Helping a struggling reader

reader, reading, childrens books
books, books everywhere

I am a reader. Always have been. Raising a reader? I thought I had it covered! My oldest is just like me, books are his first escape. With the others, reading started off the same… but the day has come, my friends – I have a kiddo who not only doesn’t like to read, she actively avoids it!

At 8, my oldest daughter, Big Sister, drives the struggling reader bus. Every. Single. Day. To preface, she has a high skill level in reading and is assigned 20-30 minutes of reading a day as homework, but, as an example, at the end of the school year last year it would take her at least an hour and a half to do her 25 minutes of reading. You know: my head hurts, I need a snack, I need a drink, I have to go to the bathroom, the tv was distracting, my brother is distracting… the list goes on (I think it was worse than the bedtime avoidance by the toddler!). We were both so frustrated with each other that it was ruining my time with her. We had to figure out a new plan.

The Old Plan

As a family, we would read a story that I would choose based on the reading levels and interest of very different kiddos. I read to three kids now (although the 3-year-old wanders in and out) and it was always difficult to choose something that would interest a 5-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl. So during homework reading time, this was her chance to choose something different. She started and stopped 7 different Magic Tree House books, which are great stories, but couldn’t keep her going for that 20+ minutes. Then she wanted picture books and books that were easy to read. That was hard for me, as I wanted her skills to grow. We bought over 100 books (no that is not an exaggeration… and yes we are in the process of cleaning out for donations, but getting rid of books is hard!!) covering fairies, princesses, scary stories, and non-fiction, but would finish none those and getting her to do the assigned time needed was making me want to pull out my now graying hairs.

The New Plan

Last summer while visiting the library, I was talked into checking out a book on CD: “The Tale of Emily Windsnap

reading, readerThis book and this type of reading has changed the way that she reads. We first listened to the book in the car for about 2-weeks. Everyone was invested and it was requested that we listen to it during every car ride. While we may have started reading by listening, she has now read 3 out of the remaining 5 books on her own. A light bulb went off for me.

With the 5-year-old in kindergarten this year, he requires reading time as well, so we all compromise. For 10-15 minutes, she reads a story of his choice out loud to him. He prefers the non-fiction, fact based books about animals, so they aren’t super easy, but there are pictures. After she is done reading to him, she goes to her room or mom and dads room and listens to a book on CD. She doesn’t always have the paper book in front of her to follow along, but she has gotten pretty savvy at using the library’s request system so that she can have the paper version as often as possible. Then we have family reading time together. So in total, she’s getting about 40 minutes of reading a day and the middle child gets at least 20.

This whole thing has taught me a few lessons. I can recall a conversation with one of my good friends back when this “problem” started in 1st grade. She told me her dad read to her until she left for college, she is an avid reader, but she reads mostly through audible services offered by iTunes and Amazon. Just because I prefer the paper version of the book doesn’t mean that everyone does. Second, reading can and should be a pleasure, when anything is shoved down our throats (like I was doing to her), of course we are going to fight back… I wasn’t teaching her how wonderful reading could be, I was telling her to do it my way.

The biggest lesson I got from this? If parenting came with a manual, I’d need 5 different copies. Parenting, teaching, and loving is very fluid. What worked for one probably is not going to work for another (don’t worry I’ll keep trying). We all set firm boundaries and things that are non-negotiable: don’t play with matches, don’t trade your brother for candy, etc. But for everything else, there’s no “right way.” You just have to find what can work for you and your family. Raising a reader is something that is important for me, so I will find every possible way to make it work. Right now, Big Sister reads without having to be reminded or fights 5 nights out of week.

audio book, library

I call that a win!

Next Up on the Reading List: Coraline, Neil Gaiman

What have you done to help a struggling reader in your house?

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Rhonda is a Northern Colorado native and a momma to 5 wild things. With kiddos ranging from senior in high school to first year of preschool, they keep her out of trouble (mostly). Having a husband who makes her laugh every day is her secret to keeping it all “together”. In her spare time, Rhonda enjoys volunteering, reading, and falling asleep on the couch. For an escape from the household, she works very part time for UCHealth, and she really enjoys the people it has brought into her life. As a mom to kids in different seasons, Rhonda loves to see what’s next and can’t wait to share in that journey with you!


  1. I think your post is excellent and most of us can relate. I had tried to do it similar to your old way when my son (kindergarten) was starting to read. Couldn’t make it work.

    He liked minecraft (like all kids) so we changed to our new plan and started to get him minecraft chapter books. And he started reading nightly! Once you pay attention to your child’s desires and use it however you need, it works great.

    Thanks for the post and the advice.


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