Q&A: My 6-Year Old Cannot Read

Our 6-year-old cannot read. Should we hold him back?

Our local school has a host/mentor program in which sometimes older students or parents will volunteer to help younger kids, or those with reading problems, learn to read. Her mentor is an older student at the school. My daughter has learned to read more this year than last. Ask about this program at your school.

Amanda Steward, Nashoba, OK


As a first grade teacher, I can tell you that there are many considerations that should lead to a decision to retain a 6-year-old, and because every child is different, there is no one guideline in making this choice. Is he able to sustain his attention span and work independently by the spring of the year? Check his physical activity level (is it high?), and whether or not he is socially immature and physically small in relation to classmates, or has poor fine motor skills? Retention may not be an option for children who are already physically larger than their classmates or have a learning disability. Children with learning difficulties sometimes do not benefit from being retained but would do best in staying with their peer group and receiving added academic support. At the core of any decision should be what is in the best interest of the child now and in relation to his/her academic future.

L.M. in Pawling, New York


If your child cannot read at 6, holding him back may not be a bad idea if his entire school performance is suffering. If he does well in other areas, it may just make him bored. There are several ways you can help him learn to read better: Read to him. Take him to the library and allow him to pick a book he wants to read. Comic books can sometimes motivate a child who is not generally interested in other books. Most schools also have testing available that can identify if a child is perhaps dyslexic. Reading is extremely frustrating for kids who have a minor correctable problem. A tutor at school who can spend some individual time may help. I also suggest a trip to the eye doctor. It may be something as simple as needing glasses to better see the words.

Darla Cook in St. Louis, MO

I suggest you really talk with the teacher and find out exactly the reasons as to why she suggests the 6-year-old needs to be held back. If your son cannot read at all, then it might be better. Reading is the key to all other learning. Visit the local library frequently to encourage reading as a good habit.

Joan E. Kinyon in Oklahoma City, OK

From Jodie: Don't forget to get his hearing checked. If everything checks out, get started in learning how to read. Everyone seems to panic and take it as a sign of failure. It is not. Begin working with him now and over the summer. If you are terribly frustrated let someone else work with your son. For example, an older boy could probably work wonders or even a grandparent. Calm non-pressured educational summer activities could make the difference between learning and feeling lost where reading is concerned. To begin with, buy or check out favorite books with only a few words but with lots of pictures and interactive activities. Make "learning" fun, and remember, boys are sometimes slow in reading but usually catch up quickly.