When reading doesn’t come easy

Tracy Chappell is learning that not all book-lovers are built the same.

1Reading-January2014-iStockphoto
Photo: iStockphoto

Follow along as Today’s Parent senior editor Tracy Chappell shares her refreshingly positive take on parenting her two young daughters. She’s been blogging her relatable experiences for our publication since 2005.

My husband and I have always read with our kids. It’s one of the things I feel really proud and secure of in terms of parenting—something we did “right,” among all the things we fumbled through and completely messed up (and continue to mess up).

For our oldest daughter, Anna, who is now seven, it all seemed to work out as we’d hoped. She picked up reading quickly, loves books and throws a fit if a late outing means there’s no time for stories before bed. She reads on her own, but really loves to be read to, and it’s fun exploring novels with her now (Sean just read her Oliver Twist, and we’re partway through The Secret Garden).

Read more: Family Literacy Day: The secret to raising a reader >

Our younger daughter, Avery, also loves to be read to, and will also throw a fit if there’s no time for books before bed. But she doesn’t love to read. Not yet. She’s only five and she’s just learning the basics now, and I’m hoping that fluency will bring infatuation, and an end to the frustration. Because right now, reading is creating a bit of a rift for us, and that’s the last thing I want.

She started out pretty keen, excited when Anna deposited all of her early reader books onto Avery’s bedroom floor. But she struggles with patience for the nuts and bolts of reading. She wants to just KNOW how to read, rather than going through the work of sounding out letters and stringing them together. It’s all so cumbersome. She is part of a weekly book program at school, which gives her a leveled book and journal to draw a picture and print a sentence in each week, and she loves doing that. But when it comes to that pile of early readers, she’s either too tired or too frustrated to make much progress, and it turns into a bit of a fight to get her to read to us at night.

She also doesn’t have any interest in longer stories or chapter books (I’m dying to read Charlotte’s Web with her). I think she misses the pictures, and also likes the simplicity of getting to the end of the story before we snuggle into bed. I can understand that. She’s not ready yet.

Her wonderful teacher has told me not to worry—and not to compare Avery to Anna; they are different kinds of learners. She said Avery is doing just fine, and what we need to work on more than anything is her confidence, because the knowledge is there.

Read more: Literacy: New study on boys and reading >

Avery’s teacher gave everyone a set of flash cards at the beginning of the year and we play “My pile, your pile” with them (I show her the word, and if she can get it quickly, it goes in her pile; if not, it goes in mine, and then we go over the ones in my pile at the end.) But her teacher said to cut it back to just five words or so, rather than the whole set, and try to play it several times a week (every day, if possible), so she feels good about what she knows. I quickly realized how empowering it is for her when she knows the words, and I add one or two new words each week.

I’ve also figured out that we need to backtrack a bit with the books she’s reading to us at bedtime. She has a whole set that she knows (I think she’s just memorized them), and I put them away, thinking she wasn’t learning anything by reading them over and over again. She was upset by this, but I told her we could learn new words with the new books. This wasn’t a good strategy. I came across this article, “10 tips to help a struggling reader,” this weekend, and it was perfect timing, reminding me that at this stage of early reading, I need to bolster her confidence by letting her read the same stories if she wants to, and taking things slowly, instead of pushing her too quickly and derailing her progress and motivation.

I need to stop stressing about it, so she can feel more relaxed about the process, too, and I need to stop comparing. I loved that one of the tips in the article was to keep reading to her, instead of making all of our reading time about her learning, which I can see is equating books to chores for her. I never want her to lose her love for reading, so I will take a breath, and recognize that the end goal is what’s important, not how long it takes us to get there.

Do you have a child who struggles with reading? What strategies have you used to help?

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