I realize that it was not any one thing that helped my struggling reader. It was all the things. This is everything I want you to know about homeschooling a struggling reader.
My youngest son is reading.
He is really, truly reading. His reading skills have improved dramatically over the past year. He can play board games with the rest of us now, without me having to read all the cards to him. He finds his own YouTube Videos. He laughs at funny billboards as we drive by them.
My youngest son is reading, after eight years of practice. Eight years after being so much more than a “reluctant reader.”
It feels like a miracle.
31 Strategies and Tips To Help Your Struggling Reader
Last week, my son was looking for a favorite YouTube channel.
As he scrolled through the options, it occurred to me that he was reading the titles. I held my breath a little, wondering, “Will he need my help?”
A few minutes later, he found what he needed. He read the name aloud, pressed the play icon, and started learning about Galapagos turtles.
I know it seems simple. But if your child struggles to read, you understand.
This is a big deal.
After all the years I spent worried about if he would be better off in public school. Or if his learning disability would make for a lifetime of struggle.
I can finally say that we are seeing progress and independence in his reading ability. After eight years, I want to cry tears of relief and throw confetti.
And after eight years, I realize that it was not any one thing that helped my son as he struggled to learn to read. It was a combination of so many approaches coupled with trial and error with a healthy dose of time.
With this in mind, today, I want to share my real life approach to helping a struggling and/or emerging reader.
I put together a list of the things I think made the biggest difference for him.
Then, I put together a second list, all about the things that made the biggest difference for me.
Effective Tips To Help A Struggling Reader
In no particular order, here are my best tips and tried and true strategies, for helping a child struggling to learn to read.
This might be my favorite recommendation on this list. Audio books give my son access to age appropriate literature and all the beauty that comes with a wonderful story, without any concern about his reading level. Moreover, audio books have been a wonderful way to transition into reading chapter books. We turn on the audio and he follows along with the hard copy of the book.
My son really, really wants to be able to read the entire Harry Potter Series on his own. For now, we sit together. I read a page and then he reads a page. It allows him to follow along with the story, even when he is intensely focused on decoding the words. It also gives him a break in-between passages that are challenging for him.
Change it Up
If what you are doing is not working and is adding to your child’s frustration, it is 100% OK to change it up a bit. Try a different time of day, a different location (my kiddo reads best outside), and maybe even a different curriculum.
When my son was first learning his letters, the best thing we ever did was buy a montessori wooden letter set (aff link). It allowed him to manipulate and touch the letters and was essential to his ability to remember them on his own.
My guy is a mover. He just is. Fighting it and expecting him to sit at the table for reading lessons is something I gave up on a long time ago. Now, we practice sight words with hopscotch squares and nerf guns. I have learned that keeping his body moving allows his brain to better retain the learning.
Review and then Review Again
No matter how tired you are of reviewing the word ‘the’ or teaching the helper ‘e’ the truth is, your child may need more review than your reading program or your patience recommends. Periodically going back and reviewing past topics not only helps your child retain the information, it can help them feel more confident as they encounter something that is familiar and allows them to be more successful.
I have learned that rather than rewarding my son for learning the seven sight words, I want to reward him for his hard work in practicing them. Even if he never learns the sight words, I want him to know that his attitude and approach to difficulties matters most to me and is what I think will allow him to be successful in life, no matter what his reading level.
If your child is really struggling and is a bit older, I highly recommend educating yourself about dyslexia and other learning differences. I found that once I knew more, I could better help my son. It also made me feel much more confident in helping him learn to read.
Consider an evaluation
Along the same lines, if you are genuinely concerned that dyslexia may be in play, I recommend looking into an evaluation. No matter what the outcome, more information about how my child learns has always been helpful.
Make it fun
Games are my favorite way to review and quiz my son on reading material. Making something that can be really, really challenging for our kiddos fun, helps them relax and actually retain what they are learning. This reading scavenger hunt is a perfect example of making reading practice fun!
My son loves animals and rocks. We have collections of both and use them for our reading practice. We use his gemstones for sight word Bingo, we bring his lizard out and read aloud to him, and we have a ton of books in the house about both topics.
Find A Program That Works For Both Of You
I wish someone would’ve told me this seven years ago! Finding a reading program that works for your child is great, but it has to work for you too! We use All About Reading. I cannot recommend it highly enough, but your family may be different. No matter what everyone else is using, find your best fit and run with it!
Remember, sometimes slow is the fastest way.
It took my son 8 years to be able to read a YouTube thumbnail. 8 years. There were times when I was tempted to just skip ahead in the learning because I just couldn’t do lesson #7 again. I have learned it helps no one. If my child doesn’t fully understand a lesson, slowing down to allow him to achieve mastery is actually faster than having to come back to it in the future.
There are times when my son feels discouraged and less-than because of his difficulties in reading. I try to weave areas of strength into our days, around the times he is reading. This way, when he is feeling the frustration of his reading lesson, we can move into something that comes more naturally to him. It helps keep our days on track and buoys his self- perception and confidence.
Strew Interesting Books
Leaving books around the house about snakes is a trick I have employed for years. While I don’t necessarily like seeing pictures of pythons in my living room, it is a seamless way to get my son reading. It’s the perfect way to infuse a little interest when you are homeschooling a struggling reader.
Visit the Library Regularly
Going to the library reminds my son that books are something to be explored and enjoyed. This is important because there are times where he feels like books are the enemy. At the library, that adversarial feeling quickly dissipates as he wanders the stacks.
17. Do Something Else
When all is said and done, some days, reading just doesn’t work well for my son. On the days when it starts to turn into stress and anxiety, we just do something else. We go for a walk, do a science project, or, as I have already mentioned, turn on a YouTube show about turtles. It happens and it’s OK to just do something else for the afternoon.
Ideas And Support For Homeschooling A Struggling Reader
It’s really easy to get caught up in the “what-if’s”. What if he never learns to read? What if he never gets a job? What if…
This helps no one, especially you.
My advice is try not to panic. Just do the next thing and then next. Eventually, it adds up.
Keep Learning To Read Interest-Led
It sounds simple, but it’s hard to actually do on a daily basis with curriculums and checklists competing for our attention.
But the reality is, when our children are interested, they are more likely to practice.
Incorporate Hands-On Reading Activities Into Your Homeschool
Hands-on was the secret for my kiddo. If we could make it tactile and multi – sensory, he comprehended and retained so much more!
Consider Your Learner’s Age and Developmental Maturity
Age is not the same as developmental maturity.
When I stopped freaking out about my ten year old not being able to read, and just focused on helping him where he was at developmentally, things began to click.
Change Up Your Homeschool Reading Curriculum
Sometimes, it’s time to make a change.
For us, we have had the most ongoing success with All About Reading, but we have taken breaks and come back to it over and over again throughout the years.
Don’t be afraid to switch things up!
Make Reading Practice Fun
When a child is struggling to learn to read, it creates anxiety. In my experience, A LOT of anxiety.
Simply pushing an anxious child to learn to read is not an option (nor will it be effective).
Let Your Child Choose How To Practice Reading
When my son started middle school, I had to let him choose – otherwise it just didn’t happen.
This is what it’s like when your middle school homeschooler is still struggling to read.
Incorporate Movement Into Your Homeschool Wherever Possible
I cannot stress enough how much movement changed the game for my child.
Here are all the ways we incorporated movement into our homeschool and our reading practice over the years.
Try An Online Homeschool Reading Program
When we needed to change things up, one of the easiest ways to try something new and age appropriate was to incorporate online reading practice into our homeschool.
Take A Break From Reading Practice (yes, I said it)
I know it seems counter-intuitive, but with my son, we had to take breaks from even talking about learning to read, much less actually practicing it.
When we took it break, it actually created a bit more self-confidence and eventually, helped him pick back up where he left off with greater success.
Take A Strength Based Approach To Reading
With any struggling learner, I recommend a strength based approach in your homeschool.
For a struggling reader, I think it’s essential.
Seek A Professional Assessment if Needed
If you are at the point where you are considering a professional assessment, I want to encourage you to take steps to find a qualified professional (ask around!) and do it.
Every evaluation we’ve ever done for my son has helped, not hurt. We better understood his challenges. I stopped pushing for “normal” and instead met him where he was. Nothing but good came from my son’s assessments.
Don’t Let Learning To Read Define Your Homeschool
It can be really easy to get overwhelmed and hyper-focused on reading, when your child is struggling.
My son needed me to see all the other things he was doing well, not focus solely on the thing that was the most challenging for him.
Don’t Panic. You Really Can Homeschool Your Struggling Reader!
This is not a typo – I listed “Don’t Panic” twice because I need that reminder twice as often. Maybe you do too?
You will feel like it’s never going to click. You will feel defeated, frustrated and afraid.
You will feel all these things.
31 Things To Help You Homeschool Your Struggling Reader
All together, I’ve shared 31 ideas, strategies, and tips for helping your struggling reader. Every single one of these was born out of my own experience and seeing my son’s ultimate success in learning to read!
Above all, please let me encourage you – you can do this. Your child can do this. Some days it will feel like your child will never learn to read, believe me, I know. It’s part of homeschooling a struggling reader.
It is my hope that these real-life recommendations not only help your child learn to read, but also help you enjoy life together along the way.
More Resources For Helping A Struggling Reader
Shawna Wingert is a former training and development professional turned education specialist, and has homeschooled her two children for the last ten years.Shawna has written four books about homeschooling unique learners and has been featured in homeschooling discussions on Today.com, The Mighty, Simple Homeschool, My Little Poppies and Raising Lifelong Leaners.
You can find her online here at DifferentByDesignLearning.com.