How to Know When Your Child Needs More Help with Reading and Literacy

Halifax Learning children readingHalifax Learning children reading

Thanks to Halifax Learning for sponsoring this post and providing this advice free of charge to the parents who submitted questions. We only partner with companies that we believe bring value to Halifax families and, as always, all opinions are our own.

Last week was parent-teacher meetings for families in the Halifax area and report cards came out in the weeks leading up to that time. At our own parent-teacher meetings we discussed how critical strong reading skills are for our children to succeed in all areas of their education and I’m sure we weren’t the only ones who talked reading with teachers!

I was so happy when Halifax Learning offered to host an Ask-The Expert post to provide help to local families whose children are struggling with reading and literacy. Having extra support outside the classroom is sometimes needed and it’s good to know about options to do just that which are available in our city.

I put out a call for questions to my readers and then spoke to the experts at Halifax Learning on your behalf to provide some advice. One of the things they told me was that 50-70% of all developing readers require some type of structured literacy programs, like SpellRead, which Halifax Learning offers. If your child is struggling, they’re definitely not alone and there is help for them.

If you have a question that wasn’t answered, don’t worry, they offer free assessments – just click through to their website and fill out the form.

Image courtesy of Halifax LearningImage courtesy of Halifax Learning

Image courtesy of Halifax Learning


Heather: What are some of the indicators that you should seek a professional assessment to determine whether your child has a learning difficulty/challenge?

There are many factors that go into determining if your child has a learning difficulty or challenge.

Research has shown which skills are needed to become an efficient reader.  If developing readers are strong in one area but weak in another, they cannot get by on those strengths alone; becoming a skilled and confident reader means improving in challenge areas and maintaining strengths.

The free initial assessment at Halifax Learning uses a combination of standardized tests which measure many required skills such as phonological awareness, word identification, reading fluency and comprehension and more. These skills are all relative to age and the assessment is adjusted based on their grade level.

Another possibility to consider is that sometimes defiant behaviour can be a compensatory strategy and could be another red flag. At Halifax Learning, they often see negative behaviour evaporate in the classroom when children are taught using a technique called scaffolded effective instruction. They quickly see students begin to feel a sense of pride and confidence in their work!

Halifax Learning recommends you do seek a professional assessment if your child:

  • Hasn’t developed basic phonological awareness skills like blending sounds together or decoding a word or syllable by grade one.

  • Struggles with the alphabetic code.

  • Is spelling simple nonsense words incorrectly: for example, if you ask your child to spell a nonsense word like “shoom” and they produce  “sm”.

One other thing to watch for … in older grades sometimes students seem to be reading okay, but can they tell you what’s going on in the story? They could be spending too much mental energy on figuring out the words, and not enough time on processing the information and comprehending the content.

Image courtesy of Halifax LearningImage courtesy of Halifax Learning

Image courtesy of Halifax Learning


Christiane: My grade one child is a strong reader but gets easily distracted or loses focus when there is reading time at school. Any tips or help to prevent my child from getting bored when reading for longer periods?

The first recommendation is to try different types of reading materials that may be more engaging to your child’s interests. If they’re bored reading animal-based fiction, they may be intrigued by non-fiction or science fiction! You could also add a purpose to their reading such as researching a topic they’re interested in.

The next step would be to talk to your child and child’s teacher. Look for patterns that cause your child to appear bored. Are they bored when they are being read to, during shared reading, or when reading independently? Halifax Learning always encourages shared reading and reading aloud with a strong reader who can model good reading habits like pace, intonation and engagement.Start small and set achievable goals. If they can sustain their focus for three minutes, then start there, build up and celebrate success immediately. Simple incentive charts are effective.

It’s important to not only know what your child is reading but also how they are reading. Sight reading is a common strategy with detrimental effects including becoming disengaged with the text and therefore appearing “bored.” This means the reader is guessing the words by looking only at the first sound, relying on context, looking at the word as a picture or using pictures for clues. This is not reading, it’s guessing and takes a lot of mental energy that is unsustainable.    

Encourage visualizing! Visualizing is an excellent strategy that students are taught in their Painting Mind Pictures program. Visualizing while reading adds a tool for improved comprehension and recall. Students who struggle to create images may struggle to comprehend the text and can appear bored or disengaged.

Finally, when attention becomes a concern, ADHD, learning disabilities, and deficits in executive function skills all come to mind. Most kids show attention challenges throughout childhood, but evidence-based, systematic instruction strategies can be put in place to improve these challenge areas.

Image courtesy of Halifax LearningImage courtesy of Halifax Learning

Image courtesy of Halifax Learning


Amanda: Should I be concerned that my son isn’t even remotely interested in reading on his own yet? He’s in Grade 2 FI, and seems to be a bit ahead of where he should be, and we’ve tried a bunch of different types of books hoping to find something he’d be interested in.

Reading is the foundation for all learning, not just academically, but it allows us to discover information, develop opinions and innovate. Finding the right balance to foster the love of reading and ensure your child is developing solid literacy skills can be tough.

Ask yourself these questions to try to determine what the root of the issue may be:

  • How is my child reading? Are they sight-reading (see the question above) or using more efficient strategies to decode unfamiliar language?

  • How are books presented to my child? Is shared reading a part of our routine?

  • Have I tried an incentive program with achievable and realistic goals to build confidence?

Several of the strategies in the second question above may also work with your child. Another suggestion is to select titles that are slightly below skill level to build fluency and reduce the feeling that this is “work” and give them a sense of accomplishment!



For more information about Halifax Learning and the SpellRead program please visit their website. You can book a free assessment online and ask questions about their services to determine if you feel they are a good fit for your family’s needs.

3 thoughts on “How to Know When Your Child Needs More Help with Reading and Literacy

    1. Thanks, Jenna! We’re happy to be here and fill the need for structured, evidence-based literacy in HRM. Helping people overcome their struggles in developing literacy skills is the most rewarding job in the world!


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