Not Up to Grade Level

4th Grader Hates to Read. Or Does He?

Sometimes it looks like a child doesn’t like to read, but as Dr. Linda Silbert tells two worried parents, sometimes it’s something different. Read on to learn what things may masquerade as hating to read.

4th grader hates to readDear Dr. Linda,

I read your column about the boy who loved books but didn’t read very well. Your comments about dyslexia and phonics explained a lot for me. But we have a different kind of reading problem with our 4th grader. He is certainly not up to grade level. Aiden’s been tested, and he isn’t dyslexic. His reading isn’t great but he can read. However he’s not up to grade level.

The problem is he just hates to read. I know you’ve written about this before but now that school is starting can you please give us some suggestions for motivating him. We’re not asking him to like reading or even to read more than his teachers require, but we do want him to do well in school.

We’ve been told there’s more reading in 4th grade. We’re afraid his poor reading will hurt his grades. We appreciate your good advice.  

Worried Parents

Dear Worried Parents,

I understand your concern. We all want our children to do well in school. And you are correct. As I mentioned last week, kids are required to read more in 4th grade and to read in subjects like social studies and science, not just reading circle. So yes, poor reading skills can affect grades.

However, with help children who don’t read or don’t read up to grade level can improve a lot. Several factors contribute to children disliking reading. For many of these children, it’s not that they dislike reading, they dislike that reading is hard for them, and that they aren’t very good at it.

For some kids, it’s a simple as needing glasses. For other children, especially those with ADHD, reading is difficult if they have to sit still too long. In addition, teachers often overlook other learning disabilities. Just because a child doesn’t have dyslexia doesn’t rule out factors such as language, visual, or auditory processing difficulties. A child may be able to read the words but not understand what he’s reading.  Perhaps Aiden’s reading fluency is poor.

I suggest that you have Aiden tested for learning disabilities, for reading comprehension, word recognition and reading fluency, and for ADD/ADHD.

Find out exactly what his teachers mean when they tell you that Aiden doesn’t read very well. Reading well has many components. Until you know exactly what the problem is, it’s hard to know how to help him.

If his problem is word recognition, phonics will help a lot. Phonics is not simply for kids who have dyslexia. For lot of children, phonics is the key to reading well.

Once you know what the problem is, you can help him at home. I also suggest finding a reading specialist or tutor to help him catch up.

Finally, kids who don’t read well can be motivated to read when they have books they find interesting. Make sure, for example, whenever Aiden has a choice of books for his book report, that he chooses a topic you know he loves. If he’s into baseball, help him find a baseball book at his level. If you’re helping him at home, get books at the library about things you know he’s excited about.

For kids who hate reading, it doesn’t dawn on them that reading might be o.k. if it’s about something they love. Instead they’ll choose the very shortest book with the most pictures without thinking about how interesting a book might be.

Wishing you and Aiden a happy and successful school year!
Dr. Linda

P.S. When kids like Aiden need to improve word recognition, phonics is invaluable. You can pick up a complimentary copy of my Phonics Checklist at

This Q&A originally appeared as a syndicated newspaper column. If you have a question for Dr. Linda, please email her at Linda at

For more information on this subject, these articles may be useful:

Kids Who Do Not Like Reading

Why Do Kids Hate School

Motivating Reluctant Readers

My Child Hates to Read

How to Make Reading Fun

Phonics Centered — Consistent with Orton-Gillingham — Multisensory