Strong reading skills are an incredibly important asset, creating a strong foundation for advanced learning. But many children struggle with reading, which makes school difficult and frustrating. There are specific things that can cause reading difficulty, and ways to prevent it.
In general, a child’s reading skills should be consistent with his or her overall oral language skills, which includes vocabulary development and verbal reasoning skills. Because reading is a language-based activity, you should create a rich verbal environment for your kids by talking with them, as well as reading books to them.
Does your child understand rhyming words?
For children who struggle with reading despite having a well-developed vocabulary and reasoning skills, there could be a difficulty with specific language skills. Research has identified one area that specifically impedes beginning reading and spelling skills: the inability to perceive and manipulate speech sounds.
Preschool children with speech sounds issues often have trouble identifying words that rhyme with each other, as well as identifying words that start or end with the same sound. Learning English phonics is much easier if your child can perceive the sounds in words. Luckily, this type of learning issue responds well to specialized instruction so the foundation can be laid for a better understanding of phonics as your child matures.
Can your child remember words?
A second common but significant problem that leads to reading problems is a difficulty with rapidly retrieving the name of an item shown on a visual prompt. This difficulty with “rapid naming” can occur alone or in combination with difficulty identifying and blending speech sounds.
Trouble in this area can be very frustrating for young readers because they often have difficulty efficiently retrieving words even when they know them or have been taught them previously. The ability to read smoothly and accurately as well as reading speed is typically affected.
Does your child reverse letters and numbers?
Finally, a small percentage of children (less than 10 percent) may have difficulties with visual-spatial skills and visual memory. Letter and number reversals past 8 years old are considered to be significant indicators of a learning disorder. Letter reversals in beginning readers (ages 5 to 7) are not of concern, and reversals typically drop off quickly once formal reading and spelling instruction begins.
Research has shown that a cohesive reading instruction program that helps children learn to identify the sounds in words and then progresses to teaching the letter and/or letter combinations that represent those sounds is effective in building strong reading and spelling skills.
Learning to read and spell in English is complicated because there are more speech sounds in English than there are letters in the alphabet. Also, the spelling of the speech sounds, particularly the vowel sounds, is confusing because there are multiple spellings for the same speech sound. All of these spellings for the same sound must be taught and practiced. To make things even more complicated, the same letter combinations in English can be pronounced different ways. For example, the letter combination “ough” is pronounced differently in the words “thought” and “though.” Although the words are visually similar, they do not sound alike at all.
High quality reading instruction that teaches the complicated phonics code in English is important. Time practicing reading skills is also necessary.
Once English phonics has been mastered, continue instructional reading from science, social studies and language arts textbooks, as well as recreational reading in mystery books, adventure series and magazines in an area of interest. As with anything else, the more a skill is practiced, the stronger it becomes.
In this day with television, video games and the internet, it is important to preserve time for reading on a daily basis. Also, parents are encouraged to read books to their children every night throughout elementary school. Parents should aim to read books to their children about two years above their current reading level. The goal is to show that reading is an enjoyable activity and to expose children to more advanced vocabulary that they will need for their reading skills to progress.
If you don’t have access to books, check out your local library. And the Children’s Trust funds numerous programs to supply young children with books as well as to support early literacy skills. If you suspect your child has a problem with reading, contact 305-243-6631 to schedule an appointment with an expert at the University of Miami Health System.
Lynn F. Kerdyk, Ph.D., is a clinical child psychologist at UHealth – the University of Miami Health System. For more information, visit UHealthSystem.com/patients/pediatrics.