A Sound Start – You Can Help Your Struggling Reader

A Sound Start — You Can Help Your Struggling Reader

by Peggy Wilber with Mariane K. Hering

By the middle of first grade, Tyler could read his name and the word cat. Period. His two-word reading vocabulary made him feel stupid. Instead of doing worksheets, he bothered his classmates, and both problems bothered his teacher.

Tyler’s parents, busy with three kids and two jobs, didn’t know about Tyler’s literacy struggles. They figured because their older son easily learned to read, Tyler would, too.

These otherwise attentive parents were not reading between the lines of Tyler’s behavior. At a parent-teacher conference, they found out Tyler could not read. He was falling further behind his peers every day.

Tyler is not alone. Children just like him sit in classrooms across all demographics. Thirty-seven percent of U.S. fourth-graders are unable to read at a basic level. This means more than 10 million elementary children are flunking at reading Clifford: the big red dog. Is your child one of them?

Any of the following clues may indicate that your child struggles in reading:

  • Does your child avoid reading books — even simple ones?
  • Is she unable to rhyme quickly?
  • Does her reading sound choppy?
  • Does she work so hard sounding out words that she has little comprehension afterward?
  • Do you sometimes wonder if she is lazy or unmotivated?

If you suspect your child is having difficulty reading, she needs your help. Tyler’s parents rallied for his reading success. But first, they found out he had a trait common with most struggling readers.

Poor readers often have difficulty processing sounds in their brains. They hear sounds well, but they struggle to recall and manipulate what they hear, an important skill in sounding out new words. For them, the three sounds m, ow and s do not come together to say mouse. For all their efforts in phonics, to these kids the written code remains a mystery.

Research shows that these children’s brains can be trained for reading success by doing fun, simple, auditory activities 20 minutes each day. These techniques have proven effective with 95 percent of struggling readers. They are best done one-on-one, a ratio most schools are not staffed to accommodate. Therefore, the home is the perfect setting to begin a reading rescue program, and you, the caring parent, can be the teacher.

Rhyme time

One of the quickest ways to jump-start the ear-to-brain connection is to play rhyming games. Knowing how to rhyme will help your child read word families such as pig, dig and wig. Begin by putting rhyming sounds into her ears: Read short selections from rhyming books such as One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss. Reread just a page or two until she can “fill in” the rhyming words on her own.

Play a body rhyming game: Point to your nose and say, “rose.” Your child should say, “rose—nose.” Other rhyming body pairs are, “sweet—feet” and “fin—chin.” Work on a couple of rhyming pairs until she can quickly recall them.

Sounds good

Struggling readers have trouble recalling letter sounds. Use an alphabet chart to review a small portion with your child every day. Point to letter A and say the letter name and the letter sound: “Ay, ah, a, apple.” Do this until she quickly recalls each letter sound, especially the short vowels.

Put it together

This game helps your child hear and manipulate parts of words. Say a compound word in two parts: mail-man. Have your child clap her hands with each syllable. This technique is used also with two syllable words, such as can-dy or an-gel. Finally, move to three or more syllables. Make it harder by turning your child so she cannot see your mouth; she must rely on her ears.

• • •

Tyler’s parents did these fun and quick activities with him regularly. Today, not only can Tyler read cat, but he also likes to read in his children’s Bible about how God saved Daniel from some big cats.

Peggy Wilber, author of Reading Rescue 1-2-3, lives in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Marianne K. Hering works in the resource developement department of Focus on the Family.

This article appeared in Focus on the Family magazine.
Copyright © 2004 Focus on the Family.
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