At this point, I’m an old hat at this. I’ve been there, done that, and earned the trophy.
Not one, but two, of my children have been (or are) struggling readers. Homeschooling them has brought us some difficult challenges which I talk about in that article.
Here, though, I want to talk about the parent who’s homeschooling a struggling reader.
I’d say it’s very likely that if you aren’t the parent of a struggling reader yourself, you know someone who is. You then are the one who will either uplift and speak life into the spirit of that parent, or be yet another source of judgment and condemnation based entirely upon how you act.
Please choose to uplift and speak life into the spirits of parents like me.
Some of those parents are brand-new to homeschooling a struggling reader, and they’re struggling themselves. They’re in over their heads, and they can’t easily articulate how they feel or what they need.
From my perspective, this is what parents of struggling readers want their friends and family to know about them:
I’m sure you can imagine how you’d feel as a parent if your child was so beaten down and defeated that she just felt dumb. Not a good feeling, is it?
It’s something I must work diligently to neutralize nearly every day. Every time it comes up, I must go on the offensive again, speaking life into my child and hoping to drown out and overwhelm the lies she’s telling herself.
I know many of you look at me and my child who struggles to read, and you’re wondering what we’re doing wrong. You think you know what you’d do in my shoes if it was your child who was struggling to read.
For many, the answer is: you work harder or longer on reading with your child.
So, if you don’t see me and my child devoting hours of additional practice time to building her reading skills, you judge me for it. If your position in our lives allows for it, maybe you even try to step in and “encourage” that extra practice time.
I get that it’s uncomfortable for people who have very schoolish ideas about education to encounter a child who isn’t reading “on time.” I don’t have that hang-up, though.
I’m not saying that having a child who struggles to read is comfortable. It’s not. Not for me. And not for her. The difference for us is why it’s uncomfortable.
Reading is a useful tool. Human beings naturally want to use what is useful. She’ll get it eventually.
My primary concern is what happens during the time we’re waiting for eventually to happen.
Until then, I walk a fine line. I want to keep supporting my child’s desire to learn to read well, but in doing so, I don’t want to end up creating more stress and pressure for her that will ultimately end with her feeling dumb.
So, we try this program for a bit. And before the program creates stress and pressure that hits critical mass, we back off. We let the stress and pressure abate, and then we try again with something else. No one learns anything if they’re stressed out or under intense pressure.
You probably see us in “backed off mode” a lot. It probably looks like we never work on reading. It might even look like I don’t care about my child’s education. It might even look like my child is lazy or dumb.
Rest assured: none of that is the case.
I’m not interested in medaling in the Mommy Olympics.
And this isn’t a race, anyway.
Honestly, the thought that any of my kids would really struggle with learning to read, write, or spell never occurred to me...before it happened.
I learned how to read when I was four. I have loved to read every day of my life since then. I started writing stories as soon as I could put pencil to paper, and I’ve never stopped. It’s as natural as breathing to me.
So, imagine my surprise when neither my second nor my third child learned to read easily.
Kris Bales of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers recounts a similar story in her article, How to Teach Language Arts to a Struggling Reader.
There are so many dimensions to this. Homeschooling a struggling reader is frustrating and demoralizing on so many different levels, some of which I’m sharing in this post already.
I will say, from my experiences before I embraced self-directed homeschooling, that homeschooling a struggling reader is more frustrating and more demoralizing when you have schoolish ideas about education that are telling you your child “should” be reading by now.
I'm big on teaching my children to mitigate, accommodate, or delegate their weaknesses. If you haven't already checked out Kris Bales' article from my earlier link to it, check it out because she provides some excellent advice for helping your child do just that. Just having the reassurance from a veteran homeschooler that yes, it is okay to read or write for your struggling child can sometimes lift an enormous burden from your shoulders.
I can also say that homeschooling a struggling reader is more frustrating and more demoralizing when the people who are most important to you don’t understand why your child isn’t reading as well as her peers yet, tell you (in what they presumably think is a helpful tone) how important reading is and how your child should be spending more time on it, and/or decide on their own to “work with” your child.
As I just said, I was an “early” reader, and an avid reader from then forward. I’ve been a prolific writer since I could write. It just made sense to me that I’d be able to teach or guide them to mastery of these skills as well.
And then, I just couldn’t. Nothing we did worked. No reading program. No games. No time spent reading aloud together. No online programs. No practice. No repetition.
My nephew, who is almost three years younger than my youngest child, is a better reader than she is. And his skills just grew and kept flourishing in school.
For a moment, I doubted. I wondered if I was doing right by my child.
It was fleeting, though. I had to remind myself that this struggle to learn to read would not be any better if my children had been in school. In fact, it would most assuredly be more damaging to them.
My youngest child, who is nine now, thanked me the other day.
She thanked me for all the help I’ve been giving her as she’s trying to learn how to read. She thanked me for all the times I just backed off when things weren’t going well. She thanked me for never making her feel stupid.
And she told me that if I’d pushed harder, insisting on more practice, I would’ve killed her desire to even learn to read at all. As it stands now, it’s still frustrating to her but she still wants it.
I’d like everyone who has a struggling reader anywhere in their lives to spend a few minutes thinking about the things my little girl said.
How are you treating the struggling readers in your life?
What are you saying to the parents of the struggling readers in your life?
Are you a source of comfort, support, and encouragement, or is yours a stressful, demoralizing presence in the life of that young, struggling reader and her parents?
I'm a married, homeschooling mama of three who is passionate about self-directed learning.
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