What can you do when your child is having real difficulties in learning to read

Literacy Difficulties and Dyslexia

There are some children, 10-20% of the population, who, even having been exposed to a great number of books, still find it difficult to read.  I have seen it many times and spoken to many parents about it. I’ll confess it can be quite heartbreaking, seeing these children struggle day after day with seemingly easy words.

So we have put together 6 ways to help your child get better at reading.

6 ways to help your child get better at reading
1 Practise

Not being able to read or not reading well can be a huge disadvantage in this day and age.  Practise can and does make a difference. These children need far more practise than their peers.  So effectively they need to see far more books, and books that will help them.

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go. - Dr Seuss

2 Make it Fun

It goes without saying that things we enjoy, we choose to do. Children often do the same thing over and over and over again, quite simply for the enjoyment of doing it.  If your child asks for the same book to be read repeatedly, celebrate their love of this book and read it with them as often as they like.

Equally, if you find a book you think they’ll enjoy, read it with them and make it as exciting as you can.  Read with expression, use different voices, and get excited about it.  You will be demonstrating that reading is, and should be, fun.

For more ideas, you can read our article ‘5 ways you can help when listening to your child read’.
“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” ― Charles William Eliot

3  Find books they Love

Your local library is a great place to start.  If you can make your visit part of your regular routine, so much the better.  I recall fondly going to the library with my mother every Saturday morning in the 1970s. Going to the library and borrowing books is free.  They will have a great range of books, so keep on trying to find books your child likes. If in doubt, look for books that are funny or that are about categories that your child is already interested in.

“Read what you find interesting, and then follow your interests. You'll find that in doing so you always generate enough to illuminate the next step.” - Mark Helprin

4 Apps and Specialist Publishers are there to help

I will always say that books are better than e-books, however, there are some great apps out there.  These apps may help your child engage in learning the sounds that letters make, and in learning to read words that cannot be sounded out. Cambugs and Nessy are two apps that have been recommended to me.  There are others available.  Have a look and find something that your child will enjoy.

Barrington Stoke is a publisher that publishes books taking into account many of the difficulties that children may have.  They create books with thicker, tinted paper and use specially developed font and increased spacing.  The stories also have age appropriate content with a lower reading age.  And they get award winning authors like Julia Donaldson, Michael Morpurgo, Malorie Blackman amongst others to write the stories.  They also have produced their Red Squirrel Picture Books, designed to help parents and carers who find reading difficult themselves. The website for this range is www.redsquirrelbooks.co.uk and it also has advice for parents. So check it out.

“Read whatever book you lay your hands on if you can, for every writer has a story to tell” ― Bangambiki Habyarimana, The Great Pearl of Wisdom

5 Don’t dismiss comics and graphic novels

A great way for kids to start reading books is to find stories that can be followed through pictures, such as comic books and graphic novels. A friend of mine is dyslexic however she now reads faster than me, due to her love of Manga (a type of Japanese comic book).

Firstly the text is in smaller chunks than in novels, making it more accessible and easier to read. Also big paragraphs can be daunting so you can raise your child’s confidence with books with less text. The stories can be just as complex as written novels but by the added use of pictures, children do not need to rely so much on the words. The meaning can be implied from the pictures, allowing them to learn vocabulary while understanding the story.

Children are made readers on the laps of their parents. —Emilie Buchwald

6 Try Paired Reading

Paired reading is when adult and child (or child and child) read out loud, together.  It takes the pressure off the child and changes the focus to a joint activity. This helps children by avoiding re-inforcing the difficulty in reading.  Another bonus is you get to snuggle up together, making it a special moment, rather than a battle ground.  It will take a little time finding the right pace to do it, but it’s very important that your child chooses the reading material.  Paired reading can also be done with two children, but one child needs to have a reading age at least two years ahead of the other.

If your child prefers reading alone, that is absolutely fine, but a good rule of thumb, whether paired reading or not, is to give your child 4-5 seconds to try to work the word out themselves. Then give them the word and encourage them to repeat it back.  It all helps in developing that much needed practise.

There are different viewpoints as to the best approaches to help these children, but for me there is one thing that is absolutely crucial. And I cannot stress this strongly enough.  If your child is one of those children, it is vital that parents, carers and teachers work hard to ensure that this difficulty does not affect their confidence and self esteem.

So find something they are really good at, and help them turn this skill into a specialism and an expertise. I’m sure you’ve heard of the countless stories of famous artists and scientists who were reported to be dyslexic. Again, there are different viewpoints, but I believe many highly creative people are this way because they spent a lot of time as a child on creative activities that they enjoyed. Reading well is great, but living well is better.

I hope you found this article useful. Let us know if you find any of these suggestions helpful or if you have any other tried and tested techniques for helping struggling readers.