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When Your Child Struggles to Read {revisited}

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She tried to dash them away, but I saw.

Hot, salty tears slipping out of my little girl’s round, blue eyes and smudging her freckled cheeks.

“They can do it, Mama.  They can.  And I can’t.”

Her little voice was barely above a whisper and I had to lean in close to catch the haltering words.

“They can do what, Sissy?” I probed gently.

“Read, Mama.”

The words squeezed out along with a few more tears.  “The other girls in Sunday School can read.  And I can’t.”

My hand reached to smooth back a wisp of dirty-blonde hair from my eight-year old’s damp cheeks.

I wished I could just as easily flick away the pain that was breaking my little girl’s heart… and confidence.

Mama-I-can’t had been the mantra from this little girl’s mouth for the past two years.

I can’t read.  

I can’t do it.  

I can’t remember the words.

I can’t… I can’t… I can’t.” 

Unlike her bold and adventurous older sister, this tender one held the fragile strings of her confidence with unsure hands.

She is skilled at so many things.

So many. 

But right now, all she could focus on was the very daunting obstacle of deciphering words.  

After so many long months of struggle, it was beginning to be all I could focus on, as well.

Do you know it’s been four years since I wrote those words? 

Four years of progress and struggle.

Not just with my daughter, but with her younger brother too.

Not long after I originally shared this post on the blog, we discovered that our sweet son struggles with dyslexia, as well.

Another challenge.

Another journey.

Not quite the homeschooling experienced I envision as an optimistic, young mom. 

Dyslexia has been a long, taxing, and sometimes exhausting challenge to work through with two of my sweet kids. 

It’s a battle I haven’t been able to fight for them, yet one I’ve had to learn to help them overcome.

Step by painstakingly slow step.

After six years on this journey, I’m revisiting this post with some new updates. 

First of all, I want to tell you that the timid little girl whose tears tore my heart out six years ago, is now a bright twelve year old.

She’s a confident reader; in fact, she’s developed a beautiful overall confidence that shines from her gentle nature (I’ll tell you more about that in a minute).

She still doesn’t love to read, but she’s slowly developing a congenial relationship with good books and creative words. 

Earlier this year, she started her own blog, EmilysDIY.me, and writes her posts with very little help from me.

We have come a long, long way, Baby!

My sweet boy and I are still in the throes of this journey, but I’m seeing progress. 

I still have to help him a lot with his writing assignments in school, but he’s starting to crack the covers of short chapter books, like these.

He’s excelling in other areas, like math and athletics (more about that later in the post).

The Journey = The Steps

In the past half-dozen years, I’ve cycled through a number of curricula geared for dyslexic kids and struggling readers. 

I can’t whole-heartedly recommend any of them.

What I can do is offer hope (you WILL get through this!), and share with you what our family has done to make it through the journey.

The following are steps our family took to move our two struggling readers through the challenge of dyslexia. 

I’m not sharing a method for success because, honestly, it just isn’t that simple.

More than anything, I want to offer encouragement, share helpful ideas, and cultivate hope for your own journey. 

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I’ve also created a free worksheet that you can download, print, and use during your personal quiet time this week.  If you enjoy journaling and “thinking” on paper, be sure and grab your free download here, and enjoy.


Here are a few steps our family has taken on this journey with struggling readers: 

Major Curriculum Tweak

I started out using A beka curriculum in our homeschooling, and our oldest child did great with the text-book-style learning.

However, by the time our second child was in first grade, I knew we were in for some struggles.

I didn’t immediately realize that we were dealing with dyslexia, but I knew we were up against some reading challenges.

The tried-and-true text book education that I was accustomed to had to go.

I began reading everything I could find about Charlotte Mason and her methods of education, and discovered Karen Andreola’s book,  A Charlotte Mason Companion.

(Mrs. Andreola’s chapter on “reading and phonics” inspired me to switch from focusing on sounding out words to working with sight words.)

My kids’ reading struggles were just one of the many reasons we eventually switched from traditional schooling to My Father’s World, a Charlotte Mason style education.

Discovering Learning Styles

The change was a good one, and my kids seemed to be in their own element with sight words.

However, we soon hit another bump: while they could easily memorize words on flashcards, identifying words in a book or sentence was another story!

We still weren’t gaining any ground when it came to reading.

I struggled daily with overwhelm and frustration. 

What on earth was I missing?

Thankfully, God led me to an important key:

While researching and writing Homeschooling Day by Day, I discovered a missing piece of our puzzle:

Both my daughter and son are auditory learners.

This is quite different from both my oldest daughter and myself; we are both highly visual learners.

This piece of information helped me understand why most of my “methods” for teaching worked beautifully for our oldest daughter, but were getting nowhere with my struggling readers.

I was learning- ever so slowly- that my children were not my clones.  What worked for me simply didn’t work for them.

Audible became an oft used tool in our homeschooling routine, and we still use it daily.

Lots of Reading Aloud

Once I resigned to the fact that my kids could not just sit down, read their lessons and “do” their school work (like other kids their ages were beginning to do), I realized that I was going to have to stay very hands-on until they were reading independently.

By this time, I had two younger boys as well (five kids in all), and my plate was very, very full.

It was a juggling act, but I learned to combine as many subjects as I could (especially history and science), and simply read aloud to everyone all together.

Subjects like Language Arts and Math were tough, since I had to read every single instruction to each child.

My son struggled the most with his dyslexia, and it took us several years to help him work through writing his numbers and letters correctly (instead of upside down and backwards).

So in addition to reading his school work to him, I also had to help him write.

Which is why we took the next step-

Narration and oral answers.

One of the reasons why I loved My Father’s World curriculum was because it focuses a lot on narration, instead of so much “busy work” that requires lots of writing.

This was a life saver for my struggling kiddos, particularly our son.

For the next two years, we did as much school work as we could possibly do with audio books, reading aloud, narration and oral answers.

A Break Through & Reading Therapy

By the time our daughter was ten years old, something “clicked” and she just began to read independently.

To this day, I still don’t know what made reading make sense to her!

One January, after a long holiday break, she picked up her school books and began to read.

This felt like such a relief, because then I could spend more of my energy helping our son.

After the long struggle with our daughter, I realized that maybe it was time to get some outside help.

Our fourth and fifth kids were now,  respectively, in first grade and preschool.

I was exhausted trying to give each child enough help with their school work, and worried that my younger boys might not get enough help since I was so busy trying to help my struggling readers.

Although our oldest daughter did most of her school work independently, I felt like I wasn’t available to help her as much as I needed to either.

I won’t lie: I battled a lot of mom guilt in this season, because I felt stretched so thin by my kids’ needs.

Mostly out of desperation, I began to ask God what our next step needed to be.

Jeremy and I looked into the possibility of hiring a tutor to help out, and about that time I discovered a local University Model school that offered reading therapy.

It ended up being a pricey commitment, and required that I drive my son and daughter to reading classes three times a week.

But it was so worth it!

Both my kids loved their new teacher, and greatly benefitted from having a certified dyslexic therapist working with them throughout the week.

This felt like a huge step, and definitely a huge relief.

Filling the Gaps

My sweet readers are now both in middle school, and my daughter will start junior high next year.

I’ll be honest, that scares me just a bit!

I won’t say that there aren’t some “gaps” in their education because of their years of reading struggles.

But I can see how far they’ve come, how hard we’ve all worked, and I have faith that consistency will keep us moving forward.

I’ve implemented a few things to help “fill the gaps” this year, and so far these are working:

Copy work: my son, especially, struggled with handwriting, so daily practice has been an important focus for him.  (He doesn’t love it, but right now I feel like it’s an important part of his school work.) For several years, we used Write Through the Bible (a curriculum that I just love).  Last year, both my kiddos learned cursive from their reading therapist.  (Dyslexic kids tend to write in cursive easier than print, who knew?!) This year, our family enrolled in a local Classical Conversations community, so I’m using CC’s prescripts handwriting book.

Spelling: this has been my daughter’s nemesis!  We are having to fill some major gaps with spelling, so this year and last year we’ve used Sequential Spelling (books 1 and 2).  I love this spelling curriculum because it’s simple but super thorough.  This year, I started our son in Sequential Spelling book 1, and he’s doing fantastic.

Math drills: what does math have to do with reading?  Well, our struggles with reading have some how bled into mathematics.   (Read, How Dyslexia Affects Math Skills.) My sweet girl has some “gaps” in mathematics this year (mostly comprehension issues), so we are really focusing on daily math drills.  This is our second year to use Math-U-See, and this curriculum has been such a great fit for our family.  My audio-tactile learners have done so well with the video lessons and learning manipulatives that correlate with each new math concept.

Focusing on Strengths

I probably don’t have to tell you, but not being able to read well can wreak havoc on a kid’s self esteem.

As my sweet son and daughter have trudged through several years of academic challenges, it’s been very important for them to feel like they are really good at something.

Last school year, Jeremy and I took the plunge and enrolled our three older kids in Friday electives at our local University Model school.  (We feel so blessed that their electives classes are open to homeschooling families! Thank you, LCCA!)

The joy of watching all three of our “big kids” grow in discipline, maturity, and skill has been worth every penny.

Especially for our kids who didn’t feel so great about themselves academically; they’ve gained a brand new confidence.

Our son is now an orange belt in Karate, and our daughter is thriving in her new-found love: theatre.  She loves to sing and act, and isn’t a bit shy about performing in front of audiences.

In the face of academic challenges and set backs, it’s been just beautiful to see these kids blossom in their God-given gifts.

Final Words of Encouragement for Mamas With a Child Who Struggles to Read

I can’t say that your journey is going to be easy, and I honestly don’t know any short cuts.

I’m still en route myself.

If I could speak some words of grace into your life today, this is what I’d say:

Give yourself permission to lower your expectations.

Maybe your child is behind.

Maybe he or she isn’t reading on level, or reading as well as a sibling or friend.

That’s okay.  

Be an encourager.

Don’t say negative things to your child or about your child.

Don’t make a big deal about the fact that he or she isn’t reading well.

Trust me, your child is already painfully aware of that fact.

Discover your child’s learning style.  

This can be key to unlocking doors of understanding for both you and your child.

I have a chapter on learning styles in Homeschooling Day by Dayor you can read more about it online .

Determine if you’re dealing with learning disabilities.

 I don’t recommend plastering a label on your child’s head just because she confuses her “b’s” and “d’s”, but if reading and other learning issues become ISSUES, consider the possibility that your child may be dealing with something more.

Here’s a helpful link for knowing how and when to get your child tested for dyslexia.

You might also want to check out information on how and when to hire a dyslexia tutor.

Two of my friends, Richele and Sara Elizabeth, talk about homeschooling their special needs kids (Richele’s dyslexic daughter and Sara Elizabeth’s autistic sons) in Homeschooling Day by Day, so check out the ebook if you need encouragement in this area.

Be patient.  

This is the hardest part for me!

I’m a goal-driven over-achiever.

Learning to teach timid little readers- who have a complex about school work- is a bigger challenge than mastering geometry!  (Okay, maybe not. I really stink at math.)

But it’s been hard.

Sometimes, it’s still hard.

There are lots of days when I look back and wonder if I did enough. 

But we are moving forward, and I truly believe that our Heavenly Father has guided us every step of the way.

I know He will guide you just as He has us, so take heart.

You’re not alone!

Here’s to living & loving well, 



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Would you like a free printable to use with today’s post? I love journaling my thoughts during my daily quiet time, so I created a printable worksheet for you to use along with today’s blog post.  You can download it right here Don’t forget to subscribe in order to receive each new post and download via email.  Thank you for reading here!


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  1. Hi Kristy I hope you read old comments. : ) I am in the exact same boat as you. I seem to have hit a wall with my oldest, who’s 7 almost 8. She does ok with sounding out words (she cannot read fluently despite 3 years of sounding out words). But now that we have introduced so many new “rules” (we’re 3/4 the way through MFW 1st grade) like vowels and blends making different sounds she can’t remember when what says what (and neither can I). I was so determined to make her reading phonics based (I was taught sight reading in public school…..I can’t sound out anything) but there are so many words that don’t follow the rules. I’m wondering if I should be doing more sight words. Ahhhhh. Would the Horizons help with this? I am so frustrated (thankfully she doesn’t know this). I feel like everything hinges on her learning to read. Not to mention that her 5 year old sister reads as well as she does but is also having difficultly with all the sounds and blends.

    Thanks for the time you put into your blog. It’s such a blessing! I love your honestly. I feel like I could have written so many of your posts….well the frustrations, not the solutions. : )

    1. Hello, Emily! Yes, I do read comments on “old” posts! 🙂

      I totally relate to what you just shared. My little girl will turn eight in a few weeks, and we still haven’t progressed like I had hoped we would. Like you and your little miss, we’ve been treading water for several years now. Progress has been slow, and sometimes I get this crazy, overwhelming fear that she is NOT going to “get it” and we’ll be stuck here forever!

      I can’t tell you what you need to do, but here’s what I plan to do: take it a day at a time, stay consistent (and patient, which is terribly hard for me), and don’t expect her to stay “on track” with her grade level right now. I’m taking her to the next grade level in MFW in everything BUT reading. For now, we’re going to keep reviewing the basics, and reading, reading, reading (together) until she’s ready to move ahead.

      My daughter does MUCH better with sight reading than with sounding out words, so that’s what we’re doing right now. I say if a child can memorize words easily, then forget the “rules” and sounding out. The point is to READ, so we’re forging a path to get THERE. 🙂

      Thanks so much for commenting, Emily. We are a few weeks out from starting our summer time school work (we break for six weeks in the spring), and I’ve been feeling a bit apprehensive about jumping back into the ringer since the last two years have been a struggle. It feels good to know I’m not the only one out there who gets stumped! We’re in this together. 🙂

  2. Thanks for your honesty with this post, Kristy. I too have a struggling reader. It is a great test to both of us as we are learning how she learns and she diligently plugs along day by day. “Through every great test comes a great testimony.” I’m trusting that to be true for us. God bless you and your reader!


  3. My 8 year old girl learned to read fairly easily. My issue is comprehension! She processes very little of what she reads. This makes all other subjects difficult! I’m trying to be patient but I have to admit that I am at a loss of what to do! I end up doing all her work with her.

  4. I really needed this. As my oldest gets older, it’s become harder to be patient with her reading progress. I’ve tried not to push her too hard, because I believe that just leads to the kind of stress that makes kids give up. But I’ve also tried multiple curricula and tactics to teach it. Sight words for a while (which are hit and miss), then phonics for a while (but she doesn’t like the effort of sounding things out), then back to sight words. We’ve used Explode the Code (which she likes because she enjoys workbooks/worksheets), Funnix Reading, Delightful Reading from Simply Charlotte Mason, and some of the sight words and easy readers from 1+1+1=1.

    Her biggest issue is confidence. I try to always be encouraging and show her the progress she’s making. But she seems to have an all-or-nothing idea of reading. So she constantly says she can’t read because she can’t ready fluently, like I do. But she’s made a little bit of progress with each curriculum we’ve used. She just seems to hit a wall, and then we back up a little and try something different for a while and back and forth. Which seems to slowly get us forward progress, but it seems to bother her. I don’t remember learning to read being difficult for me and she’s older than I was when I learned, so I struggle with my expectations. I think I’ve managed to keep my expectations to myself though. But this post definitely makes me feel better. Sometimes, I really do just need a reminder that not every kid learns to read before kindergarten.

  5. I so needed this. I have a 7 yr old who is still struggling to read. And I get frustrated. Not so much with her but because I can’t figure out why she is having such trouble. She is very out going until we get to school work and she shuts down. Thanks for you post.

  6. My oldest struggles with reading: slightly dyslexic, slightly ADD. I started her out with How to Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. It was pure torture. We both spent the majority of last year in tears and/or frustration. (To give the book credit, though, it worked beautifully for daughter #2.) As soon as we left that book we tried Puddlejumpers. It went much better (I think the shorter stories and colored pictures helped), but she still struggles. Thanks for this encouraging post! I think you hit the nail on the head with lowering the expectations and upping the encouragement. It’s hard not to compare your kids sometimes, but SO important for them to not feel compared. I’m definitely sharing this post and checking out the links.

  7. Thanks for sharing your heart! Wonderful and pracrical tips here!!