I’ve often said I’m not about reading levels for kids. I think too much stress is put on reading levels in public schools, and it spills over into other types of schooling. I’ve seen it it kill any love for books kids might develop. Reading is such a personal act, and learning it should be as organic as it can be.
When my boys were little, we could often be found curled up with a stack of picture books on the floor, reading through them one at a time and exclaiming over the pictures, studying the letters, discussing the sentence structure. But at bedtime, even when they were toddlers, I snuggled up with them and read them a chapter from a chapter book. Harry Potter. The Key to Rondo. The Narnia series. The Guardians of Ga’Hoole. A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Why? Because stories expand our minds, and I wanted my boys to learn early how to let that happen without pictures. Even I was surprised by how quietly they settled down and focused on the chapter each night, closing their eyes and letting my voice lull them. I wasn’t at all surprised by the vocabulary they picked up, the way their imaginations swelled to include new knowledge, or their high-level ability to understand complex situations at an early age. That’s what reading above your ‘reading level’ does for you.
You should chuck the reading level, too
When you only provide your child with age-appropriate reading you are putting him or her into a box. We step outside that box for many reasons:
- Additions to vocabulary invariably happen
- They can get practice looking up unknown words and learn how to glean meaning from context
- Most stories are awe-inspiring regardless of age
- Children are not as stupid as some grown-ups seem to think
- Reading at different levels shows different ways to construct sentences and improve writing
- Introduction to other cultures, time periods, places, and experiences
- They’re books. Everyone should enjoy them.
I am not saying you should pressure your kids to read above their level on their own–that can cause backlash in the form of creating a child who grows up to hate reading. What I’m saying here is that you shouldn’t Discourage them from reading either above or below their capabilities.
Making the reading level a thing of the past
Any reading is good reading, and allowing your child flexibility in his choices will help make it a pleasurable activity.
Guided reading–in which you either read aloud to your kids or they read aloud to you–is more beneficial than you may imagine. Littlest loves reading zombie and apocalypse stories on his own, but he thoroughly enjoyed reading Oliver Twist aloud with me, and still makes intelligent references to it 3 years later. With guided reading, you are there to explain the stuff that may be over their heads and to encourage them to think a little deeper about what they’re reading so next time they don’t need you so much.
It’s a win-win to allow your child to pick his own reads rather than following some list of rules some bureaucrat set out in some office in some building in some city nowhere near you, even if you just hand him a stack of different-level books and say, “Pick one.”
And when you enhance his personal reading with guided reading, his reading level grows exponentially.
And gracious, if your 12-year-old wants to look at picture books or read Junie B. Jones… Why shouldn’t she? How is that possibly hurting her? As long as she’s reading, the world is golden, my friends. The end.
Why it shouldn’t matter
It’s not a competition.
I don’t care if my boys are reading stuff that’s ‘more advanced’ than some other mother’s kids. You shouldn’t either.
Rather, we should care how reading opens our child’s mind, educates her without her realizing it, and helps her get a grasp on human nature and complex situations.
Don’t pressure her to read something she can’t digest just so she can keep up with the Jones kid. Encourage her to go to the next level if she finds something interesting because it will benefit her or better yet, read the next level with her.
If you are a reader, you know that sometimes as adults we read at different levels depending on our moods. Personally, I choose YA over any other genre, and middle grade runs a close second. But I’m not 12 or 16 (obviously). I wouldn’t let anyone tell me I’m wrong to read those books.
Why would we think our children feel any differently?
In other words, let your kids read at their own pace, whether it seems advanced that week or behind. And guide them to understanding at a level above their norm so they can comfortably grow toward an expanded literacy that will set them up for a lifetime of educational achievement.
Because reading rocks. At every level.