If you’re like most parents, you want to encourage your child to develop strong literacy skills and hopefully even foster a lifelong love of reading. Maybe you want your kids to have more exposure to books and reading than you had growing up, or maybe you’re just not sure how to choose reading material for a child. Whether your child is just starting to read, or is an advanced reader with a sagging shelf full of classic children’s chapter books, it can be hard to know which texts will offer just the right mix of challenge and interest to keep your child hooked but help him or her learn something, too.
Fortunately, it’s not that hard to choose books for your child’s reading level. While you should probably evaluate individual leveled books to see if they’re too hard for your children, reading levels can be a helpful tool to point you towards the right books. Allow your child to choose some or all of his or her own reading material, and be ready to help with difficult concepts or tricky passages.
Find Your Child’s Reading Level
Most school systems measure pupils’ reading levels at the beginning of the year, so your child’s school or teacher should be able to tell you what his or her reading level is. You can use the San Diego Quick Assessment to get at least a rough idea of your child’s reading level if you don’t have access to data from your child’s school, or if you homeschool.
Once you know your child’s reading level, you can choose leveled books as appropriate. When choosing books for your child, consider his or her interests, as well as what authors or genres he or she has enjoyed reading before. While children with more advanced reading skills might be interested in chapter books, kids who are still working on basic literacy skills might be more interested in picture books. Graphic novels are also a good choice for young readers, as the pictures can spark enough interest to encourage kids to stick with the reading even when it gets more challenging.
Let Your Child Choose His or Her Own Reading Material
The best way to ensure that your kids will stay interested and engage in the books you buy for them is to let them choose books for themselves. Kids may be interested in books because of their titles, cover art, or pictures. If your kids need help finding books they might be interested in, ask them questions about what kinds of stories (or movies or cartoons) they like best and steer them towards those genres. You can also recommend classic children’s books you may have loved as a child, as long as they’re appropriate for your child’s reading level.
Use the Five-Finger Test
Reading levels can point you in the direction of books that your child will be able to learn from and enjoy, with tools like the Scholastic Book Wizard available to help you browse for books at your child’s reading level. When it comes to deciding whether an individual book is right for your child, and neither too challenging or too easy, you need to use the five-finger test.
For the five-finger test, ask your child to hold up five fingers, and then read a page of the book. Have your child put down one finger for each word he or she hears that he or she doesn’t know. If your child puts down all five fingers before you reach the end of the page, the book is too challenging. If your child puts down no fingers, the book might be too easy.
You should always encourage your child to read books that will challenge him or her and help him or her learn more and build more literacy skills, but you can let your child read a too-easy book sometimes if it holds his or her interest and is at his or her reading level. If your child is interested in reading a too-hard book, though, don’t tell him or her that he or she can’t. Instead, say that the book might be more challenging than other books he or she has read, and offer to read it together. You can take turns reading pages aloud, and talk about difficult words or confusing passages or plot points. Help your child learn to research things he or she doesn’t understand and look up words online or figure out their meanings using context clues. That way, your child will feel supported in tackling a more challenging text, and will have the tools to grapple with it successfully.
Books that are too easy for your child are likely to bore him or her, but books that are too hard might leave him or her feeling discouraged. Help your child stay engaged with books that are both interesting and challenging. That’s how you turn your child into a lifelong reader.