Mom-to-Mom Support/Getting past needing to sound out every word when reading

Getting past needing to sound out every word when reading

Mother and daughter reading together on couch


My daughter was 6 in November and we are doing kindergarten this year. She is having a lot of trouble getting past needing to sound out every word when she reads. First, it took her till past her 6th birthday to be able to remember all the letter names and sounds. No matter how much we worked on it, she just could not retain the info from day to day. Finally she learned all the sounds. She learned to blend fairly easily so she can sound out almost any word that is a short vowel with regular consonant sounds (bed, jump, smell).

She is working on the first level of books in Little Stories for Little Folks. She can read each story, but it is a struggle since she sounds out each and every word every time. We can read the same story each day for a week and she still needs to sound out each word. She just does not remember them. We have done all the word family cards and she can read each of those words too, but again still needs to sound them out—even the rhyming words.

She also complains of getting a sick tummy while reading. We had her eyes checked and she got glasses with a weak prescription, but that has not helped the sick tummy. Because of her trouble remembering letter names and sounds and her difficulty remembering words from day to day (needing to sound out) as well as her trouble rhyming (she could not rhyme till age 6 and still has trouble sometimes) and the sick tummy, I am concerned that she might be mildly dyslexic. But she can identify beginning and ending sounds and she can spell simple 3-4 letter words which are both supposed to be hard for dyslexics, and we have no family history of dyslexia or reading trouble (my 9-year-old has read the Lord of the Rings trilogy and comprehended it).

Do you have any recommendations for helping her get to the point of reading without sounding out every word (especially the ones she has read over and over). Do you think I should have her tested for dyslexia? How can I adapt Little Stories to help her read better?

Dear Parent,

First, you have done everything right, and have laid a good foundation as evidenced by the fact that your daughter’s word attack skills are good.  You are doing a good job of teaching, and it sounds as if she is doing her best to learn.  Let’s see if we can figure out some ways to help.

Does she have difficulty remembering what she has learned in any other subject?  That might be one clue, that she simply has difficulty with retention.  If this is the case, all the practice that you are doing has given her the multiple exposures that she seems to need to learn a new concept.

The fact that she can sound the words out says that she does understand the mechanics, and that is good!  Some children struggle with sounding out, so the fact that she grasps that is a good sign.  And it is not at all uncommon for children to take time to make the transition between sounding out and recognizing that they no longer need to do that.

The sick tummy makes me think that she may be starting to stress over her struggles, and perhaps lacks confidence as well?

Some ideas: drop the books for a time, and approach reading as a game to give her some lower-stress reading practice.  If she has reached Book 6 in Little Stories for Little Folks, focus on the Silly Willy Sentences in the Little Stories for Little Folks packet.  Make very, very simple sentences such as “Ann pets cat.”  After she sounds out Ann, immediately say, “Good!  A-n-n:  Ann!” Then have her repeat the sounding out followed immediately by saying the word as a whole. (Model this for her, and do the exercise along with her.) Then progress to sounding out “pets,” and saying with her, “pets.”  Then put the two words together:  “Ann pets.”  Follow this with sounding out the last word, and immediately say the whole sentence together.  Praise her for reading the words well.  Then change the first word only.  Say, “You did a good job!  Now let’s read this one together:  Dad pets cat.'”  Follow the same procedure, pointing out that it’s the same sentence, with a different beginning.  When you’ve run out of beginning words, the ending word might be changed.

Do this exercise for perhaps ten minutes, praise her, and then stop.  Later in the day, select about six cards that she could use to make funny sentences and give them to her. (“Nan bit bug,” “Nan bit rug,” etc.) Tell her that you thought she might like to play with these by herself, since she sounds words out so well, and might have fun making some funny sentences by herself.  Make one sentence for her—perhaps “Nan bit bug”—and then leave her for a short period of time.  From a distance, monitor to see if she is able to have some success.  After about ten minutes, retrieve the cards.  If she has made some funny sentences, laugh with her and praise her.  If she seems defeated, cheerfully say, “It’s time to put the cards away and do… (something that she enjoys).”

Repeat the exercises until her word recognition skills, with the clues of beginning consonants and word families, help her make the leap.

For variety, you might also wish to write three-word sentences using words that she has a better chance of recognizing.  In addition, you might make a vertical list of words from the same word family—cat, rat, hat, bat; fan, man, pan—and have her draw a picture of the word to the right of the word.  These visual clues might help her make the leap, as well.  (You wouldn’t normally want her to look at illustrations and then guess at words; sounding out is the goal, followed by word recognition.  But in this case, she sounds the words out already and may just need the tiny bit of encouragement that the cue would add.)

Finally, when she seems to be catching on and is more relaxed about reading, make four-word sentences with Silly Willy, adding the prepositions.  As she finishes reading each word, have her repeat the previous word while pointing to it, and link the words together.  E.g., Tom sat on dog: “Tom. Tom sat. Tom sat on. Tom sat on dog.”

As far as testing for dyslexia, the problem suggests to me a simple delay, but testing is certainly always an option.

With the good foundation that you have laid, armed with the word attack skills that she has mastered, and given a bit more time and a temporarily different format, she should make the transition.

May God bless and guide your homeschooling years.

Praying for you and for your daughter,

Nancy Nicholson

About Nancy Nicholson

Nancy Nicholson is one of the founding authors of Catholic Heritage Curricula. Equipped with an abundance of God-given talent, a major in Secondary Education–English, and years of experience homeschooling her own children, she has written over thirty educational titles in the “For Little Folks” series, starting with Little Stories for Little Folks. Her unique ability to develop programs and workbooks that “fit” both advanced and struggling students is due to her experience raising children of different ability levels and learning styles: two of her children are developmentally challenged, while another went on to graduate from Harvard and is now a college professor.