Why is my third grader suddenly having trouble reading?


Your daughter is not alone. I often see kids who get off to a great start in their reading, but then they hit a bit of a bump in third grade. Here’s what is typically happening.

In kindergarten through second grade, the focus is on understanding letter sounds and blending them together to read words and phrases with confidence. This is called decoding. It’s usually the most common area that kids struggle in as they learn to read.

But the bar is raised a bit higher around third grade. Some kids who picked up the early reading skills just fine are challenged as they see longer, more complicated reading passages. Their task at this point is to understand and analyze what they’re reading. This requires a few important skills, including:

  • Being able to apply their decoding skills to more difficult text

  • Having a good working vocabulary

  • Being able to stay focused on reading longer stories

  • Being able to make connections to the story and hold on to ideas as they read

  • Being able to form judgments based on what they read

When I work with a child who has suddenly started to struggle around third grade, I always take a look at reading fluency to rule out any issues there. (This is ability to read quickly and with few mistakes.) Usually it’s fine.

I also like to check their vocabulary skills and reading comprehension. This is the ability to understand what you read, and it includes a number of specific skills. Comprehension is a common area kids struggle in.

There are strategies to build the reading skills needed to take on longer passages and tools for reading comprehension. But there’s another way you can help at home.

If your child likes to read on her own, you may have fallen out of the habit of reading together. If that’s the case, I suggest starting it up again and reading to and with your child often. That will help strengthen the skills she now needs to keep improving at this level and beyond.

You can read books above her reading level out loud to her, pausing every now and then so you can both share your thoughts. This is a great thing to do because she can listen to more complex text than she’s able to read. She’ll be exposed to higher level comprehension skills that she can use when she reads on her own.

When your daughter is reading books that are on her level, you can have her read out loud to you, or you can take turns reading. Again, take a break every once in a while to talk about what’s happening.

But sometimes even with this extra practice, kids may still struggle with reading. Struggling with reading can be a sign of dyslexia. It’s not uncommon for signs of dyslexia to become more noticeable around this age. Having dyslexia doesn’t mean kids aren’t smart. But they do need extra help and support to get better at reading.

If your child’s reading doesn’t seem to improve, take notes on what you’re seeing. For instance, if your child avoids reading or gets easily frustrated by it, jot that down.

You can also talk to your child’s teacher about your concerns, and ask what the teacher is seeing in the classroom. The teacher might recommend strategies or suggest other steps you can take to help your child with reading. You can also talk about next steps if you’re concerned your child has dyslexia.


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