Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 08 Apr 2010

My third child is failing to learn to read at school with phonics. What else can we try with her?

Hillary's Advice

Parents need to know that, although phonics is a very good tool for learning to read, it is not a magic formula that will work without fail for every child. Quite a few children learn phonics when they start school but then fail to be able either to recall what they have learned or to apply it. Others just donít seem to get the hang of it, no matter how hard they try. The reasons differ from child to child and can include all kinds of social, emotional and mental processing problems.

The important thing, as you obviously understand, is not to let the situation slide. Insist that the school takes your worries seriously Ė donít let them suggest that your daughter is simply being slightly slower than her classmates to catch on. Check that her hearing is sound, and talk through with her teacher what her particular areas of difficulty seem to be. Have her tested for dyslexia, if this seems appropriate, and ask what catch-up strategies the school can offer her. Reading Recovery is an excellent programme that many schools now use. It offers children one-to-one help, and works in a systematic way on phonics, syntax, semantics and punctuation.

At the same time it makes sure reading stays a really enjoyable activity that children really want to master. Because the one thing you need to avoid at all cost is putting so much pressure on your daughter that she develops a phobia about the whole business and refuses even to try.