Parents of struggling readers can have a hard time, particularly if they are not flush with resources to access good expertise that can offer research based information, guidance and support. When I was working in schools it was heartbreaking to find parents accessing (and paying substantial amounts for) snake oil, particularly in some of our less resourced suburbs. To pay for ineffective services and products when the parent is already stressed trying to understand and help, is not good. The relationship becomes another area that needs remediating if the child is eventually to learn to read.
Having been through that experience myself, this is my list of recommendations to parents wishing to help their struggling reader.
1. Relax and focus on connection rather than achievement. Your relationship with your child is the factor that makes the most difference if you are going to try and bring understanding and reading skills to them. You have probably been struggling for months or maybe years, taking another month to relax and just focus on having quality meaningful time with your child is not going to do more harm - it will help! If you bring stress to their experience of words then you are exacerbating what they experience at school. When tutoring I am aware that our one hour per week may be the only time the student gets to enjoy being around words. This experience is important. As a parent you are in a powerful position to bring more of a good feeling to their experience of words, so work on the feeling in your relationship first, then engage in words.
2. Look for ways to relax have fun with your child/children around words. For years whilst my daughter was young I read to her every night. Grimm's fairy tales mostly, I found they had a different feeling in comparison to the majority of modern day authors. (Thankfully there are some wonderful exceptions.) But when she got older, homework became the focus of my attention and I let go of our precious time each day in which to enter another world. Instead I worked with her on her reading skills. She has improved, a lot, but something was missing from our relationship (and my own enjoyment). So I reignited reading at night. I started off with books she really loved when she was little and have moved into books from the library which I know she could read but which I read. She now makes sure I am reading each night ... and with her growth in reading skills and development, our reading time is enriched. I know she is following as I read, she tells me she could read what I am reading, we talk about where the story might be going, she recaps the story each night before I begin, and we talk about whether a book is 'grabbing' us or not. We discard it if it isn't! As per my recent blog I have also found a couple of community events around story writing and illustration. Once upon a time my girl wouldn't have been interested in the slightest about attending, now she's quite keen.
3. Learn about how literacy should be taught. Attend Dyslexia Speld Foundation (South Perth) parent film nights and information sessions. Look up government funded literacy resources (libraries often have flyers) and access them if you are eligible. Learn about how you can help your child via incidental (in the moment or when they make mistakes) teaching. Learn about the power of 'saying the sounds and reading the word'. Learn about the power of your pointer finger! Borrow books from the library at DSF (or buy them) or better still write your own with your child, that they have the skills and alphabet code knowledge to read. Don't read books with words in them that have sounds and their corresponding spellings they haven't covered yet.
4. Don't interact with them in ways that suggest you are looking for whether they have advanced or not. In other words, don't test them all the time. If you know there are words in what they will read that they don't know, play with it beforehand. If they still have difficulty provide it form them. Have blank paper and pens on hand, to tease out the sounds of words. Don't jump in too quickly. Once they start to blend sounds together they want to see if they can succeed and become annoyed if we jump in too quickly because of our need to have them reading words. This is what happens in schools. We rush and cram them so that they look like they are reading. Lots of sight words, reading for meaning, cueing from pictures, all so it looks like children are reading. And our testing in schools can look like children are progressing. But they aren't really reading, they aren't using the skills of reading, and then when we test them again in High School (when words are more complex) we wonder why they have dropped behind again? They were never at level in the first place.
5. Hire a good remediation tutor. Make sure they are using a well researched evidence based literacy program. Can they articulate the deficits in your child's reading skills and how they are going to turn them around? Have they provided you with a plan that explicitly lays out what they will be doing and when? Are they available to guide you when you have questions? Is it possible at all to have them and your child's teacher talking? Based on questions you have put to the tutor and the information they have provided in remediation plans and reports are you feeling confident about what they are doing?
6. Ask questions of your school. What literacy program are they using? Is it one included in the DSF catalogue (which means it has some research and evidence behind it) or is it one without the research? What is the sequence of sounds and spellings that will be taught? Where is your child up to? Are they using Look, Say, Cover, Write, Check? Why? (It is not recommended for children with reading difficulties - or most of the others.)
7. Develop your own literacy skills. A significant number of children with dyslexia also a parent with dyslexia. If you don't know how to read, then learn to read, model learning to read for your child. Not only will you go up in their esteem but you will be a powerful influence over their engagement with learning to read.
For any parent searching for information and guidance, there is an information session in my home (Spearwood) this Sunday 1.30 to 3.30 pm. The cost is $35, if you would like to come along, give me a call on 0417 949 179.