How to Help Early Struggling Readers

January 3, 2020

A mom and daughter read a book together on the living room floor

According to NEA Today, reading expectations for our youngest students (kindergarteners) are more demanding than ever. Teachers shared their feelings with the NEA publication regarding the push for early literacy and the growing demands for children to develop these skills at such a young age.

“Parents think their children will learn letter recognition and sounds. They are shocked to learn what is expected in kindergarten,” Indiana kindergarten teacher Hilda Kendrick told NEA Today. “The reading requirements stress out teachers and students.”

Most adults remember kindergarten as a time to learn the alphabet, play games and memorize numbers up to 100. Today, though, letter recognition is just one tiny component of the reading/language arts kindergarten curriculum. Not only is letter recognition expected but now many kindergarteners also must master a list of sight words.

For parents, the push for developing literacy at an early age can become overwhelming, especially when children seem to struggle. However, there are many ways parents can help early struggling readers.

1.  Sight Word Games

Different school districts may have different literacy benchmarks and expectations. For many schools, though, a list of sight words isn’t uncommon at the kindergarten level. Mastering these words may be a grade-level expectation. 

Reading should be fun, and, as learning sight words is one of the earliest stages of reading, the fun should begin on sight. To help your child master their word list, create a match game where a child has to match the written word to a picture depicting the word. These cards are easy to design at home, but you also may be able to print them online, too (depending on the word list).

Parents also can create flashcards as a tool for helping kids recognize words quickly.

A young girl lays on the floor reading a book

2.  Read Together and Go on a ‘Sight Word Scavenger Hunt’

Parents should read to their children at least 15 minutes each day. Always let children choose the books they want to read during read-aloud time.  Before you read, grab your child’s sight word list and use it for a sight word scavenger hunt. Have your child look for sight words during the reading journey.  They can place a checkmark next to every word they discover.

3.  Consult Your Child’s Teacher for Resources

Many schools offer programs for all students to help practice reading skills. Some schools even encourage children to work through these programs as part of the reading curriculum. Ask your child’s teacher about any programs utilized through the school and how you can access these sites at home.

A mother meets with her son’s teacher to talk about learning concerns

4.  Be Your Child’s Advocate

Parents are often the first to realize that their child has reading struggles. However, struggles may be different for every child and some struggles could even be genetic. There can be issues with phonetic decoding or comprehension (even during read-aloud storytime). Some children may even have difficulty concentrating or focusing while reading.

Don’t ignore gut feelings or quiet concerns. When parents feel something is amiss or that their child is struggling, they need to speak up. Request a conference with your child’s teacher, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. You also may inquire about possible interventions or request additional testing to help pinpoint learning struggles. 

Parents also may become concerned if they notice that their child scores below the expected benchmark set by standardized tests. A single test is not always the most accurate measure of a child’s ability, and teachers can explain test results and their meanings and address any concerns.

Your child’s teacher is a great resource, so don’t be afraid to consult them to find additional help…or just to ease your worries.

5.  Utilize Online Reading Programs

Parents can use online reading programs like Readability to help develop their young reader’s phonetic understanding and boost comprehension. The best online reading program grows with the child and advances in difficulty as a child progresses through each mastered skill set.

Readability integrates AI technology with interactive and colorful stories to fully immerse the child into the reading experience. The AI component of the program acts as a personal electronic tutor to help correct mispronunciations and other reading difficulties that may impair a child’s contextual understanding of the story.

Colorful illustrations and interactive features keep children engaged during the reading time so lessons are never boring or rigid; in addition, original and age-appropriate story content helps foster a positive reading experience.

Kindergarten has become increasingly demanding as districts push for children to emerge as ready readers as they enter first grade. Parents may become aware that their child is struggling to reach grade-level literacy milestones and concerns may arise regarding appropriate intervention. Concerns should never be ignored, and a child’s teacher is often the best resource to help facilitate the need for additional intervention. However, all parents can help children at home by reading to kids and playing games with children to facilitate sight word identification.  Online reading programs like Readability also can help young readers gain proficiency and boost comprehension; schedule a free trial today to see if Readability is right for your child.