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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

My Child Won't Read......

This is something I hear from parents on a regular basis.

Sometimes a child ‘wont’ read because it is hard work, they are tired, or the material simply isn’t engaging. Sometimes it is a sort of power play – they have to go to school all day and do as they are told. Pushing back is their way of reclaiming a little power over their day, something it is usually safer to do that at home rather than at school. For some the marks on the page simply don’t make sense. For yet others with a vivid imagination reading late in the day means their brain is fired up and thinking about the story rather than drifting off to sleep.

While just because a child ‘won’t’ read doesn’t necessarily mean there is a problem although it may do. Being observant about what your child is doing when reading (or faced with a book) can help you work out what to focus on, where to look next. And intervening early if there is a problem of some sort greatly increases the chances of a positive outcome.

If there are undiagnosed vision issues, then reading can be hard work. If the eyes don’t work together effectively, the child’s field of focus might make it difficult to see a whole word clearly, it could be hard for them to maintain their place and track effectively from left to right across a page and back to the start of the next line. The words could swim on the page, the white spaces seeming more obvious than the printed words. Shiny pages can be reflective and difficult to read easily. Or the print could simply be too small to see easily. Acuity (seeing clearly) is a completely separate issue to visual processing, and the problem is sometimes subtle and needs to be checked by a behavioural optometrist (not just an eye check). Closely observing the child’s reading behaviour can shed valuable light on whethere there might be a vision problem.

If the child has any problem with focusing, then they will be tired at the end of a day, particularly a school day when there has been constant demand on their ability to focus. Reading first thing in the morning might be more successful in this case.

Some children need movement to calm their system and so sitting still to read is a difficult. Reading in a hammock can help with the sensory issues and allow the brain to focus on the words on the page and making sense of them.

Gifted children in particular often find beginning reading books quite innane. Many do not have a real story line, rather they are just a collection of words or repetitive phrases. If this is the child's experience of ‘reading books’, then they may resist reading more of them, especially if the stories that are being read to them are rich and complex. I have in the past had to resort to writing stories (utilising words from the common words lists) on topics of interest for gifted children when they were beginning to read. I know other parents who have done the same to avoid the frustration of beginner readers that are sent home.

Some have a strong need to be correct and may be reluctant to demonstrate their reading ability if they think they might make a mistake. They may choose simple books, rather than ones which will increase their reading skills, resisting anything more appropriate. They may want to know what the story is about or what happens before they begin to read, so they can use that information to help them predict should they find themselves in a tight spot. Some don’t like to be put on the spot, so will only read for a familiar and comfortable adult (who may not be the teacher!). You might need to try stealth reading if this is the case, as I did with my young nephew as he was just beginning to read. Instead of asking him to read a book I knew he could read, I just started writing, knowing he would be unable to resist checking what I was doing. By keeping it within his skill level, he was reading over my shoulder, and directing me what to write next within minutes. Other parents write notes, some leave messages about where to find the TV remote (or similar), some get their children reading via treasure hunt clues, or love letters. You just might need to get creative about what reading looks like.

For some children, learning to read via phonics is problematic. Unless their preferred sense is engaged, whether it is visual, auditory or kinesthetic, it will be harder than it need be. Listen to the language your child uses, be alert to their preferences for learning in other areas to see whether you may need to engage another sense or use some additional strategies to hook them into reading and give them some success.

Then there are those children who start school and expect to return home being able to read. All at once. After all they have probably been told by some well-meaning adult(s) that they will ‘learn to read when they go to school’. I remember, many years ago, the daughter of a friend of ours, the youngest of three children, who had been waiting and waiting to start school like her sisters. She came home distraught on the first day, because she ‘couldn’t read yet’ – that was what she had expected to happen. She hadn’t anticipated that it was a process and she had to work at it.

Remember that when we read our children don’t see all the steps in the process prior to the words leaving our mouth. They don’t see that first we must recognise letters, or the shapes of letters, recognise a word or mentally ‘sounding out’ an unfamiliar one, they don’t see us scan for context or picture clues or keeping our place. They only see and hear us read. So they presume that that is all there is to it. When in reality it is like any other skill, we become proficient with the right conditions, and practice. 

‘Won’t’ doesn’t always mean ‘can’t’. But it is worth being observant and checking it out, just in case.

For example: Image courtesy of David Castello Dominici  FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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