by Kathy Chappell-Muncy MS Ed. Reading and Literacy and Margaret Nichols MS Ed. Reading and Literacy

Much as papa tiger watched and worried as his little tiger son Leo didn’t speak, or eat nicely, write or read in Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus, we parents experience the same anticipation and hope that our child will be healthy, strong, and reach all their important milestones on time.

Even as Leo’s mama tried to reassure papa tiger that he will blossom, parents can experience the same anxious feelings regarding their own child’s proper growth and also need constant reassurance.

Child development refers to the sequence of a child’s ability to go from the simplest of tasks to the more complex as they move from infancy to getting older. Growth in a child merely shows he or she gets larger in size with the passage of time. However, as parents, we observe our child’s normal development displayed in many areas like gross motor, fine motor, language, cognitive, and social skill development.

Briefly, the meaning of these different areas of development follows:

  • Gross motor: use of large groups of muscles for things such as sitting and standing
  • Fine motor: use of hands to eat, draw, and play among other things
  • Language: talking, body gestures and language, communicating and understanding others
  • Cognitive: Thinking skills:  including learning and understanding

As parents, we must diligently watch our child to be sure proper development occurs. We are sure to take them to their well-baby checks, immunizations, and vision screenings just to mention a few of the many ways we ensure their health. We are cognizant, as was Leo’s papa, as to whether our child meets all the important developmental milestones in all areas of their growth.

These milestones are the skills that are age-specific that most children will meet at certain ages within each of the developmental areas. Pediatricians use these milestones as they monitor and check the developmental progress your child is making. Schools too have milestones or standards every child is expected to exhibit and master. Parents feel all is well when they receive reassurance from pediatricians and from school personnel that all aspects of growth, whether it’s physical or cognitive, are on schedule for their child.

But what if it is not?  What if somewhere along the ages, your child begins to struggle, and that struggle is in the development of reading?  What can a parent do if they are told their child is struggling or they have a suspicion that a struggle is occurring?

As a parent, you may be the first to recognize some early signs of reading difficulties during the time your child is home with you. The early discovery of a reading problem before a child enters preschool or kindergarten could be that your child was late to talk, could not rhyme, play word games, or recognize words that start with the same letter.

Children that have suffered numerous ear infections in childhood or delayed speech might also be at risk for reading difficulties. Once they enter school, a child can exhibit problems with phonology such as not recognizing sounds, decoding sounds, or blending sounds together. If these skills are not remedied, reading will become much more difficult for your child. Beyond third grade, text becomes much more complex, and context and pictorial clues will be insufficient for a child to use for not only pronunciation, but more importantly, understanding.

So, as parents and the most concerned and knowledgeable of our child’s developmental delay, where do we turn? Where do we get our child the reading intervention they require?

Thankfully, schools are now better equipped than ever to meet the needs of ALL learners, and they are working diligently to intervene early and intensively in order to bring ALL learners to academic proficiency. Parents play an essential role in this process.

In the most basic sense, parents are their child's advocate, their voice. Parents who are concerned with their child's progress must communicate clearly and regularly with the school. They will soon learn that they are a vital part of the team that is working towards the success of their child.

What is expected of parents in this situation?

Parents may be asked to conference with their child's teacher

  • Attend meetings with a team of educators who specialize in interventions
  • Provide a detailed background of their child's development and medical history
  • Partner in making an action plan to help their child, and follow through at home

Parents must partner with the school to be assured their child receives the interventions needed to succeed.

What should parents expect from the school? Teachers should use multiple measures to evaluate a student who is struggling. For example, teachers in the lower elementary grades would assess students' phonemic awareness, ability to rhyme and blend sounds, and reading readiness skills.

Upper elementary teachers should assess students' decoding, fluency, and comprehension. In addition, teachers should use classroom participation, engagement, and performance in their evaluation.

After identifying the student's area(s) of need, the next step is to find an intervention that specifically addresses the need. All students should receive grade level instruction in their classroom. Those who are not too far below proficiency should receive additional support through in-class small group instruction or small group pull-out interventions.

Students who need intensive intervention should be seen daily in a small group by a trained paraprofessional, "push-in" teacher, etc.

Finally, students receiving intensive interventions should be progress monitored every two weeks to document their growth. After a period of approximately six weeks, the teacher should evaluate the student's progress and the effectiveness of the intervention. The results of this evaluation should be used to determine whether the student should remain in the intervention, exited from intervention, or placed in a different intervention which better meets the need.

As the papa tiger in Leo the Late Bloomer could not hide his concern and fear that his little tiger Leo was not reaching his developmental milestones, as parents we are the same. However, as we do have developmental milestones to follow and reading indicators to show us when a developmental delay might be occurring, we need to be diligent and confident that our child will receive the assistance and reading remediation they need through the avenues of our own observation, school personnel, and medical intervention if necessary. It is through our persistence and love of our children that they, like Leo, will reach their developmental milestones regardless of any hurdle or road block put before them.

We must never give up, we must persist and prevail. Our child’s future depends upon it.

Margaret Nichols

Ms. Nichols has been in education for twenty years - fifteen years as a classroom teacher and five years as a literacy coach. For the last three years she has also been an online facilitator for Stanford University's CLAD/CTEL Program. She earned a Master's of Science in Elementary Reading and Literacy, and she also has an Administrative Services Credential.

Her passion is for every child to have a love of learning, and she works daily with students and teachers to nurture this.

Margaret lives in California's Central Valley with her two teenage sons.

Kathy Chappell-Muncy

Ms. Chappell-Muncy is a national reading consultant of the Orton-Gillingham methodology. She has been teaching school for more than 36 years during which time she spent 15 years with Language Circle/Project Read. Ms. Chappell-Muncy graduated with a BS in Child Development and has a Masters of Science in Reading and Literacy.

Additionally, Ms. Chappell-Muncy specializes in intensive reading intervention and literacy staff development. She holds a SB 1969 ELD certification to teach English Language Development. During the last seven years she worked at the high school level and was in charge of Compensatory Education and State and Federal Programs.

Kathy and her husband Roy live in California. They have two children and one adorable grandson.