Reading Strategies That Grow with Your Child

How children with attention deficit disorder (ADHD) or learning disabilities like dyslexia can improve reading skills and achieve success at school. 

By Susan Schwartz

Early Years

For grades 1st through 3rd, the object of most school reading assignments is to build reading skills. You can help with the necessary practice and offer support to your child with attention deficit disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, or other learning disabilities.

  • Preview reading materials. Direct your child’s attention to the cover, the title of the book, and the illustrations. Teach her to use these visual clues as she reads. Ask, “What do you think the book is about?” This will help a child with ADHD put the words into context.
  • Read together. Have your child with ADHD read some of the book by himself, and then take turns reading aloud and listening to each other. If he stumbles on a word, say it for him, rather than insist that he struggle to decode it.If he wants to sound out the word, let him. If he needs correction, say something like, “The word is house, but your guessing home makes sense,” or “The word is house, but your guessing horse shows that you know the ‘h’ and the ‘s’ sounds.” In other words, compliment his strategy, rather than demean his ability.
  • Review the ideas. Every few pages, ask pertinent questions: “Who is this story mainly about? What happened first? What happened next? How do you think this story will end?” These help kids put all the pieces together when reading.
  • Play word games. Dedicate each day or each week to mastering a specific phoneme, or word sound. For instance, find 10 things in your house that contain the “kuh” sound — his coat, backpack, clock, or kitten. Serve carrots, cucumbers, and milk for dinner. Find the kings and jacks in a pack of cards. Make it fun.
  • Know your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Some children with ADHD or learning disabilities need help decoding written words. Others find reading words easy but struggle to understand the meaning of what they read. Ask your child’s teacher where he needs help. If it’s decoding, incorporate letter-sound activities into your child’s day. If content is the problem, help your child recognize story lines. Watching short films or reading comic books might help him to understand the concepts of plot, characters, and sequence.
  • Build vocabulary. Talk with your child about anything that interests him, and use a mature vocabulary. Read to him for pleasure, from books that are beyond his capability but within his interest. The richer the verbal environment, the less likely he will be stumped by unfamiliar words in required reading.
  • Get help. Consider having your child work with a mentor, coach, or learning specialist to boost his reading skills.

Grades Three and Up

By grade three – and through graduate school – the object of academic reading moves from learning to read to reading to learn. Most reading assignments are followed by writing assignments, or tests, to assess what the reader has learned. Remind your child to review the purpose of each reading assignment before she begins to read. Then share these strategies for fiction and non-fiction reading.

Tips for Reading Fiction

There are two reasons that teachers assign fiction. One is to help students understand genre, to recognize science fiction or a type of poetry, for instance. The other is to write or talk about what a student has read, by analyzing a poem or producing a book report.

  • Know the assignment. Be sure your child understands what kind of written or oral task will follow a particular reading assignment, so that she can focus her reading to that end. For example, if she must write a book report, identify the type of report she has to write. Ask, “Will your report be a retelling of the story, or will you be analyzing the characters?” Suggest that she keep notes that will help her compose her report. If the purpose of the assignment is to compare two poems, remind her to look for common themes as she reads.
  • Work as you go. Don’t leave the gathering of information until the end of a long reading assignment. Before he reads a work of fiction, for example, have your child write WHO or MC (main character), WHERE/WHEN (setting), P (problem), and S (solution) on sticky notes. As your child reads, have him list on each note the pages that identify the introduction of a main character, the setting, a conflict or problem the character faces, and the solution to the conflict. Then ask him, “What did you read that taught you something new about the main character or the problem in the story?

What did another character say or do that gave you information or insight about the main character? How is the setting or time that the story takes place like our hometown? Is there a character you have read about in the past who faced the same challenges as this main character?”

  • Use alternate formats. Allow your child to follow along with books on tape or let him substitute alternate chapters from a novel with CliffsNotes or other abridged material, rather than to struggle with every reading assignment.

Tips for Reading Non-fiction

Science and social studies textbooks require different reading strategies than those used for fiction. As your child begins a chapter or section of a textbook, point out the title and any boldfaced subheadings. These let him know what the main topics and main ideas will be. Then ask him to form a question that the subsequent paragraphs might answer. Prepare a mindset for reading each section. After reading each section, have your child summarize some of the details he learned that might support the main ideas. He will then start to answer the questions he formulated.

If the assignment is to read a chapter in a textbook and to answer questions at the end of the chapter or on a worksheet, have her read the questions first, so that she knows what to look for as she reads.

Take Time to Plan

Many students underestimate how much time and effort are needed for a particular task. Break assignments into manageable pieces. If your child has a book report due each month, she should mark in her planner how much she needs to read each night, when she should write an outline, and when the first draft is due. A 200-page book isn’t daunting if she sees that she needs to read only 20 pages a night for 10 nights.

Even daily reading assignments can be broken into smaller steps: First, scan the chapter, then write down the questions at the end of the chapter. Leave space to write the answers, then read the chapter, and answer the homework questions as you go. If reading homework is a challenge for your child, suggest that he alternate reading assignments with math worksheets or other non-reading work.