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Chucking the Reading Level


Chucking the reading level can help your child learn to love to read organically

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 RondoThe Narnia seriesThe Guardians of Ga’HooleA 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.

Chucking the reading level can help your child learn to love to read organically

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.

Love wins,


KT Brison
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KT Brison

KT Brison is a former children’s librarian and educator who gave all that up for the most important job in her life—homeschooling her boys.Though she loves the outdoors and rambling around her farm, she can usually be found with her nose in a book. Any book. As long as it has words.
KT Brison
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About KT Brison

KT Brison is a former children’s librarian and educator who gave all that up for the most important job in her life—homeschooling her boys. Though she loves the outdoors and rambling around her farm, she can usually be found with her nose in a book. Any book. As long as it has words.
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  1. I love this so much! It is about getting books that interest your kiddos so they want to read… not about pushing their abilities… and I also love all the advancements in audio books and digital reading to keep my less advanced readers engaged.

    This is going to be the featured post on Encouraging Hearts and Home tomorrow, I’m so excited to share it again.

    • Thanks for the feature, Marissa! Giving your kids books to read that interest them and they enjoy is the best way to make them lifelong readers! Who cares what reading level it is?

  2. Yes! We enjoy ALL books . . . both above and below or assumed “level.” I have absolutely seen this improve vocabulary as well as love of story. I’m often surprised to see books I read to my kids when they were first grade on 5th and up reading lists . . . having heard them early also gives them a good foundation for going back and re-reading them for themselves, which my kids do often. I love to see that.
    Abi recently posted…Summer Berry Cheesecake SaladMy Profile

    • Absolutely, Abi! There are so many more benefits to chucking the reading level than to following the guidelines. I’ve honestly never seen a good reason to stay inside that box, and I love hearing that your kids are readers!

  3. Pingback: 20 Fave Female Characters for People Under 20 | Lit Mama Homeschool

  4. I love this blog! I did see Public School almost kill reading for my child. There were these Accelerated Reader tests she had to take and she was limited as to what books she could borrow from the school library based on the tests. It was crazy, I hope this next year brings some love of reading to my daughter!!! I love your suggestions!

  5. I absolutely agree!! I hadn’t really thought about reading a chapter book already to my girls (ages 2 & 4), but I’m going to try! Thanks!

  6. I myself LOVE young adult books to read, I would rather read YA books than adult fiction any day. I remember that I held into that even into my late teens and early twenties, wondering when my interests should be moving on into “mature” literature. Personally, I think YA authors are allowed to explore more deeply into emotions and spirituality than adult authors because youth is a time of learning about who you are and what you believe – adults still are too – but I find adult literature sullied with, well, the games of sex, making things much more shallow than they ought to be, or something.
    Your post kind of went in a direction that I wasn’t expecting, and I think it is very interesting that you read chapter books to your kids even as toddlers. Gives me something to think about.

  7. It makes a lot of sense to me, especially when I consider two daughters of different friends. Both girls were reading before kindergarten, and they were both into chapter books by the time school started. They still loved picture books, but their skill was way beyond those. The main struggle my friends faced was finding content that their youngsters were emotionally ready for. Probably the best example was the Harry Potter series, which gets progressively darker. Both sets of parents had their girls wait a year between each of the last few books (knowing how probe to nightmares one of the girls was, this was likely a good call). Anyway, their girls read all of the suggested chapter book series. When they ran out of “age appropriate”, then they just read other books under watchful eyes (watchful for the purpose of answering questions).

    I would much rather let my kids read something they enjoy.

  8. I finished my masters in reading shortly before I began homeschooling… I too had to “chuck the reading level”! Thankfully I have a terrible memory and have since forgotten everything I learned LOL!

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