A Homeschooling Mom's Guide to Struggling Readers

I'd like to introduce to you this photo. I posted this photo as an end-of-the-year photo that showed most of the books my 6th grader read through the school year. It was our first full year using Ambleside Online's reading lists.

There may be some feelings that come up around seeing this which were similar to my feelings many years ago.

Or, finally, you may be thinking as I did just a few short years ago...HELP! Yes, I feel envious but I want to get there with my child and I just am so discouraged and unsure of what to do! This post is for you. Keep reading sweet mama!

Or, maybe you are thinking, must be nice. I don't like this feeling of jealousy so I'm just going to close this window. (Hey, we can relate to this thought if we are all honest with ourselves!)

Or, finally, you may be thinking like I did just a few short years ago

...HELP! Yes, I feel envious but I want to get there with my child and I just am so discouraged and unsure of what to do! This post is for you. Keep reading sweet mama!

This is just a testimony of my journey because, yes, this is a journey! There is no quick fix to developing "I hate books" readers into "I'll read that, mom, but I will also read this because it's interesting to me."

When my oldest son was in 2nd grade we pulled him home. I realized I was the only one that could disciple him best. I was talked to almost weekly about his behavior in Kindergarten. And, in first grade, he certainly wasn't student-of-the-month after crumpling his paper and throwing it across the room. And while these hard things were humbling, it was also confirming. I love my kids and want to be there in those moments when they very obviously needed immediate discipleship. But I was away 7 hours a day them and didn't find out things sometimes until days later.

He wasn't a reader. I fell into the trap of thinking, "well it's not his natural gift so I should just ease up and give up." I realized I was selling him short and letting him dictate his path at that point. I became increasingly convicted, through gentle reminders of friends and my own heart, that reading really is good and can be a goal to aim for which required work.

I used some practical tips (below) to help shape him toward becoming a young boy who values books and reading as much as I had grown into doing so as well. It was not immediate. It took a while. But it was all intentional.


First step: Check your heart. Why do you want them to love books? Why do you want to encourage them to read? Are you for your child or are you for your own badge of accomplishment? I find that when my pride gets in the way I find it easier to get frustrated with them and to miss those moments to love on them and truly encourage them. When my pride is high, my standards are high and then everyone is frustrated.

In order to build a team, both sides need to be on the same page. Yes, there is an aspect of obedience for the mother-child. But there is also an aspect that this child is a person and we need to help them cultivate the heart for loving books.

My personal notes for this step: When I check my heart, I realize I want them to learn how to love books because it will set them up to learn anything they want in the future. Most importantly, I want them to be able to read and digest God's word for their whole life and enjoy it.

Second Step: Remove the obstacles. Some or all...it's up to you. What is getting in the way with spending time in books? Are TV shows just more exciting? Are we too busy to read to our children? Have I given up, claiming my child "just isn't a reader"?

My personal notes: I say those questions because I can claim each obstacle as my own. Yes, my son rather would play with LEGO's and play the iPad and watch TV. Wouldn't I, too? Everything that is good for us is a discipline that takes time to cultivate and encourage like abiding with the Lord, making time for sweet friends, reading books for myself, working out...

Third Step: Promote books and reading as an example caught as well as taught. Read to yourself in front of them. Read to them. Maybe that means your "quiet reading time" is actually around the kids. They are watching you. Trust me, they will start to be interested in what you are doing. Invite them into your experience as well.

Now, here are several practical steps that helped us along the journey. I can now say that a personal combination of these things helped develop and grow my kids to where they are now and where they will go.

Read to them. Aim for a super small goal to begin with. We can all spend 10 less minutes on social media and read to the kids instead without expectations. Read Aloud Revival has a lot of resources and encouragement for this area.

Start off early and often. Yes, I taught my oldest son to read (and all of them) using Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons (my tattered copy I just finished with my 5-year-old and will be using it on my 3-year-old next!)...but I needed to follow up with consistent steps to read to them, with them, and often.

Leave books everywhere. I have baskets I have left around the house next to common sitting areas. It's easy and they will naturally plop down, be bored, but not want to get up. So, they grab a picture book (yes, picture books are amazing for all ages!) and read away. Check out my book basket page for more recommendations.

Build your library. Similar to above, let's fill our shelves with great books and promote them in a central part of the house or schoolroom.

Strategic promotion. Listen to their excitement. Get excited with them when you get a book in the mail. "Hey! I got this thinking of you! Here you go." or, "I know I couldn't answer all your questions about tornados the other day so I found this at the library for you."

Be matter of fact. Introduce books as a part of your curriculum without flinching. For history this year you are going to read this book. Don't give up on it. Start with a few pages and grow to a chapter at a time. We did this. I saw the "we don't like to read" and thought, ooh! A challenge! That is what brought us to Ambleside Online. It was tough at first but they just didn't get media until their school was done. Eventually, through child training, they did it.

Don't grow weary in doing good. Reading is a good thing. Don't grow weary, pray for wisdom, and you shall reap. And, they will reap the benefit of reading their whole lives.

Accountability. Make a reading club with their favorite friends. When kids see others reading well, sometimes that encourages them to do the same. Be careful not to project comparison onto your child and remind them when it comes up (because it will) that they are all at different levels and that is ok. But it also is ok to try and work harder to develop a goal you can make together with your child.

Goals and rewards. I am ALL FOR rewarding them. I actually pay my child for every chapter book they complete. I also help guide them in goal-making which is another skill they benefit from learning. Eventually, a potty-training child will not need M&M's to go number two. In the same way, the habit of reading will not need rewards because they will find the reward in the book.

Don't give up. Make those goals solid and don't give up. Shift and change rewards if needed. Loosen the goal if it was too hard. But don't give up with them. When they see the accomplishment of the stack of books at the end of the year, it builds confidence in them and encourages them to do it again.

NOTE: I am not addressing reading disabilities on purpose because the obstacle you face is very different than mine. If you have a concern, and you know best as the parent, please reach out to professionals. Love you all!

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I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:1-2

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