Homeschooling A Struggling Reader: The Mother of All Guides

Desperate to figure out how to homeschool your struggling reader? Sick of your child fighting you on all things learning? Can’t remember the last time your kid actually finished a chore you sent him upstairs to complete?

Oh, Friend. If this resonates, you’re in the right place. Trust me Today we’re talking about why kids struggle with reading and how to help.

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Struggling or Resistant Readers- Learning Disability or Not

Understandably, we worry when our children are resistant to books, reading and writing.

Sometimes, our resistant readers are diagnosed with a learning difference such as ADHD, an auditory or language processing disorder such as dyslexia.

Homeschool Moms Can Equip Struggling Readers

Regardless, whether a child has a diagnosis of a learning difference or not, we can all agree on one thing. When our kids struggle with reading, they need help. Period.

With that in mind, I’ve been working on this comprehensive guide for almost two years. It’s a passion of mine as this issue is so much bigger than whether a child can read.

(Check out Reading, Writng & Relationships to hear more on that one.)

For now, though, fellow momma, I do pray this helps you and encourages you. Your kid is going to read. In this with you!


Characteristics of Struggling Readers: Questions To Ask

When a mom asks how to help her struggling reader, I typically return with specific questions to tease out root issues.

  • How old is your child?
  • Can your child rhyme?
  • Is your struggling reader able to hear sounds in isolation and then encode them into a word?
  • Does your child have the ability to decode (sound out) words?
  • Can your child understand what he has read (reading comprehension)?

The answers to these questions help us determine root issues behind struggles with reading.

Early Readers Struggle With Reading & Language

Here’s an unfortunate reality. When kids are early readers, adults (ahem… first time moms… pointing the finger at myself) think,

“JACKPOT! My kid’s so smart!”

And while they may be smart, these children may still end up being struggling readers.

The ability to “decode” (vocalize sounds from a written word) is simply one skill in the reading journey. That reading skill is just one in a long line that ultimately makes a truly literate reader.

What are the basic reading skills?

Reading skills include: Phonological & Phonemic Awareness, Decoding, Fluency, Vocabulary Development and Comprehension.

Understanding the basic elements of reading and language, will help moms best equip struggling readers.

So let’s start by taking a look at reading piece by piece. Then we’ll see how it helps you to see your child’s reading and learning journey differently.

Essential Language Skills Struggling Readers Lack

One of the first components of language and reading includes phonological and phonemic awareness.

  • Phonological awareness refers to the overarching ability to isolate and manipulate sounds from and into words.
  • Phonemes are the units of sound that make up words. When a child starts to recognize that spoken words are composed of individual units of sound, he is developing the skill of phonemic awareness.


What Is Phonemic Awareness?

When a child can hear sounds in isolation, we know he is developing phonemic awareness. Let’s use an example. A child hears a word such as BUG. We want him to identify the three sounds that make up this word.

  • “B” (side note: avoid adding an /-uh/ sound),
  • short U, and
  • hard G
  • “BUG”

And even when present, this is just one small step of reading.

Teaching Your Child How to Rhyme

Assessing Phonemic Awareness Skills

Phonemic awareness is a foundational reading skill that comes BEFORE we attempt formal reading instruction. If your child is struggling to “read,” it is critical that you assess his or her ability to audibly “hear” sounds. Put down the reading curriculum, and let’s figure out what’s going on.

Put Down The Reading Curriculum & Playing… With Sounds

Start with rhyming and word manipulation actvities.

  1. Assess phonemic awareness by say aloud component sounds of simple CVC words. Is your child able to make sense of the word(s)?
    • C-A-T
    • D-O-G
  2. Can your child rhyme?
    • Cat, bat, sat, rat
    • Star, far, bar, car

The Importance Of Rhyming For Struggling Or Early Readers

Again, many parents and educators mistakenly believe that children automatically develop the ability to rhyme. When your kid resists reading, don’t assume anything.

If your child can’t rhyme or hear sounds in isolation, this is an indication that there is a gap in phonemic awareness.

This skill must be developed in order for a child to read well and with understanding.


Struggling Readers Often Need PRIVATE Speech & Language Support

If your child struggles to “hear” isolated sounds and isn’t “getting it” with practice, it’s time to get an eval by a Speech and Language Pathologist.

Here’s the caveat. You want a PRIVATE SLP evaluation (outside the public school system).

I say this because sadly, many SLPs within the public school system are handcuffed to limited government guidelines.

What they diagnose, the school system has to pay for. Get it?

(This is not a criticism of the SLPs in the school system. They are simply limited by constraints of government and red-tape.)

How Do You Help A Struggling Reader? Understand Phonics

A child sees the letter sequence D-O-G and then produces the sounds “D”- “short O”- “hard G.” This is part of the process of DECODING (specifically, segmenting). These processes are involved in PHONICS instruction.

Once he pieces together the sounds in his mind, he says the word DOG. This is referred to as ENCODING.

When seeking help for your struggling reader, it is important to assess your student’s phonics skills.

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Letters, Letter Combos & Associated Sounds

Children who struggle with reading often need extra support with basic spelling or phonics rules. For example, in the English language, the letter A is represented by four possible sounds:

  • the short a sound as in CAT,
  • the long a sound as in CAKE and
  • the “ah” sound as in ALL.
  • the “uh” sound as in ABOVE

All letters in the English language have sounds associated with them. Some have one specific sound and others have more than one sound.

Ever heard that English doesn’t make any sense?

While many believe that the English language doesn’t make any sense, this is not true. Some letter combinations, called digraphs, appear confusing to many readers (including adults.) But once explicitly taught, digraph patterns are easy to recognize.

What are digraphs?

Digraphs are specific letter combinations that together represent a completely unique sound. Some examples of digraphs are:

  • CH- (3 sounds) Church, Christ, Charlotte
  • SH- (1 sound) Show
  • TH- (2 sounds) The, bath

An Orton-Gilligham approach to teaching reading and spelling is a solid way to explicitly teach these rules in a way that makes sense to struggling readers.

Two excellent Orton-Gillingham based homeschool reading programs are All About Reading and Check out this article for more suggestions to equip your child with a solid foundation in reading.

homeschool reading comprehension help, language processing

Phonics Is A Complex Cognitive Process

Going back to our DOG example, the student will walk through the following steps as he decodes the word:

  • Determines that the 3 letter symbols represent 3 separate sounds
  • Creates the sounds individually
  • After saying the individual sounds out loud, he puts the sounds together in his own mind.
  • Finally, he blends them together so as to clearly say the word DOG

Note: Just because a child says the word “dog” does not mean that the child is visualizing an image of a dog.


What is Reading Fluency?

As decoding becomes second-nature, the next goal is for kids to develop reading fluency. Reading fluency is the ability to read with proper speed, inflection and accuracy.

Using our DOG example:

  • Eventually, the student sees the three letter symbols, D-O-G, and immediately knows and verbalizes the correct word. He verbalizes the word aloud effortlessly and moves on to the next letter sequence with speed and confidence.

The ability to read with speed, proper inflection, confidence and comprehension is what is termed “FLUENCY.”

Language & Auditory Processing Disorders A BIG Reading Problem

If you have a struggling reader, it’s critical to look at foundational oral and auditory language skills. Friend, deficits in these essential skills show up in many areas of life and can have devastating consequences if not addressed.

My own child has an auditory processing disorder diagnosis. APD is when auditory stimuli (sounds) enter the ear, but the brain receives a distorted message.

It’s as though the sound has a traffic accident on the journey through the ear canal on its way to the brain.

diagram of auditory processing disorder
Auditory Processing Disorder Illustration: From Reading Writing & Relationships Homeschool Parent Workshop


Symptoms of Language Processing Gaps 

So what do language processing gaps look like? And why am I so crazy about this issue?

Well, take a look at this list of symptoms and perhaps you’ll understand why I’m stuck on this. These kids (and adults):

  • Resist reading at all costs,
  • Reads a book but then completely “forgets” what he/she read,
  • Cries at the thought of school work,
  • Struggles with word problems in math,
  • Consistently responds with, “I don’t know,” or “What?” when asked questions,
  • Uses demonstrative and indefinite pronouns (non-specific words) such as: “That thing over there,” (to describe a pencil on a desk),
  • Can’t follow multi-step directions,
  • And more.

Check out the Reading Writing & Relationships Homeschool Parent Workshop to learn more.

How To Help A Struggling Reader With Comprehension?

As you seek help for your struggling reader, you’ll begin to tease out where your child’s reading weakness lies.

Even when successful with earlier stages of reading, many children start to show reading comprehension deficits around 3rd grade. It is not surprising that this skill would lag behind the other reading skills.

Skills Involved In Reading Comprehension

The skills a student needs to strengthen reading comprehension include the following:

  1. The ability to know how to pronounce a word correctly using relatively new decoding skills,
  2. Once the child has prounced the word, he must be able to accurately interpret that specific word.
  3. Once properly spoken aloud, your student must move to the next word,
  4. The child to pull from his often limited vocabulary in order to understand.
  5. He then has to maintain the previous words in his mind (working memory) in order to process them as a whole.

Here’s the kicker.

Even if your child has always been “highly verbal”, they can still have receptive language deficits which show up as reading comprehension problems.


If you have a child who frequently forgets what they’ve read, this could be an indication of a language processing delay.

Auditory & Language Processing Impacts More Than Reading

Reading is not a simple process by a long shot. Language processing deficits and gaps in oral and auditory language skills are a HUGE issue for children (and adults).

Most parents, educators, and administrators don’t understand the magnitude of these issues. Instead of seeking root auditory and language issues, many of these kids have been labeled:

  • LAZY
  • Not LIVING UP TO THEIR POTENTIAL
  • Slow
  • Much worse…

These kids often struggle terribly with a sense of shame, feelings of never being enough as well as social issues.

Language Processing Issues Must Be Addressed

If your child demonstrates any combination of these issues, know this. There is likely a gap in language development.

Telling these kids to work harder or pay attention does no one any good and often leads to shame.

Momma Friend, no matter what anyone has told you, you can equip your child.


Reading Comprehension Problems In 3rd Grade

Once kids hit 3rd grade, we see a rise in “sudden” reading comprehension issues. (Hint, they were there the whole time.)

The ability to visualize what is being read is a HUGE cause of reading comprehension problems. Just because a child can verbalize sounds from text on a page does not mean that they are seeing a story in their mind (visualizing).

Reading Comprehension: Is Visualizing The Missing Piece?

Being able to visualize what is being read is a skill that many children do not have.

Again, many language processing skills are missing in kids with dyslexia, autism or ADHD.

Many of these skills need to be explicitly taught.

I cannot more highly recommend Janine Toole’s Visualization Skills For Reading Comprehension. Her entire collection of learning materials are FREE on Kindle Unlimited.


Seek The RIGHT Diagnosis For Struggling Readers

If you are concerned about your child’s auditory or language skills, seek support from a PRIVATE speech and language pathologist or an audiologist with a speciality in Central Auditory Processing disorders.

Between a private SLP and the right audiologist, underlying language issues can be addressed.

Check out this excellent presentation by Gail Richard, PhD and the former President of American Speech & Language Hearing Association.

Homeschooling To Equip Struggling Readers To Thrive

One of the greatest blessings is living in a country where we can homeschool our children. For tips for the new homeschooling mom, click here.

Homeschooling affords parents the ability to seek out the best possible resources and support to meet the needs of the individual learner.

Don’t panic, Momma! We’re in this together. Comment below with your questions about how to help your struggling reader.

Check out this series of RELATED POSTS:

  1. Orton-Gillingham Homeschool Reading & Spelling Curriculum That Works
  2. Best Homeschool Language Arts Curriculum For Learning Differences
  3. Strategies For Struggling Readers

Reading, Writing & Relationships: Parent Training

And if you’re looking to take back the power in your child’s academic, emotional and long-term success, I’ve created an in-depth training that you don’t want to miss.

I presented Reading, Writing & Relationships at the 2020 NCHE Summit For Teaching Exceptional Children and now it’s available to you.

Access the training today, and then circle back to me with questions. We’re in this together, Friend!

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