How to Help a Child Struggling With Reading

Unlocking literacy: How to help a child struggling with reading

As preschool teachers, you play an integral role in the early developmental stages of countless children. Witnessing a child unlock the world of reading is undoubtedly one of the most rewarding aspects of your job.

However, as each child is unique, not all tread the path to literacy at the same pace. When you come across those who lag behind their peers, the questions “How to help a child struggling with reading?” and “How to teach a slow learner to read?” inevitably arise.

But with a little patience and by employing the right teaching strategies for reading, every toddler can be guided toward a successful reading journey.


Understanding the challenges

First, it’s crucial to understand that every child’s development is unique. Comparing one child’s progress with another can sometimes be more misleading than enlightening. The term “slow learner” doesn’t mean a child can’t learn; it simply indicates they may need more time or different strategies to grasp certain concepts.

Remember, just as some kids learn to walk or talk earlier than others, the same applies to reading.


Strategies for Struggling Readers: Individualized attention

One of the most effective teaching strategies for reading is providing individualized attention. When you understand a child’s specific challenges, you can tailor your approach to address their needs.

Below are five types of exercises you can use to help a child struggling with reading:

Phonemic awareness activities: Start with simple games that focus on sounds. Use rhymes, alliteration and songs. Play “I spy with my little eye, something that starts with the sound…” This foundational skill makes a significant difference in how a child perceives and understands words.

Letter recognition: Use tactile methods such as tracing letters or shaping them with playdough. The sensory experience can be especially beneficial for slow learners since engaging multiple senses provides more pathways for information to be processed and retained.

Story sequencing: Read a story and ask the child to sequence picture cards to retell it. This not only strengthens comprehension but also fosters a love for narratives within your little learners.

Targeted reading materials: Offer books tailored to the child’s reading level. Providing them with materials they can engage with without feeling overwhelmed can boost their confidence.

Reading buddies: Pair slower readers with peers who can help guide them through challenging words. Not only will this help support a child who is struggling with reading, but this sort of collaboration fosters comprehension and camaraderie.


Classroom activities to support struggling readers:

While individualized attention is invaluable, it’s not always practical to allocate extensive time to just one or two students facing challenges. This underscores the importance of innovative classroom activities that can support struggling readers.

Interactive story time: Transform reading from a solitary activity into a group activity. Use props, voices and actions to bring the story to life. This approach makes the experience more engaging and less intimidating for those who are struggling.

Word walls: Dedicate a wall or a corner to words. Display them prominently, rotate them frequently and during free periods, encourage children to interact with these words – touching them, reading them aloud or using them in sentences. This constant visual reminder enhances word recall and recognition.

Match and read: Visual aids can be extremely helpful. Prepare cards with images on one side and the word on the other. Children can match these and then attempt to read the word, reinforcing word-object associations.

Interactive vocabulary games: Words come alive when they are made interactive. Play games like “Word Bingo” or “Charades” where children get to act out or identify words based on definitions or clues. This not only enhances vocabulary but also improves a child’s ability to understand and relate to words in various contexts.


Best practices for teaching slow learners to read

Navigating the world of literacy can be challenging for children, especially slow learners. As educators, it’s important to remember these best practices that cater to learners’ unique needs:

Multisensory techniques: As mentioned above, engaging multiple senses makes learning more vivid and memorable. For instance, while reading a word, have the child tap out each syllable rhythmically or march in place for each letter sound. This combination of movement and sound makes learning more tangible.

Repetition and consistency: While it might seem monotonous, repetition is often the key to understanding and retention. Whether it’s revisiting a favorite story multiple times or practicing specific words each day, repetition reinforces learning.

Patience and praise: Learning to read is filled with tiny milestones. Celebrating every word a child recognizes or every sentence they understand is paramount. Regularly acknowledging a child’s efforts, no matter how small, can instill confidence and motivate them.


The role of parents

While the classroom is the primary space for learning, home plays an equally significant role. That’s why it’s important to encourage parents to be involved.

Simple activities like pointing out and reading signs during a walk or a trip to the grocery store, labeling items at home or even regular bedtime stories can make a world of difference.

Remember, it’s not just about how to teach a slow learner to read, but also about creating an environment where reading is cherished.

The world of reading is vast and wondrous. While some children might sprint into it, others take a more leisurely pace, soaking in the sights and sounds along the way.

As educators, your role isn’t just to teach but to guide, support and inspire. With the right teaching strategies for reading, combined with abundant patience and encouragement, every child can find their own unique path into literacy.


Interested in learning more about ways to incorporate literacy activities into your classroom? CCEI offers a number of courses, including The Read-Aloud Process: Building the Components of Literacy. This course dives into the nitty-gritty of ensuring read-alouds in the classroom accomplish the literacy-building goals of a good early childhood curriculum.

Plus, check out  Storytelling for Enrichment, Early Literacy, and Fun, a two-hour intermediate course packed with tips on weaving storytelling into your lesson plans and activities such as storytelling group discussion and playacting.

Browse our entire catalog of professional development offerings