When you homeschool, having a struggling reader can be nerve-wracking. You know that you are the one in charge of getting your child to read fluently, but despite your best efforts, it just hasn't happened yet. Don't worry, it's going to be okay! I have some ideas for you. In this post, I want to dig into some reasons why your child might be struggling to read, and what you can do to help.
This is the fifth post in my Charlotte Mason reading series. You can start from the beginning using the button below.
Why is Your Child Struggling to Read?
There is a bit of irony in a situation I've observed regarding struggling readers. In homeschool circles, dyslexia is often suggested as one of the first reasons a child might be struggling to read. This is ironic to me because when I was a public school teacher, throwing out the possibility of dyslexia was always one of the last resorts. Every possibility and remedy was exhausted before jumping to diagnose a learning disability.
Knowing the problem is your first step to helping your struggling reader. As I mentioned in another post in this series, What Makes a Good Reader? a struggling reader is not the same as a disinterested one. For the purpose of this post, I am talking about readers who have trouble with decoding sounds, reading fluently, and understanding what they read.
It is very possible that your child is not ready to learn how to read. Child development has not changed its timeline to cater to the ever-increasing demands that are placed on children. I once had a student who came into first grade struggling with reading, and left flourishing. That year was just what she needed: she was finally ready to read..
It is possible that children older than first grade age aren't developmentally ready for reading. When I taught fourth grade in a public school, I was keenly aware of the "fourth grade slump." This is the term that refers to research around the likelihood that children won't catch-up to their peers if they are behind in fourth grade. The gap just widens. Homeschool children don't have anyone to catch up to, but I think this research is helpful.
If there are holes in your child's phonics instruction, then they will struggle to read. Charlotte Mason's reading by sight method doesn't rely solely on phonics, but it is an included and important part of it. Research says that leaving out phonics can deter a child's ability to read and spell.
3. Phonemic Awareness
Phonemic awareness, as I mentioned in my post about early literacy skills, is crucial for reading. Some children will pick these skills up naturally, and some children need direct instruction in them. If a child has had speech or hearing problems in the past, this is a sign that he or she might have phonemic awareness problems.
If struggling with reading is common for family members, then your child might be genetically predisposed for this. Dyslexia is a very real possibility, but it's worth exploring the other issues I've mentioned first. Here are the signs of dyslexia at different stages of childhood.
How to Help Your Struggling Reader
If you were easily able to determine your child's struggle with reading, then you might not need to read any more! Some of the solutions are obvious. If your child is struggling with phonics, teach phonics! But, I do have some ideas and tips for you, no matter the struggle.
One of the first things I did as a teacher if I had a struggling reader was to look at their age. A child younger than the other students in the class would just need a little more time. The unfortunate thing was that we just had to keep pushing through with reading lessons, knowing that the child wasn't developmentally ready to read. You don't have to keep going, though. Take a break. Start again during the next term or school year.
2. Teach Phonics
Maybe you feel uncomfortable with phonics, or just haven't taught much of it yet. You got this! There are so many resources out there. Even with out a curriculum, you can find lists of every phonogram, and teach them through nursery rhymes or stories Charlotte Mason style. The key is to be systematic. Don't just teach random phonemes. Know which phonemes you have taught, and which ones you need to teach.
My Little Robin's Reading Printable packs have just been updated to include more phonics, so you can teach in Charlotte Mason's way, without neglecting phonics instruction.
3. Phonemic Awareness
Even a 15 year old who struggles with phonemic awareness will need direct instruction with it. So, if you've determined this is your problem, congrats! Teaching this set of skills is so easy and kind of fun! I wrote about this in my early literacy post, so I won't go into detail here, but the short answer is work on rhyming, blending, and segmenting through spoken games.
If you have a family member who struggled to read growing up, talk to them. Learn what worked for them and what didn't. If you have a family with dyslexia, then the likelihood that your child has it also is high. In most states, you can request to be tested through the school district.
A child with dyslexia needs intense, systematic phonics instruction. An Orton-Gillingham approach, through a curriculum like Barton, is probably the best option for a child with dyslexia. (Note; I've never used Barton's program and this isn't an affiliate link, just a suggestion based off of my understanding of reading curricula!)
I threw an extra reason in, one that doesn't line up with any of the reading problems I've mentioned. But, whenever someone shares a homeschool problem with me, my first reaction is to think about what habits might need to be developed to improve the situation. In the area of reading, could attention be preventing your child from learning? Or, maybe working on the habit of memory could help? Prayerfully consider what areas could improve in order to support learning.