string those words together into complex sentences that hold meaning for us. Audiobooks allow children to hear common phrases and sentence patterns over and over again which helps them build a library phraseology in their memories. This can be a huge step in building fluency. ~ iHomeschool Network

Reading together is not only a way to build connections with your child, it also helps reluctant readers be more interested in books. Often after I’ve read a book to them several times, I’ve caught my kids looking at that book again themselves. Pearl (learning to read this year) has been picking up new words on her own, by trying to figure out the words in favourite books that I’ve read and reread to her many times.

Children learn to love the sound of language before they even notice the existence of printed words on a page. Reading books aloud to children stimulates their imagination and expands their understanding of the world. It helps them develop language and listening skills and prepares them to understand the written word. When the rhythm and melody of language become a part of a child’s life, learning to read will be as natural as learning to walk and talk. ~ Reading Rockets

How much has our increased audiobook use and reading aloud contributed to both Jade’s and Pearl’s success this year in reading? Well, it’s hard to measure that for sure, but what I know is that we are reading aloud more this year and listening to more audiobooks, and both of them have made huge leaps in their reading.

4. Find the Right Books

Now that I have four girls reading, I’ve noticed (once again) that they are each very different. All of my girls have their own taste in books. Although Sunshine and Lily are reading at the same level, they each prefer different types of books (and often argue about their favourite series). I can’t assume that Jade wants to read the same books that Sunshine or Lily wanted to read when they were her age. Perhaps she was a reluctant reader because none of the books we had caught her interests.

Part of encouraging her to read has been finding books that she wants to read. For example, before I started AAR with her, I realized that she really liked Dr. Seuss books. Something about the rhyme, repetition, pictures, and being able to frequently flip the page (even if the books are really long), engaged her as a reader. So we found more Dr. Seuss books at the library for her. We also browsed the easy novels shelf at our library for books that Jade wanted to read. Here, she did judge the books by their cover, and found a few series that she wanted to read.

Jade has also always enjoyed reading graphic novels. These tell the story as much with the pictures as with the words, and often have fewer words than chapter books. Students get used to “reading” as they are still engaged in the book, moving scene to scene in the book, and starting to read the speech bubbles and descriptions. We borrowed a lot of graphic novels from the library and also bought a few for ourselves. For example, while we were listening to the Wings of Fire audiobooks, Jade was also reading the Wings of Fire graphic novels.

More resources for your reluctant reader

Apps can be helpful in teaching your child to read, as they use a multisensory approach (listening, looking, touching). We’ve used several learn-to-read apps with our kids. These are our favourites:

  • Reading Eggs (online phonics curriculum)
  • Starfall (lots of fun educational activities)
  • Homer (huge library of stories your child can read along with)

For book ideas for your child, check out my lists of Fantastic Books for Kids by grade level.

Do you have a reluctant reader? What has helped them to overcome their difficulties?

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