Recently, a mom shared with me that her daughter was showing signs of being a “reluctant reader.” As an avid reader herself, the mom had difficulty understanding why her child wasn’t embracing books and stories. She was worried that there could be underlying causes that might be hindering reading progress. She asked for suggestions to help her daughter become a better reader. I told her that in evaluating reluctant readers, I always suggest looking into physical causes first. I suggest this because:
- Young children have no basis of comparison. In other words, they think that everyone sees and hears the way they do.
- They don’t yet possess the language to describe what might be hindering seeing or hearing properly.
- They don’t even know they have a problem!
Most adults think that reading glasses are for older people. But beginning readers often need these corrective lenses, sometimes just for short periods of time. I know this is true because this happened to my own children.
Also, if a young child is prone to ear infections, that fluid build-up can distort hearing sounds needed to decode words. Once, a doctor described this fluid build-up to me as if “hearing with your ears underwater in a bathtub.”
So if you are concerned that your child may be a reluctant reader, my first advice would be:
- Have his eyes tested by an optometrist who specializes in children’s vision.
- Have his ears tested by a pediatric audiologist.
During my 25 years of teaching 1st grade, this advice helped many children and their families. Some students did indeed need glasses, which helped them see clearly and become good readers. Others needed to have fluid removed from their ears, which helped their phonics, fluency, and listening skills. This advice sometimes helped entire families, as parents had siblings checked as well.
So before you panic and imagine deeper underlying causes for reading reluctance, rule out the physical first!