Is This Book Too Much Or Too Little For My Child?
We all want our children to be avid readers, but many parents stress over what books are and arenâ€™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 youâ€™ll see dozens of classic and popular childrenâ€™sÂ books emblazoned with labels like â€śReading Level 1â€ť or â€śGrade Pre-K through K.â€ť These labels seem helpful, but it turns out theyâ€™re incredibly misleading.
In a post for Psychology Today, Dr. Paula J. Schwanenflugel and Dr. Nancy Flanagan Knapp discussed why reading levels arenâ€™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, â€śThe Girl Who Drank the Moon,â€ť 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.
Thatâ€™s not the only assumption the two educators challenged. They pointed out that childrenâ€™s reading abilities vary from day to day and often depend on their emotional state. The idea makes perfect sense â€“ just think about how you act when youâ€™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? Thereâ€™s nothing wrong with either choice, but some days, one just seems more appealing than the other.
What if my child isnâ€™t a strong reader?
Unfortunately, because the concept of appropriateÂ reading levels is so ingrainedÂ 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 â€śappropriateâ€ť books, but this can actually backfire. Assisted reading programs serve as a constant reminder that the child isnâ€™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.
â€śReading simple books increases your childâ€™s confidence.â€ť
Thatâ€™s why Schwanenflugel and Knapp believe itâ€™s OK for children to read below their supposed level.
â€śThey gain confidence and fluency and a love of reading,â€ť Knapp said in a separate interview with Brightly.
If your children arenâ€™t strong readers and need encouragement, Scholastic recommendedÂ having them read to the family pet. Animals donâ€™t judge or correct, so kids donâ€™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 â€śRaising Confident Readers,â€ť reading about familiar subjects that pique your childrenâ€™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? Thatâ€™s also fine. Think back to when you were little and read popular childrenâ€™s books like â€śA Little Princess.â€ť You probably didnâ€™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 childrenâ€™s reading ability. Unless they have a verified learning disability, focus more on their enjoyment and confidence.
Autumn Green is an artist-turned-writer who traded the sweet tea of the south for the deep dish pizza of Chicago. Her favorite subjects include art, culture, design, small business/entrepreneurship and healthful living.