For clarity, I am specifically going to talk about my own experience with one of my children, and what I have done that has helped my family.
What do I mean by “Struggling Reader”?
There are lots of definitions and terms in talking about students and reading. A reluctant reader or struggling reader is typically a student who is not motivated to read, does not enjoy reading, complains about reading, etc. The student may find the process of reading difficult to do, yet, without practice they cannot advance their reading skills or fluency. So, because they don’t practice reading takes more work, so it is hard, and therefore not enjoyable. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle.
My eldest son is a struggling reader. His birthday is late August. So, just because of where his birthday falls he is one of the youngest kids in his class. Reading has not – to this point, over halfway through the school year – come easily for him. It’s hard for him, and therefore he is not super motivated to do it.
My son is a typical human. He wants to do what is fun! Not hard! He’d way rather go run around, or build Legos, or tease his sisters, or really anything else besides read.
As his mom, and as a person who really loves to read, and write, I have found this struggle of his really hard for me! I know I shouldn’t take it personally, but sometimes I do. I want my son to enjoy what I enjoy. I want him to love books. I don’t want him to struggle. I don’t want him to have difficulty in school when I know he is a smart, capable child. And, and, and, and… (cue the spiral of mom guilt).
But let’s not wallow.
What have we done?
What have we done to help our son, and all our kids? It’s pretty straight forward: we have worked to foster a love of stories. Not a love of books (not specifically), but stories.
This has turned out to be key for our son. If we force the books issue, then books become an obstacle at best, and the bad guy at worst. If we instead make the issue stories, that opens up a whole range of things for him, including shows, movies, audiobooks, bible stories (my kids don’t count the bible as a “regular book”. Kid logic, it’s cute), even songs.
My husband and I have worked to make our home a place of stories, starting when the kids were babies. Reading out loud has been an important part of this. We have been reading out loud to them since they were born. We read books before bed for years. Now, with school schedules and early mornings, we read before dinner and/or at the dinner table (after we eat, no food on my books please!). We tell stories all the time, about things we imagine, dreams we had, what happened in our days, etc. We play pretend with the kids – which is basically acting out stories. We watch movies together. We talk about the shows we watch (my kids will literally shout out “teamwork and friendship!” to their shows when they see the trope because we talk about it so much!). Anytime a story is being told, we jump into it.
I can now officially tell you that this has paid off. After seven and a half years of this, my son figured out just two weeks ago that books contain stories. More specifically, that the pictures don’t tell you the full story – but the words do. He just figured out that in order to understand the whole story (including the jokes, because of course he likes funny books best), he actually has to do the work of reading the words.
I didn’t tell him. My husband didn’t tell him. Even if we had given him the lecture about “you should really read the words, not just the pictures, because you’re missing the story”, he wouldn’t have listened, or believed us! (To be honest I did get halfway through this lecture, and stopped because I realized he had 100% tuned me out.)
If you have a struggling reader, this is the key, I think.
Keep reading to them. Keep engaging with stories. Keep things fun! Don’t avoid hard things, but don’t make them feel like they are on their own, like it’s this insurmountable task they have to do alone. Do it with them. Sit with them as they struggle through the words. Be their cheerleader. Celebrate any victory, even the small ones on the normal days. It’s a cumulative effect. They will figure it out. They will find the story that they love.
Kids are way more interested in what we adults find interesting, what we value, what we spend time doing with them.
Maybe I’ll have my husband do a post on how he encourages our kids in loving math!
What are you doing to encourage your kids in whatever they struggle in? Is there something you struggled in as a child? What encouraged you?
Update: I was looking up some books that might interest my son. He found me and joined me, and we researched some books. He got very excited about one in particular, and counted up his money to buy it. Just a few days ago it arrived in the mail! This is the first book he’s ordered for himself. So exciting!
Soli Deo Gloria