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How parents can help their child with specific reading difficulty

Every child with specific reading difficulty should have a careful assessment of his abilities and needs and have a teacher who understands these and plans educational strategies accordingly.

Class teachers usually do not have enough time to give every child in the class the supervision they need when reading. It is therefore essential that children have some supervised reading practice out of school hours. Some parents may be able to pay a teacher to do this regularly, but many will need to do it themselves.

Parents can play a major role in augmenting their child’s reading programme. Discuss this with your child’s teacher, so that you know how to help your child, and provide practice that is consistent with the programme at school. Here are some general guidelines on how you can help your child, to be used in conjunction with the advice about teaching and self-esteem in Chapter 4.

  • 1. Choose a time for reading practice when you are both in a good frame of mind. Try to avoid having a practice session if you or your child are hungry, tired, or irritable. Make certain that other members of the family know not to disturb you.
  • 2. It is best if you use a book that the teacher selects. If your child does not like the books he brings from school, as is often the case, discuss this with the teacher. If you are choosing the books yourself, ensure that the vocabulary used is suitable for your child’s level of progress and that the print is clear. The easiest print to read is serif typeface (see Figure 5.2). Books with pictures are usually best. Do not worry if the child uses the pictures to guess the text. The main thing is that it is enjoyable and he is getting reading practice.
Serif (above) and sans-serif (below) typeface

Figure 5.2 Serif (above) and sans-serif (below) typeface.

  • 3. Make sure the child is comfortable and that there is good lighting. It is usually best if the child sits at a table with you on his right-hand side (unless you are left-handed).
  • 4. Start by looking at the cover of the book and discuss what the book may be about for a short while, then open it and let the child begin to read.
  • 5. Encourage your child to follow the words with his finger, or with a pencil placed horizontally below the line he is reading. Later he can dispense with these aids.
  • 6. Sometimes it is a good idea to share the reading, you and the child reading alternate pages. This is good for the child’s self-esteem as he feels under less pressure, and helps you cover more of the story in a long book. The child will learn from following the print while you read your section.
  • 7. Paired reading is another technique that may decrease tension between you and your child during reading practice. Your child’s teacher may ask you to practise reading in this way, or you may suggest it to the teacher. In this method, parent and child read aloud in unison. You should follow the text with your finger and take care not to read too quickly, so that your child does not have difficulty keeping up. If your child wants to read alone at any stage, he gives you a prearranged signal and you then stop while he continues on his own. If the child runs into difficulties he can give a signal for you to join in again. The usual signals are a tap on the book, or a gentle nudge.
  • 8. Do not try to cover too much, particularly in the early sessions. At first, a five- minute session is enough; this can then be increased to 10 or 15 minutes. Cut a session short if your child seems to be tiring. Aim for daily sessions.
  • 9. If your child misreads a word that does not affect the meaning of the text, ignore it. If he misreads a word that affects the meaning of the text, wait for a natural break in the text (the end of a sentence or paragraph) and say something like ‘Wait a second, that did not quite make sense, did it?’ or ‘What is this word again?’, and then encourage him to go back and check the word. If your child hesitates over an unfamiliar word, wait for a short time to see if he can manage to read it. If he has trouble, you may encourage him to sound it out, but if this does not help, read it clearly and slowly for him. Do not forget to praise him for his effort.
  • 10. If there is an interruption, get your child to re-read from the beginning of the sentence, so that the flow of meaning is restored.
  • 11. Do not worry if your child’s reading is monotonous. Let him read with as much or as little expression as he wants. When children are struggling to read, they cannot give attention to reading with expression; that comes later.
  • 12. At the end of the reading, discuss the book with him. Ask for his opinion about the story. It may be a good idea to go through the book page by page and look at the pictures while you talk.
  • 13. Avoid negative comments. Do not make comments like ‘Look what you’re doing’ and ‘Concentrate, you got it right before’. Do make comments like ‘Good reading’ and ‘You pronounced that difficult word clearly, well done!’.
  • 14. Keep reading to your child at other times. Do not feel that because he is reading you should no longer read him stories, or let him listen to story tapes. These will only increase his enjoyment of books and stories, particularly since they will be more age-appropriate than those that he can read himself. Anything that encourages enjoyment of literature will be beneficial.
  • 15. In older children with specific reading difficulty, it should be realized that their poor reading may deprive them of exposure to information that other children of their age have access to. This can be compensated for by reading books to the child that he is not yet able to read to himself.
  • 16. You can help your child with his reading by playing games with him, as well as by listening to him read. Games like ‘Snap’ and ‘Snakes and ladders’ can be adapted so that reading is involved. ‘Snap’ cards can be made with words that match corresponding pictures, and ‘Snakes and ladders’ can be played with cards on which words are written instead of a dice; if the word is read correctly the player moves by the number of letters in the word. It is important that these games are played with a sense of fun.
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