Community Magazine

Why is Learning to Read Difficult for Some Children?

By Jean Campbell

Yesterday’s “Can Do” Street kids blog introduces the idea that some children may have difficulties with reading and that there is nothing wrong with getting extra help.

The blog post plants the seed that needing help with reading is nothing to be ashamed of..that we all need help in one thing or another during our lives.

For many children developing reading skills  is a natural process. For other children,  reading is a continuous struggle. According to the National Institutes of Health, one out of every ten children has significant problems with reading skills.

An article on readingrockets.org, states that:

  • Children may struggle with reading for a variety of reasons. Good readers are phonemically aware, understand the alphabetic principle, apply these skills in a rapid and fluent manner, possess strong vocabularies and syntactical and grammatical skills, and relate reading to their own experiences.
  • Learning to read begins far before children enter formal schooling. Children who have stimulating literacy experiences from birth onward have an edge in vocabulary development, in understanding the goals of reading, and in developing an awareness of print and literacy concepts.
  • reading
     Children who are most at risk for reading failure enter kindergarten and the elementary grades without these early experiences. Frequently, many poor readers have not consistently engaged in the language play that develops an awareness of sound structure and language patterns. They have limited exposure to bedtime and lap time reading.

  • Children raised in poverty, those with limited proficiency in English, those from homes where the parents’ reading levels and practices are low, and those with speech, language, and hearing disabilities are at increased risk of reading failure.

The article goes on to say that:

  • Many children with robust oral language experience, average to above average intelligence, and frequent early interactions with literacy activities also have difficulties learning to read. Why?
  • Programmatic longitudinal research, including research supported by  the national Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD), clearly indicates that deficits in the development of phoneme awareness skills not only predict difficulties learning to read, but they also have a negative effect on reading acquisition. Whereas phoneme awareness is necessary for adequate reading development, it is not sufficient. Children must also develop phonics concepts and apply these skills fluently in text.
  •  Substantial research supports the importance of phoneme awareness, phonics, and the development of speed and automaticity in reading. Unfortunately, we know less about how children develop reading comprehension strategies and semantic and syntactic knowledge. Given that some children with well developed decoding and word- recognition abilities have difficulties understanding what they read, more research in reading comprehension is crucial.
  • Reading is a language-based activity. Reading does not develop naturally, and for many children, specific decoding, word recognition, and reading comprehension skills must be taught directly and systematically.
  •  Preschool children benefit significantly from being read to.
  • Research evidence suggests that educators can foster reading development by providing kindergarten children with instruction that develops print concepts, familiarity with the purposes of reading and writing, age-appropriate vocabulary and language comprehension skills, and familiarity with the language structure.
  • Research evidence shows that many children in the 1st and 2nd grades and beyond will require explicit instruction to develop the necessary phoneme awareness, phonics, spelling, and reading comprehension skills. But for these children, this will not be sufficient.
  • For youngsters having learning difficulties with reading, each of these foundational skills should be taught and integrated into textual reading formats to ensure sufficient levels of fluency, automaticity, and understanding.


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