Parents who introduce reading to their children at an early age open the door for learning and growth. While you shouldn’t force reading on your three-year-old when they want to run around, showing your little one picture books and reading them bedtime stories are some great ways to pique their interest.

If your little one is beginning to show some interest in books, but having trouble reading and understanding words and their definitions, don’t worry just yet. Reading develops over time and exposure.  As well, reading skills are built and developed from oral language skills, which must develop first.  You will be well-served to pay more attention to how your child’s speech, language use, and listening comprehension are developing in the pre-school years.

If your child is unable to keep up with grade level expectations in grade school, however, it is time to address the delay.

Reading problems present in quite a few different ways. If you want to know more about the typical reading problems that children encounter and how you can help them improve, keep on reading!

Confusion Regarding Sound Recognition

Sound recognition difficulties become clear when your child can distinguish the sound of each letter but can’t seem to identify the same sound the moment they deal with words. It’s the lack of total phonemic awareness and the ability to process language easily.

When reading, children need letter-sound knowledge to “sound out” a word.  This is the first step, and it is why pre-school and Kindergarten programs focus on letter names and identifying the sounds that letters typically make or represent.

The next step in reading is to “blend” those sounds together to recognize and retrieve the word that those sounds make when said together smoothly. Blending is a distinct phonological awareness skill that children need to develop to learn how to accurately identify words when reading.

Not Remembering Words Right Away

Children who cannot easily process and remember words often forget what they’ve just read the moment they come across it again on the next page. Retaining new words can be a struggle for early readers, especially if the sound of the word and the way it’s written aren’t the same.

Often, this can indicate a problem with working memory and/or verbal/phonological memory.  It is good to get this skill assessed.

However, often what looks like a “memory problem” is more of a processing problem:  When children have an effortful time trying to process words, they use up all of their “resources” and have little left over to make sense of what they are reading.

This is usually indicative of a problem with phonological processing (sound processing).  It is very, very important to get this assessed.

Phonological processing problems ALWAYS impact reading, writing and spelling; they can be difficulty to identify without careful assessment; and they can be remediated through systematic instruction and practise – and it’s never too late:  research shows that even adults can improve their phonological skills – and their reading by extension.

Sound recognition involves the ability to “dissect” words into different segments such as syllables or sounds.  The ability to do this “sound analyses” on words is essential for the development of reading and spelling skills. 

Guessing Words and Mispronunciation

Kids who have a hard time reading often want to skip words that are difficult to read, choosing only to read the ones they know. This includes words that can’t be easily deciphered by children at an early age because they have a hard time figuring out what they mean or memorizing them.

To enhance your child’s reading ability to read a word properly, encourage them to read slowly as they listen to the word and focusing on the sound of each letter as it goes.  See if they can recognize letters that often group together around one sound, like wh-, th-, sh-, ch-, or -ck.

The development of phonological awareness skills facilitates the ability of the brain to recognize sequences of letters instantly.  This is how the brain can quickly recognize suffixes, root words, and even whole words.  The idea that the brain acquires “whole words” as “sight words” is a myth and is not supported by research; as such, many methods that encourage children to learn “whole words” such as guessing, using context, using sight word lists, or flashcards do not work.

Research shows us that our brain and our eyes look at every letter in a word, and make sense of how those letters represent sounds, and put those sounds together to identify words.  Once a word becomes familiar (which takes 1-4 exposures in average readers) the word is “stored” and begins to be recognized “automatically”.

Is your child tripping over common or frequent words when reading aloud?  This is a huge red flag of an underlying phonological processing deficit!

Doesn’t Want to Read Out Loud

Children who lack the confidence to read words out loud are embarrassed and feel pressured by the adults around them. They also feel bad because the kids around them can read better than them so they feel like they’re competing.

To help kids achieve the courage to read out loud without fear of being laughed at, reading needs to come easily to them without being forced, which allows them to read naturally and at ease.

Fortunately for these children, research shows very good outcomes for those children who undergo structured, systematic, and research-based intervention.  Unfortunately, it is time-intensive and takes a commitment.  However, children discover confidence, resilience, and rid themselves of life-long shame; and THAT is priceless.

Lack of Spelling Abilities

Spelling involves a lot of rules and exceptions which is why it’s hard to master. It’s a struggle for kids who have trouble with normal and spoken words alone. Poor spelling skills isn’t just about the lack of precision when spelling a word out, but also a hindered ability to familiarize themselves with the patterns that make up a word.

Poor spelling almost always indicates an underlying language disorder.  A comprehensive language assessment is recommended in the case of poor spelling.


These common literacy problems are indicative of a learning difference or an underlying language disorder; however, they can be developed with enough practice and patience (and the right kind of instruction). Moving at their own pace and encouraging them are also important to help children successfully learn how to read and write.

Speak2Read is a comprehensive language center addressing speaking, reading, spelling, and writing programs, including speech therapy in Calgary. Get in touch with us now! We’d be happy to assist your child.