How to Teach a Child Who Struggles to Read
The struggle is all too real for some parents. You may have done all you can to introduce your child to the wondrous world of reading, but they aren’t taking to it as you had envisioned. Whether it is just a hyper child who will not sit still, or the other end of the spectrum, where they want to read, but just cannot. In either instance, a parent is racking their brain for ideas to flip the switch within their child that gets them to understand.
I am no expert when it comes to a child who wants to do everything else but sit and read. But I have a couple of friends who have dealt with it. I have inquired of Jenci and Alesha in the construction of this week’s blog. I drew on their insight, and I hope to convey to you what their experiences have taught them.
Me on the other hand, my wife and I have somewhat dealt with the slower learner. Our oldest son struggled in school. Not so much as with a medical condition, but with focus and conveying his needs to those that mattered. This piece will be a bit difficult to write as it will dig up old emotions, but to help some of you who are reading this, I am willing to relive the past, if it will help your future.
“Can your child please sit down for a moment?”
If you have not lived it, there is no way you can describe the reality of raising a hyperactive child. From the outside people see a child who needs discipline. When the truth is, the child may not have complete control over how he or she acts. True, in some cases, discipline can be a factor, but not all. People naturally assume because of the day an age we live in that parental discipline is not used with the child. However, a child who is consistently on the move is wired differently than a child who prefers to sit. Discipline has little to do with it.
When parents are faced with a teaching situation, like reading, most try and calm their child down. They believe that reading time is quiet time. That to read, one must sit down in a chair and focus solely on the task of reading. There are to be no other activities going on; no TV, no music, and most of all no goofing off. This is where many parents fail their children. Reading time becomes forced. This can cause a child to dislike reading. It can also cause the parent to give up trying to have reading time altogether. This can bring about further issues with a child falling behind.
Both Jenci and Alesha have been face to face with this situation: What do you do with a child who struggles with reading? What they have found is that there is nothing “wrong” with their precious children. They are just different. Their struggle was with learning what techniques would be effective with their child’s personality.
Jenci explains that experimentation is part of the process. Her experiences have led to realize that children can be active learners. The sit-down-and-be-quiet reading was ineffective in her situation. Through trial and much error, she discovered that allowing her child to be who he was is better than pushing him to be something he wasn’t. Adapting her style of teaching to his demeanor brought about more significant results than trying to force him to conform to the textbook style of “this is how you should read.”
She also tells me it’s about trying to find what a child’s limitations truly are. She understands that a child can, and will, take advantage of a situation. So yes, you push the child to do what you are trying to accomplish. But after multiple successes and failures, you will then know if your child is egging you on, or if they are seriously unable to do something. Then a parent can know when to push and when not to push, when to persevere, and when to pray.
Alesha found that with her child, he is situational. He can, and will, sit with her and read. But if there are distractions, like another child in the room, he will want to engage with the other child. There are also days when her son loves to read, and then there are days when it’s like pulling hair to get him to read. She also has learned that pushing too hard can be detrimental to the progress.
Both have learned different methods that their kids have responded to. While the approaches may be different, the outcome is the same. They realized that children can still learn while they are playing. However, they agree that if you are taking this route to occasionally pause and strategically ask questions. Test their retention. You will be amazed by how much they remember.
Children are much smarter than any of us give them credit for. In fact, some believe that an active child can show tendencies to be smarter than the average child. Reasons being that as they are active, they can still be in tune with the world around them. They are able to have their minds remain focused on someone reading to them even while moving about or engaged in another activity.
This is something that schools miss. Teachers are trained for sit-still-and-learn. Which is right to some level. I mean, imagine a class of thirty kids all moving around while the instructor tries to teach. OR just one kid moving around while a teacher tries to deal with twenty-nine distracted kids.
“You should have your child tested.”
Now we move to the other end of the spectrum. Maybe the child is not hyper at all. Mine wasn’t. He was just slow at learning. Every teacher he had, every school he went to all said the same thing; we should run some tests. The thing was that every test they gave him he passed. They checked for everything from Dyslexia to Attention Deficit Disorder. Yet, nothing could be found, so he continued to struggle.
My oldest son was able to sit and be read to. He could follow along easily; as long as the story was not too long. It was not that he would get bored, his mind would just wander. We would be in the middle of a story, and he would ask a random question that had nothing to do with the story. He struggled to stay focused. Mom and I were concerned that this lack of focus would hurt his education.
Through many doctor visits, we learned that our son suffered from the same condition I suffer. It has a long name, and a symptom of this condition causes the mind to have a shorter attention span than someone without this condition. To put it simply, his mind is continually active.
Think of it as watching TV and every few minutes the channel changes without you touching the remote. It is like the hyperactive child; only it’s not physical activity, its mental. The learning process to overcome this condition is to learn how to slow down the mind and force yourself to maintain focus. This is a difficult thing to teach a 5-year-old. Heck, it’s still difficult for me to deal with and I am 46 now.
For our son, the solution was to adapt to his learning ability. Shorter stories or breaking the story up into two halves. If we started to see him drift off, we would use a “to be continued.” While this worked for reading time, he was still struggling with school in general. Through tutoring and special education, he was able to make it through High School. This special education involved giving him extra time to complete his classroom work, especially tests. It wasn’t that he couldn’t do the work, but his focus issue suffered even more when under the gun. The help he received gave him the ability to succeed.
For those of you whose kids are breezing through school and have no issues, please do not judge those who are. You don’t know their story. There are many stories like Jenci’s, Alesha’s, and mine. Pointing a finger and making assumptions only exasperates the situation. Instead of a crooked finger, you could be extending a hand of assistance.
I want to thank Jenci and Alesha for taking the times out of their hectic schedules to answer the questions I posed to them. Seeing what they go through from the outside, I can genuinely respect them for the mothers that they are. The last question I asked each of them was for a final piece of advice they would give to those of you reading this who are ready to give up. Here are their answers:
“Patience and perseverance are factors that are a must-have. Never expect from your child something they cannot do. The goal is to discover their learning style. If what you are doing doesn’t work, try something else. It is okay to experiment. Once you figure out what it is, do it. Adapt to the way that works for them and allow your child to do what they need to do that enables them to learn.”
“Make reading a habit and priority. If they can’t get the words, tell them. Don’t fuss or put them down, say it and move on. They will get it in the end. Most of all, don’t give up. If you do, you are teaching your child that when things get hard that giving up is an option. That is not what we want to teach them. Stop, take a breather, and do something else for a moment. After a small break, get back to it. The point is to keep moving forward and teaching them that continuing does pay off.”