This is what it’s like when your middle school child is still struggling to read.
It began when my son was about ten.
Suddenly, he realized that all of his friends were able to read. More importantly, he realized that he wasn’t.
He knew about his dyslexia diagnosis. He knew that we were still working through our All About Reading Level One after two years. He knew that reading was difficult for him.
But it wasn’t until he was ten that he really understood the differences in reading for him versus the “average.”
Fast forward a couple of years. My son is now twelve. He is headed into middle school.
And he is still struggling to read.
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My son has a lot of emotions around this difference. (A lot…)
He is angry. He is ashamed. He is determined. He is tired. He is bored. He is frustrated.
Mostly, he is afraid.
“I am never going to learn to read, am I?” he asked me last week.
I was a little surprised. He has been showing so many signs of progress – reading random signs, the words on the screen in a You Tube video, writing his own song lyrics with help from Alexa.
I have been feeling more encouraged about his reading ability lately, as more and more obvious progress is made.
He does not share this feeling of encouragement however.
He sees the Level Two that we are just finishing up. He knows that most kids his age are blowing through chapter books and easily able to read the worksheets in his science class.
No matter how much progress he’s made, he sees the differences now more clearly than ever before.
When Your Middle School Child Is Still Struggling To Read
In an effort to help him recover and move forward, I have been thinking a lot about how best to approach his reading practice and progress.
Here are my recommendations for helping a middle school child still struggling to read.
Make It A Lifestyle Not A Subject
The older my child gets, the more I find myself incorporating reading into the tasks that are naturally a part of his day. For example, he has a to-do list everyday. I used to sit down and read it to him each morning. Now, I hand it to him and stay close. It is a simple change, but one that challenges him to read on his own without a ton of pressure.
I do the same when he is looking for an item on Amazon or baking a cake. He still struggles, a lot. But I find that because he is older now, he is much better equipped to deal with the struggle and not get completely frustrated and quit (at least most of the time).
Find Age Appropriate Resources
As my son gets older, this is becoming more and more critical. The last thing a 12-year-old struggling reader needs is a book with a pink, cartoonish pig on the cover (ask me how I know).
If you are teaching a middle school child to read, here are the programs I have found to be most useful and successful with my son.
By far, my son has made the most reading progress with this program. Developed by a mom of a middle schooler struggling to read, I find the Orton-Gillingham Based exercises to be perfect for my son’s level and ability. There are times that I skip some elements of the program that feel too “young” and substitute in other reading passages, but for the most part, we both do very well with All About Reading and Spelling.
This site is the single best resource I have ever found for homeschooling a child with significant reading delays. Marianne Sunderland shares practical, everyday ideas and resources for helping a dyslexic child learn. More than just a reading program, she also has tons of resources for attention issues, executive function gaps and burn-out. I love her and I love her site.
Consider all the advantages of online learning as well. For example, this list of online grammar games for middle school has age appropriate, engaging choices.
Explain The Differences (again and again)
Because my son is now more aware of his differences and more embarrassed, I find myself more frequently explaining the differences in his dyslexic brain. We have discussed these differences and how so many of them are actually strengths in the long run, since his diagnosis six years ago. But, no matter how much I have set up the concept of dyslexia as a brain wiring difference, there are times he still says he is “just stupid.”
In an effort to combat this discouraging lie, I often reference other successful adults with dyslexia. I comment on how his dyslexic brain is wonderful with spacial problems and relationships, something that is a challenge for my brain.
As he gets older, I find I am working more and more to help him frame his reading differences as just that – differences, not flaws or lack of intelligence.
Focus On Strengths
While I want my child to work on his ability to read and appreciate his diligence in doing so, the truth is, we spend only a small percentage of our learning time on reading practice. We are consistent with his lessons, but they are short and then we move on to the subjects he both enjoys and excels in. This focus on his strengths not only builds confidence – it also allows him to lean into his natural gifts and talents. The older he becomes, the more important I think this is for his overall development.
At some point, he will be in the workforce and the world. He will use his strengths far more than his reading ability to get along in everyday life. I want to encourage him to do just that.
It won’t matter then that my middle school child is still struggling to read.
The truth is, the middle school years can be difficult far beyond a child’s reading ability. (Understatement, right?) These years are called the middle years for a reason. Not quite children, not quite teens, I have found that this age group can fit in either, or not fit anywhere at all. This is especially true in homeschooling.
Please join me at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers today where I am sharing what has surprised me most about homeschooling middle school. (I even confess to calling these years the “weird years” and for good reason!)
Are you teaching an older struggling reader? It can be a very lonely, daunting task, but please know, you are not alone. Neither is your child.
For more information and support
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.