How to help a child with reading problems and difficulty

“Am I expecting too much of my child? Is all this moaning and groaning about schoolwork a discipline problem, or is there something else going on here?” Sound familiar?

I’ve been homeschooling for 16 years now, and I still ask myself this question. I think we all do.

So how do you know?

First, remember to trust your child.

Kids are smart. And they’re also very individual. Some teach themselves to read at age 4, and others are just too busy or aren’t interested.

Seven of my children read early and happily, but one son didn’t. I wanted to sit down with him and play phonics games together — he had other ideas and interests. He liked our read-aloud time, but if it went too long or if we read non-exciting books he lost interest.

That child is now eleven and a bookworm when it comes to adventurous books. He loves Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain and Brandon Sanderson, and he reads way above his grade-level, but is a little picky about his subject material. He really makes me work to find the right books.

He’s also working through an Algebra book with no trouble, unless the assignment takes him more than half an hour, because he’s so busy with his interests. He loves science. He can fix anything mechanical and loves construction. Whenever we have a remodeling project, this one is always right there wearing his little tool belt. And he really is remarkable naturally skilled.

In 2010, Boston College professor Peter Gray wrote in Psychology Today about a study at the Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts, where a philosophy of child-led learning meant that the age at which students began reading ranged from four to 14. That entire, very wide age-range is perfectly normal and acceptable for learning to read.

Don’t worry if your child hasn’t caught reading fever by the time you think he should have, or by the time anyone else thinks he should have. Trust that establishing a reading culture in your home will help your child to want to read. And once the reading bug hits, you will see rapid results.


And also trust your gut.

You know your child best. You probably already have a good idea of his weaknesses and strengths. Does he usually struggle with laziness or a bad attitude?

If not, his struggle with reading could be something physiological. Problems with eyesight and hearing can both cause reading difficulties and should be checked to start. The problem could be as simple as fluid in the ears or allergies.

You may just need to wait until your child has matured a little, or until he shows interest. Don’t push your child if he doesn’t yet show signs of reading readiness, some of which are physical, though you can help to nurture and cultivate a love of books.

However, when a child is older than 9 or 10 and is still struggling, then there may be a problem.

Once you determine that your child may truly be struggling and not just copping an attitude or in need of medical attention, the next step is to start whittling away at possible problems.


Steps you can take to alleviate reading problems.

You don’t need a degree in education to try a few tricks that might help. You probably already do many of these things already.

Give it time

My oldest walked at 10 months, my second at 14 months, my third at 8 months. Kids are born with personalities, interests, dislikes and weaknesses. They aren’t going to read at a particular time just because a child development expert says they should.

Because of the individualized nature of homeschooling, late reading is not a handicap as it might be in a conventional school setting. Schools rely on text-based instruction, but “late” readers at home simply learn through other means, like watching educational TV and videos, asking questions, and observing the world around them. And since the child is not labeled as “slow” or put into the slow reading group, his confidence doesn’t suffer. The child will grow into an enthusiastic reader, and thus view reading not only as a tool for obtaining knowledge or keeping up with others but as an enjoyable activity.

Don’t start the learning process too early and don’t push if your child isn’t ready.

Practice, practice, practice

When your child knows the mechanics but isn’t yet reading fluently, have them read to you out loud and often. Snuggle up on the couch together and rub his back to make the experience relaxed and enjoyable. If he can’t read for long, it doesn’t matter — just switch off while you read. The more you child practices, the quicker his fluency will improve.

Try these fun Activities to Encourage Your Child to Read.

Be his advocate

How eagerly do you participate in things you feel horrible at? Struggling readers need texts they can read and comprehend for two reasons: to improve their reading ability and to build confidence.

We’ve established a pretty wide network of homeschooling friends through our co-ops and classes. But we’re the only homeschoolers in our neighborhood, our church congregation and our extended family. As such, we get ‘quizzed’ frequently. Well-meaning adults will quiz my kids on their country capitols or have my children read to them.

Luckily, my children pass with flying colors. But what if they didn’t?

I can’t imagine anything more hurtful or terrifying than being asked, or forced, to read aloud for a struggling reader. I’m positive that situation would create an aversion to reading in him, exacerbating his struggle.

He need successful outcomes to build his confidence. Empower your child by creating opportunities that end in success.

Read aloud

Probably my most effective secret weapon is reading aloud. I continue reading aloud to my kids even after they become independent readers and into their teenage years.

Books that look a little intimidating to young readers are best begun as a read aloud. I’ll cut up a watermelon (or a pan of brownies or whatever I have on hand) and invite my children to sit in the shade of a tree with me while I read. None of them can resist joining in.

I read enough of the book out loud to really hook my children, and make sure to leave off at an exciting part, then I send them to bed. I then leave the book casually sitting on the kitchen table. By morning it is always gone! And it gets passed around until everyone has had a chance to read it.

Occasionally, I don’t want my kids reading ahead, so I have to hide the book.

Establish a reading culture in your home

When your children interact positively with books, they will naturally be motivated to continue seeking out books and other literacy materials as they grow. There are multiple ways to establish a reading culture in your home, all of which will help your children to interact with books in positive ways. Your biggest trouble will be getting them to stop reading when it’s time to do chores or school work or practicing or go to sleep.

Try a multi-sensory method

When we use multiple senses to connect new information, we can remember things better. For kids with reading issues especially, the use of sight, hearing, movement and touch can be helpful for learning. Here are a few of many possible examples of multisensory techniques teachers use to help struggling readers:

Kinesthetic- Sensory bin, physically sorting or matching, manipulating magnetic letters or word tiles, sand or shaving cream writing, build words (with foam letters) instead of writing them.

Auditory-listen to music that ‘matches’ your book, speaking the letter shape while you write, clap the syllables, audiobooks.

Visual- choose books with great illustrations, create your own illustrations, draw the characters or the setting, draw a map for the book.

how to help a struggling reader

Let your child set the pace

Your child might not be ready to read until age 9, but on the other hand he might be ready at age 4. As important as it is to be sure he is ready and willing before beginning reading instruction, it is equally important that the instruction be paced according your child’s desires and readiness.

I remember feeling astonished when, immediately after teaching one daughter the sounds of most of the letters she began reading phonetically. She didn’t need me to teach her how to blend the letters, as in CVC words, and was very impatient for me to hurry through the rest of the program so she could read better books.

Don’t finish the whole workbook if your child is ready to move on. How do you like it when you take a sewing class and are required to make 17 pillowcases before moving on?

Keep excitement high by continually adjusting the pace of your teaching to your child’s abilities and interest.


Diagnostic testing.

You may have seen a doctor to rule out physiological problems and patiently utilized all of the above strategies perfectly, and your child may still struggle with reading.

Deciding whether to have your child tested for reading problems can feel overwhelming, especially as a homeschooler.

Before testing for a reading disability, you should understand how these tests work and what they measure. Most reading assessments consist of three parts:decoding, fluency, and comprehension.

Decoding is a thorough knowledge of phonics — the ability to make sense of written words to know how to correctly pronounce words on the page. Fluency is the ability to read a text correctly and quickly. And comprehension is the understanding and interpretation of what is read.

Scores on these skills are looked at both independently and comprehensively to determine where your child excels and where your child may struggle and need additional assistance. Being able to target the problem area allows you to provide the appropriate learning tools for your child’s reading success.

If you suspect that your child may have serious reading or comprehension problems, I recommend a consultation with a reading specialist. Homeschooling families are often able to have their child tested for free through the public-school system.

You could google ‘reading specialist’ if you’d rather work through it privately. Whichever route you choose, your child will be tested and you’ll receive recommendations on how to correct any problems. Just know that these steps and the effort they require are very worthwhile, as they can set your child on a path toward a lifelong love of reading and learning.


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In addition to the tips, encouragement and resources that I’ve shared to help your teach your child to read, I’ve joined an amazing group of talented bloggers who have each created their own 10-day helpful homeschooling series for you to enjoy! Be sure to visit them all below!











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  1. Love these ideas! It’s helpful to have guide with lots of choices on what to do. Sometimes my first reaction to my child struggling is not a productive one 😅

  2. Pinned this excellent resource. Read aloud is so fun and helpful to children. It helps them learn how to be expressive readers. Visiting the library regularly can also create a love of reading from the youngest of ages.

  3. This is such an informative post!! I love the point about establishing a culture of reading. I have two children who are still quite young and one is a beginning reader so I really dont know how they will do but I know the culture of reading in our house has helped them a lot! Both LOVE to be read to!!

  4. I made a commitment to give books for a family member for major gifts. I agree that letting them go at their own pace is critical. They may not read my selected gift for a while, but then out of the blue they will read the book, and share with me what they thought about it. It’s so great to listen to what they thought, and share what I had liked or disliked about the book as well. When they can share their feedback without grades, scores and expectations, they are reading because they want to read, and I hope it goes on for life!

    1. Amy Saunders says:

      That’s a fantastic thing to commit to! We always give books as gifts, too.

  5. Great reminder that what works for one child might not work for the next one. Keeping their interest is key and it is wonderful how he now loves to read.

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