Common Reading Challenges for Kids

Breaking Down Barriers: 7 Common Reading Challenges for Kids and How to Overcome Them

Is your child having trouble reading? It might help to know that you are by no means alone. A report by The Nation’s Report Card found that 37% of fourth graders in the United States read well below grade level.

Why is it that so many children are severely behind in reading? There are many factors, but here are seven big ones that commonly keep kids from reading to their full potential.

What are the biggest challenges that young readers face?

1. Phonemic Awareness/Phonics

Studies confirm that children who are systematically taught phonemic awareness and phonics have an easier time learning to read than those who lack this foundational knowledge. A child who demonstrates effective phonemic awareness is able to identify, consider, and arrange sounds within words. They are able to isolate individual sounds within a word (what is the first sound in “hat”? /h/) and blend sounds together to form a word. They can also add, remove, or switch phonemes within words.

Phonemic awareness is the foundation to decoding both spoken and written language. However, many children lack the ability to discern phonemes and sequence them together. Explicit instruction and intensive practice opportunities can help fix this.

Phonics is also critical and deals with the relationship between letters and their corresponding sounds. It involves blends, common consonant/vowel patterns, prefixes and suffixes, and spelling rules (like the silent “E” and the C+E = /s/ rule).

Finding a school with an integrated curriculum that teaches both phonemic awareness and phonics is critical to helping children who are struggling with reading.

2. Vocabulary

A robust vocabulary is another essential building block to effective reading. Sadly, many children today possess increasingly limited vocabularies. Here are a few tips for increasing your child’s vocabulary:

  • Ditch the baby talk: Try not to over-simplify things when speaking to your child. If your toddler asks for water by calling out, “wa-wa,” respond with, “Would you like some water?” Allow them to learn through context without encouraging simplified words.
  • Read aloud: Books allow us to introduce words that might not otherwise come up in everyday conversation and beef up kids’ word knowledge.
  • Keep up the conversation: Engage your children in conversation and engage them often. Don’t be afraid to use a developed vocabulary. Your kids will follow your lead.
  • Consider context: Before simply offering the definition of a word, ask your child questions to help them consider the context and meaning of the word. Chances are, they’ll be able to figure it out from context clues.

3. Comprehension

Just because a student can sound out and identify words doesn’t mean that they can comprehend what the text is really saying. You can help your child develop their comprehension skills by asking questions while reading.

The following questions will allow your child to stop and consider the material instead of rushing through it:

  • “What do you think this story is going to be about?”
  • “What do you think will happen next?”
  • “What do you think that word means?”
  • “Can you picture the scene and tell me what you’re seeing?”
  • “Can you explain in your own words what happened or what this passage is trying to say?”
  • “Why do you think the character reacted that way?”
  • “Why do you think the character said that?”
  • “What do you think will happen as a result of what just happened?”
  • “Can you summarize the story?”

4. Early Exposure

Some children who struggle with reading did not have a robust early exposure to reading. If you want to set your child up for success, make sure you read frequently at home. Even infants and toddlers can benefit cognitively from being read to. When you read aloud, try using your finger to trace the words as you read slowly and clearly so that your child can begin to follow along.

5. Language Barriers

For more and more children in the United States, English is not the first language spoken at home. While the exposure to multiple languages can be of great benefit to students in the long run, it can make things more difficult as they are learning to read. If your child comes from a bilingual household, consider organizing one-on-one teaching or tutoring for your child.

6. Inadequate Reading Curriculum

Many of the reading curricula still used today are “old school.” They are not founded on the most compelling, current research. If your child is struggling with reading, look into your school’s reading curriculum.

An effective reading curriculum should teach phonemic awareness and phonics without relying solely on “sight words” that kids can memorize. In addition, it should teach comprehension strategies and immerse students in all kinds of literature.

A good curriculum should also track each student’s individual progress and fluency. Testing and analytics show how your child’s reading aptitude compares to their peers’ around the country. It allows the school to know how a child is struggling so that they can shore up weaknesses.

7. Motivation

Even if your child’s school uses the most highly acclaimed reading curriculum, they can only go so far without proper motivation. Here are a few ways you can motivate your child to grow as a reader:

  • Provide a diverse range of reading materials.
  • Read often and read together.
  • Allow your child to pick out books that interest them.
  • Set reading goals.
  • Offer reading rewards.

Although many children have a hard time learning to read, you can give your child the tools they need to succeed. By helping them build phonemic awareness, master phonics, strengthen comprehension skills, and get exposure to the joys of reading, your child will be more motivated and ready to learn.