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Struggling readers: Common reading problems

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Here are some of the common reading problems kids encounter as they learn to read. 


Struggling readers: Common reading problems

Learning to read is such a milestone.

But it’s the kind of milestone that doesn’t happen overnight.

It’s very easy to find yourself feeling frustrated with your child during the process.

We had moments when M was starting to learn to read, where she’d read a word on one page, then turn the page and it’s like it’s a word she’s never seen before.

So yes, it can be frustrating.

But just like getting frustrated with weaning and potty training … it really is the worst thing you can do.

Instead, it’s worth trying to understand the more about common ways kids can struggle with reading.

This is what helped me from reaching boiling point on several after school evenings.

To give you a head start I’ve listed eight of the most common reading issues that kids have most difficultly with.

I’ve then added some of the simple things we’ve found successful for tackling each issue.

Some of the problems can also be indicators of more fundamental problems, but it seems most kids will actually go through them at different stages of learning to read.

Plus the confusing bit for parents is that kids may struggle with certain reading problems at a time when they seem comfortable with other much more complicated activities.


Common Reading Problems

1. Confusing mirror letters

My daughter can decode lots of words, recognise sight words and read simple sentences reasonably fluently but still often muddles up “b” and “d” and “p” and “q” or all four of them.

In the past she also often muddled “n” and “u”, “w” and “m” and “f” and “t”.

When she’s decoding a word it produces baffling results as she’ll try to use picture prompts and other context but will think the word begins with completely the wrong letter.

Ongoing mirror letter confusion is a big sign of dyslexia but nearly all kids go through it and lots of simple games focused on these letters will help.


2. Reading right to left

As adults we take reading left to right totally for granted.

But kids need lots of practice to do it instinctively. Moving your finger left to right when either you or they are reading, helps alot. But don’t be surprised if your child reads or writes words AND numbers back to front.


3. Mixing up small sight words

It can be pretty confusing when your child can easily recognise 3 or 4 syllable words but struggles with “it”, “in” and “is” or later on:

  • “the”, “there”, “them”, “they”, “this”
  • “where”, “what”, “when”, “why”, “who”

I did find this so frustrating but am learning … slowly … to be patient and not to snap “but you know that” when my daughter draws a blank.

Lots of sight word games and very gentle prompting have helped.


4. Guessing

Most children now learn to read with phonics.

But … from what I can work out … most kids, like my daughter, will still use picture context, logic and the first letter or sound to guess the rest. It can drive you crazy!!

Again, trying hard not to snap is key. And continually helping them to sound it out, even if that means you doing it for them.

Random guessing can be another sign of more fundamental reading problems but from my experience most kids will gradually sound out more & more as they recognise how effective it is.

Just take a deep breath and hang on in there! Although in some cases it can be a sign of intelligent laziness that needs its own support.


5. Not hearing sounds in words

A fundamental part of reading is being able to break up words into sounds.

But most children seem to struggle with sound recognition.

I naively thought as soon as my daughter could hear the sounds at the beginning of words she would be able to hear them throughout the word.

Not at all!

It took lots more practice before she could hear first the end sounds and finally the vowels which to me seemed so easy.

English is complicated by irregular vowel sounds but early readers will even struggle with hearing the difference between the basic vowels.

Spending time on sound games helps. And lots of patience.


6. Not recognising word families

Recognising common “chunks” in word families … e.g. cat, mat, hat, sat, fat … helps to build fluency but children can get stuck on letter recognition.

This can be frustrating for them as having to sound out every single letter really slows down reading & understanding.

We try and play lots and lots of silly rhyming games when we’re chatting throughout the day and also play lots of variations on rhyming picture and word matching games.


7. Confused by punctuation

Throwing in even simple punctuation can totally fox a child.

Words my daughter can read individually or even as a punctuation free sentence, suddenly become a complete jumble to her with all those tiny little marks thrown in.

My daughter finds this really frustrating so I do try print out for her some little home made books with nothing more than full stops so she can enjoy the pleasure of reading a whole book fluently.


8. Just not wanting to try

My poor mum tried to teach me to read for a year before I would try at all.

And even kids who seem keen and ready to read have times when they just don’t want to read full stop or want you to do it for them or don’t want to sound out or don’t want to get things wrong.

My mum’s advice now … from many years as a play leader … is don’t push it.

Yes try to have fun with activities that build reading skills every day if you can but don’t think this has to mean sitting down with a book.


We absolutely love the Reading Eggs app which has loads of fun games for practicing sight words and sounding out.

The price tag can look a bit hefty but it’s less than a 70p a week and has made an enormous difference to my daughter’s reading.

I really hope you’ve found this post useful. If you have, don’t forget to sign up to receive regular updates from Mums Make Lists direct to your email inbox.

You might also find our post on Keeping Kids Reading Through School Holidays useful.


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Ideas for parents to help struggling readers learn to read. Here are eight of the most common issues young children have when they are learning to read, along with simple tips on how to help them overcome the issues. #reading #learningisfun #learning #education #learnenglish #parenthack #parenting #parenting101 #parentingtips #strugglingtoread #learntoread

Brooke Bock

Wednesday 9th of July 2014

hanks so much for putting tis out there...Teaching reading is a joy and a challenge...The same can be said for learning to read as well....Just popping by from Whimsy Wednesdays....



Friday 20th of June 2014

Wonderful tips! Teaching kids to read is so fulfilling (and not always easy!)

Alice Emma Thompson

Thursday 10th of July 2014

It's such a mixture isn't it Pam of amazing fulfilment and total frustration!

An Almost Unschooling Mom

Wednesday 18th of June 2014

These are great tips and encouragement!