Lighten up: Tips for parents with struggling readers

I’ll admit that it’s been a long time since I’ve had a struggling reader in my home. My stepdaughter Nicole, who had a brain tumor at the age of 5, is 34 now.

Brain surgery and radiation at such a young age left her with learning disabilities, leading to a delayed arrival at her love for reading.

We tried lots of things to help her at home. We even did our best to teach her phonics, since that was out of vogue in schools at the time. Eventually, she became a voracious reader. I’ve never seen anyone with as much determination as that little kid had. We encouraged her reading as much as we could. She and her brother knew that they wouldn’t necessarily get a new toy on a shopping trip with me, but if they got me into a bookstore, they had a sure thing.

The “Little House” series was a particular favorite and still is. Don’t talk to her about the people who question whether Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote those books. There’s no messing with a true Laura fan.

An article on the Education News website made me think of Nicole this week. In it, author Kumar Sathy talks about three ways to promote reading comprehension for struggling readers. He admits they may be controversial.

The first is an interesting idea that might surprise some people: Put closed captioning on the television and mute the sound. He doesn’t advocate doing this for an entire day and would never suggest it as a substitute for real books. The TV watching with captioning, which shows words at the speed of conversation, could be considered a reward, Sathy said.

Nicole was a crazed “Sound of Music” fan and had her very own copy of the movie when she was a kid. She liked to watch it often and often wanted company, usually me. With the technology of the time, closed caption probably wasn’t available, but I think it might have helped her.

His other tips revolve around what sounds like common sense to me — don’t talk about it so much. Kids need a break. Give them time to read what they want and when they want without having to answer a lot of questions about what they read or the types of sentences they read.

Finally, find ways to sneak in reading strategies during other activities. Sathy offers suggestions, depending on a child’s age. They can be as simple as looking for objects that have two syllables in their names or names with particular letters or sounds. Older kids can describe what they see in complete sentences or by using certain words.

What Sathy seems to be saying to parents and other adults is, “Lighten up,” and have some fun. There are ways to reinforce kids’ work in school without making it seem like a big effort.

I wish I’d had a few of these tips about 27 years ago. It might have saved all of us a couple years of frustration.

Maybe Sathy’s article, with its irreverence, will give ideas for someone else out there with a struggling young reader.

School boards encounter no-win situations


Willmar school officials are in a couple of no-win situations as the vote on their operating levy extension approaches. It’s probably not an isolated situation.

After a lengthy discussion last summer about logistics and costs, the School Board decided to operate one polling place for the entire school district in Tuesday’s election.

It’s not unusual. Willmar has done the same thing in the past during off-year elections. This year, New London-Spicer, Benson, Montevideo and Redwood Valley all have single polling places, too.

When there’s nothing but a school election on the ballot, school districts foot the entire bill.

So, the more locations, the higher the election cost.

While opponents of the levy claim the district is exaggerating the potential cost of each polling place, our staff members have received similar information from other area districts. The cost of each additional polling place is estimated to be in the area of $3,000.

The cost does add up for programming voting machines and paying salaries and expenses for a full slate of election judges at each site.

If the board votes to have one central polling place, it opens the door to critics who say it’s making voting too difficult.

If the board opens more polling places, the additional costs could top the annual cost of a teacher. That opens the district to criticism of spending too much on the election.

By the same token, school officials have talked about things that might be cut if the levy extension fails.

They’ve looked at all-day, everyday kindergarten, the block schedule at the middle and high schools and activities. They’ve said participation fees for activities could increase.

Now the district’s conservative critics are using those conservations to accuse school officials of threatening the voters.

In September, I asked Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard what he would say to people who thought the budget cut talks could be seen as threats.

“I don’t know that I’m threatening them; I’m being honest with them,” he said.

Kjergaard said he wanted people in the district to understand how important the levy is.

I would guess that, had the district offered few details about the impact of the levy, someone would complain that they weren’t fully informed before they voted.

I’ve reported about local government entities for more than 30 years now, and I’ve seen more of these no-win situations than I would care to count.

It’s a good lesson, I think, for those who think that school board members have easy jobs.

What do you think the board should have done?