Reading Impasse
June 12, 2011 3:55 AM   Subscribe

How do I get my 6-year-old daughter to read?

My daughter loves books and being read to but when it comes to reading aloud to her mum and I she just clams up.

My daughter is 6 and is in year 1 of primary school here in the UK. At school they started teaching phonics in reception year (pre-year 1) and they have weekly reading-to-teacher sessions in class. Ever since the learning to read process began it has been an uphill struggle - her fingers would go straight in her mouth and she'd whisper the words; now she says she's too "nervous" to read aloud and burst into tears at any slight pressure.

We know she can read because she does so with an after school reading tutor and will read things out spontaneously to us. However, when we attempt to get her to read a book aloud, out come the tears.

We've tried reward charts; getting her to choose which book she wants to read; encouragement for any effort made and now the tutor. I fear she's falling behind but I also fear turning reading into a painful experience for her. What should I do?
posted by Brian Lux to Human Relations (63 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If she can and does read then she's reading right? Let it be, and just have a home that encourages and prioritises reading. Sunday morning, everyone has a lazy breakfast and hangs out with their books, etc.
posted by Iteki at 4:06 AM on June 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Let it go. If you know she can read, I'm not sure how she'd be falling behind.

Is it that she can't be assessed as being able to read? That is the school's failure, not your daughter's. I'd advocate for her on that front.

She might spontaneosly become more comfortable with it in a week, a year, who knows?
posted by vitabellosi at 4:13 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Libraries here have "volunteer dogs"-- reading to pets is a far less stressful thing for kids. Got any animals around?
posted by instamatic at 4:15 AM on June 12, 2011 [16 favorites]

In kindergarten I refused to take a placement test that I could have easily passed because "kindergarteners can't read." I COULD read, but I just, for some perverse reason, chose not to.

The next year I took the test, aced it, and was sent to an advanced placement class. It's gonna be ok. Kids are weird.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:17 AM on June 12, 2011

She is behind the rest of her class in reading. We want to help her improve and build her confidence by reading with her at home. This is what we are encouraged to do by her teachers and her reading tutor.
posted by Brian Lux at 4:17 AM on June 12, 2011

I was your daughter when I was little. My parents knew I knew how to read, but when it came time to actually show it in front of others I would clam up. My mother says they got me to start reading out loud to myself by making it a point to casually read the morning paper, magazine articles, etc., out loud to themselves. I think I began practicing on my own, and then reading to stuffed animals, pets, my baby brother, and finally felt comfortable reading to adults.

Perhaps you could try leading by example, encouraging your daughter to read to non-threatening listeners, and giving her positive reinforcement when she does read for you. The last thing you want is for her to dread reading or to consider it a chore.

Btw, I went on to be a voracious reader in primary school. Don't worry so much--your daughter might be reacting to the perceived pressure you and teachers are putting on her.
posted by gumtree at 4:36 AM on June 12, 2011 [10 favorites]

I hated reading out loud as a kid (but loved to read.) my teacher set me up with a tape recorder that I could read to, in private, instead of doing so in front of her and my peers. Eventually, I was able to start reading out loud with people around.

Another idea: could you and your wife take turns reading out loud when there's some other activity going on, like preparing dinner? After a few nights, it can be your daughter's turn.

It might not be the reading itself she's uncomfortable with, but the attention.
posted by punchtothehead at 4:41 AM on June 12, 2011 [10 favorites]

I sympathise with the kid; this sounds like the sort of thing I'd have done. When I was around that age and for the next few years I flat-out refused to write stories at school. I still hate making up stories to this day, and I think it's because I read so much as a kid that I knew I could never measure up to the quality of the stories I read, so I didn't want to even try. It upset and embarrassed me. Perhaps your daughter loves the way she is read to and feels like she can't measure up when she tries, so she gets upset and embarrassed at feeling like she's failing.

Maybe you can both read the same book, and then talk about it afterwards? Test her comprehension without putting pressure on her to perform. Is she generally introverted/sensitive? Does she like to perform in other ways?
posted by corvine at 4:41 AM on June 12, 2011

I work as an editor/writer for a reading intervention program (for kids ages 10-18) who are far behind in reading skills. You are smart to be working on this now. Of course you want to do it as kind a way as possible, but you are right that reading skills are super-important and foundational for most learning. Most of the ideas below are about trying to get her to read in less formal settings. It sounds like she senses that she's being evaluated, and that makes her nervous. Maybe you've tried some of these before, but in any case:

--When reading together on a couch or bed, try to make it as low-pressure as possible. Pick a book that she loves, and you read a page (or paragraph) then she reads a page. Maybe she wants to trade just reading sentences. Maybe she can "help" you read as well, and correct you when you get a word wrong (on purpose).
--Go grocery shopping with her, and give her the list, and ask her to read it to you in the car to "remind" you what you need, and then at the store she can tell you what you are still missing as you fill the cart.
--If you drive, ask her to read to you in the car. There's something nicely low-pressure about reading to a parent who isn't even looking at you.
--Some kids enjoy recording themselves reading. Set up the computer so that it records her speaking; demonstrate to her how to record herself. At first, just do silly things like songs, fart noises, etc. She might warm up to reading to herself if she gets to hear herself as well.
--Do you have any friends with younger children? Maybe she would enjoy reading to a 2 or 3 year old who thinks her reading skills are awesome. I've watched my 7-year-old niece read to my 3-year-old daughter, and I imagine that sort of hero-worship is good for the ego.
posted by tk at 4:42 AM on June 12, 2011 [12 favorites]

When I was learning to read, my Mum read the books aloud to me while pointing at the words. How about just trying to do that for a bit with a mix of books that are at and slightly above her current reading level? You could play "spot the mistake", where you accidentally mispronounce CAT as RHINOCEROUS every now and then and award stars for each mistake spotted. Then you can be pretty certain she is reading along, even if you can't always hear it.

I love the suggestion above of reading to stuffed animals.
posted by emilyw at 4:43 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is it possible that other children have made fun of her reading in class? Kids can be mean!

Have you tried taking turns reading? I spend a lot of time with a little girl who is almost six and we often alternate pages, she reads one, then I do. This works well with books she knows well and sometimes we change the words to silly ones. She likes to snuggle while we read and it probably adds to her self-confidence to have her dad and/or me beside her. She likes to read in bed, even in the middle of the day because it's more cozy. She also loves to read to her little neighbor who is just two. He sits enthralled!

Have you tried board games, or card games that require a bit of reading?

Will she have the summer off from school? I hope so and suspect you will see her blossoming. Six is one of those ages in which they will go through big transformations.
posted by mareli at 4:44 AM on June 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

She is behind the rest of her class in reading. We want to help her improve and build her confidence by reading with her at home. This is what we are encouraged to do by her teachers and her reading tutor.

Yes, but evidently the task of reading aloud to her mum clashes with something in her "not meeting expectations anxiety" makeup, so this is clearly not the appropriate approach.

Unless some of the experts identifies a clear reason for why she is "behind," the best way for you to encourage her to read is to make her own the experience. How? By supplying books she can read and that are interesting to her, and by letting her do it at leisure, without supervision. For some people, reading books is a very private, even intimate experience, and there is nothing that suggests that this would be any different for children, especially it seems, for shy or insecure children. Your response reads like the teachers and tutor advise quite an intrusive policy that primarily suits their idea of what should be achieved when, but not the personality of your child. Release the pressure, and trust your intuition.
posted by Namlit at 4:44 AM on June 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

Thanks for your answers so far.

Regarding the soft approaches like getting her to identify individual words while reading or reading alternating sentences - she smells a rat immediately and refuses to participate.

I haven't tried the tape recorder approach but it i something that I've considered. Might give it a try.

The 'enjoy reading to her and leave her to find her own way' feels good to me - She genuinely loves being read to. She loves Roald Dahl books like Mathilda, The Witches etc and picture books too. And she loves writing words in little books she's made too. After reading to her at bedtime I leave her with a few books which she claims to read to herself.

But...I feel this nagging doubt that she might be avoiding reading aloud because maybe she is being made fun of at school or has a Learning Problem. And of course I want to assess this. But then her claims of being too nervous too read aloud might well come from a feeling of being assessed.
posted by Brian Lux at 5:03 AM on June 12, 2011

I also came in to suggest a dog. This is a super-successful strategy for reluctant readers who know how, but don't want to. Dogs are non-judgmental about your reading and just like to spend time with you. If you can borrow a dog from a friend (or visit a friend's dog, or whatever), who is pretty mellow and likes to hang with people, then she gets to sit and cuddle with the dog as long as she's reading the dog.

A baby may also work, if she can be the big kid reading baby books to the baby.

My eternal strategy -- cookies. Reluctant readers (and math-doers) become surprisingly motivated when the end result is cookies. So let her help in the kitchen, where she reads the steps of the recipe. (Even better, where she basically does the whole thing herself, which takes off even more pressure of reading to her co-cook. But she may be too young for that.)

Also, what sorts of things does she like? I knew a boy who was a slow, late, reluctant reader, who kept refusing to read for school because of fear of failure and then just decided reading was dumb in defense ... and then he discovered video game message boards and walkthroughs. He was pretty young (maybe 8?) but he would read those VORACIOUSLY, spending ages deciphering the hard words. In a year or so he was up to grade level. Now reads constantly. She may be more motivated if she's not reading FOR you or FOR her teacher, but because it's something she is interested in and wants to know more about. But, again, you'd have to leave her pretty strictly alone with it -- buy her the book about her hobby she want, or print off the stuff from the computer, and then leave her to it. She has to not feel like you really WANT her to do it, but that SHE is the one who wants it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:03 AM on June 12, 2011

Another suggestion of having her read to a dog. The NY Public Library has an ongoing program like this, maybe they have something similar in your location?
posted by Mchelly at 5:32 AM on June 12, 2011

We don't have a dog or a nearby reading dog programme.
posted by Brian Lux at 5:39 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are there any favorite books that she likes to have read to her and that she already knows really well? What would she do if you read that book to her, but read it painfully slowly, as if you were struggling to get through it? Might she get impatient and start telling you what the words were? That would give you something to praise -- "Oh, I think you're right! Thank you for helping me with that!"
posted by jon1270 at 5:39 AM on June 12, 2011

I hated reading aloud as a kid and still hate it as an adult. Part of this was a hatred for phonics. Keep giving her books to take to bed with her - get books that are new to her and then ask her about them if you're concerned that she's not actually reading. Also, she likely senses your concerns which is making this even harder.

Find a way to let this go for a while so she can relax about it and then try again with one of the techniques suggested above.
posted by sciencegeek at 5:52 AM on June 12, 2011

I don't know if they still have these, but when I was little we had books that came with a little recording of the book being read out loud. We would often read aloud with the narrator, or imitate him/her later when reading the books on our own.

It seems like her reluctance might be coming from not wanting to disappoint you, so you have to take your expectations and any hint of them out of the picture, at least for the time being. It's too bad you don't have a reading dog/animal nearby (my Mom's dog does this at her local library, and she says it makes a huge difference). Any other innocuous pet (hamster, hedgehog, turtle) you could borrow who "absolutely loves being read to"?
posted by swingbraid at 5:56 AM on June 12, 2011

Keep reading to her but make sure she is looking on. This is actually how I learned to read before I ever started school. So I know it has to help!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:04 AM on June 12, 2011

she smells a rat immediately and refuses to participate.

...nagging doubt that she might be avoiding reading aloud because maybe she is being made fun of at school or has a Learning Problem. And of course I want to assess this. But then her claims of being too nervous too read aloud might well come from a feeling of being assessed

Put all this together. Kids are less "weird" than some will have them; first of all, kids of that age are extremely alert on signals. Try to eliminate your nagging doubts, because your daughter senses these, too. Separate the issues at hand:

1) If you fear that she is being made fun of at school you should ask her teacher whether that is the case, and monitor responses and signs over time (I have seen teachers lie about discipline issues in their class, but few of them lie well. You will know). In any case this nagging doubt has nothing to do with your daughter personally: resist temptation to project it to the wrong person.

2) Fearing that your daughter may have a "Learning Problem", is too diffuse to lead anywhere. If she, at six, is able to appreciate Mathilda and The Witches, I honestly cannot see a major problem here. Try to assess the most likely nature of the possible trouble, in order to better inform your observations. Some reading difficulties have specific causes (such as, for example, undetected and/or wrongfully "corrected" left-handedness, to name but one option), while they should not be misconstrued as learning problems of a general kind. Talk to the tutor and ask how much, and in what exact skills, she is "behind". Is what you (or the tutor) see really what "is", or is your daughter merely secretive about her skills?

3) The situation such as you describe it translates into: "she feels being assessed," without any conditional "might well" involved at all. That means that the focus of her attention, when prompted to read out loud, shifts from the task at hand to the social situation, and to meeting, or refusing to meet, specific (in terms of tasks) as well as diffuse (in terms of social interaction) expectations. The psychological pressure resulting from this contrast (knowing somehow what one is supposed to do, but for only vaguely understood reasons of social interaction and psychology being blocked to do so) is great.
a) This pressured multi-thematic situation will influence the "readings"; meaning that your, and the tutor's assessment of how "far" your daughter really is with her reading skills is bound to be negatively influenced by how the situation has now established itself. She is wasting energy navigating a stressful situation. Well of course her reading skill demonstration suffers under such circumstances.
b) The blockage that has resulted cannot be solved by re-stating the task or by cookies. I am positive that you, the grown-up, need to change policies. For example, if you prompt her to read loud to her stuffed animals (which is a stellar plan), you must give her the guarantee that you will not be listening at the door, and you must keep that promise, otherwise the reading-for-animals will only be more of the same old problem for her.
posted by Namlit at 6:06 AM on June 12, 2011 [7 favorites]

Your daughter is 6. Many European school systems don't even *begin* the the process of teaching kids to read until they are at least as old as your daughter: they regard the US / UK system of starting at age 4/5 as being far too early for any kind of formal schooling whatsoever & certainly too young to have any firm expectations of achievement: the variance on ability for young children is huge & marking out as "failures" those who don't make sufficient progress early on is rightly regarded as being profoundly unhelpful.

If you make reading a positive experience for her, then she'll probably get there in here own good time: our eldest went from finding reading very difficult at your daughter's age (year 1) to now being a voracious reader (year 3). So much so that we have to go up to his bedroom every night after lights out time to make sure that he's not reading under the bedclothes with a torch...
posted by pharm at 6:19 AM on June 12, 2011 [4 favorites]

Here is what I would try. She knows this is a problem. She has anxiety about it. So, first talk to your wife and decide together that you are not going to ask her to read to you or trick her into it in any way this summer. Then sit down with her and tell her, "we know this is something you are having a tough time with and we want to let you know that we are not going to bug you about reading to us any more." Then, explain to her about the reading dog programs that other places have and tell her that since they don't have one in your area, she can pick something else out to read to, perhaps a new stuffed animal just for that purpose. Then tell her this: "if you feel like you want to do that or anything else to help you read aloud then let us know and we will help you at any time". This part is important: don't ask her if she wants the stuffed animal. Make her decide that she wants it. If she does tell you that she wants it (now or in a week) then take her to pick one out right away. Then when you bring it home, don't ask her if she's reading to it, let her tell you about it. Be nonchalant about it completely unless she tells you she is reading to it and then be enthusiastic at the same level as her.

Also, yes, just read to her as much as possible and don't ask her to read aloud. At least just for the summer or a nice long period of time (6 weeks or so).
posted by dawkins_7 at 6:22 AM on June 12, 2011 [10 favorites]

Mary Ann Hoberman has written some "You Read to Me, I'll Read to You" books. We have one and it's really fun--ours is short stories in two voices. One person reads one part, the other person reads the other part, and sometimes there are parts for both to read. This might be fun for the two of you.
posted by not that girl at 6:37 AM on June 12, 2011

We've tried reward charts; getting her to choose which book she wants to read; encouragement for any effort made and now the tutor. I fear she's falling behind but I also fear turning reading into a painful experience for her. What should I do?


But then her claims of being too nervous too read aloud might well come from a feeling of being assessed.

That certainly was my problem. I don't know if I ever WAS being unduly assessed, but I always felt like I was constantly being judged. And I absolutely HATED encouragement. Even at a young age, you are absolutely correct when you mention that she "smells a rat". She KNOWS she feels uncomfortable, and is (in a way) calling your bullshit. (Loving, well meaning encouragement is bullshit to someone who feels like they cannot do something. The thought process is "I can't do this, and when you say I can, you are either lying to me or don't believe me. Ack.")

So, I think you are headed in the right direction. She is having anxiety of some kind, and you need to help her break through it. Since anxiety is basically a lack of comfort with a situation, you need to find a way to help her build her comfort.

Things to consider:

1- Does she have a hearing problem? Even just clogged up ears can cause the sound of her voice to echo through her head and overload her thoughts.

2- Does she have a speech problem? Maybe she can hear that she sounds different than the other kids, but can't figure out why, and this freaks her out when she is trying to read and talk at the same time.

On preview, namlit's suggestions sound right to me too. She might just be having (what I call) "practice anxiety". She might not understand the difference between practice and performance. Everything is a performance to her, and that makes her anxious. It might be as simple as she has a different way of practicing something. Maybe she prefers to stop at every imperfection and work on it, or maybe she would rather work through the entire thing uninterrupted.

Ultimately, the key is to find a way to get her excited about the process of learning, instead of being concerned about the result. That part of learning is the struggle, and that there is no shame in falling on her face, because that is exactly what IS supposed to be happening at this stage? Is there an aunt/uncle/neighbor that she trusts who might be able to work with her, who will just sit with her and let her ask for help at her own pace?

Also, is it possible that she is taking on too much? She likes and understands more complicated books, and feels like she *should* be able to read them out loud, but never has practiced reading simpler books out loud?

(I have had this same issue all my life. One example is fucking golf. I hate golfing with my dad and/or my grandfather. Maybe it is all in my head, but I feel like they are full of shit. What is most insulting is fake praise when I make a mediocre shot. My thought process is "fuck you, we both know I did better than that last time, leave me alone." Yet, when I golf with a friend of mine and his father, who I rationally know is far more judgmental than my own father, I feel much more at ease. Maybe it is because I know he will call me out if I do something silly? Maybe he is better at reading people, and is just better at determining when I need encouragement/humor/ball busting/etc.?
posted by gjc at 6:46 AM on June 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

After reading to her at bedtime I leave her with a few books which she claims to read to herself.

You could give her a new book that you guys have never read to her. Then ask if she liked it. What was it about? What was her favourite part?

She knows this is a problem. She has anxiety about it. So, first talk to your wife and decide together that you are not going to ask her to read to you or trick her into it in any way this summer.

Totally agree with this. It sounds like this is becoming less about the reading and more about "that scary thing again and they're sad that I'm not doing it and what if I mess up", which just becomes a terrible feedback loop. Taking a break might help to interrupt that cycle.

When she is willing to read to someone, here are some more people who might be easier to read to:
- younger kids who can't read yet ("I'm helping!" and "Look at my neat book!")
- grandma/grandpa who lost their reading glasses and wants to hear all about her cool new book

I also like the idea of reading to her and making silly mistakes so she can catch you on it. It's funny, and it also triggers the "I'm helping!" feeling.
posted by heatherann at 6:52 AM on June 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

they regard the US / UK system of starting at age 4/5 as being far too early for any kind of formal schooling whatsoever & certainly too young to have any firm expectations of achievement: the variance on ability for young children is huge & marking out as "failures" those who don't make sufficient progress early on is rightly regarded as being profoundly unhelpful.

I'm sure it depends on the individual schools and individual teachers, but when I went through kindergarten in the US (1980), nobody was getting marked as failures, and progress was VERY slow. Purposefully. We all started out basically not knowing how to read, and by the end, we all could. But in a very limited way- short words, short sentences. Maybe some limited arithmetic too? Nobody flunked, because expectations were very low. Basically, anyone who wasn't able to make some progress was either the wrong age, or had some kind of learning disability.

But I think it IS different now, and more pressure is being put on kids. But I DON'T think the answer is to just start later. Kids THRIVE on achievement, beginning with when they discover their toes. The answer is to start early with low pressure.
posted by gjc at 7:09 AM on June 12, 2011

I'm just going to put this out there, as I searched the thread and I don't see anyone else mentioning it --

I have twin nephews, and for the longest time, the one of them didn't read and the other one did. As in, the one could but "didn't like to" and the other one read all the time. It turns out the "didn't like to" kid was dyslexic and he wasn't diagnosed until very late (high iq helped him mask it, not that he knew he was hiding anything).

So. If you suspect your kid has a learning delay, get her tested. Just be sure that the agency / doctor / whatever involved understands her triggers as far as making her unable to be tested.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:34 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

We have multiple learning issues with our kids, and what ended up working to turn them into reasonable bookworms was money, access and time.

They have piles of books around the house. They go to the library frequently. We make no decision over what they read, except no more than one comic from the library (we have a ton of them at home). Then they have to read, or sit with a book in front of them pretending to read, for 1-2 hours a day. They ended up so bored they read even on bad days.

And we pay them. They get from $1 (easy book, re-read) to $6 (huge thick book with hard vocab that took them a week to read). Paid instantly when they finish the book, with a couple of random questions about the plot/characters to make sure they read it.

I felt really guilty doing this when we started about 5 months ago, but the weird outcome is that they don't game the system, e.g. re-read lots of easy books for the most money per hour. The oldest two stopped asking for cash for reading pretty fast, and instead ask for new books as a reward. We buy books of any sort non-question also, while they have to save up for clothes, treats etc.

We have friendly arguments about how much to pay for a book with them going "ahh, this one is so long and tough, it's at least $5!" but it's working much faster and better than any other reward system (points/treats, positive reinforcement, reading caterpillars, etc etc) that we tried. I think it's because it's an instant clearly defined reward, with just the requirement that they read for pleasure.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:45 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

This sounds like it's bigger than reading to me.

Honestly - my little brother did this thing with potty training, where it became An Issue and the adults who had been trying to help him had become the obstacles. My sister had issues with my mom trying to force her to read that added a good four years to the process. And the problem was really the stress and frustration - being behind for a few years isn't the end of the world unless teachers and parents make it be.

The fact that she appears to have few difficulties with the tutor suggests that the best approach may be to completely drop the issue. Stop pushing her to perform at all, ask politely how the tutoring went today and then drop it. See what happens after a few months. My brother finally and permanently left diapers behind and my sister is in college. Your daughter will be OK too.
posted by SMPA at 7:52 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

It sounds to me like the little lady has performance anxiety.

Here are some resources:
Treatment approaches
Parenting a shy child may want to scan this list of anxiety disorders noticed in children to see if any of them fit what she's experiencing and see recommendations.

I think that gives a few good jumping off points, and hope you can find something useful in there.
posted by batmonkey at 7:58 AM on June 12, 2011

Thanks for all your responses. Sorry I'm not replying to each of you specifically.

The overall message is: to take a break/stop actually assessing her/get her to read aloud to inanimate object.

Two points that have been raised that I'd like more on if there is:

gjc mentioned a possible speech problem - this is probably unlikely but I have noticed that her speech is sometimes quite baby-ish. Picking her up from school, after she's been with her teachers and the other kids she speaks quote clearly. At home her words becomes less defined. I've wondered if it had a knock on affect on her reading. That might be me being nuts though.

Medieval Maven mentioned dyslexia - how do you recognise this? Is it possible think her teacher or her one-on-one reading tutor might have missed it?
posted by Brian Lux at 8:00 AM on June 12, 2011

@Brian Lux - with my nephew, it just got to where he couldn't keep up anymore with the dyslexia holding him back, and then they had him tested for a variety of things (ADD, all that) and it happened that he was dyslexic. I have no idea how it's diagnosed, just that my supersmart nephew was undiagnosed until 13, and it's made everything following better (because now he has acquired tools to help him) and worse (lost time). I have no idea what goes into diagnosing, but if she keeps having trouble it's something I'd keep in mind.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:03 AM on June 12, 2011

Dyslexia, while probably officially being a "spectrum" as so many things, would likely manifest itself in your daughter not being able to make out words, jumble letters and so on. Since you say that she is well able to "read things out spontaneously" this seems a dead lead to me [caveat: we're veering off into online diagnostics here, and I hate that].

Baby talk: seriously, do look into the basics of developmental psychology (for example according to Piaget, if you like that), and especially into the mechanics of regression into earlier stages in specific situations. Coming home after a busy school day requires comfort points and very likely triggers some sort of back-to-the-nest regressive behavior. (the kids of my friends throw tantrums. Count yourself lucky). In fact when I was thinking this through, I came up with the same possible explanation for your daughter's reading behavior as well. Being read too is utter comfort! Makes you feel like you're three again. Bliss! The other thing, having to read out loud for your mom, lacks all that; instead it adds discomfort and creates a school-at-home-feel. Not good, imo.

Further thoughts, that popped up while I was working away on something totally else here: you realize, don't you, that the requirement of reading out loud has nothing whatsoever to do with the kid's actual skills, and is only enforced because it provides a simple and cheap assessment tool for the teacher? That, combined with the very wise words by pharm about the English school system being comparatively early out with formal schooling, should create some wariness about how reasonable this requirement really is.
posted by Namlit at 8:37 AM on June 12, 2011 [6 favorites]

My nephew is just turned 8 and was recently diagnosed this year as borderline dyslexic by tests through his school.

He had gotten to a similar stage as your daughter in that reading with his parents or having them help him with his homework just got him so stressed out trying to get it "right" because his Dad was there that he would throw temper tantrums, so his Dad would crack down on him to work more and it was leading to all sorts of problems. Finally they took a step back and realised this couldn't go on so they got him a tutor.

She is an amazing lady who within the past months has bought him from being at the bottom of the class for reading and there being talk of him having to repeat to him now being in the top 25%. She sits down and goes through his homework with him, has him read to her about things he's interested in and now starting him off writing about what he's reading. Now I don't know if 6 years old is too young to need a tutor or not, but our families theory was to get as much help with his reading and writing confidence now before he got too far behind.

The main benefit of getting this woman though was that she removed a LOT of the pressure that had built up in my nephews head about having to get things right because his Dad was there. Like most kids all he wanted to do was please his Dad and everytime he got something wrong he felt like he'd let his Dad down. Now though his tutor has built up his confidence so much that when I went to visit last we would sit on the couch and he would read to me every night, something that would never have happened even 3 months earlier.

Now we were lucky in that my brother & SIL had the money to spend on a tutor, 2 hours a week. But maybe a similar low pressure person to read to might help. if you can't find a dog or a friend with a dog for her to practice reading to, is there maybe a Grandma or Aunt she could read to, or even a nice low stress family friend that can just make the reading fun. I know that most of the help with my nephew came, really with him learning that reading and writing didn't have to be stressful and could be fun.
posted by wwax at 8:42 AM on June 12, 2011

One of my kids does the baby talk thing occasionally and I think it's attention-seeking behavior and anxiety. Most of the time we let it go and accept him as is, sometimes it gets too much and we remind him when he is talking like a baby and how come? I've gotten to the point where if he talks like a baby, I won't respond. It's infrequent and becoming less of a problem.

I agree with the advice to take a break. As long as she is reading to her tutor and making progress I wouldn't worry.

For later, some ideas:

Do you drive? While you're driving, and she's in the backseat, have her read a little bit if she agrees. Don't look at her and don't look in the rear view mirror. This might make her feel less on the spot.
posted by Fairchild at 9:01 AM on June 12, 2011

Seconding Fairchild re the babytalk thing. As "pop psychology-ish" as it sounds, babytalk could well be the child telling you "stop treating me like an adult, don't put pressure on me to DO something, I just want to be a baby again".

It sounds to me a little like this is a problem created by the school--they are unhappy with how she's progressing, that puts pressure on her, and you, to fix the problem, even if your instinct is to just let it be. My child didn't really start to read on her own until 3rd grade, and we were lucky that there wasn't the type of pressure you describe. She now does way better on comprehension tests than her peers who were reading Harry Potter in 1st grade.

Do you have a summer break? If so, it might be a welcome time for you all to just take a break from the pressure, keep reading to/with her as you do, and maybe next year with a different teacher, different classroom style, different peer mix, and a few more months of growing up, she'll do better.
posted by gubenuj at 9:11 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks again for all of your replies.

The comments about the babyish talking as a comfort thing is interesting.

I wondered if there was anything more to gjc's point: Does she have a speech problem? Maybe she can hear that she sounds different than the other kids, but can't figure out why, and this freaks her out when she is trying to read and talk at the same time.

I think this probably unlikely as her speech can be very good.
posted by Brian Lux at 9:22 AM on June 12, 2011

I think 6 is kind of young for this sort of pressure at school. At home, keep reading to her and sharing your love of books, reading and learning. Be her safe haven. Talk to her about reading aloud at school, and tell her that she can take her time, and that she's not expected to be perfect. Ask the teacher to give you the passage she's expected to read ahead of time, and encourage her to practice reading it aloud, alone if necessary. Practice helps most tasks.

She sounds like she's learning well, just not responding well to this task.
posted by theora55 at 9:34 AM on June 12, 2011

Are you modeling reading for her? Curl up with a book for twenty minutes every night, immerse yourself in a book of your own. A book you love. You might find that after a few nights, she joins you in reading quietly. Keep a book of hers near your reading spot, if you can. And of course, this goes without saying, but make sure it's a reading spot that's comfy for kids too! (good light, especially)

Twenty minutes with the tv off, no phones answered, no computer monitor glowing, no radio, no hopping up to turn off the kitchen timer.

If reading is treated like a chore and a task (and it sounds like it is, really, she's knows she's not as good at is as some other kids!) then she will feel as though it is a chore and a task.

Pick back up with reading her books to her, separate from her reading to you, if you've stopped that.

My next suggestion is a little crazy, I know, but hear me out.

Are there too many books for her to choose from? Repetition is a great thing for kids. If she's reading a different book each time she sits down, that may be stalling her out, because the reading is hard, and the new story is hard - she's not just sounding out the words, and learning to pause at periods, but she's also trying to absorb the "story-ness." Kids need a few (or twenty!) trips through a book to really know it, to own it. Since what you're out to build here is confidence and mastery, have two or three books on hand, and put the other 5, 10 or 30 into storage for now, and rotate through them as she seems bored or asks for variety.

Please, do not offer food rewards for reading (or any other task)! The reward for reading should be ... reading.
posted by bilabial at 9:34 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

This sounds to me like she's reacting to the pressure of being assessed and of being forced to do something. At that age, I would have refused to read, too, if you'd tried to force me to read to you and then judged me on whether and how I was doing it.

She reads to the tutor, which means that she can read. Why is she more comfortable with the tutor? Maybe because the tutor isn't pressuring him or her. You should really talk to the tutor and find out what he or she is doing, actually.

But above all, stop pressuring her to read out loud to you. Encourage her to read to herself, alone, without you spying on her -- this will help ensure that she is actually reading and developing that skill, even if it may not satisfy your need to monitor her.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:35 AM on June 12, 2011

Oh yes, and if you have television, get rid of it!
posted by mareli at 9:51 AM on June 12, 2011

Has her vision been checked?
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 10:00 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Following up on gjc's suggestion that she may be having issues separating "practice" from "performance" -- does she ever see you (or any other adult) practicing something and getting it wrong? I wonder whether that might help reassure her that it's OK to make mistakes and get things wrong. So, for example, if you're learning to play piano and she hears you hit wrong notes, and sees that you're fine with that, that you just go back and try again without making a big deal about it -- perhaps that would help her overcome some of the "practice anxiety" she might have.

If you do this, make sure it's genuine, rather than throwing in fake mistakes into something you can in fact do correctly. She'll see through any fakery, which is why throwing in wrong words when you're reading together doesn't serve this purpose (although of course that still might be useful as part of a game you play together). You want to teach this as an honest lesson, by letting her observe you in essentially the same position she's in: the novice practicing something they want to learn and making mistakes without consequences.
posted by logopetria at 10:01 AM on June 12, 2011

It seems like this is less about her ability to make sense of written words, and more about her ability to perform reading aloud in front of people. Reading something out to you spontaneously is not at all the same as being told, "Now you need to read this story aloud to your classmates," or even, "Please read this story to me."

When I was her age, I took a ballet class and could pretty easily follow along as the teacher led us. I didn't feel uncomfortable or shy. At the same age, I attended a day camp over the summer, where one of the activities they had the kids do was to make up an original dance and perform it in front of the group. I still feel sick to my stomach when I think about that. No one was making fun of me, I didn't have a disability that prevented me from dancing, I just hated performing and hated that the grownups in charge were expecting me to do it. It sounds to me like your daughter may be making a similar distinction with reading vs. reading out loud to an audience.

So, and on preview it looks like logopetria is picking up on this as well, I'd try very hard to separate reading skills from speaking/performing skills. That she feels nervous and judged and put on the spot when asked to perform does not mean that she has below average reading skills or does not enjoy reading. These are two issues.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:07 AM on June 12, 2011

Her vision hasn't been checked but I think this would probably have been picked up on by now. Neither me or her mum wear glasses and very few people do in our respective families either.
posted by Brian Lux at 10:09 AM on June 12, 2011

This might be complete projection on my part, but as someone who has the "afraid to try because of being afraid to fail" syndrome and knows its consequences, I might suggest that, while you're taking a break from thinking about reading, you might put some energy into teaching her that it's okay to make mistakes? Maybe it's unnecessary. But since you think it could be the Being Assessed that's hard, you can address that by (a) less assessment, which you said you'd try, and maybe also (b) making assessment not such a big deal. There's an article that has circulated around AskMe about rewarding kids for effort and hard work vs. success and being right that might provide a starting point. (Sorry can't dig up the link right now.)
posted by salvia at 10:39 AM on June 12, 2011

We are currently running "reward for just trying" system which is having occasional success.

I guess, as parents, we are putting the pressure on her teachers say she is behind.
posted by Brian Lux at 10:57 AM on June 12, 2011

Literacy is a big deal for us. My daughter has Down syndrome and we've been going through a fair amount of work to encourage reading.

At various points we adopted the Nurtured Child behavioral plan with her. At the beginning, praise is something that is avoided because it can be argued and disputed, even if it is just in her head. Start with narrating what she's doing, even if it's stating the bleeding obvious ("you're sitting at the table", "you're walking with mum." etc). Include reading activities in this. One thing that I've learned with my kids is that if I want to get them to stop doing something else is for me to start doing something on my own. For example, if my kids are climbing on Mrs. Plinth (which she hates), all I have to do is lay down on the floor and pretend to sleep. This is the most effective way to get them off her. So if you took flash cards of words and sat down and read them on your own - no invitation - I bet she would sit down with you. You can start by having her hold the cards for you while you practice (narrate - "you're holding my cards"). Then you can ask her to find a card for you ("I need a card that starts with 's'"). Over time you can branch into the more complicated ("I need a card that starts with a 'shhh' sound."). And so on. Guess what you're doing? you're getting her to read. Reading out loud isn't necessary to read, so why pressure it? Reading aloud is used strictly so the unimaginative can assess that the young are reading. If you can make it really clear that you're the one who is practicing, not her maybe the stigma will go away some.

You might also try using tarheel reader, which is a collection of online stories for improving literacy.
posted by plinth at 11:18 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I know unschoolers whose kids didn't start reading until 8 or 9. The parents trusted the kids to start reading when they wanted too - and didn't worry about it. In those few cases that I'm aware of, the kids were completely caught up in reading ability virtually overnight. Don't force it - that leads to kids that associate reading with bad juju, and often never learn to enjoy reading. I think you daughter is telling you she isn't ready for the pressure - so don't apply it. In the long run, whether she reads at six or 8 shouldn't really matter at all. That it is so important to the school system is a huge failing of the system, IMHO.
posted by COD at 12:45 PM on June 12, 2011

Nth take a break. I would also not offer rewards of any kind, at least not beyond trips to libraries and bookstores, and I would make those not rewards but as much a part of everyday life as going to the supermarket, and make getting new books as routine as getting groceries. I do not pass off books as gifts here; they're just something constantly coming into the household without a lot of comment, like the food. I mean, sure, occasionally "Wow, these apples are amazing!" or "I can't believe we got another book in the series, yay!" but, yeah, it's just an unremarkable part of life. I would try and re-frame it to be a bit less...intense, and instead simply just there, and totally back off on the whole thing for the summer.

No rewards, no incentives, no bribes, no coaxing, nothing. Take the pressure totally off.

If you can think of other things for her to do that are a little difficult at first but which will be quickly mastered? That might be a good focus for the summer, just general confidence-building.
posted by kmennie at 12:46 PM on June 12, 2011

Hmm... do you get the summer off? Can you take the pressure off her for a few weeks or couple of months by not demanding she perform in reading aloud, and instead go back to the basics of loving stories? Read to her for the fun of it, listen to audio books, watch films based on stories you've read together. Ask her to help with mundane things like reading a recipe in the kitchen or a sign at the store. Get the attention off her, and back on the process of reading. If you can evoke some of the joy that comes from being able to turn letters into words and words into stories and information, even better.

Reading can be hard on its own. Mixing reading and performance (which is what reading aloud is, pretty much), can be terrifying.

My own bright and reading-capable 6 yr old astonished his teacher a couple of weeks ago by confidently reading some sentences aloud in class. He's been reading to me at home for months, but evidently not at school. He's never been a performer though. He wouldn't ever answer questions like "how old are you?" when he was toddler. She didn't (probably still doesn't) realize how well he's reading to himself. Right now I don't think it's that much of a problem, he'll do better next year as his confidence grows. I'm sure your daughter will too.
posted by hms71 at 12:51 PM on June 12, 2011

Oh - and re: dyslexia...

I have a friend whose child is struggling with certain letters/numbers. She confuses Cs and Us, 3s and Es, etc. She's 5 and not reading yet. Dad is dyslexic, so the family history is there. However, friend said that most kids aren't diagnosed until they're much older -- even in the face of clear problems like her daughter's. Something about when and how they screen, I guess.

Anyway, that's just a long way of saying that yes, she could have something like that without the reading tutor picking up on it. Also, don't know what your reading tutors are trained to do -- are they trained to evaluate learning disabilities?
posted by hms71 at 1:06 PM on June 12, 2011

I agree that it's really difficult to know what's going on here. She could just be a late bloomer. It could be performance anxiety. It could be an LD issue like dyslexia (which the school district should be able to diagnose, but I don't know if an evaluation at this point would just stress her out even more). It could be a bit of all of these. I've known kids who were actually functionally illiterate, but absolutely brilliant at coping with this and hiding it for years.

If I were in your shoes, I'd definitely continue reading to her and making this special cuddle time with Mom & Dad without asking anything more of her than listening to and following along with the story. Keep lots of fun books around, go to the library regularly, etc. Next, I'd schedule an appointment with the district literacy specialist, if there is one, and the teacher and work out a plan together for how to best support your daughter without putting her under more stress. If things aren't improving after some time, then I'd also schedule the appropriate diagnostic with the school district.

Good luck to you and your child, and good on you for caring!

I think 6 is kind of young for this sort of pressure at school.
I don't know what state you're in, but the Kindergarten standards in CA are INSANE compared to what I had to do back in the day. And not that it's at all right, but the teacher knows s/he's being judged on how many kids are proficient in said standards and will be called a bad teacher if kids aren't toeing the line. So bad for kids and teachers.

posted by smirkette at 1:15 PM on June 12, 2011

I guess, as parents, we are putting the pressure on her teachers say she is behind.

I would look into why they think this. If they're basing it largely on her performance reading aloud, well, c'mon, that's not cool, there's nothing wrong with being a little shy. I read very early, but being expected to "prove it" in front of everyone seemed perverse to me as a six-year-old, too.

I'd suggest looking for opportunities to empower her on her own terms. Could she get behind reading to a baby cousin, or "teaching" her stuffed animals? (Without being watched, obviously.)

As for performance anxiety, she's just getting to be old enough to start playing classic family card games/board games (Clue, Candyland, Shoots and Ladders, Uno/SkipBo, Go Fish.) No need for them to be "literacy-focused," the nice thing is that generally everyone is reading words and numbers aloud, acting on them, and both losing and winning.

Your little one sounds like she's got an above-average BS-filter. My own sticking point was a weirdly strong sense of fairness and hypocrisy. I remember noticing indignantly that a lot of people treat interactions with a kid as constant quizzing and corrections -- but not only are adults not compelled to qualify their knowledge or abilities, it's impolite to correct an adult when they're factually incorrect.

Yeah, we all bring our personal baggage into questions on AskMe. My mom had to ask some pointed questions about assessment methods to get me placed in the appropriate classes at that age.
posted by desuetude at 1:33 PM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all your comments and taking the time to post. It's given me a lot to think about and hopefully I will distill it all into something useful. I apologise for all my typos along the way.
posted by Brian Lux at 2:39 PM on June 12, 2011

You never know what's in a child's mind. When I was three, My mother and I were riding in her friend's car. As we drove, I would read aloud the street signs. My mother's friend said that it was really amazing that I could read all those signs. My mother told her that I couldn't really read, that I had memorized the shape of the signs. From that casually made remark, I got the idea that is was not okay for me to know how to read. I kept reading but I kept it secret.

This was reinforced on the first day of first grade. The nun handed out readers and I immediately began reading it. She looked at me sternly and asked me what I was doing. I said, "Reading." She slapped me and told me that I couldn't read because she had not yet taught me how to read. After that reading was my deep secret. I read like a drug addict. I read wildly inappropriate adult books secretly. I read all the time but I played dumb to my teachers and parents. My parents (unlike you) didn't notice or care much that I was a poor student and made bad grades. It wasn't until 4th grade that we were given state achievement tests and it was discovered that I was reading at college level.

Not to say that this is what is going on with your child, but sometimes kids get the strangest ideas about what is "wrong" and carry on with their misunderstanding for years. Some remark by her teacher or other kids might have gotten on the problem started. Maybe you could gently ask if anyone has said something unkind to her.

The idea of letting her read to a younger child worked for me. I secretly read to my younger sister all the time.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 2:51 PM on June 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Following on all the comments above about taking away the pressure and letting your daughter progress at her own speed: you might find it helpful to listen to Part Two of the radio documentary The Hurried Infant, starting at about 30:00, where Maryanne Wolfe speaks about how children learn to read. Wolfe is a neuroscientist studying how the brain works when it comes to reading. Her basic message here is that most kids do not learn to read until their brains are ready. That happens at different times for different kids. Letting children develop reading skills on their own schedule (with appropriate support, of course) is almost always what works best.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:03 PM on June 12, 2011

Just as a note, I find reading out loud quite difficult compared to reading to myself. Which sucks because it is a big part of my job! It slows me down a lot, which is okay when I'm doing story time but I have huge difficulties reading out loud when I'm not performing the story. And god forbid i try and actually synthesize what I'm reading out loud, I just can't do it. Everything I read for story time is read silently before, multiple times. Then when I read it out to the kids it's a performance and partially remembered.

I was reading by the time I got to school and read well above my age. I just hate reading out loud because it adversely impacts my enjoyment AND I screw it up a lot.
posted by geek anachronism at 7:22 PM on June 12, 2011

I'd like to recommend Daniel Pennac's The Rights Of The Reader to you.
posted by Catch at 11:37 PM on June 12, 2011

My mother's friend said that it was really amazing that I could read all those signs. My mother told her that I couldn't really read, that I had memorized the shape of the signs. From that casually made remark, I got the idea that is was not okay for me to know how to read. I kept reading but I kept it secret.

Ooh! That crap burned me up too. My first-grade teacher told my mother than I couldn't realllllly read, that any child can recite The Three Little Bears from memory. (Luckily, my mom scoffed and had me thoroughly tested to demonstrate my literacy, but I never forgot how infuriated I was at not being believed.)
posted by desuetude at 11:40 PM on June 12, 2011

For some more annecdata: I was the slow first grader, and turned into one of the most readery kids in my year level. It took a while, but sometime in second grade (7?) it just clicked. I found throughout my schooling (and this is more about maths) that I'd often be "behind" the other kids, snap, got it, and accelerate to catch them, and do well, then fall behind again.

you said earlier:
Her vision hasn't been checked but I think this would probably have been picked up on by now. Neither me or her mum wear glasses and very few people do in our respective families either.
I would get it checked. Several people in my family managed to fake good vision. (Aunt, Sister, Dad) My aunt even cheated in the test (memorised what the people in front said) because she didn't want to miss out on a school trip! It's pretty standard to scope out kids for this stuff (Hearing, eyesight), and you can explain it as such.

My sister didn't like reading, then when she got her glasses she finally understood why it was fun.
posted by titanium_geek at 1:36 AM on June 13, 2011

Can you do voices well? If you can be really entertaining while reading the story aloud -- lots of enthusiasm, different voices, and some facial expressions -- perhaps you can get her to take on one character. Or ask her to be the narator while you do all the characters.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:37 AM on June 13, 2011

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