Hands-On Activities For The Struggling Reader (that really work!)

My youngest son is ten years old.

He is 100% sure that he is a man now, except for the times that he is 100% sure that he would much rather be a little boy. He waffles between asserting his independence and crawling up on my lap to snuggle.

And the older he gets, the more he worries about his reading level.

My son is profoundly dyslexic. He has been patiently, diligently, painfully studying this complex thing we call written language for six full years now. And, most of the time, it still escapes him.

At ten, he has become fatigued with it all. He is tired of the flashcards, the read-alouds, and the worksheets.

At ten, he looks at his older brother, with his nose shoved in a college level book and says, “I just want to read. For real. Not the baby books.

At ten, he is beginning to feel defeated. For the first time, I have seen him begin to doubt that it is going to work – that his hard work will pay off. He is losing confidence in eventually learning to read fluently.

In addition to praying for patience for me, and encouragement for him, I have found the only way to keep my all boy, super active, wicked smart, but still wavering between a 1st and 2nd grade reading level boy engaged, is to make his reading lessons as hands on, and physical as possible.

And guess what? The more I incorporate hands-on activities into our day, the more he is learning.

He is learning to read faster.

It is “sticking” more than it ever did.

He is growing in confidence, because for whatever reason when he is engaged in physical activities, the words click with less effort.

Hands-on activities have changed our entire approach to learning.

Hands-On Activities For The Struggling Reader #dyslexia #specialneeds #specialeducation #readingdelay #autism #adhd


Today, I want to share some of his favorites activities for reading practice.

1. Bubble Wrap Flash Cards

This is by far one of his favorites. It involves a piece of bubble wrap on the floor and flashcards placed in rows on top of it. He stomps on the card, once he has read the word, and the bubble wrap does what bubble wrap does. It satisfyingly pops.

bubble wrap

2. Soapy Spelling

In this activity, I mix a little bit of non-toxic dish soap with water, in a bowl. Then we head outside to the sidewalk, pour the mixture out, and practice writing his spelling words. This one is great because it is so easy to clean up. Just a little more water and it’s clean as a whistle.


3. Sight Word Twister

This one is so much fun, for both of us. Using the Twister Game Mat, I place flash cards with sight words in various circles. Then, as he plays the game, he reads the cards as his moves his hands and feet from one circle to the next.

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4. Play-Doh Phonograms

Anytime I introduce a new phonogram (i.e. -ck or -th), the very first thing we do is create the letters in Play-Doh. This serves two purposes. Number one, it keeps his hands busy and brain engaged, while I explain the sounds and their uses in language. And number two, it allows him to three-dimensionally see the letters. This has been HUGE for us. For years, he struggled to understand the difference between ‘H’ and ‘I’. The reason is that when you write a capital ‘I’, it is with the line on the top and on the bottom. If you take that capital ‘I’ in written form, and turn it on its side, it becomes an ‘H’. To him, it was like taking a chair and putting it on its side and then trying to tell him it was no longer a chair, but something new. But we have found that by forming the letters himself, he is able to more concretely see the difference.

Teaching My Dyslexic Child To Read-Hands-On ActivitiesThat ReallyWork! (1)

The best part about these activities is that they are super simple and actually time savers! Because they require very little prep for me (and very little clean-up), and because he is engaged and excited to complete them, we actually spend less time on reading now (because we are not arguing and melting down over another worksheet or baby reader).


5. Wooden Montessori Letters

I use All About Reading and All About Spelling to guide me in teaching my son. I have found them to be the most flexible and user-friendly – and I love that they were designed by a mom whose son struggled for years to learn to read! I highly, highly recommend this program for struggling readers or readers that need a unique approach.

I find myself often using these wooden letters along with the AAR program. Honestly, these gorgeous, hands-on tools for spelling and reading are one of the best investments I have ever made in my son’s learning!

Overall, I am so grateful for all the progress my little guy has made. Despite a very difficult year physically and emotionally, he has continued to make progress in his ability to read, despite his learning differences.

Hands-on activities have been a huge benefit to him. Perhaps they will work for your struggling reader as well!

Want more ideas for hands on learning? Take a look at The Ultimate List of Hands-On Ideas for elementary, middle schoolers, or high schoolers at the iHomeschool Network.