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Understanding why kids struggle with reading

By Gretchen Vierstra, MA

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The process of learning to read isn’t easy. When kids struggle with reading, it doesn’t mean they’re not smart. It also doesn’t mean they’re lazy. In fact, kids who have trouble reading are often trying as hard as they can. 

Some kids just need more time and practice than others to learn reading skills. Others need extra help and support to get there.

When young kids are “behind” in their reading skills, consider their age. Not all kids develop at the same pace. And the differences can be even greater for kids who are young for their grade. 

You can also look at how they’re being taught to read. If they’re not getting the type of instruction they need, it can have an impact on how fast they learn and how well they read.

Another possible factor is heredity. Reading difficulties often run in families. 

Some kids learn and think differently, and those differences can cause trouble with reading. This includes a common learning difference called dyslexia.

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Signs of dyslexia

Dyslexia is a learning disability in reading. It makes reading challenging. But it can also make spelling and writing difficult. 

Signs of dyslexia can show up in different ways and at different ages. And the signs can change over time. In preschool and kindergarten, kids might struggle with: 

  • Recognizing letters or rhyming words

  • Pronouncing words, like saying “mawn lower” instead of “lawn mower” 

  • Learning the alphabet and the days of the week

  • Explaining what a story was about 

As kids get older, they might read below grade level. And some reading challenges might not show up until later — as late as high school. Kids may also struggle with things like spelling, math word problems, getting jokes, or learning another language.

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Unexpected signs of trouble with reading

When kids struggle with reading, it can show up in unexpected ways. Kids might avoid doing homework or not want to go to school. In some cases, they might act out in class because they’re frustrated.

Kids who have trouble reading might avoid reading altogether — especially reading out loud. That can happen at home or at school. For example, kids might ask to use the bathroom during activities that involve reading aloud at school. 

Not all kids who avoid reading have trouble with it. Learn other reasons why some kids don’t want to read .

Next steps

No matter what’s causing the trouble with reading, there are ways to help. Families and educators can work together to understand what’s happening. 

Start by sharing notes on what you’re seeing, especially any patterns you’ve noticed. Then talk about strategies to try at school and at home. (Families: Try these conversation starters to help you talk with your child’s teacher about reading challenges.) 

Parents and caregivers: Explore ways to help your child with reading , including things to do when you don’t like reading yourself .

Educators: Learn about structured literacy , and get strategies for teaching reading.

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom