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Patience in Parenting

Support for Your Rookie Reader

1602_ParentalGuidance_QMy first-grader is not having an easy time learning to read. It seems like everyone in his class is making great strides, and he is struggling to the point of tears when he tries on his own at home. His teacher said to give him time, but I’m not sure. Should I be worried?


1602_ParentalGuidance_AThere are so many learning curves in first grade, from tying shoes and sitting still to simple addition and spelling. All of these new skills require practice and time. Quite often, mastery of these skills has nothing to do with intelligence, but everything to do with maturity. I completely agree with your teacher. Let’s see what progress occurs throughout the school year.

When first-graders start the school year, there are so many new routines and responsibilities introduced. It may take many months to adjust to the novelty of it all. A child’s development cannot be rushed and will advance in time. Remember, this is not a race. Try not to compare your child with other kids. Instead, let’s look at your child’s growth from one semester to the next.

Here are some ideas that may help when reading with your son.

Are you reading aloud with your child?

If you are out of the habit of reading aloud to your son, please consider re-establishing that practice. There is tremendous value in reading aloud to your child, such as enjoying the physical closeness of reading a good book together and discussing specific topics in a non-confrontational way. If it seems to be a matter of control, always provide choices instead of commands. You could offer the option of reading aloud or reading silently together, or you could allow your son to choose which time of the day he prefers to read. Planning trips to the public library would provide an opportunity for your son to look forward to choosing books that interest him and continually refresh his selections.

Is your child not wanting to read independently?

Try to be creative and do not allow your frustration to show. Do not ask your son closed-ended questions, like “Are you ready to start reading?” Trust me, the answer will always be no, and the power struggles will begin. Offer cooperative support and choices. “Okay, let’s take turns reading. Who should start, you or me?” Be patient and calm as he sounds words out. Ask him if he would like some help before you give it. Help him feel confident and in charge of his work. Always remember to model appropriate behavior by reading a book or magazine alongside your new reader.

Is your child reversing letters?

Young children often reverse letters while reading and writing, but with practice this should improve. Using a pointer could help your son stay on track with reading the text from left to right or sounding out the words independently. Remember that learning a new skill can be hard work for little ones. Keep the time spent on reading short and frequent, instead of long and frustrating.

Communication with your son’s teacher will be beneficial in determining an action plan and reinforcing strong reading skills. Your child may benefit from working one-on-one or in small groups with similar readers. Remember that every child’s early education experience is different. These days, some children have been reading independently since they were in preschool. In the meantime, try to keep reading fun for your son, and look for reading confidence to improve by third grade.


Michelle Johnston
Michelle Johnston has worked with parents and caregivers as a family educator with Commonwealth Parenting for eighteen years. She is the mom of four.
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