Help a Child Who Struggles with Reading: 7 Expert Tips

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Does your child or a child you know struggle with reading comprehension?

When a child struggles with reading, they often avoid it. If your child is in a traditional school setting, this is often when the teacher says the best way to help a child at home is to have them read more.

While it’s true that practice does improve performance, this is frustrating advice because you would love for your child to read more but the motivation is not there.

If you homeschool, then you’re left to figure out different strategies or methods to decrease the frustration for you and your child.

As an education specialist, I’ve worked with hundreds of students and families with this same concern. When I offer these tips below, parents are relieved that it’s practical suggestions and not just “read more.”

If you are looking for one resource as a teaching guide, hands-down, I would recommend this book- Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons

Before we get to the tips, it’s important to understand the two main parts of a child’s reading development.

  1. Fluency

Fluency is simply the speed at which your child reads. It’s how slow or how fast they read any text.

2. Comprehension

Did your student understand what they just read? Can they retell the story and not leave out any main ideas? That’s comprehension.

Both skills are very important to developing strong reading development.

Keeping that in mind, below are practical suggestions that you can implement now to help a child with both fluency and comprehension skills.

  1. Read with your kids every single day.

This is you as the parent reading, not the child. It does not have to be a whole chapter book and that is not ideal.

This should be 5-20 minutes a day depending on your child’s age and attention span. It doesn’t matter what you read- a picture book, a chapter of a book, a magazine, or a recipe… just read and the key is not to treat the time as a chore.

This should be a special time and your kids will look forward to it without even realizing it’s working on literacy skills. It lets your children know that you value reading, which sets an example for them to follow.

It lets them hear the tone, voice and rhythm from an adult reader and they will pick up on these cues and skills too.

This does not mean that you have to do your very best character impersonation or voice! Just reading together as part of a regular routine is enough to help your child grow as a reader.

2. Set a timer and tell your child you want to see how many words he/she can read in one minute.

This is a great activity IF you have a child that is not bothered by anything timed. If that is the case, then leave out the part about one minute and just ask your child to read one or two pages and you can keep up with the time without them knowing.

Doing this once or twice a week will give you an idea of your child’s fluency rate and if it’s improving or not. If kids read too fast or too slow, it impacts their ability to comprehend.

The numbers below represent a range of average words per minute fluency rate according to age.

Don’t assume there is a problem if your child reads much slower or faster, especially if they are easily able to summarize what they just read. It’s just a guide to get an idea of the average fluency rate according to age.

Age 625-65 wpm
Age 765-105 wpm
Age 885-125 wpm
Age 9105-145 wpm
Age 10125-160 wpm

Knowing a child’s fluency rate will help you to understand if the rate your child is reading is interfering with comprehension. It gives you another piece of the puzzle in determining what to work on and if the rate at which they read is part of the issue.

3. Turn subtitles/caption on the t.v. and devices if the option is available.

This is something so easy and subtle yet very powerful.

This gives kids more exposure to words and print when they are watching their favorite shows and characters.

You will sometimes look at your child and catch them looking at the captions moreso than the show and will be pleased to find out it typically just makes them more interested in reading!

If your child watches Youtube videos or Netflix shows, look for the settings or gear icon to turn on captions.

This is always a recommendation I give to parents of second language learners who are unable to read aloud to their children.

4. Talk about print materials… and not just books!

Ask for your child to get a menu at restaurants, share kid appropriate funny memes, point out sayings on billboards and take advantage of any opportunity to talk about different print materials.

This conveys that reading is important without saying it and gets kids interested in what else they’re missing from not putting for some extra effort with their reading.

We use print materials in just about everything we do from reading a recipe (another great idea… let them help you cook and follow along) to reading a road sign. It will help your child’s reading skills just to naturally discuss print materials.

5. Sing and play rhyming games.

Permission to be silly!

Make up songs and rhymes at bath time for younger kiddos, when you’re driving down the road for older kiddos, waiting in line at a store (ignore any stares)… or just anytime!

Chances are you’ll both get a kick out of it and improving reading skills is just a side benefit.

Many children have learned how to read from nursery rhymes, poems and silly songs. Music, cadence and playful language go hand in hand with a strong literacy foundation.

If you’re looking for something like this in a video format, I can’t recommend Preschool Prep enough. I have loaned out these videos to countless students and have seen great results.

It’s repetition with colorful characters and incorporates the power of mnemonics. Excellent resource for parents or preschool and Kindergarten teachers!


6. Explore books and topics of interest.

There’s a good chance of finding a book or interesting series on a range of reading levels.

This is really helpful for kids who love the non-fiction topics like sports, animals, space, dinosaurs, etc.

For boys ages 8-10, the “Who Would Win” series are fantastic for interest and high engagement.

Reading works the same way as adults… we tend to read a certain genre or articles of interest. You can use this to your advantage with beginning readers to provide materials that you know are of high interest to your child.

You could also consider a magazine subscription on a topic of interest.

7. Find creative ways to practice reading.

Kids who struggle with reading (understandably) don’t want to practice. Just like getting picky eaters to try new foods, you have to get creative in finding new ways to practice reading.

Some ideas are reading plays where kids can be different characters, re-reading old favorites (even an older child’s favorite picture books), choral reading (child reads out loud together with you) or popcorn reading (taking turns stopping anywhere in the text where the other person has to jump in).

Playing card games with a written component is another fun way to practice reading.

Keep books in the car and consider a book nook at home!

All of these things are practicing skills without realizing it and more practice will improve their reading skills. The muscles you use the most get stronger!

It opens windows of opportunity for more conversation, vocabulary and figuring out how words work.

Perhaps the best outcome of all is the time engaging with your kids and watching them grow as readers!

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