Five Ways To Help A Struggling Reader

My youngest son turned eleven this week.

He is a joyful child, and loves to be outdoors.

He knows more geography, natural science, and US history than any other eleven-year-old I know.

He just scored a 10.7 grade level on a recent standardized vocabulary test.

He is incredibly resourceful and smart.

And he still can’t read fluently.


At eleven, he is much more aware of his dyslexia than when he was younger.

He knows his reading level is way behind his peers.

He knows the world expects him to read at this age.

But although he often feels defeated and sometimes questions his own abilities, he doesn’t give up.

This child wants to read.


I am happy to say that we are finding ways that work well for him to do just that.

It hasn’t been easy, but slowly but surely, an out-of-the-box approach is exactly what is helping him learn to read.


My top five ways to help a struggling reader

  1. Allow your child to learn other subjects in ways that are appropriate for their age and interests, not reading level. For example, my son completes six and seventh grade level science. I read the text and scribe for him, as he works through the learning.
  2. Find audio books that delight and make literature fun. For us, Harry Potter has made all the difference! So too has the Percy Jackson series and Magnus Chase.
  3. Encourage your reader to practice “tracking” whenever you are reading aloud. This involves your child tracking the words on the page with his finger as you read the words aloud. For my son, this has been much more productive than the usual flash cards, and makes him feel like he is reading, not completing “baby” activities.
  4. Move, move, and move some more. When traditional sight word or flashcard practice is necessary, try as much as possible to incorporate movement. For example, my son jumps to different sight words on papers all around our trampoline, as part of his practice.
  5. Allow your child to pursue non-reading interests as much as possible. Delayed readers are often accomplished artists or builders. My son has an amazing way with animals, and finds confidence when he independently cares for them.

These are  my top five tips, but the truth is, the most important thing I think we can do to help a struggling reader is not on this list.

I think the most important tip has absolutely nothing to do with academics. More than anything else, I think my son needs to be reminded that he is fearfully and wonderfully made, just as he is. He needs to hear that God has a plan for his life, and that even struggling with reading is a part of it.

He needs to know that he is loved more than he can possibly imagine, and reading or anything else performance based will never change this fact.

Reminding him of this, over and over again, takes the focus off of reading and onto the most important lessons I want him to learn.

He is a child of God.


This is what has worked best for our family. What have you found helps your struggling readers? Please share!


Shawna Wingert

Shawna is a wife to a wacky, voice actor husband, and a momma to two uniquely challenged little boys. She finds herself increasingly required to live beyond the limits of her crazy self, and serve a wonderfully complex family -- where High Functioning Autism and Learning Disabilities are schooling her every single day. Passionately real, she takes an honest look at the messy and the painful, the sweet and the laughable, and how Jesus is in the midst of it all. You can find her at Not the Former Things and on Facebook

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