All readers in a family are not the same… After a successful first grade reading launch with my oldest daughter, I vividly remember the painful struggle of my middle daughter’s twenty
minutes of daily reading. By second grade, she was a master of avoidance, coming up with creative new ways to avert and prolong the challenging task. At the time, daily reading was a consistently frustrating parenting task. In hindsight, I now understand that processing the letters, words, and sentences on the page was just so hard for my joyful, smart, articulate seven year-old. The struggle was not her fault, just her reading challenge.
In early childhood, language literacy may be the most important skill a child practices. By the time children reach school age, it is expected that youngsters are ready to begin reading and writing. There is a difference, however, between receptive and expressive language, and the task of decoding abstract symbols into their appointed sounds. Most children need some explicit instruction to break the code of phonics, a key component to reading and spelling. In school, that instruction begins early and is built upon throughout elementary school. If a child is not developmentally ready to learn the skills being taught, or if a child is not picking up the information delivered to the whole group, he or she may begin to fall behind in the ability to process the classroom instruction. It is not uncommon for some individuals, like my daughter Claire, to need explicit individual or small group instruction. Claire, like many children, needed an opportunity for repetition in her learning, along with meaningful purposeful practice.
Early intervention has been shown to improve reading and self-esteem outcomes in children struggling to read proficiently. Using specific assessments to understand a child’s learning profile is the key to addressing gaps in understanding and skills. For certain individuals, reading and spelling acquisition is not picked up through experience or intuition, but rather through a progression of skills delivered in a systematic, multi-sensory format. In other words, reading and spelling takes more time on task and effort for some children than others. Further, it is quite common for smart, verbal children to struggle with the fussy task of reading.
If your child is struggling to meet the reading and literacy expectations placed upon them by our school system, please know that they (and you) are not alone. While it is still true that all children develop skills at different rates and ages, the benchmarks being used today are fairly rigid. Although nearly all early childhood educators understand that not all children develop at the same age or learn in the same way, the pressure of standards in education is felt by a majority of early elementary school teachers. This means that even though we, as teachers, know it is not developmentally possible for all of our kindergartners to learn the same number of words in a year, teachers and parents are being asked to strive for the named goal.
If you are concerned about your child’s pace of reading development, there is support available. In this age assessment, teachers and school staff often have systems for early reading support. There is strong research about what children who struggle with reading need in order to develop the necessary skills to become proficient readers. That said, schools often struggle to serve certain children. If you feel your child is not getting what they need at school, outside help is available. When choosing a program to support your child, check to make sure the program is using research-based methodology. The progression of skills being taught, as well as how the instruction is delivered are important to the quality of the program, and ultimately, how the pace of sustainable growth is measured.
Having taught children who struggled with reading, spelling, and writing for many years, I have had the privilege of watching those children grow into competent readers, spellers, and writers. More importantly, I have watched those amazing children who worked so hard to learn how to read, grow into outstanding adults who have much to contribute to their communities and professions. Looking back on those second grade evenings of reading homework, I never would have guessed that my daughter Claire would choose a career as a special education teacher to middle-schoolers who struggle with reading. Claire gives me great hope!