How to Teach Language Arts to a Struggling Reader
In the early days of my life as a homeschooling mom, I used to daydream about having a 3-year-old reader. First, Josh passed the age of three, then, Megan. Then a few more birthdays passed.
Instead of the voracious early readers this avid reader mom dreamed of, I was mom to a slightly dyslexic child whose struggles launched our homeschool career, a severely dyslexic child who didn’t achieve fluency until age 12 (and only then with the help of Lexercise, a company that provides online dyslexia treatment), and a late-but-not-struggling reader who was fluent around age 8.
I didn’t let my kids’ reading struggles hold them back, though – not in subjects that didn’t require a lot of reading and not even in the typically reading-heavy area of language arts.
You may be wondering how to teach language arts to a struggling reader. It’s pretty straight-forward.
Read for your children
In one way, I was fortunate that Brianna, my oldest, initially struggled with reading, too. Because of that, from the very beginning of my life as a homeschool mom, I saw the value in not holding a child back in other areas due to a struggle in one area. There is, for example, no reason that a struggling reader can’t move forward in math. Mom can just read the directions.
The same is true in other subjects, too – even in language arts. Act as your child’s narrator until he or she can read for himself. Read the directions, poems, simple books with your child following along, and more complex books.
Read, read, read because building their listening and contextual vocabulary will prepare your children for reading independence.
And, when your voice gives out, try audio books.
Write for your children
I’m sure you’ve heard of the scribes of ancient Egypt. They were the educated writers who would transcribe for everyone who hadn’t learned to read and write. For many years, I was the scribe for all of my kids.
Don’t allow an inability to read and write – or even to get their thoughts on paper quickly enough – to stifle your child’s creativity. This is true even when using writing curriculum. Some curriculum, such as WriteShop Junior and Primary, is designed for parents to do alongside their children.
There is absolutely no reason why a child has to be able to read fluently before he can do the majority of his schoolwork – at least not in a homeschool setting.
Now, don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that reading isn’t important. It is the single-most important skill you can teach a child. Once a child learns to read, he can learn anything on his own.
What I am saying is that you shouldn’t allow a lack of reading skills to hold a child back in other areas.
Do work orally
I began teaching Josh and Megan grammar using the first edition First Language Lessons. I was of the impression that this was a language arts/grammar program to be done orally and one-on-one with your child. After we began, I heard someone say that a child had to be able to read to do it. I didn’t find that to be the case at all.
We followed that with First Language Lessons Level 3 and Easy Grammar 2nd grade, both with my fledgling readers.
So, how do we do it? Orally and on the dry erase board.
I have to confess that I was a bit skeptical as we got into FLL3. It is designed with the assumption that the child is reading fluently. When the lessons started going into how to form plurals and how you should use “s” with some words and “es” with others, depending on what letters the word ends with, I thought, “This is pointless. What good is this going to do for a child who can’t read those words, let alone spell them?”
Well, you’d be surprised at what a kid can memorize. Josh, who was my least confident kid back then when it came to giving answers orally and being able to get what was in his brain to come out of his mouth (one of the symptoms of dyslexia, though I didn’t know it at the time), was usually the quickest to tell me when to use “s” or “es.”
The kids memorized the definitions of nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and even prepositions. They memorized lists of verbs and helping verbs, lists of prepositions, punctuation rules and the beginnings of basic grammar rules. They learned about homonyms, antonyms, synonyms, and how to combine two sentences to form a compound or complex sentence.
I just read the words.
Between the ages of 5 or 6 to around 8 or 9 children’s brains are little sponges that can soak up and memorize vast amounts of information. That information is then stored to be called up later on when they start seeing concrete uses for the abstract information they’ve stored.
So, with a dry erase board and a little help from Mom, there’s no reason why you can’t introduce struggling or young beginning readers to grammar and punctuation rules, parts of speech, copywork, poetry memorization, sentence combining, and much more.
With the low student-to-teacher ration that homeschooling allows there’s no reason to allow struggles in reading to slow down other areas of learning or development. Homeschooling is the perfect setting for parents to make natural modifications and to encourage our children’s strengths while shoring up their areas of weakness – and to do so without the stigma that often plagues late or struggling readers in a typical classroom setting.
Did/do you have a late or struggling reader? What accommodations would you add to this list?
I haven’t had a late reader (yet! There’s time!) but I have had late writers. Well, depending on what you define as late. Schools seem to tie reading and writing, but I separate them out. How? I taught my children to read, but they weren’t as good at writing. So I wrote for them.
My son who is 6 is working on third grade math. But writing is such an effort for him. So I do the transcribing for him.
Great post! Homeschooling is the ultimate in personal, highly customized learning and that is its biggest strength!
Great post! I had a struggling reader, but like you I didn’t hold him back from other areas of learning. He loved audio books and was listening to books like The Lord of the Rings and Journey to the Center of the Earth. His vocabulary was astounding but he struggled to read. I scribed for him and read his math problems to him when needed and eventually I noticed that he wasn’t asking me to read his problems anymore. He was reading them himself. That was pretty great!
Great post. My son struggles in language arts and has minor dyslexia. This is very helpful. Visiting you from Hip Homeschool Hop. Blessings!
This is great advice. As an unschooler, I find most of the advice in homeschooling blogs for parents of struggling readers distasteful at best. It’s refreshing to see folks reminded that a child’s struggle learning how to read isn’t the end of the world.