Chapter 27: Ready, Aim, Fire!

Chapter 27: Ready, Aim, Fire!

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First, find your target

Have you ever thrown a dart at a dart board? If so, then you know that seeing your target clearly is very important. After all, if you don’t know where you’re aiming that dart, you don’t stand much of a chance of scoring any points.

What do darts and dart boards have to do with helping your child learn to read? Lots! Just as knowing where that bull’s-eye is on the dart board helps you aim your dart accurately, knowing where your child’s problem with reading lies can help you target that problem. Then, working together with your child’s teacher, you can solve it!

Different problems, different solutions

While it may seem at first glance that every struggling reader has the same problem, the truth is that there are many different and complex steps involved in reading. We’ve already discussed some of the seemingly unrelated problems that can affect reading – problems such as needing glasses or having dyslexia. But when it comes to the actual mechanics of reading, a child’s difficulty can stem from many different areas, as well.

Below are some of the most common problems that kids have when they’re learning to read, as outlined by the Reading Rockets website. Read each description, and decide if any of them match the behaviors you have witnessed in your own child.

  1. My child has trouble coming up with rhyming words – such as “cat” and “bat.” My child can’t clap out the number of syllables in her name. My child can’t tell when two words start with the same sound – as in “man” and “muffin.” My child doesn’t like to play word games. If this describes your child, she may have difficulty with phonological awareness.
  2. My child struggles to find the right words to tell me about things that happened during the day. My child uses some words wrong. My child doesn’t seem to know what some simple words mean. My child uses the same few words over and over again when she’s writing. If this sounds like your child, then she may be struggling with her vocabulary.
  3. My child can’t tell me about what she’s just read. My child can’t guess the meaning of a new word by reading it in a sentence. My child can’t tell me why the characters in a story did what they did. My child often doesn’t understand why a joke is funny. If these behaviors describe your child, then she may have a problem with comprehension.
  4. My child often pronounces words wrong. She doesn’t recognize simple words even if she just read them a little while ago. My child can’t sound out words she has never seen before. My child can’t tell me what sound a certain letter makes. My child often guesses at the word she’s trying to read. If this describes your child, she may be struggling with decoding.
  5. When my child reads out loud, it sounds choppy. My child reads at different speeds – sometimes fast and sometimes slow. When she reads out loud, she can’t make different characters in the story sound different. My child reads very slowly. My child often loses her place when she’s reading. If this matches your observations, your child may have a problem with fluency.

Now what?

Once you feel that you’ve identified your child’s problem, it’s time to get her the help she needs. Start by talking to her teacher – or the reading specialist at her school – about what you have observed. The teacher will probably have some very concrete ideas about how to help your child. But don’t stop there! Below is a list of things that you can do at home with your child to help her overcome the specific reading problem you have just identified.  

  • Phonological awareness – Kids who struggle with phonological awareness can benefit from activities that build sound skills. Sing silly rhyming songs with your child, for instance, and ask her questions throughout the day such as, “What’s a word that starts with ‘B’?” Clap out the number of syllables in common words, and encourage her to clap along. Read books to her that are filled with rhymes and word play – books by Dr. Seuss are great for this, and most kids love them!
  • Vocabulary – You can help your child build up her vocabulary by simply talking to her! Use new and interesting words as often as you can. You can also read to your child often, stopping whenever you come to a word that you suspect she doesn’t know and telling her what it means before reading on. Buy your child a dictionary, as well, preferably one with illustrations. Help her look up words she does not know when she comes across them.
  • Comprehension – You can work with your child on comprehension by simply asking her to tell you about a story she is reading – or even one you’ve read to her. Ask her questions such as, “I wonder why the character did that?” or “How do you think the character felt about what happened?” Ask her to summarize each passage you’ve read before moving onto the next one. That way, you will know if she is doesn’t quite understand what’s going on in the story. If that’s the case, then go back and reread that section with her.
  • Decoding – There are lots of ways to help your child strengthen her decoding skills. You can read through alphabet books that emphasize not only the names of the letters but the sounds they make. You can also point out words that simply can’t be sounded out, such as “knight” and “enough.” You can encourage her to write often. When she writes, she will have to think through the many sounds that make up each word.  
  • Fluency – Kids who struggle with fluency need to practice reading out loud. The more reading your child does, the easier it will get for her. Support her while she practices; encouragement goes a long way when a child is faced with a daunting task. Remind her to relax, as well. Frustration can make fluency problems worse. Reading the same book – one she really likes – more than once can also be helpful.


Reading Rockets, Helping Struggling Readers, “Target the Problem,”