When Reading is Hard

Author Kate Di Camillo said, “Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty. It should be offered to them as a precious gift.” I couldn’t agree more. But the sad truth is that millions of children view reading as a chore (and avoid it as much as possible) because of learning difficulties like dyslexia. In fact, countless children can’t conceive of a world in which they could ever be a reader, let alone a good reader who actually runs toward books rather than away from them.

A child sounds out words in a book with the help of a teacher.

March is Reading Awareness Month, and is therefore the perfect time to consider why we should all be concerned about the reading crisis taking place in every school, neighborhood, and community. And it’s time to get curious about what can be done differently to help raise the next generation of readers.

As I’ve discussed before (See blog: Helping All Kids Learn to Read) children have a small window of time during which they learn to read, after which they must be able to read well with good comprehension in order to continue to learn. When that window isn’t optimized due to an unsuspected learning challenge, the child undergoes tremendous stress and anxiety, falling farther and farther behind their peers, and often develops a negative self-concept that can seem almost impossible to redirect.

A pile of books take wing like butterflies and fly outdoors into a blue sky through a broken hole in a brick wall.

Ellen Langer, author of The Power of Mindful Learning, states, “When faced with something that hasn’t been done before, people frequently express the belief that it can’t be done. All progress, of course, depends on questioning that belief.” This belief certainly occurs in a struggling reader: I can’t read now, so therefore I never can.

One of psychology’s most effective tools to change this mindset is called reframing. We can learn to use this tool at any age. When facing a challenge, rather than distract ourselves with screen time, video games, junk food, or other unwholesome excesses, we can ask ourselves (or our child): Can anything good come from this experience? What lessons can I/you learn from this that will help in the future? What advantages come with this challenge? What opportunities come with this challenge? These techniques can make all the difference; Langer writes, “The rigid mindsets we hold about ourselves affect our performance.” The same holds true even in childhood, perhaps even more so, since beliefs formed during our tender years often haunt our subconscious mind and limit our ability to tap into our potential.

A mother reads to two young children at night before bedtime.

Langer’s earlier book Mindfulness shares her research that simply describing an activity as “play” rather than “work” results in a higher level of enjoyment. Could this fact be used to help struggling readers? Absolutely! Communicating differently about reading is an important part of supporting struggling readers. (See blog: Helping the At-Risk Reader by Fostering the Love of Story)

But how to encourage a struggling reader to persevere? We can gain a clue from another set of wise words. Rollo May, author of The Courage to Create wrote, “Courage is not the opposite of despair. We shall often be faced with despair as indeed every sensitive person has been…it is, rather the capacity to move ahead in spite of despair.” So it’s important to acknowledge the despair and other difficult emotion associated with the struggle to read, and to teach the child that every time they practice, they are showing courage, and that we are proud of them for that courage and effort!

We can also support them by believing in their ability to learn to read well with comprehension. Communicate that belief to them. Read with them daily, at any age (!), to help them see that great stories are teaching us the most important thing: how to live. It will be time well-spent.

Cardboard Box Adventures Picture Books are great for shared reading and can help parents establish a strong pre-literacy foundation for their children. Check out the new CBA 2018/2019 Full Color Catalog for a full list of award-winning picture books, chapter books, and resources for parents and educators. e