For years, I’ve had pangs of guilt for failing my child, failing to rescue him from his struggle to read…you know the ravaging mum guilt, that grips you when you know something isn’t as it should be and you look to yourself for fault first:
Meet Hugo, my clever, determined tri-lingual, soon to be quad-lingual, 8-year-old. He was lucky that he started school when he was almost 5 years old, a year later than most of his peers in England; he needed the extra time to mature and be ready for school, to sit still, be ready for reading and writing. In fact, reading is still something we have been battling with since he started school.
At the age of 8, Hugo is at a reading age of an average 5- 6-year-old child in UK ;
Hugo is a reluctant reader.
He still mixes b, d, p and q, he muddles up m, n and w sometimes too.
Till recently, he used to write his numbers back to front, upside down too, but has mastered these correctly now.
Is my child dyslexic?
Despite reading difficulty, Hugo is rather quick with maths, mental arithmetic and has excellent pattern recognition. He is not a dumb child; in fact, he has been described as bright, intelligent and quick thinking by his teachers.
Recognising that he is such a slow reader, despite him being clever, almost all his teachers have recommended more practice reading.
However, evening reading has often been a battle. A fight that, more often than not, I have not engaged in. I have let him choose to read with me or not, as I did not relish him going to bed on an argument and resenting reading even more and resenting me for forcing him to read.
Hugo, being a logic and reason-driven child, can understand very well when we often explain that reading is necessary for all jobs; reading is a skill that is ESSENTIAL to master to progress in school and later in life. He gets it!
He understands why it is important and he’s constantly coming up with imaginative theoretical inventions for tech to help him read. The latest being a special Skylander character that scans and reads out loud any text.
We’ve got to the point where he is starting to lag behind in school work because he is very slow and not confident in reading.
Some of the functional manifestations of his reading suggest he is dyslexic, but so far no teacher has suggested it, even though I have repeatedly raised the issue.
Is being multi-lingual the reason for his reading difficulties?
Looking back, I have often thought that maybe it was his multilingual upbringing that is to blame.
There is certainly evidence* that supports the theory that children, especially boys, with a multilingual background are slower at starting to talk, read and write.
* One study suggests that the need to manage several language systems in the bilingual mind has an impact on children’s language skills- Read more
On the other hand, the gift he has by being able to understand and speak 3 different languages, that he didn’t have to consciously learn, is invaluable.
Hugo was slightly delayed in starting to talk. His vocabulary isn’t huge, but his comprehension across a wide vocabulary in all three languages is excellent.
There seems to be no link between being multi-lingual and being dyslexic.
If anything, research points to bilingual children being diagnosed later as dyslexia as a result of bias due to their abilities in any single language- Read more
In fact, dyslexic children have an opportunity to choose to learn to read and write in the easiest, perhaps most phonic, language they know. For us this would’ve been Hungarian (a very complex language, however one that is written exactly as it is spoken; it is completely phonic), but I chose not to pursue this route, as it wasn’t Hugo’s schooling language.
Did we start reading too late? Should I have steered his interest toward letters and number earlier?
Hugo’s loved books from a very early age. Yet he didn’t show any interest to decipher letters for himself, despite my efforts, before he went to school.
I know he wasn’t ready to start reading before he had to at school.
When he did start at school, aged 5, he was a child who has struggled with English being taught in through phonetics, instead of through syllables. It defies his way of thinking, his logic.
Circumstances have meant I haven’t had the chance to consistently support him with an alternative method, based on syllables.
Now, I feel, he has matured a lot and is ready to buckle down and crack this vital skill.
Why is now, aged 8 years old, the right time to push reading?
Hugo is 8 years old. There is the stick and the carrot: the stick is the school, the carrot is his motivators.
School is just going to get more and more demanding and he will slip behind, if we delay a focussed effort to get him reading. He must get on with it!
The most important factor, for us on this journey, however, is that Hugo has, in the past year, matured to a point where he is truly motivated by rewards. Whereas before, he was happy to get gold stars, but the promise of reward didn’t give motivation to power on through difficulty. He now gets excited about the rewards and will push through to get them . We have 2 forms of reward- pocket money and a reading reward chart.
Hugo saves money fastidiously, working towards saving for his next treat. (It’s the next Skylanders game at the moment, or sweets for his Saturday Sweetie Jar.)
He values the reward points he gets from us that are giving him pre-agreed treats at each milestone.
Our Action Plan
We started on this path just over a month ago. In order to get him reading better and faster we are doing 3 things:
1) Assessing whether his difficulty with reading may stem from dyslexia (which sadly is only looked at in most school systems at a later age, by which the child is discouraged, labelled as lazy, mediocre and so on.) We have asked the school to have him officially assessed for dyslexia by a specialist speech and language therapist.
2) We are building in reading practice into his daily routine through the means he loves – games and going digital- and he is reading with either me or Dadonthebrink at least 3 nights a week.
3) Besides the reward of progressing and his confidence growing in reading which we can see even in the last weeks, Hugo has a specific reading reward chart which gives him perks like playing on the Xbox, choosing our family film to watch on film night, choosing what we have for dinner and where we go for an outing.
Daily routine of reading practice
In the past this has been the main stumbling block: Hugo would resist sitting down with me to read his homework books brought home. This would escalate into an argument whether I used a carrot or a stick.
I can understand why I’m not the best teacher- I’m a Capricorn, straight-talking, fact-based and strict. Weaving in fun and games into learning doesn’t come naturally for me.
We racked our brains and together with Hugo came up with a plan to give him a chance to practice reading every day.
The When: Agree a practice schedule together
Firstly, we agreed that he can still stay in after school club, where he gets to play with his friends, but needs to come home earlier, so he’s not too tired to get on with homework and reading. Playing and running around is important for Hugo. He needs that to allow him to concentrate afterwards.
The How: Gamifying learning by going digital
Secondly, we discussed how he likes to read and he said he’d like to do more on the computer. Years ago, we discovered Reading Eggs and both Angelina and Hugo have used it sporadically. They’ve really liked the program, but didn’t get on with using the mouse or my touchpad. We let the effort lapse.
Now, I’ve built Reading Eggs into our daily routine, especially as I discovered it works really well on my iPad mini.
Hugo dons headphones and sits next to me at the kitchen table or on the sofa- me working on my laptop, him on the iPad. I glimpse over to him once in a while and can jump in if I sense he is frustrated by something.
After 30 minutes or so of practice, he can go to play either with his toys or spend another 20 minutes in the “playroom” in Reading Eggs.
Then we head off to sports clubs.
Making reading a bit special
On the evenings that we don’t have clubs, Dadonthebrink and I make an effort to sneak away from the bedtime chaos with Hugo for him to read us his school reading book.
So far this routine is helping Hugo grow in reading confidence, even if he is frustrated by getting letters and sounds mixed up.
I’ll keep you updated on our progress.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear your experiences of how to motivate and work with your little reluctant reader.
READ OUR UPDATE:
A year on…
For slightly older kids, Jen has written about this