By Henri Brown

Of all the things parents need to know—how to potty train, how to prevent accidents, how to feed and water your children well—no one educates parents about the components of reading. Yet, according to, ”more children are at risk of long-term life harm from the consequence of reading difficulties than from parental abuse, accidents, and all other childhood diseases and disorders combined.”

You might be thinking, reading problems…who has reading problems? I’ve always been able to read. And if so, you fall into the 20% of the population who are natural readers. Put you on a desert island with no instruction and you probably would figure it out. And maybe your children will be that way. But if that doesn’t happen, will you notice early? Do you know the early warning signs that your child may have trouble?

Who might have trouble? Anyone from any family. Reading problems cross all socioeconomic and educational levels.

But, having said that, some children might be more prone to reading problems. If a close relative—parent, sibling—had a reading problem, be alert. Reading problems often run in families. If your child needed speech therapy, be alert. Speech problems and reading problems are often connected. If your child mixes up word parts and letters at a time when most children have learned to distinguish them, pay attention. Don’t panic if your child has one small problem; instead, look for unexpected patterns of difficulty given your child’s age or grade. Here are some clues that may, in fact, be symptoms of a reading problem:

1. Problems with phonemic awareness
Eighty percent of early reading problems are due to problems with phonemic awareness. What does that mean? Simply, some children have trouble hearing the differences between sounds, and not understanding that letters make specific sounds.

Don’t panic if your child mixes up b and d when they begin to read and write, or f and v when they are learning to speak and read; however, if they continue to express confusion, pay attention. If they are still confused in 2nd or 3rd grade, be alert.

2. Poor word recognition
If your child is slow to learn words seen over and over, forgets words seen many times, or has great difficulty learning sight words—notice this.

3. Weakness sounding out words
Rather than applying decoding skills, if your child frequently guesses at words or needs context clues to figure out words, be alert. By 3rd or 4th grade, if your child is still having trouble sounding out words with 2, 3 or 4 syllables, a red flag should go up.

4. Poor spelling, both on tests and in written compositions
If your child has frequent misspellings and guesses how to spell, be alert. While spelling development usually follows reading, spelling errors serve as a powerful written indicator of confusions and problems. If your child can’t spell his or her full name by 2nd or 3rd grade, get out a red flag!

5. Slow, halting reading (poor fluency)
If your child constantly needs to reread to understand, be alert.

6.Weak reading comprehension
If your child can’t recognize the words in a passage or sound out the important words in a sentence, be aware. If children can’t read the meaning-making part of a sentence (Sam went to the ? because he saw a ?), you can bet your child will have some comprehension problems.

Be alert if your child’s reading is so slow and halting that he or she can’t remember what’s been read. Notice if your child has trouble finishing tests. Reading is akin to riding a bike: just as you’ve got to pedal fast enough to keep the bike upright, you’ve got to read with sufficient speed and accuracy that you’ve got some “bandwidth” left over to understand what you’ve read.

7. Excessive time spent on homework.

Better than anyone, parents know if their child needs an hour to complete 15 minutes of homework. It’s painful and excruciating. It wouldn’t be surprising for your children to dislike homework, would it?

8. Self-esteem issues
If your child sees himself or herself as “stupid”, please be vigilant. If your child is “down” about school, cries easily, avoids reading, appears not to care, and is easily frustrated when reading, get out a BIG red flag.

Remember, all children will have some problems, but if you see patterns of difficulty, its time to seek help—from your school or from professionals—and it may be time to begin learning all you can about the components of reading so you will be a knowledgeable parent and advocate for your child.

If you are looking for a fabulous volunteer opportunity, The Augustine Project for Literacy trains and supports volunteer tutors who provide free, long-term, 1-to1 instruction to low-income students with reading difficulties. The Project is now accepting applications for its upcoming tutor-training class. The class will be held September 17-28, 8:30-2:30, M-F. Class size is limited, and applicants will be accepted on a first-come, first serve basis. If interested, please contact Henri Brown, (pictured on right)  Director, at or call (336) 723-4391, Ext. 1504.