If you have raised your kids to be readers and writers, your kids should be reading and writing pretty much anything by now. If they're not, it's time to get busy! Waiting rarely helps, unless your child has recently gained the tools he or she needs to begin reading and/or writing and simply needs more time and practice to gain fluency. In any case, this period is a crucial time for your child. You need to make sure he or she can not only read and/or write whatever he or she wishes, but can put together coherent thoughts and comprehend whatever he or she reads as well.
- Supply your kids with as many reading and writing opportunities as possible. As they read and write more and more, their skills should continue to grow.
- When your kids read, listen to them. Sit beside them and track the words to make sure they are calling out the right words. You need to know if they are reading accurately on their own, as well as if they are pronouncing new words correctly.
- If your kids struggle with reading and/or writing, be patient and kind. Praise them for their efforts and let them know you are there to help them for as long as they need it. Hire a tutor, if needed. Kids don't struggle on purpose. They struggle because they don't get it.
- Read to your kids every day. Whether or not your kids can read to themselves, it's important to continue to read to them as well. Choose books that are above their current reading levels, but that you know will still be appealing to them. This will help your kids continue to grow as readers, as it will expose them to new vocabulary and background knowledge they might not get otherwise. It will also give you some nice bonding time.
- When your kids write, praise them! Ideally, you want to have them write at least 3-4 times a week. If they are not already putting in capitals and punctuation marks, show them how. Be patient and gently correct errors as necessary. If there are a lot of errors, simply pick a few to correct at a time.
- Talk to your kids about EVERYTHING! Your kids need a lot of background knowledge to read well. They also need a wide vocabulary. Talking to your kids about current events, the world around you, and whatever else you see fit to teach them about can really help their reading and writing skills!
- Go on adventures! Introducing your kids to new places and ideas can help broaden their understanding of the world around them, enabling them to comprehend more and write more.
- Feed your kids the healthiest food possible! Limit foods full of sugar and/or fat, sodas of all sorts, and processed foods. Teach your kids about the importance of making good food decisions when away from you as well. A healthy brain starts with a healthy body!
- Make sure your kids are getting enough sleep. A well-rested brain performs much better than a sleep-deprived one.
Dealing with a Struggling Second Grader (or higher):
Typically, kids struggle for a reason -- either they haven't been taught what they need to know to read and/or write (letters, sounds, blending/segmenting techniques, "tricks," and "sight words," they haven't been give enough time to practice using their skills, or they have some type of learning disability that is preventing them from learning alongside their peers.
If you have a struggling second or third grader, you might want to make sure your child isn't suffering from any type of learning disability or ailment that could be holding him or her back. Start by researching attention disorders, convergence disorders (and other possible vision issues), processing issues, language issues, dyslexia, or anything else you might suspect to be the problem. Learning disabilities are often hereditary, so check out your own history of learning to read and write and see if you (or your spouse) struggled as well. This can give you needed insight into your child's troubles.
Before deciding your child has a learning disability, however, make sure you child knows the basics -- letters, sounds, how to blend and/or segment, "tricks" (letter combinations such as sh, ch, th, oo, ou, or, etc.), and some "sight words" (the ones that can't be sounded out even after applying the "tricks." Most of the kids who come to me for tutoring are weak in one or more of these areas -- usually in the "tricks" area. Often they have learned to "read" by sight, and have no real idea why words say what they say. As these kids move into more difficult text, the holes in their knowledge begin to show. They often miscall, skip, or mumble through difficult words. This skews their ability to comprehend and leads to confusion and frustration. Their spelling is usually atrocious as well. Because reading and writing are so difficult for them, these kids often have resist doing either.
- Check phonetic knowledge. If your child is having trouble reading, make sure your child knows all of the letters and sounds in the alphabet. He or she should also be able to blend these sounds together to make words. If your child can read regular consonant-vowel-consonant (cvc) words without trouble, try making up some nonsense words and see if your child can read those. (Example words might be ret, hub, yid, zam, and jop.) If he or she can read these effectively, you'll know he or she can blend simple sounds together, even when nonsense words are involved. The next thing to check is your child's knowledge of "tricks." This is where a lot of struggling kids are lacking. To put it simply, "tricks" are one or more letters in a word that make a different sound when together than they "normally" do when used in a word on their own. Some examples of common tricks are sh, ch, th, sleepy e, 2 vowels, er, oo, or, ou, ow, y endings, ar, ir, ay, all, ing, ed, ew, gh, le, ind, old, le at the end of a word, and ur. There are about 34 "tricks" in all. For some reason, a lot of teachers forget to teach these, instead focusing more on "sight words." This trains kids to look "at" words instead of from the beginning to the middle to the end. Kids who read by looking "at" words instead of carefully "through" them tend to make a lot of reading mistakes, confusing words with similar letters with each other. "Saw" can become "was," "stop" can become "spot," "wish" can become "wash," "dignity" can be "division," "break" can become "brick," etc. If you are seeing a lot of this with your child, you need to retrain your child's brain to actually look through each word instead of at it. Because your child might already "know" a lot of smaller, more frequently used words by sight, you'll probably have to teach him or her the tricks through longer, more obscure words. (See the "advanced" word list section under Word Lists for example words.) If your child knows how to blend and knows the many tricks that influence what words say, but is still having trouble reading, it may be due to a larger problem. If this is the case, make sure you have your child checked out for attention disorders, convergence disorders (and other possible vision issues), processing issues, language issues, dyslexia, or anything else you might suspect to be the problem.
- Check Vocabulary and Background Knowledge! Some kids can read the words on the page but struggle to comprehend them because they simply don't have a developed enough
vocabulary and/or enough background knowledge to understand the words
they are saying aloud. To see if this is the case with your child, try
asking him or her what random words in the passage-at-hand mean. If
your child can't tell you, or tells you incorrectly, begin working to
strengthen your child's vocabulary. Help him or her with the words at
hand, filling in any background information necessary. If this seems to be more than a one time problem, make sure you
begin to help your child learn more and more words. To do this, talk to him or her about everything you
know about. Point out things and discuss how they work wherever you
go. For example, if you see a fire hydrant, explain why it is there and
what it is used for. If you go to the bank to get some money out,
explain about why the bank gives you money when you ask them to. If you
see a truck full of goods on the road, explain how trucks transport
goods from one place to another so that people can buy them. Some kids
need to be explicitly taught in order to learn new words, ideas, and
concepts; others pick them up quite naturally. Know your child and what he or she needs.
- Make sure your child is reading daily (out loud to you!). For your child to read and write fluently, he or she must practice doing so. As with anything the brain is involved in, the more practice it gets, the better it delivers. There simply is no substitute for reading and writing practice. Get your kids doing so daily, and help as needed. Keep in mind that this time of practice will only be effective if your child is practicing reading and writing "correctly." Unfortunately, the more your child misreads or miswrites at this stage, the more permanent these errors will become. Thus, it is important that you listen carefully when your child reads to you, immediately helping him or her correct any miscalled words by having him or her sound it out effectively and/or adjust it as needed. Even if your child is reading fluently, it's still important that he or she reads daily. Reading will expose your child to more and more vocabulary and background knowledge, two things crucial to reading success.
- Get your child writing daily. A lot of kids don't get nearly enough writing practice. If your child is not writing at least a page a day in school (real writing, not worksheet writing or writing "1-3 sentences"), it's important that you get your child writing at home. I recommend having him or her keep a spiral bound journal. If you don't have time for him or her to write a story in it daily, at least try to get him or her doing so two to three times a week. Daily is better, but two or three times a week is better than not at all! When your child writes, encourage him or her to sound out any unknown words, reminding him or her about the many tricks that will pop up. Help with "oddball" words (words that don't follow any rules or tricks) by sounding them out as they appear rather than simply calling out the letters needed. This will help draw your child's attention back to sounds, and will most likely help him or her remember how to spell it in the future. Don't forget to help your child learn about spaces, capitals, and proper punctuation as well. Just don't pick apart his or her writing to the point that it turns him or her off. Choose a couple things a day to work on/correct, and remember to praise all efforts. More than anything, you want to teach your child to enjoy writing. Make it as fun as you can, joining in when needed. You will find most kids stop resisting writing once they understand how to "hear" the sounds in each word and write them on a page effectively. If your child is complaining, writing is most likely still a struggle for him or her. Try coauthoring some zany tales to make it more fun, and help sound out the words as needed. Writing stories together can be a great way to help your child become an advanced writer. You can also help your child become an advanced writer by encouraging him or her to write thank you notes, enter writing contests, send emails with proper mechanics included, writing plays, and doing other things that require putting words on a page.
- Continue to read to your child. It's important to continue reading stories to your child even when he or she begins reading on his or her own. This helps build your child's language skills and vocabulary. It also helps your child gain a love for books and good stories. If that weren't enough, it helps you bond with your child as well. Snuggle up, model good reading habits, and ENJOY!