Skip to main content

4 things parents need to know about 'reading barriers' and how to overcome them

Overcome children's reading barriers
Learning to read is a complex task and it's common for children to come up against "reading barriers". Parent and teacher Alex Quigley, author of Closing the Reading Gap, suggests ways you can help your child overcome difficulties at home.

Some shared reading experiences leave a lasting impression upon us all. Whether it is reading with mum at bedtime, or sitting on the carpet listening to your favourite primary teacher share a story, these experiences linger with us.

One such experience for me was reading with my son, Noah, as he completed his Year 2 homework. The difficult text he faced – a tale about windmills set in Holland – tripped him up repeatedly. Drawing upon my teaching experience, I was able to help him out and coax him through the challenge. I was left wondering whether other well-meaning, supportive parents would have been able to do the same.

What do parents need to know about reading barriers?

Though parents do not need the expertise of a teacher to help with reading at home, every parent can benefit from understanding reading barriers so they can support their child. Given reading is so complex, there can be multiple barriers to becoming a successful reader.

Here are four key reading barriers and suggestions for how you can help your child overcome them.

Reading barrier: dyslexia

The most well-known reading difficulty is dyslexia. It describes how children can struggle to match letters to sounds with accuracy. It's estimated that up to 1 in every 10 people in the UK has some degree of dyslexia, with 4% of children affected in a more severe way.

Parents of dyslexic children need close support from school and teaching professionals, but many children can struggle matching letters and sounds as a more mild barrier.

For most younger children, they need to be taught the special code that matches letters with sounds, the alphabetic code, typically with an approach called phonics.

How you can help at home:
Seek out opportunities to notice sounds in words: spotting rhymes, spelling patterns (could, would, should), breaking down words into individual sounds and blending them together are all phonological skills you can practise with your child. More structured phonics skills learning is also available if you want to support your child's reading at home in the same way as they would be taught in school.

Reading barrier: faltering fluency

Reading fluency is the ability to read in a way that sounds ‘natural’ – just like talking. You can spot when you child isn’t fluent, as they trip over words and lack a smoothness or expression in their voice.

How you can help at home:
Read to your child, aloud – something which they will continue to benefit from even after they have learned to read for themselves.

If you're looking for some great books to read out loud, we recommend some fantastic stories:

Being a role model of an exciting, fluent reader can be great fun (adopt different voices or even accents for different characters, if you're brave enough!). As part of a shared reading session, take it in turns to read so your child gets the chance to practise their own fluent delivery.

Reading barrier: comprehension

The crucial goal of all reading is to take the sounds of the page and to make meaning. Reading comprehension is when you understand a narrative, or follow some instructions, with relative ease so that it makes sense.

Each time a child reads a tricky text they are trying to build a sense of the world of the text. For many children – as many as 8% of children are labelled ‘poor comprehenders’ – they can struggle to follow a plot or answer more sophisticated questions about a character in a story.

How you can help at home:
A great way to enhance the comprehension of a text is to ask lots of good questions. Before you read with your child, ask them what they can remember about the book; after you read, prompt them to predict what is going to happen next and why.

Reading barrier: lack of motivation

It is common for children who find reading a challenge to quickly lose motivation to read independently. A vicious circle ensues; every time a reading opportunity is missed, they may fall a little bit behind their peers and soon enough, they don’t believe they are a good reader. A depressing, self-fulfilling prophecy can occur.

How you can help at home:
If your child isn’t motivated to read, then they may struggle to find a book of interest and be reluctant to read anything at all.

Talk with your child and offer them ‘bounded choice’ – that is to say, picking from two or three books. This offers some choice, but support in the selection too.

Don't worry about the "quality" of what they are interested in reading: comics, magazines, online information, non-fiction silly facts compediums, reading series (like Beast Quest or Rainbow Magic), football books or cricket books or rugby booksthe same books again and again... reading is reading and should be celebrated. 

It's hugely important to be a reading role model yourself, too – whether it's online news, "comfort" fiction or a best-seller you've been looking forward to, the more your children see you reading, the more they will see it as a normal (and hugely enjoyable!) part of everyday life. Happy reading!

Alex Quigley is a parent and former teacher. He now works for an educational charity, whilst writing books for teachers. His latest book is Closing the Reading Gap (£16.99, Routledge). You can find him on Twitter at @huntingenglish

Give your child a headstart

Give your child a headstart

  • FREE articles & expert information
  • FREE resources & activities
  • FREE homework help
By proceeding you agree to our terms and conditions. For information on how we use your data, see our privacy policy. You will receive emails from us but can opt out at any time.