Most likely, you are capable of college-level or post-graduate reading. However, you’re reading this blog post, which is not written at a college level. As adults, we read everything, from meaningless BuzzFeed articles to scientific studies, yet no one disparages our choices based on reading levels.
Yet with children, our society has decided that children should always be reaching ahead with their reading. There is no time to waste on easy texts for pleasure; children must always be striving and focused on continual improvement.
Is this good? Is this necessary?
Surprising Truth About Reading Levels
Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is about a fourth-grade reading level. It’s sophisticated and thought-provoking, yet I doubt many fourth-graders would want to read it. Yet, they would be capable.
Jane Austen is between 5th and 6th grade, as is J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. These are enjoyable books. Austen and Hemingway are part of the Western Canon. However, reading them is a pleasure and not a chore. Well, at least Austen is.
Surprisingly, Leo Tolstoy is a lower reading level than you’d guess. War and Peace is long, yet 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 since these more accessible texts are helping them to increase their fluency. It isn’t necessary to 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. Yes, that seems counter-intuitive, but it’s true.
Unrealistic Demands of Childhood Reading
Pushing children ahead is a common 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, entertaining books, and easy books.
Let your children read cookbooks to make cookies or hummus. Let them read picture books, whether challenging or straightforward, 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.
A Reminder About Reading Levels
Just because a work is within a student’s reading level, doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate for their maturity or sensitivity. Not all fifth graders will be ready for the darker elements in the Harry Potter books, and 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.
In our desire to continually improve our child’s reading levels, we risk difficulty in finding appropriate literature for their age. They may be able to read the words, but not handle the more mature content of higher reading levels.
Reading is Not a Race
When training for a marathon, you don’t expect a runner to run an even greater distance every day. That would be ridiculous. When training, you need days to rest and recuperate. Days for muscles to build and regain strength for the next big run.
When we continuously push higher reading levels on our children, we aren’t giving them the time their brains need to rest and recuperate. They need time to make connections and build fluency. There is plenty of time for the long read of War and Peace; it doesn’t have to occur the moment it’s “possible.”