Should I be Worried if My Child is Behind in Reading?

Many of you know me for my math tutoring support. While I do love to tutor elementary math, I also love the challenges and joys of teaching reading to children. The look in their eyes when they understand the letter sounds, they learn to put the sounds together to form a word, then they learn how to read sentences. Eventually they learn how to put the words into ideas and they comprehend what they are reading. It really is a magical experience for both the child and the one who is teaching them to read. 

But, what if this isn’t the experience your child is getting? They cannot sound out the words. They don’t understand the letter-sound relationship. They struggle with every step. They cry, you cry. You want to pull your hair out! 

Yes, this really can be the experience that some families go through. There may be many reasons for this struggle. If you are a proactive parent, you are probably seeking solutions to this problem. I congratulate you. Not all systems of teaching work for each child. Some children need more repetitions of letter sounds. Some children need more structure. 

Many times children just aren’t ready to read. I remember a time when my friend’s daughter was about 3 years old and she was reading. My child was 4 years old and she was just learning the letter sounds. As a teacher, I questioned, what did I do wrong? Should my child be able to do this? Then, my teacher’s brain kicked in and reminded me that not all children learn to walk at the same pace. We didn’t all learn how to drive at the same pace, and frankly, some people don’t drive at all. We didn’t all learn to do math at the same rate. So, reading at the same pace and doing things exactly the way others do it doesn’t really seem logical. 

Some children will take longer to put reading together. That is fine. Do not panic. Even if you are getting reports from your child’s teacher that they are slightly behind, don’t panic. I would encourage you to be proactive. That means there are some steps that you can take as a parent. 

You can read to your child often. I would recommend starting this at birth. When you read to a child at birth they are learning to listen to your voice. They are learning the sounds it takes to communicate. As they get older, they learn that there are letters on the page, pictures on the page, and they begin to put meaning to that as you read to them. 

Once your child is school-aged, they will learn more about the alphabet and they will begin to piece the sounds together through explicit instruction. We call this phonics. If your child is not in a phonics-based reading instruction, I would really encourage you to find one of your own. There are all kinds of things that you can use to support what they are learning at school. Is this going to take time? Yes. Is this going to take some money? Maybe. It depends on what you choose to use. 

I would really encourage you to get some letter-sound flashcards and practice those with your child. I would also encourage you to find phonics-based materials that include decodable readers for your child to enjoy and read through with your support. A decodable readers is a text or small book that your child can sound out the words while reading, once you they have been taught the sounds.  As your child learns the letter combinations and words, they will be able to independently read the decodable readers. 

I want to caution you, there are words in our language that are not as phonics-based as we think. Look up Fry Word Lists. There are some words that won’t follow those phonics rules. We still need to teach our children some basic sight words.

If you combine phonics and sight words, I feel you are supporting your child and eventually they will learn to read the written words you provide them with. This isn’t a one and done situation, however. If you really want proficient readers, you need to spend time reading books on a daily basis. Your child needs direct and explicit reading instruction on a daily basis. Just telling your child to go and read and then ignoring them is not teaching them to read. If you are serious about this, it is going to be a group effort led by you, the parent, as the school teaches their set curriculum. 

Something else you can do to support your child is find texts that they can read. You want to challenge your child, but if they cannot read the words on the page, they are not going to read the text. A great test of this idea is to have them open the book up to the middle, have them read one page. Keep track of the number of words they stopped at or couldn’t read. If they have more than 5 errors on the page, the book is too hard. They are not going to comprehend what they are reading. Imagine reading a set of directions and not knowing some of the words. Do you think you really understood what you were reading? Probably not. The same goes for our kids. That doesn’t mean they can’t check out books that are harder for them, but it does mean that you may want to provide more support for them as they read the book. 

If you have not listened to the podcast, Sold a Story, I highly recommend that! It is an investigative report that tells about the history of reading in America and how it moved from phonics based instruction to balanced literacy. This approach has failed many, many children, and we are now seeing the results of a lack of phonics. It really is an eye-opener. 

I know that I will have some readers that disagree with this. But, these readers probably haven’t seen the struggle that your child is going through. They may not understand the frustration of watching a child try to read a text and that child has no way to move through it because they only know a few sight words. They don’t have the skills to sound out the word. Even when you tell them to sound them out, they don’t know all of the letter-sound combinations. They simply stop. 

I want your child to be successful in life. That means they need to be literate. That involves learning to read. The bonus is the joy of reading and what it brings to your child’s life as they make their journey. 

I hope this has been helpful to you. Be sure to like and share this information with others.  I included some great links for you to look at if you are in need of quality materials that may support your child’s journey. 

For more information about Sheryl, be sure to go to:

(As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn based on your interest in these items. You may choose to look at the links via my link, or you may look on Amazon directly.) Happy learning!

Alphabet words cards

Decodable Readers (example)

First Little Readers 

Montessori Short Vowel Reading System

Phonics for Older Students

Phonics and Word Study for Older Students

Published by Tutoring with Sheryl

I have 32 years of experience teaching in public schools in Nebraska. I hold a Bachelor of Science in Education from the University of Nebraska-Lincon. I hold a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from Doane University. I have 2 Google for Education Certifications. I have been tutoring online for 1 year. I have worked with countless students of all ages to support their education. I also support teachers with planning and management in their classrooms.

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