Struggling Readers in Your Home and How to Help: Part 1

Having a struggling reader means pulling teeth to meet an AR goal. In your house, tears are being shed daily when it comes to any assignment. Hours get spent at the kitchen table trying to finish all homework and start the process all over the next day. Parent-teacher meetings are filled with moments where you try not to cry when the teachers repeat the same message. “Such a sweet kiddo. Let’s talk about reading level.”

I’ve been there worn out momma and I still visit, but less frequently.

*The highly entertaining article on struggling readers below contains some links where I will earn a small commission.

My Readers

My daughter didn’t struggle with the mechanics of reading but didn’t love to do it from the start. Now, she’s heart-broken that the last day of school is here and she has to return a library book she hasn’t had a chance to finish!

My 11-year-old son is the one whose brain gets in the way of being able to read. My struggling reader. He lives with words on a page playing tricks on him and “sound it out” doesn’t help in the least. He has to know a word intimately to be able to recognize it and even then, he will confuse it with another word 25% of the time. With all of his struggles, that kid loves to read these days! He has a plan that  Indian in the Cupboard is his book for the summer.

I’m not an expert. I do have some background in littles and teaching but I am not a reading specialist. I’m a parent who tried some things and they worked. I’m going to share with you what I did in hopes it saves some tears and heartache in your home.

  • Step 1: Model the behavior of enjoying reading
  • Step 2: Make reading special
  • Step 3: Get them engaged
  • Steps 4-7: Find out in Part 2

Step 1: Model the behavior

This one came easy for me because I enjoy reading. I have been known to carry a book with me in case there’s a chance to read. I’m a founding member of a “Wook” club where we read books and discuss them over wine. I occasionally load an eBook on my phone as well to have handy.

When I’m socializing with people around my kids, discussions often turn to what people are reading depending on the crowd. I want to know books they couldn’t put down and they hear the same from me. Often times we’re talking about when we can meet next to swap some of the titles we mentioned.

My mom, her sisters, and my grandmother modeled a love of reading for me. If there was free-time, TV wasn’t normally the activity of choice for them. They could all be so focused and involved with words on a page and it made me want to have what they had. They had their own book swap in the summer via a bookshelf in my Grandma’s house. You took a book and left a book. In my mom’s case, it was bags of books!

What if You’re Not a Reader?

Simple. We’re all readers. We just might not all pick up a 500 page novel and wish it had 200 more pages by the end. Figure out what you can or want to read so it doesn’t become torture.

I think the easiest way to accomplish this is through a magazine. There are so many on just about every topic. You can get one through apps on your phone or computer and the actual kind that comes in your mailbox.

If you end up going the “e” route, make sure that your kiddos know you are reading on your phone and not on social media. If you don’t make the distinction for them then your modeling efforts never happened.

Step 2: Make it special

When my daughter was about 6, she asked what my favorite thing to do was. I was quick to answer that I loved taking a bubble bath and reading a good book. It was like lightning hit her in that moment. She exclaimed that she couldn’t wait to be able to do that!

Now at 12, you can tell by her warped books on the bookshelf that she loves to read in the tub too.

For my son, cuddling up in my bed with me to read the book of the moment is the best. He arranges the pillows just right and gets cozy before we get started. He enjoys the aspect of the quality time and being somewhere he doesn’t normally hang out.

How do you make it special?

Maybe setting up some blankets on the floor of a closet would work for you. What if you gave them a flashlight to read with as well? Or have you seen teachers make a “Book Boat” out of a large storage bin? They cut the lid in half and the mini you sits inside with the book laid out on top of the lid. Make it comfy with blankets inside!

Maybe you create a ritual that includes getting a special snack. You could make hot chocolate with marshmallows to cuddle up with and call it a reading potion to make the book come to life.

Step 3: Get them engaged

The reading bug ended up biting both of my kids around the same age and I don’t know if that was coincidence or if there’s something about 3rd grade. Maybe it’s a transition of their brains being able to set the scene up in their heads of what they’re reading on the page instead of relying on the pictures in the book to do the work for them?

My Daughter

I tried all kinds of books before that age for my daughter. I picked classics that I loved as a kid. Nothing. I bought things that were popular like the Never Girls and the Judy Moody series. Nope.

Then came 3rd grade and The One and Only Ivan along with the Nightmares! series. She fell in love with the animal characters in Ivan. It touched her heart and still chokes her up to talk about today. Nightmares! started as a funny joke because the book has an evil stepmother as a main character and I told her she could relate.

My Son

For my son, the struggling reader, we started out with the skinny “level” reading books. You pick where they are at reading-wise and then decide if you want to read the Disney, Lego or Star Wars character book. He liked these but he was more focused on telling me things about the movies they related to instead of the story on the page.

Finally, in 3rd grade, James Patterson did the trick with his House of Robots series. It wasn’t that he didn’t struggle to read the pages but that he wanted to keep going to find out what happens next. Patterson definitely writes with boys in mind and gets the relationship right.

We’ve since read his book Public School Superhero and now we are moving through the Treasure Hunters series.

How are you going to find what works for your kid?

It’s not easy. Helpful advice right?

You’re going to have to move through this part slowly and don’t have expectations that the first book you pick is going to work. I would start with the first book in a series. When you find the first book that works, they are hooked for several more books.

Anyone else feel like that last paragraph sounds like how drug dealers work?!

Part 1 Challenge!

I challenge you to get started worn out momma. You’ve got 3 steps you can take action on this week.

  • What are you going to start to read in front of your kids? I feel like this might be the excuse you need to treat yourself to a $5 magazine in the checkout at the grocery store!
  • How can you make reading time special for them? Maybe the “Book Boat” sounded like an awesome idea or the treat route because it’s less work. Listen for clues on what your kid finds cool these days to help you decide.
  • What book in a series are you going to start with? Could be that one in this article sounds like the right fit or you need to do some further research on your end.

Join the challenge to get a brief email in your inbox for the next 7 days along with the “Brainstorm Session” printable to help with the first 3 steps. I’ll be your accountability partner to help nudge you in the right direction and an ear to listen to how things are going! I’ll also remind you to come back for the last 4 steps in the process in the last email.

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