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Homeschooling Your Struggling Reader

In a perfect world, every child would discover the joy of reading early on. Children would learn to read as easily as they learned to walk. Some children do seem to have an innate ability to decode language and words, but other kids struggle to decipher those complicated symbols. In fact, almost 40 percent of children struggle to learn to read. With early intervention, almost all children can overcome these challenges. Unfortunately, the window for intervention is small. Kids who aren’t reading by age eight may never catch up. The good news is that struggling readers benefit most from one-on-one help. As a homeschooling parent, the odds of success are in your favor.

Children struggle with reading for a variety of issues. Sometimes, poor eyesight is the problem and getting corrective lenses makes all the difference. Occasionally, loss of hearing caused by allergies or fluid in the ears impacts the ability to read. Read on to learn the skills kids need to learn to read. Difficulties in any of these areas can slow down reading progress.

  • Phonological awareness. Phonological awareness refers to the ability to hear sounds in the spoken language.
  • Word decoding and phonics. Word decoding is the ability to “sound out” written words. Kids must be able to recognize all alphabet letters and know their sounds.
  • Vocabulary. If kids have limited vocabulary, they struggle to comprehend even basic texts.
  • Fluency. Fluency is a child’s ability to read text smoothly without a lot of stops and starts.
  • Comprehension. Comprehension refers to a child’s ability to understand what he’s reading.
  • Other common difficulties. Visual and auditory processing disorders and ADHD can interfere with the reading process.

How Can I Help My Struggling Reader?

Pinpoint the cause of the delay. As you read with your child, think about the list above. Can your child hear rhymes or alliteration in spoken words? Does she recognize the alphabet letters and know their sounds? If not, her problem is probably mechanical, meaning that she needs some help with phonics and phonological awareness.

Perhaps your child can sound out words, but a limited vocabulary hampers her ability to comprehend what she reads. Maybe her reading is so stilted and choppy that she doesn’t remember what she read. These problems are related to comprehension and fluency.

If you suspect your child has a learning disability, ADHD or a visual or auditory processing disorder, talk with your pediatrician. Your public school is required to provide a free assessment at your request even if you are homeschooling your child. Assessments offer useful information that can guide you in finding solutions.

Develop a strategy. Once you determine the cause of your child’s struggles, you can develop a plan. Of course, many children struggle in multiple areas, so your plan may include a variety of activities. Below are a few ideas for each area of reading difficulty:

Phonological Awareness:

  • Play rhyming games and read nursery rhymes and children’s poetry.
  • Play the beginning/ending sound game. How many words can you think of that start with the sound ___? How many words can you think of that end with the sound ___?
  • Play the clapping game. Say a word and then say each sound in the word, clapping once for each sound. Once you master this, break words into syllables, clapping for each syllable.

Decoding Words And Phonics:

  • Review letters and sounds. Use flash cards, roll letters out of play-doh, and use letter stamps.
  • Fill a cookie sheet with cornmeal. Write letters in the cornmeal.
  • Give lots of opportunities for writing. Write grocery lists, letters, stories, and charts.
  • Use flash cards and software to teach “sight words.” These words don’t follow traditional English rules and can’t be sounded out. Commit these words to memory.
  • Read repetitive texts. Classic children’s books like “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” and “Red Fish, Blue Fish” build your young reader’s confidence while reinforcing basic skills.
  • Teach phonics in a systematic way. Many homeschooling parents like the book Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, by Siegfried Engelmann.
  • Staple a few pages of paper together to make a book. Write books with your child, based on her interests. Let your child illustrate the books and read them repeatedly.


  • Read a variety of materials to your child. Look for books that have a few challenging vocabulary words.
  • Use a rich vocabulary when you talk to your child.
  • Introduce one new vocabulary word each day.
  • Write stories. Encourage your child to use new words in her writing.


  • Read repetitive texts with your child. Children’s poems or beginning reader books work well. Read each book three times. Read the book alone the first time, read it with your child the second time. The third time, your child reads it alone to you. Move your finger under each word as you read and read at a fairly normal speed. Through this process, your child will gain confidence and learn to read quickly and fluently. Peggy M. Wilber offers great advice on this in her book, Reading Rescue 1-2-3.
  • Don’t correct every mistake your child makes. Instead, correct only those mistakes that take away from the text’s meaning. Say something like, “Uh oh, does that make sense in this sentence? Let’s go back and read it again.”
  • Children often struggle with fluency because they lack confidence. Keep reading instruction light and positive.
  • Encourage your child to read on her own.
  • Read along to audio books.


  • Read picture books to your child. Point out the beginning, middle, and end of the story. Talk about the characters and the problem in the story.
  • Act out Bible stories or folk tales.
  • Talk with your child about what she’s reading. Ask questions. “Where does the story take place?” “How is this character feeling?” “Does this remind you of anything?”
  • Make your own observations. “This story reminds me of when we went camping at that lake last year.”

Learning Difficulties:

  • Play games that improve auditory listening skills. Play Simon Says or Red Light, Green Light.
  • Play games that improve memory. Try “I’m going to Grandma’s” or “Memory.”
  • Be patient. Children with ADHD or learning disabilities need a lot of repetition to learn basic skills. Parents often assume their strategies aren’t working, when really they just need more time.
  • Use visuals and sensory elements. These kids often crave visual and tactile input to learn. Use pictures and photos when giving directions. Computer software can be very effective for teaching reading.
  • Schedule reading instruction when your child is freshest. Keep instruction short and varied.
  • Use rewards to keep kids motivated. Offer a small piece of candy as a reward for staying on task.
  • Don’t be afraid to get extra help.

Teaching your struggling reader to read is one of the most challenging, yet satisfying things you’ll ever do. Fill your home with a variety of reading materials—fiction and non-fiction books, magazines, scriptures, and newspapers. Let your child see you reading everyday and share your love of books. Every child learns at her own pace, but with patient, supportive persistence, your child will learn the joy of reading.

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