Below is a guest post written by Lorna Kaufman, PhD, is a developmental psychologist in the Greater Boston area. She is the co-auhor of Author of Smart Kid, Can’t Read – 5 Steps any parent can take to help

How Do I Know If My Child Is A Struggling Reader?

Jackson’s mother was worried. Jackson was nearing the end of the 2nd grade but he didn’t seem to be catching on to reading. He loved math and was a really good soccer player but he hated to read – he said it was “boring”. His 2nd grade teacher said not to worry; he was very smart and would learn when he was ready. Besides, boys were often slower than girls when it came to reading.

It is very common for parents to be confused about whether their child is struggling to learn to read when they are in kindergarten, 1st grade, and 2nd grade. They see their child struggling but the teacher advises that he will be fine. What should you do?

There are several steps that parents can take to determine whether their concerns are justified:

  1. Monitor your child’s work that he brings home from school. You can learn a lot about the reading instruction by going over these papers with your child. Ask him to read the papers or stories out loud for you. Jackson was very resistant and did not like to read out loud; this attempt often ended in a tantrum. Children should be able to read the work they bring home from school since it generally represents what they have been working on in class. If your child does not bring papers home ask the teacher to show you his work.
  2. Speak with the teacher. Ask questions about what reading group he is in. If there are no reading groups, ask how his reading level compares with that of the other children in the class. Jackson’s teacher did not have reading groups but admitted that he was in the lower half of the class in reading skills, although there were other children who were having more trouble than he was having.
  3. Go to the library and ask the librarian for grade level books on a topic that interests your child. Librarians can be very helpful in guiding you to such books. See if your child can read the book out loud with you.
  4. Read the National Academy of Sciences guidelines for what every child should know in reading at the end of kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and third grade. These guidelines were written by a panel of reading experts and define the reading skills that should be mastered at the end of those early years of school as children are learning to read. You can find a summary of those guidelines on our website:
  5. Administer the tests that have been designed for parents to give to their children at the end of kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and third grade. This will give you a good idea of whether your concerns are justified and whether you need to take the next step and have your child evaluated. You can find these tests on our website along with videos that show you how to administer the tests: When Jackson’s mother administered the Grade 2 test to him, it became clear to her that he did not have the skills expected of a child at the end of the 2nd grade. He missed nearly half of the words on the word list and had significant trouble reading the first passage.

Jackson’s mother had her answer. It was clear that he was struggling and falling behind his grade level peers. She decided that she needed to seek help for Jackson.

This article is posted with the permission of  Dr. Kaufman, Phd.

  • President of the New England Branch of the International Dyslexia Association, President of the Massachusetts Council for Learning Disabilities,
  • Member of the Board of Directors of the International Dyslexia Association, Chairman of the New England Joint Conference on Learning Disabilities, and Member of the Governor’s Special Education Advisory Group for Massachusetts.
  • Professor at in the Graduate Language and Literacy Program at Simmons College in Boston and in the School of Education at Wheelock College.
  • Psychologist in Boston Children’s Hospital, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center, and the Learning Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
  • Author of several articles regarding family and reading challenges



Just last week I read an article about a 9-year-old boy bullied for carrying a My Little Pony backpack to school. The administration’s solution was to suggest he leave the backpack home. While they may have been correct in thinking the boy was setting himself up for ridicule, was this not the perfect opportunity to teach students acceptance and the welcoming of differences?

This week I read a clever teacher’s lesson on bullying received an overwhelming response on Facebook. Warm, supportive comments applauding the teacher’s sensitive message to her students were heard from over 104,000 people. While the two apples she used for her lesson looked identical on the outside, the one rejected apple was teased and battered by contemptuous comments and physical abuse leaving the inside permanently bruised. While the children got the message, I can’t help but wonder how long will it prevent bullying? And what must we as the grownups, educators do to put an end to bullying?

We need to teach children to welcome differences and nonconformity, not to tease or fear it. Research suggests we must set rules and policies regarding bullying, build safe environments and educate our schools’ staff. The policy words on paper are a beginning, but consistent vigil awareness must follow. Those colorful anti-bullying posters placed strategically around the schools are encouraging reminders, but they soon blend into the cold cinder block walls on which they are posted. And while sensitivity lessons are encouraging, when bullying actually occurs, not many students are courageous enough to defend the bullied for fear of becoming victims themselves.

We must teach our children to welcome differences and take pride in those differences, not teach them to hide nonconformity as the school did with the little boy and his My Little Pony backpack.

There are some actions we can take to help build stronger, healthier, more accepting students.

Student victims and witnesses of bullying must have an anonymous way to present their feelings in a place where they can be heard without fear of retribution and additional ridicule (i.e. a box, a website).

Rules of tolerance and intolerance should be clearly defined and consequences set for when the rules are broken.

Parents must be continually engaged in the fight to end this abuse. There should be a school action committee comprised of students, teachers and parents where abuses can be heard and appropriately addressed.

In closing I must add, Dr. David Schwartz and others have found that children bullied in elementary school are at increased risk of being depressed when they are 18. It is essential to prevent bullying before it begins. It is our responsibility as parents and educators to protect our innocent children from becoming permanently bruised for simply being themselves.