BLOG > Why Kids Struggle to Read and How You Can Help

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Most children, nearly 100% of children, can learn rudimentary speech at a very early age. Yet, when it comes to reading and writing, it’s a very different story. Why is that? Our brains are hard-wired for speech, but not for literacy, so learning to read and write means cracking the code that links what at first looks like meaningless squiggles on a page to the familiar spoken word. The printed word proves to be quite a challenge for many children, that is why 66% of all students fail to reach grade proficient reading skills by 4th grade.

And without ideal reading instruction, it gets worse: many adults now in prison fall within this group. A Study of the Texas Prison System revealed that 80% of inmates are functionally illiterate, and 48% of those incarcerated are dyslexic, in contrast with 20% of the general population. This situation is not unique to just one state but occurs with alarming frequency throughout the world.

Why are so many kids still falling through the educational cracks when accessible information is widely available? Indeed, there are decades worth of proven and successful reading instruction methods out there? One big reason is that in many schools, little has changed about how children are taught to read. In addition, the education system itself fails to provide training in explicit, multi-sensory literacy instruction, teachers go without. It isn’t taught to them in college or graduate schools of education or funded and offered in professional, on-the-job training. So, if dedicated teachers want the training, they must pay their own tuition. This is the case even though the US government spends $13 billion per year on professional learning within the education system.

The reality of the situation is that the methods used to teach reading haven’t kept pace with the research and the diversity of learning differences. While many students will become adequate readers regardless of the method of instruction, over 50% of students require explicit, multi-sensory reading instruction.

Briefly, multisensory reading instruction uses visual, kinesthetic (movement), tactile (touch), and auditory pathways of instruction to embrace all learning styles. “It is based upon the idea that children should not be taught to memorize word lists for a spelling test but be given critical thinking skills to think about language. We are teaching to our students’ intellect. This is not about rote memorization or kill and drill.”

Peggy Price, an OG Fellow at the Stern Center for Language and Learning continues “explicit instruction means the teacher never assumes a student will know how to read or write a word without being taught the structure of the word and how this fits into the greater framework of the English language. There is sequential order to what is taught based on what is more common and predictable in the English language to less common and predictable. Multisensory literacy refers to the following acronym: VAKT. V- visual, A- auditory, K- kinesthetic, and T-tactile. We often think of reading as a visual task, but simultaneously utilizing multiple sensory modalities strengthens letter-correspondence, memory, and one’s ability to read, spell, and write. Initially developed by Dr. Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham.”

Teachers that have training in methods offered by The Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators, Wilson Language Training, the International Multisensory Structured Language Education Council, (IMSLEC), and the Academic Language Therapy Association (ALTA) have the skills to teach all students how to read. Isn’t it time to make sure that not a single precious student falls through the educational cracks, missing their opportunity to learn to read and write?

How can you help? If you’re a parent, begin early by reading with your child. The younger you can begin, the better. Set an example: if your child sees you enjoy reading, they will be encouraged to read as well. By looking for opportunities to read to your child more you thereby strengthen their love of reading. When we are patient with them, helping them sound out words, asking questions about the story to discern what they’ve understood, we show faith in them as people. We demonstrate that we believe they can be good readers and students. Sometimes we need other people to believe in us first, before we can learn to believe in our own potential.

If your child is already school-aged, be involved. Make sure your child is receiving the type of reading instruction he or she needs to match their style of learning. Sometimes this will prove to be frustrating and difficult, but persevere: there’s nothing more important!

In conclusion, I offer the following quote by Katherine Patterson, “It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations—something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own.”

Check out Boon Philanthropy for how you can help support training for teachers in explicit, multisensory literacy instruction. Boon’s mission is to raise funds and make grants every year to explicit, multisensory literacy training in perpetuity (forever) because the need is always going to be there.

Don M. Winn is an award-winning children’s author and dyslexia advocate. He has written numerous articles about dyslexia and helping struggling readers. His blog archives are available at