8 Reasons Kids Might Read Slowly

By Bob Cunningham, EdM
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At a Glance

  • There are lots of reasons kids 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. So, when kids read more slowly than other kids their age but do well in other areas, there are many possible reasons. It doesn’t always mean they have trouble with reading, 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 more slowly because they’re thinking about what they’re reading. Kids with active imaginations or who are very curious can 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 things that are too hard.

Reading texts that are too hard can slow kids down. Kids need material at the right reading level for them. Struggling readers may be embarrassed by reading at a lower level. They need to know that everybody has strengths and challenges, and that no one is good at everything.

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.

6. They have trouble staying focused.

Trouble with focus can cause kids to read more slowly. Being easily distracted by noises, sights, or even their own thoughts makes it hard to keep their place when reading, and 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 a hard time processing and understanding 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.

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. Learn more about what can cause trouble with reading.

If you’re concerned about your child’s reading pace, connect with the teacher. Find out if the teacher is noticing the same thing. And ask if there are any strategies you can try at home.

Key Takeaways

  • Kids need to read material that’s at the right reading level for them.

  • Reading slowly doesn’t mean kids can’t become strong readers.

  • Knowing why your child reads slowly can help you decide if your child needs extra support.

About the Author

About the Author

Bob Cunningham, EdM 

serves as executive director of learning development at Understood.

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