At a glance
There are lots of reasons kids may read slowly.
They might be very imaginative or have trouble with some aspects of reading.
Reading slowly doesn’t mean kids aren’t smart.
Reading is a process that involves a lot of skills. When kids read more slowly than other kids their age, it doesn’t always mean they have reading difficulties. And it’s not that they’re not as smart as other kids. But sometimes kids who read slowly need extra help with one aspect of reading or another.
Here are eight common reasons kids read slowly.
1. They’re trying out new reading strategies.
Once kids have learned the basics of reading, the focus turns to understanding what they read. Especially in fourth and fifth grade, teachers give kids a lot of strategies to use. Some kids appear to be reading more slowly because they’re practicing what they’re being taught.
2. They want to think more about what they’re reading.
Some kids like to read slowly because they’re thinking deeply about the text. Kids with active imaginations or who are very curious may read more slowly than others. But they tend to understand what they read at a high level.
3. They make lots of mistakes reading words.
Sometimes kids read slowly because they make a lot of mistakes reading individual words. When they realize that what they’re reading doesn’t make sense, they go back and re-read the words. That takes time, and it can also impact how well they understand what they’re reading.
4. They’re reading text that’s too hard.
Reading texts that are too difficult can discourage kids and slow them down. Kids need material at the right reading level for them. Choosing books at the right reading level helps kids get better at reading. It also helps them learn to enjoy reading.
5. They feel anxious about reading.
Feeling anxious about reading can sometimes cause kids to read more slowly. They may constantly double-check what they’ve read to be sure they got it right. (Learn more about reading anxiety in kids.)
6. They have trouble staying focused.
Trouble with focus can cause kids to read slowly. Being easily distracted by noises, sights, or even their own thoughts makes it hard to keep their place when reading. Then they have to re-read things.
7. They have trouble holding words in memory.
There’s a type of memory called working memory that kids use when they read. It allows them to hold on to a word long enough to use it in their reading. When kids have trouble with this skill, they end up having to re-read things.
8. They have trouble with language skills.
Some kids have learning differences like dyslexia that make it hard to process and understand language. That can make it hard for them to understand what they’re reading. Kids have to re-read or stop often to think about what they’re reading. Learn more about this type of reading difficulty.
When kids read more slowly or at a lower reading level than other kids their age, it doesn’t mean they can’t become strong readers. They may need extra help getting there, but their reading can improve.
If there are concerns about a child’s reading pace, caregivers and teachers should connect about what they’re seeing and ways to help. Together they can come up with strategies to help a child build reading skills.
Kids need to read material that’s at the right reading level for them.
Reading slowly doesn’t mean kids aren’t or can’t become strong readers.
Caregivers and teachers can work together to help kids improve their reading pace.
About the author
About the author
Bob Cunningham, EdM has been part of the Understood team since its founding. He has also been the chief administrator for several independent schools and a school leader in both general and special education.