Try these simple strategies to make reading a lifelong habit for your child.
Read aloud with your child. Find a comfortable spot where the two of you can read together every day for about 30 minutes. Take turns reading chapters from a book for pleasure, or read books that are above her reading level but are about things that interest her.
Encourage all reading. Comic books and magazinescan provide a good reading experience. As long as they are age-appropriate, don't discourage his interest, but keep a stock of high-quality books in your home so he has other options easily available.
Keep a dictionary handy. Together, look up words she doesn't know and invest in a dictionary she can use on her own.
Use informative books. Encourage reading for information. If he has a science report, help him find books for his research rather than only going to the Web. While the Internet is an easy resource, teach him that books are often more detailed.
Discuss the books. Ask your child what an author's main theme is, how characters are alike or different, what she likes or dislikes about the story, and how it compares to other books she's read. Share your own thoughts.
Expect plateaus. Following some big leaps in his progress, your child may stay at the same reading level for several months. Keep encouraging him and offer praise.
Set a good example. Read for your own pleasure and information every day at home, in a room without television.
During these years, learning disabilities become most apparent. Youngsters must absorb new vocabulary words at the same time that academic demands increase. "The emphasis in school switches from learning to read to reading to learn," says Sue Korn, a New York City reading specialist. Kids who are struggling can fall way behind. Ask yourself:
Does your child have uneven skills — performing well in some areas, struggling in others? Success in one area shows he has the intelligence and maturity to read, but he might have a glitch that prevents him from recognizing word sounds and linking them to letters.
Can she decode grade — level texts as well as write simple, coherent sentences? At this age, a child should be reading on her own, as well as writing about what she has read — using accurate spelling. If her progress in acquiring these basic skills is slow, she lacks strategies for reading new words, or she stumbles when confronted with multi-syllable words, you need to find out why.
Does he mispronounce long, unfamiliar words? Speech should be fluent. A child who hesitates often, peppering his speech with "ums" and pauses, or struggles to retrieve words or respond when asked a question, is sending important clues.
Does she rely heavily on memorization instead of learning new skills? By third grade, your child should be able to summarize the meaning of a new paragraph she just read, as well as predict what will happen next in the story.
Is his handwriting messy, even though he can type rapidly on a keyboard? Misshapen, wobbling handwriting can be a sign that your child is not hearing the sounds of a word correctly, and therefore is unable to write them down. Does he hide his work from you, or not hand it in to the teacher, because he thinks it's too messy? Does he seem to know much more than he is able to put down on paper?
Does she avoid reading for pleasure? And when she does, does she find it exhausting and laborious?
What to Do Now?
Schedule a conference with your child's teacher, the school support staff, and your pediatrician to get their perspectives. Together, you can decide if your child should beformally evaluated for learning disabilities or if other steps can be taken first — perhaps moving him to a smaller class, switching teaching styles, or scheduling one-on-one tutoring or time in the resource room.
Don't be shy about asking questions: Is your child's progress within the normal range? Why is he having all this trouble? Should you consult another specialist (a neurologist, a speech-and-language expert)? Trust your gut. If you're not getting the answers you need, find someone who can give them to you. Parent support groups, child psychologists or educational consultants can offer guidance and direction.
Meanwhile, at home:
Help your child flourish: She needs to know that you love her no matter what, so put her weaknesses into perspective for her. Empathize with her frustration (remind her of some of your own school difficulties) and reassure her that you're confident she will learn to deal with it.
Focus on what he does right and well: Does he love to paint or play baseball? Make sure he has many opportunities to pursue and succeed in those activities and let him overhear you tell Grandma how well he played in the last game. Prominently display his trophies or ribbons.
Start a folder of all letters, e-mails, and material related to your child's education. Include school reports as well as medical exams.
Collect samples of your child's schoolwork that illustrate her strengths as well as her weaknesses.
Keep a diary of your observations about your child's difficulties in and out of school.
Help him set up a work area at home as well as the materials he needs to study.
Show her how to organize her backpack and how to use a plan book for assignments.
Coordinate with teachers so you can practice at home the skills he learns at school.