Why You Shouldn’t Require Your Children to Always Read at Their Highest Level (52)
Most likely you are capable of college-level or post-graduate reading.
But you’re reading this blog post. Which is not written at a college level.
Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is about a fourth-grade reading level. It’s sophisticated and thought-provoking, and I doubt many fourth-graders would want to read it. But they would be able to.
Jane Austen is between 5th and 6th grade. So is J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
These are enjoyable books. Austen and Hemingway are part of the Western Canon.
But reading them is a pleasure, and not a chore. At least, Austen is.
Surprisingly, Leo Tolstoy is a lower reading level than you’d guess. War and Peace is long, but it is only between an 8th and 9th grade reading level.
Which is to say: classic works of literature are not meant to challenge your reading ability. They might challenge your heart, your emotions, your ideas on how the world works . . . but technically you’ll be able to read them.
As I’ve mentioned before, the brain builds fluency by laying down myelin, but the only way to lay down myelin is with fluency. Let your children read at a comfortable level. Don’t always push them to read at the edges of their ability.
Even “easy” reads are still helping children learn to read better! So let your children read easy works.
It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s true.
But pushing children ahead is a real temptation. The New York Times article “Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children,” included this quote.
“. . . Laurence is 6 ½, and while he regularly tackles 80-page chapter books, he is still a ‘reluctant reader,’ Ms. Gignac said. Sometimes, she said, he tries to go back to picture books. ‘He would still read picture books now if we let him, because he doesn’t want to work to read,’ she said, adding that she and her husband have kept him reading chapter books.”
Do you want to work every time you pick up a book or read a blog post? Of course not!
If you choose to read easier books or posts at times, that doesn’t make you lazy. It keeps you enjoying books and learning. It keeps you educated and entertained.
So please don’t deprive your children of the opportunity to experience reading in so many wonderful ways. Stretching books sometimes. But also information books, and entertaining books.
Let your children read cookbooks to make cookies or hummus. Let them read picture books, whether easy or challenging, to enjoy the interplay of story, specific word choices, and art. If they’re struggling, let them read comic books. The original Garfield strips have minimal words on the three panels, and then there’s a punchline. It’s about as much entertainment per word as you’re likely to find, with a tremendous amount of picture support to help children predict the words.
And when children graduate to (my personal favorite) Calvin and Hobbes, fantastic! So much advanced vocabulary, but so much enjoyment!
Keep giving your children a love of learning. Don’t push them to read too high a level, too soon.
One Other Reminder
Just because a work is within a student’s reading level, doesn’t mean that it’s an appropriate work for their maturity or sensitivity. Not all fifth graders will be ready for all of the darker elements in the Harry Potter books. Not all fifth graders will care about Elizabeth Bennet’s romantic troubles.
That’s fine! Since adults enjoy these books, too, there are many years to come that will offer reading pleasure.
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