The Question Box: “I’m confused about what to do for my first grader…”

Dear Joan-

I’m confused about what to do for my first grader. She doesn’t really like to read but I know she is supposed to practice reading every night for 20 minutes. By the time we get done encouraging and listening to her read, I don’t have any energy to read aloud to her. Most nights the reading time is stressful and that can’t be good, right? 

Any suggestions?

Boston mother of 2

Our answer

Dear First Grader’s Mom:

Your gut instincts are spot on. Keeping the goal of building skills in each of the three skill buckets in mind, there a few things your daughter needs:

  1. She needs to practice reading. (For first graders, books will primarily build Letter & Sound skills.)
  2. She needs to hear and talk about books read aloud. (This will build Vocabulary & Knowledge skills, and Awareness & Regulation skills.)
  3. But she also needs to love the world of books and ideas. And that isn’t going to happen if everything having to do with reading is a struggle.

Is she were my 1st grader, here’s what I would do:

  1. Have her practice reading books that have words she can actually read with less struggle. No one likes to feel like a reading loser, and that is what happens when any of us read books that are too hard for us to read, or filled with words we don’t know.  Your daughter needs to become an automatic word reader in these early years, and that takes practice with hearing and comparing sounds, matching sounds to letters , and decoding individual words. But it also takes practice reading “connected text,” not just a list of words. The “decodable” books (that have simple words and often work on only words with a particular short vowel, for example) give her a chance to practice reading”connected text.” Those books might seem simple and boring to adults, but children usually feel great about reading them and proud of themselves! If they don’t, then they might need easier books or a teacher’s attention.
  2. Prioritize reading aloud, and talking back-and-forth about what you’re reading. She will develop reading skills by hearing the more complex words that are in books she can’t read on her own at this point. It will give her a chance to enter the world of bigger ideas and have fun talking to you about what she’s discovering. She will grow her understanding about the world beyond your house and her school. And she will have extra reading motivation once she associates reading with the cozy time you share, and the exciting world of stories and new knowledge.
  3. Dig deeper with the school around what is causing her reading stresses. Your daughter’s issues can’t be addressed unless she is getting the right instruction. It might just be that she isn’t quite there yet with the chosen books, but make sure the school knows what is driving any struggles she is having, and find out their plan for helping her learn and enjoy reading. 

In the early elementary grades, it’s essential for children to be building skills in the Letter & Sound bucket

That takes the right science-based program, and enough time on task. The other two buckets can and should be built up at home (and school) with delight and positive energy every day, and can be built while you’re going about your days together. That’s why we created the Abound app, btw. We want to make it easy for you to build your child’s skills, but also easy to know when to read out to teachers for more or different instruction. 

Feel free to email me directly at if any of this is confusing! 

You got this. 

All the best,


P.S. I’d add an audio book to the mix — maybe have a special “listening lunchtime”  that you all share — which is a great skill builder and sets up yet another opportunity to fill those skill buckets.

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