When Reading is a Struggle

Recently, I wrote about my favorite phonics program for early learners.  Today, I want to tell you about the program that I discovered for older children, those who might be struggling to learn to read or make gains in fluency.

Last summer I found myself in a difficult spot with Gabriel.  The problem wasn’t him, it was me.  After three and a half years of trying one thing after another to help him read, I was really discouraged and not feeling very confident that I could teach him.  Between learning disabilities and the fact that Gabe speaks English as his third language, reading hasn’t come easy for him.  Watching him struggle was very difficult. and I couldn’t seem to escape the belief that I must be doing something wrong.  If he wasn’t reading after all these years, it must be my fault, because I was his teacher.  I felt like I must be missing something, but we couldn’t afford to pay the thousands of dollars that working at a private learning center (where we pursued testing) would cost, nor did I feel that they adequately addressed the English as a second language issue.

Around this time I came across an online review for a program called Reading Horizons.  The author’s son, who is near Gabe’s age and has a learning disability, was using it successfully.  I was intrigued when I read that they had a program especially for older children and adults.  I knew I didn’t want a babyish, cartoon-y program for Gabe, so the program for older children really appealed to me.  I called the support line at Reading Horizons and ended up talking a poor guy named Josh’s ear off (and that was just the first of many times.  He’s been very patient with me.)  Josh heads up the homeschooling department of Reading Horizons.  I explained our situation, and Gabe’s needs.  He felt that the Reading Horizons program could help.  He offered to let us try the online software in exchange for my honest review here.  That was a full year ago.  I wasn’t willing to try it for a few weeks and then make any public conclusions; I wanted to really see the program work over a long period of time first.  At this point, Gabe has been through the entire online program.

The Reading Horizons program is Orton-Gillingham based and specifically meets the needs of both ESL students and those with learning disabilities such as dyslexia.  And while none of my children had previously done lessons of any sort on the computer when we began this program, the fact that there was an online program that Gabe could work through really appealed to me.  It allowed me to feel confident that he was getting his needs met and there weren’t gaps in what he was being taught, while removing me from the lessons to some extent.  I could stand behind him while he worked and listen, only helping when he needed it.  I do believe Gabe was ready for a break from phonics lessons with me too!  In many ways this program saved my homeschooling sanity over the past year, giving me confidence that Gabe’s needs were being met.  I helped him to navigate through his lessons just a little, and kept up with his progress, but he was able to work independently for much of the time.

Because reading fluently doesn’t happen overnight for everyone, we definitely still have work to do.  Now that we’ve had a bit of a break from doing phonics together, Gabe and I will spend the next year or so reviewing the Reading Horizons program.  We will return to working together at the table using the direct instruction materials (actual teaching manuals/and written work) alongside the online lessons.  The progress he made in the last year was remarkable, and the confidence that this program has given me in the fact that Gabe can have his needs met and learn to read at home is priceless.  If you have an older child who needs reading help, I would strongly encourage you to dig through the Reading Horizons website.  They offer free trials of the online program, free online parent training, and in my experience, they have excellent customer support as well.  So, for those of you who may be in a similar situation, whether your older child is struggling, or you just aren’t feeling very confident yourself in the face of learning disabilities, I hope that my little review of this program helps you a bit!

This post contains affiliate links.


  1. Thank you for posting about this! My daughter struggles with reading, she gets so frustrated and then refuses to try again for awhile. I’m going to check this out!

  2. Thank you for writing this! I have a 9 year old who has been struggling with reading and we’ve put him through a series of tests and a full summer of tutoring. It’s helped but man is private tutoring expensive! My husband, son and I were just having a conversation at lunch about whether he wanted to work with me over the school year or with a tutor. I’ll have to check out this program to see if it can help me work with him.

    He goes to school but it’s a super small private montessori school, so I’ve been looking for homeschooling programs that help struggling readers and haven’t found anyone who’s admitted to having a struggling homeschooled reader until today. Thank you!!

  3. Like Lisa G, I too got teary reading this post. Having worked with many struggling readers in the past as a teacher, and now as a mom with my stepdaughter, I know what a stress and burden the whole “getting reading” thing can be for the child AND the parent. I’m glad you found a workable way to give both of yourselves a break. I’m so happy that Gabe has made progress that both of you are happy about.

    If you want yet another resource, I found The Dyslexia Toolkit by Alta and Yvonna Graham as a free kindle download in the past year and it has some really helpful
    ideas for anyone learning to read, not just those with dyslexia.

  4. You post today brought tears. I couldn’t be more proud of both you and Gabe for sticking with it. My husband has a learning disability and didn’t teaching himself to read until he was in high school. He tells me it took a lot of time and hard work. I love seeing curriculum that supports alternative learning styles and independent learning. Thank you for your recommendation to other parents and loved ones.

  5. Kate Talley says:

    I really, really appreciate this post! I need all the help I can get right now. Thank you! Do reading challenges and writing messily go together? My nephew definitely struggles with both. He also had a lazy eye that wasn’t addressed, so until a couple months ago he saw double. Poor kid. I hope this year will be a time when he feels successful, loved, and taken care of. Thanks again, I will definitely look into the Reading Horizons program. Love, Kate Talley

    • Kate – in our experience yes!!! My son is dyslexic and has horrible handwriting. It all goes hand in hand because if you cannot tell what the letter is how can you write it? My son writes letters and numbers backward, upside down, right to left – you name it he’ll do it. We have been using Orton-Gillingham and it is going very well. I have not used this program but it does sound promising and worth a look.

      Good Luck

      • Kate Talley says:

        Traci, thanks for your input. I am going to try using graph paper for handwriting! I use it for math, and it really helps Pratt (10 year olds nephew who lives with us) keep his numbers in line. Your idea to use each square for 1 letter is great! I really need all the help I can get. Pratt is the sweetest, most obedient, loving little man. He is so eager to please and thrives on positive feedback. He has never really been nurtured the way I believe kids deserve. In the 9 months he has been in our home he has made HUGE strides. He has grown 4 inches and gained 13 pounds, he was very skinny when he came to us. He has learned so much from just being in an active, loving home. He reads at a 3 rd grade level now, he wasn’t reading at all. He has really gained confidence and he smiles and laughs. I’m sure he will do well with the new programs you guys have recommended. Thanks again!

  6. This web site/person may be of assistance too…her web site doesn’t list Orton-Gillingham, but I know she uses it. She is my Pastor’s wife, too. http://www.discoveryreading.com/

  7. That’s so great! I’m so glad you were able to find something that fit Gabe’s needs. And I really love the fact that even though you were frustrated, you were still willing to try something new so that you didn’t have to take him somewhere that wouldn’t cater specifically to him. I will definitely come back to this resource when I have kids and want them to learn how to read!

  8. keep at it! I think part of being a parent is searching and searching for the answers to what is needed; glad for your search and for your sharing of it!

  9. Does Gabe also have problems writing? Dysgraphia and dyslexia often go together. We got over the dyslexia hump with my second son and he reads voraciously now. But the spelling and handwriting are still a struggle. I’ve all but given up on him getting the hang of cursive (and he’s a teenager, BTW).

    • Major handwriting trouble as well, yes. He can write beautifully if he tries and he is copying a model onto handwriting without tears paper, but outside of those parameters, it’s a mess 🙂 We use graph/grid paper for math, and that really helps there.

      • We love graph paper in our house. My son uses it for writing as well, every letter gets a box. I have all but given up on cursive and our local school system doesn’t include it in the middle school agenda anymore.

        • take a look at this link
          Dianne Craft – who I first heard about on HSLDA’s website reccommends this, but she did not develop it.
          She does use it in one of her books, but I found it on a google search on the computer.
          We have done this for our eldest who has left eye dominance but has CHOSEN to write as a right handed person, very frustrating for all of us.
          at our house we call it Race Car Letters as the figure eight looks like a race track.
          You need the largest size pad of black paper, I used the Crayola one, It is better to keep the pages in the pad as it stops them from moving around, I use a cereal bowl to trace around to get the circles and Jumbo crayons
          We have had great sucess with this. It sugests 15 mins a day for 6 months, but really it can work much faster than this
          The idea is that you cross the midline of your body AND engage both sides of the brain while doing this exercise.
          If you have any questions, let me know

  10. Thats so great that you have found something for him that works! I can’t imagine how hard that was for you to feel like you couldn’t help him.

    I love your zippered pouches. I remember when you posted about them awhile back. Would love to make some myself for our Bob books:)

  11. Go, Gabe! I really love how homeschooling affords us as moms the opportunity to see our children’s needs first-hand, as well as the chance to keep searching until we find the “key” that helps unlock their minds. Every child is so different. Thank you for sharing your successful homeschool finds. Good luck this coming year! 🙂

  12. So glad you found a way for Gabe to progress. It is so hard- my son only really “got” reading at 9 1/2. It was an agonising wait! His reading age went from 2 1/2 years “behind” to 8 months “ahead” in a year of real hard effort from us both and it was such an answer to prayer. Good luck and God bless to Gave and his mama in the next part of his journey!

I love to hear from you!