Help for Your Struggling Reader

Lately I have had several moms approach me about tutoring their children because their children are “struggling” with reading.   Often times these moms have children with special learning needs. Sometimes mom doesn’t know of a specific diagnosis of a learning disability.  However, they do know one thing. The traditional approaches to reading instruction are not effective and they need help.  What about you?  Do you need help for your struggling reader?

When asked for reading tutoring, I typically respond with a specific question, “What exactly is your child struggling with in regards to reading?”

  • Does your struggling reader understand phonetics and have the ability to decode (sound out) words?
  • Is he struggle with reading fluency?
  • Can your child understand what he has read (reading comprehension)?

The entire process of reading has multiple component skills that ultimately work together to produce a truly literate reader.  These skills are like building blocks. Each one building upon the other.

Reading is more than correctly decoding written words.

Here is the deal that is often overlooked.  Reading is much more than just being able to sound out words quickly.  Often times when our children are able to “read” aloud we think that reading has been accomplished.  However, that is not necessarily the case.

The components of reading include:

  • Phonemic Awareness
  • Decoding
  • Fluency
  • Comprehension

I really believe that understanding the basic elements of reading will help homeschool moms like yourself help your struggling reader.  Let’s take a look at reading piece by piece and see how it equips you to see your child’s reading journey differently.


Letter Tiles App

Pre-Reading Skills-Phonemic Awareness

One of the first reading skills is something called “phonemic awareness.”   Words are all made up of units of sound called PHONEMES.  When a child starts to recognize that all spoken words are composed of individual units of sound, he is developing the skill of Phonemic Awareness.

When a child can hear a word such as BUG and is able to identify the three sounds: Buh, short U, and hard G sound, he is demonstrating this skill.  Using the word “BUG” the child drops the initial /B/ sound and replaces it with an /R/ sound to say RUG.   The ability to perform this exercise is showing further phonemic awareness.

Phonemic awareness is a  foundational skill to reading.   If you believe you need help for your struggling reader, I would recommend playing with words aloud to see if he can hear the different sounds that make up words.   A great option for parents to use with these children is the All About Reading Pre-Reading Program or another multi-sensory approach.


All About Learning Press

Decoding or Sounding Out Words


When a child looks at the letter sequence D-O- G (visual input). He initially produces the sounds “D”- “short O”- “hard G.”  Once he pieces together the sounds, he says the word DOG.   This skill is referred to as DECODING and the process of decoding involves:

  • PHONICS: the sounds assigned to printed letters or combinations of letter symbols (using visual, auditory & verbal senses)

When seeking help for your struggling reader, it is important to assess your student’s phonics skills.  Phonics is the sounds that are represented by printed letters or combinations of letters.  For example, in the English language, the letter A is represented by four possible sounds:

  • the short a sound as in CAT,
  • the long a sound as in CAKE and
  • the “ah” sound as in ALL.
  • the “uh” sound as in ABOVE

All letters in the English language have sounds associated with them. Some have one specific sound and others have more than one sound depending on letter combinations.

Going back to our DOG example, the student will walk through the following steps as he decodes the word:

  • Determines that the letter symbols represent three separate sounds
  • Creates the sounds individually “d”-“short o” sound- “hard g” sound
  • After making the individual sounds out loud, the student puts the sounds together in his own mind. (Note that when the child speaks the sounds aloud that he is also “hearing” the sounds in his own voice.)
  • Finally, he blends them together so as to clearly say the word DOG

This process is decoding.


As the decoding skill becomes second-nature, the goal is for the child to become faster in his ability to recognize familiar letter patterns and words.

Using our DOG example:

  • Eventually, the student will see the three letter symbols, D-O-G, and immediately know and verbalize the correct word.  He verbalizes the word aloud effortlessly and moves on to the next letter sequence with speed and confidence.

The ability to read with speed, proper inflection and confidence is what is termed “FLUENCY.”


As you seek help for your struggling reader, you will begin to tease out where your child’s reading weakness lies.  If she is strong is the previous two elements, it may be a reading comprehension issue that is causing her to struggle.  Reading comprehension is the component of reading that many children successful with the first three steps often become stuck.

The ability to comprehend or understand what was just read is quite consistently an area where many students hit struggle.  Students frequently struggle with the comprehension skill in the early years of reading.

It is not surprising that this skill would lag behind the other reading skills.

  • Understanding what is read requires that a child identify how to pronounce a word correctly using his relatively new decoding skills.
  • Once properly spoken aloud, your student must move to the next word and has to maintain the previous words in his mind (working memory) in order to process them as a whole sentence.
  • The extent of a child’s vocabulary obviously impacts her ability to understand a story line

Clearly, when we think about learning process is not as simple as it may seem on the surface level.  If your child is struggling with one of the earlier reading skills, it makes perfect sense that understanding the storyline would be much more challenging

All About Learning Press 20 Best Tips

So what do you do for your struggling reader?

Now that you have an idea of the component skills of reading, it is time to figure out which area your child is struggling with and then proceed from there.  Check out Part 2 of Helping Your Struggling Reader for a suggested outside-the-box tool that may be a great fit for your child.

Most importantly, know this.  One of the best things you can do to enhance your child’s reading journey is to read to him.  Read high-interest books outloud to your child without any expectation of having your child read to you.  Expose him or her to ideas and stories that are captivating and appealling to your specific child.  The memories you will create by sharing story will bless your entire family while also providing your child with an appreciation for books as a form of entertainment.    Check out the Favorite Family Book List below.  🙂

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