Is Reading Stressful for your Child?

Sight words are the bain of many parents’ lives as they see their child struggle with them every day whilst learning to read.


I find that when working with some young children, the large number of ‘sight words’ that need to be learned, overwhelms them. My approach at this point is to completely back off from them and attack ‘the learning to read’ process from a different direction.


In the words of a colleague with some 30 years Learning Support Teaching experience, “reading is a confidence game”. I totally agree with her but look at the cause and effect created by the ‘confidence’ from a different viewpoint.


‘Overwhelmed’ and ‘confidence’ are both emotional feelings that create very different neurological loads which will have consequences that impact on ‘working memory’ in the brain.


Our working memory, the part of the brain that functions in processing everything in the here and now, must not only process the targeted skill such as identifying a sight word, but must also process our emotional feelings.


Working Memory appears to be quite limited in its ability to handle emotions in a similar way that our computers often struggle to handle large pictures or video files. With this in mind, we must look to teach our child to read in a way that avoids a ‘stress’ response.


Putting a neurological spin on that comment makes a lot of sense when we consider how we all respond to major stress in our lives. At these times, we all find that doing tasks, even quite routine ones are far more difficult, sometimes even impossible.


What occurs for our overwhelmed child is that as the stress (emotion) rises, the allocation of working memory resources is misdirected away from the reading task at hand.


DIY tip:  Parents can and need to help reduce stress for their child. Wasting even an ounce of brain capacity on stress is very counterproductive.


Professional help can strategically redirect the learning process away from the sight words to another method.  Sight words are a valid method for teaching reading but they do create problems for some children. This is where the ‘one size fits all’ approach is not the best practice.


Many skilled professionals will redirect the learning to another recognized method such as Phonics. There are a plethora of offerings under the banner of Phonics. These offerings come wrapped up in packages from teachers, universities, computer programs, schools and tutors. They are backed up by research that validates them as viable methods of teaching.


Care should be taken when selecting a provider of these services though, as the way the provider tailors the content to the child can be absolutely critical and can create huge variation in outcomes.


Currently, phonics is the major player challenging sight words, within the whole word method, as the method of choice for the teaching of reading. This is having a major impact at all levels of the academic society from the student up through the teachers, universities and ultimately the politicians.


Brain scanning research is now giving the industry fantastic insights into how literacy is acquired and the last three years has seen an exponential growth in the number, quality and variation of scans done by researchers. This is very exciting news at the academic level, but there is a lot of inertia in getting it to filter through to the child learning to read.


With this in mind, it may be worth considering, small private reading clinics that are able to quickly respond to changes in technology and offer the very latest ideas and techniques.


There are no certainties in learning to read, but by asking the private reading clinic plenty of questions, it should be possible to ascertain whether they appear skilled and can arrive at a plausible theory why your child may be struggling, what can be done about it and how long it might take.


The new methods and technologies are really challenging the old benchmarks and timelines. As yet they do not have the credibility of decades of testing, but for our children today, they don’t have a decade to wait.


If you have any concerns about your child’s reading or spelling, call Tyquin Group on (07) 33998028 to discuss your child’s individual circumstances.