Mom-to-Mom Support/My almost 7-year-old is very much behind in reading

My almost 7-year-old is very much behind in reading

Girl unhappy behind in reading


I am a homeschool mother going on 8 years. My first two children have done very well learning to read but my “almost” 7-year-old is very much behind in school. It seems she is almost too immature to learn. Every time we sit down to do school work she gives me such a hard time such as pouting, and gets very frustrated even when we have just begun. She has a hard time memorizing the alphabet and sounds. I’ve become so worried about her learning to read that I thought about putting her in regular school. I thought maybe she would be able to learn better with someone else. But then I thought, I can’t send her off everyday while the others are home with me. Any suggestions?

Dear Mom,

Though the majority of children who begin school (in the public system) are far younger than your daughter, we should not use this as a standard. Even the teachers in the public system will tell you that all children learn at different levels. I like to compare this with other milestones in a child’s development. For example, let’s speak about learning to walk. There is a wide range of normal with regard to this milestone. Some children walk around 1 year of age and others may not walk until they are closer to 18 months of age. The same holds true for reading. While some children seem to pick up on this skill rather quickly, others need more time.

You are very wise to observe the relationship between the ability to read and maturity. Were your daughter working to gain skill in any other area (perhaps physical proficiency like riding a bicycle), it would be easier to let her take her time and gain confidence at her own pace. However, it seems that we homeschooling moms feel very deeply about educational milestones and see these as a direct reflection upon our mothering and our ability to teach. In the most extreme circumstances (a severely learning disabled child who requires specialized care), there may be a need to seek outside help of a professional nature, but the majority of children learn to read well by the time they are 10 years old.

I do not recommend that you wait until your daughter is 10 years old before you actively work with her on this skill, but it is important to remember that reading takes time and maturity. A child must be willing to sit still, listen, and be open to being taught this skill. Some children find the frustration of learning to read more than they want to handle and still others enjoy the challenge. Each child is different.

You have a decided advantage over a teacher in the classroom setting in that you know your child very well, and you know the leverage that works best when you are trying to persuade her to continue in her attempts to work with you despite her irritations. However, the classroom teacher has an advantage over us in that she is more willing to accept the wide range of normal in certain educational milestones. In her confidence with the knowledge that all children learn at a different pace, she is able to relax a bit and let her instruction flow accordingly. The classroom teacher has the advantage of the competition factor within the dynamics of the classroom. Children want to learn to read so that they can keep up with their peer group. They see this skill no differently than learning to ride a bike. They desire to be able to do what their peers are doing and will work to keep up.

Knowing these factors, what can we as parents/teachers do? I would suggest that you offer some of the rewards and such that are so helpful in the classroom setting (stickers on posters, etc). Try teaching her privately and not within earshot of the other children. Let her feel that this time is special and is just for the two of you. It is far better to work effectively for 20 minutes a day than chase her around all day trying to get her to do what you would like. 

With regard to this, set doable goals and work towards those goals. For example, you may say to her that you would like her to read (with you, of course) a certain book by Christmas time. Another important teaching tool that we often overlook is reading aloud to our children. Although most of us do this everyday, we do not see this as a teaching tool. I would highly recommend the book The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. You can find it at the library. This book is a wonderful tool and helps us to understand the important role reading aloud plays in helping children learn to read. Most importantly, however, is your patience with and subsequent confidence in your daughter. Remember to look to the positive, and do not let the negative overshadow the many accomplishments that she makes each day.

The reading material for your daughter should reflect her maturity level and age. In other words, do not use recommended texts just because they are in a curriculum. Go to the library and find those selections that will appeal to her. I tutor children in reading, and I have found this to be the greatest help. So many times, moms will present me with a child that is not reading by age 10 or so and a dry lifeless book that is their reader. My first recommendation is to get a library card for the child and let him pick out the books he would like to read. This does wonders in that it gives the child some control over the frustration he is experiencing with reading. Having a book that suits his tastes encourages him to look forward to the tutorial time. Read along with the child, sounding out the words with her and helping her along as she reads. It is terribly frustrating to be in the midst of a wonderful book and know by the pictures that something lovely is happening but to be unable to unlock the text for want of two or three words. Reading time should be a time of fun, discovery, and joy. Learning to read is so joy-filled for a child. I remember the day that my own daughter (who struggles with dyslexia) was able to read signs from a moving car. She read every sign between Wal-Mart and home, just because she could. I was so thrilled that I stopped and got her one of the 99 cent hamburgers advertised at McDonald’s. Hee, hee.

It is always prudent to speak with your health care provider concerning challenges that you are experiencing with children. In the docility of such an attitude we are thinking only of our children and have their best interests at heart. God rewards this docility with useful information and help. In my case with the daughter I just spoke of, it was her pediatrician who first suspected dyslexia. After having her tested and receiving an accurate diagnosis, I was better able to work with her because I knew what I was working with and was able to use the many helpful hints that the psychologist suggested. In addition, before I knew her challenges, I was more frustrated with myself than proved helpful. When an outside person was able to show me the great many skills that she had, I was so grateful. There could also be challenges of a physical nature with regard to your daughter’s progress. Perhaps she needs reading glasses, etc.

I admire you very much. I know intimately the struggles and challenges that you are traveling. Nothing frustrates a mom more than helplessly working to teach a child that has no interest. Please keep praying and keep your spirits up concerning these challenges. Ask that the dear Jesus show you the path to take with regard to all that you are experiencing. Rest in the Lord’s embrace during those days when the burdens seem too much. Remember that Jesus believes you to be the best parent for your child because He has given this child to you. He will give you the skills necessary to work through the challenges that He alone places before you. Stay focused upon all that your dear daughter can do, and the Lord will show you how this knowledge will serve to help you and your daughter overcome those areas that are a difficulty. Praise God for His love and His great mercy filled with compassion and tenderness. You are a holy witness of the Lord’s great love. You have a heart for your child and are willing to pour yourself out for her. Praise God! Thank you for your lovely letter.

We love You, Lord, for the gift of being mothers. Thank You, Lord, for Your great mercy in giving us each child who is in himself and all that he is created to be a gift of highest magnitude. Thank You, Jesus, for Your tender embrace during those times of frustration. We love You, Lord, and long to see Your face. Amen.

Sending out a prayer,

Rita Munn

About Rita Munn

Rita Munn is a veteran homeschool mother of ten. For many years she was a popular speaker at Catholic homeschooling conferences. Writing has been a passion of hers for as long as she can remember, and she loves to use her writing skills to share her homeschooling experience with other parents. Her “family journal” reflections are featured in CHC’s Educating for Eternity e-newsletter.