Is This Book Too Much Or Too Little For My Child?

Focus on developing your children's reading confidence, not their skill.

We all want our children to be avid readers, but many parents stress over what books are and aren’t appropriate for their children. In truth, many of our views on reading are based on rigid yet inaccurate guidelines. Glance at the youth section in any store or library and you’ll see dozens of classic and popular children’s books emblazoned with labels like “Reading Level 1” or “Grade Pre-K through K.” These labels seem helpful, but it turns out they’re incredibly misleading.

In a post for Psychology Today, Dr. Paula J. Schwanenflugel and Dr. Nancy Flanagan Knapp discussed why reading levels aren’t as reliable as they appear. To start with, each scale uses its own criteria, meaning the same passage from a single book can, according to different systems, have multiple reading levels. To prove their point, the researchers took the first 200 words from, “The Girl Who Drank the Moon,” and ran them through seven different reading level systems. Only two provided the same score, and the ones that were different were very different. While the Automated Readability Index rated the passage appropriate for fifth graders midway through the school year, the Coleman-Liau Index said this passage was best reserved for eighth graders.

That’s not the only assumption the two educators challenged. They pointed out that children’s reading abilities vary from day to day and often depend on their emotional state. The idea makes perfect sense – just think about how you act when you’ve had a stressful day at work. Are you emotionally ready to sit through a WWII documentary, or would you rather flip through a light magazine? There’s nothing wrong with either choice, but some days, one just seems more appealing than the other.

A father and young daughter reading together.Reading levels aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, so let your kids read what they like.

What if my child isn’t a strong reader?

Unfortunately, because the concept of appropriate reading levels is so ingrained in our culture, parents and teachers become frantic when children read at a level deemed too easy for their age. The result is an increased effort to help the child engage in so-called “appropriate” books, but this can actually backfire. Assisted reading programs serve as a constant reminder that the child isn’t at the right level, impacting his or her confidence. Instead of becoming stronger readers, kids in these programs become more easily frustrated and grow to dislike books.

“Reading simple books increases your child’s confidence.”

That’s why Schwanenflugel and Knapp believe it’s OK for children to read below their supposed level.

“They gain confidence and fluency and a love of reading,” Knapp said in a separate interview with Brightly.

If your children aren’t strong readers and need encouragement, Scholastic recommended having them read to the family pet. Animals don’t judge or correct, so kids don’t feel any pressure reading to them. The same idea is true of reading to a younger sibling.

In addition, you can get involved by creating a book with your little ones. Pick a subject they like, then have them write the copy while you help illustrate. According to Richard Gentry, author of “Raising Confident Readers,” reading about familiar subjects that pique your children’s interests increases their repetition of certain words. Not only do your kids more easily remember the meaning of these words, but they also strengthen the mental connections between letters and sound.

And if your child is grabbing the big-kid books? That’s also fine. Think back to when you were little and read popular children’s books like “A Little Princess.” You probably didn’t have the historical context of the British Raj at the time, but the book was enjoyable nonetheless.

Ultimately, you can relax a bit when it comes to your children’s reading ability. Unless they have a verified learning disability, focus more on their enjoyment and confidence.