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Growing Reader

4 Reading Roadblocks and Strategies for Helping Kids Overcome Them

by Lindsay Barrett

Photo credit: gradyreese, E+ Collection/Getty Images

While it would be convenient if kids marched through the stages of literacy learning at a steady rate, the reality is that learning to read (and learning to love reading) has starts, stops, big emotions, and roadblocks along the way. I received all these comments in my house this week… from the same child!

“I love this book so much! I can’t go to bed yet. I just want to keep reading!”
“I’m SO bored. I HATE reading. There are no good books to read.”
“I’m one of the best readers in my class. This book is super easy for me.”
“There are WAY too many hard words. I’m terrible at reading.”

My second grader is perhaps more dramatic than some kids but typical in his reading journey. Here are some ways new readers like him get stuck and some tried-and-true ways to help them get back on course.

Failure to launch

Even adults can have trouble getting into a new book — as anyone who has had one sitting on their nightstand for months can attest. If you have a kid who struggles to start reading, some pre-reading support can go a long way.

For early readers, this could be taking a “picture walk” together, flipping through the pages, and talking about them. Adults can even peek at the words and casually weave the more challenging vocabulary into the conversation to plant it in kids’ heads.

For new chapter book readers, it’s helpful to read the blurb on the back of the book with an adult or even have an adult read aloud the first chapter or the first book in a series. This introduces the characters’ names and some critical details about the setting and plot. Once we read the first A to Z Mysteries book by Ron Roy together, my second grader was familiar with Dink, Josh, Ruth Rose, and the rest of the characters in the town of Green Lawn and was more comfortable tackling the other books on his own.

Lack of background knowledge

Stories open up the world for kids, but if a book is set in an unknown place, time in history, or covers unfamiliar topics or experiences, kids might abandon it prematurely. Pulling up some images of a book’s setting online, talking about a related historical event or person, or discussing the author’s note all help kids tackle that content during reading. My fourth grader loves books by Dan Gutman and has Houdini and Me lined up to read soon. I know handing over my phone for a few minutes of research will help acquaint him with the amazing escapes of Harry Houdini and set him up for success.

All those hard words

You’ve likely seen the attitude shift when a new (or new-ish) reader is moving through a book with ease until an unknown word brings their reading to a screeching halt. This is why most classrooms spend a lot of time on word-solving strategies when kids first learn to read. Keep your child’s momentum going by having strategy reminders available wherever they read, like on a bookmark or card to go between home and school.

Encourage kids of all ages to ask about unfamiliar spelling patterns in words instead of just muddling over them. (If you’ve heard a kid do this, you know!) Ongoing phonics instruction is essential, too, so kids have plenty of knowledge about the English language to draw upon when they’re reading.

Even experienced readers can get stuck on what the University of Florida Literacy Institute aptly calls “big words.” Teaching kids to divide a “big word” into syllables helps them tackle it systematically. Have them practice this skill with games and activities, so they’re ready to do it when reading.

Keeping up the momentum

In my house, reading often goes smoothly until one of my kids finishes a book they love. It’s understandable; it can be hard at any age to start something new after finishing up a fantastic read. Getting kids invested in a series or a specific genre like graphic novels or mysteries ensures they have a supply of appealing reading material waiting when it’s time for the next book. Plus, the work of building background knowledge and getting ready to read often transfers seamlessly.

Just as we love our fitness trackers, tracking reading amounts or committing to a reading challenge can remove reading roadblocks. Reading stacks are a simple but effective strategy for kids, too. Just like adult readers have piles of books on their nightstands or TBR lists on their phones, working through a reading stack is a motivating goal for many kids. Designate a spot for kids to house their up-and-coming reading choices to eliminate the argument about what to read next.

Need some more fantastic book suggestions to build kids’ reading stacks and keep their reading roadblock-free? Check out: