Third and fourth grades are considered the best time to work with children who are showing signs of reading difficulty. The other great advantage of this age is that 8 and 9-year-old children are sometimes still willing to read picture books. Without a doubt, reading and rereading of easy picture-book text is a great activity to help a reluctant reader in third and fourth grades. Easy-to-read chapter books, available from many publishers, are also suitable for building reading skills.
The key to improved reading skills is to read, reread and reread again some favourite stories – not to the point of memorization – but so the decoding skills become practiced and automatic. Remember that good young readers, once they pick a favourite book, often reread that book 300 times before moving on. Reluctant readers, alas, rarely have a favourite book.
Most school districts begin testing for learning support programs in third grade. If your child is selected, special help and materials will become available for him in school. As well, the general classroom program is often modified for learning-support kids. All of this is usually explained by a school district psychometrist and the school's special education and classroom teachers. If it hasn't been explained to you, ask again.
At home, all of the read-aloud practices we mentioned in 'Early Reluctant Readers' remain true. Since 70% of reluctant readers are boys, it is especially important for dad to get involved with the nightly reading time. Young boys especially are looking for male reading models – even if the reading is a hunting equipment catalog, the newspaper sports pages or Road and Track. One recent experiment in England showed significant improvement in boy reading when families were simply allowed to choose a free magazine subscription.
Anxious parents sometimes try desperate measures for quick reading improvement. These will almost always lead to short-term gains but long-term frustration. Avoid gimmicks like coloured overlays or quick-fixes that you might see advertised on television. Do read together the various books that are sent home from school. They will usually be at the right reading level for your child.
Our HIP Junior novels are well suited to grade 3-4 reluctant readers. They are short, with engaging characters, compelling stories and picture support for the text. Most important, HIP Junior novels are readability controlled to a grade 2.5 level. This level of readability ensures that almost all reluctant readers can achieve success in independent reading of these books. If your child is tackling books with higher readability ranges, then you'll have to provide greater assistance with words and concepts as he reads.