Summer is an ideal time for families to relax, take a break from demanding school days, and become comfortable with less-structured time – and less-structured reading. Children (and parents) have more opportunities to discover books on their own and read ones they love. They can also read at a more relaxed pace, without intense scrutiny and pressure. Hopefully, the slower pace and freedom of choice makes reading more enjoyable and allows our children to discover the magic of reading.
Recently, though, a Wall Street Journal piece discusses the benefits of books with prescribed levels, known as “leveled readers,” as an easy way for parents to pick books for their children to read over the summer. While it’s nice to have a guide for choosing books, a more important point is that parents shouldn’t be the ones doing the choosing. Nor should the publishers.
What and at what level children are reading should not be our primary focus. Instead, the focus should be on letting your child read what she or he likes to read. Parents can certainly play a role in helping their child increase the desire to read, but the true payoff comes from letting children choose books that spark or expand their interests or allow them to explore completely new subjects.
LIMITS OF LEVELED READERS
The problem with leveled readers is that they can be limiting for both a child and a parent. It’s harder for the parent to discover a child’s innate curiosity or reading level when the book is prescribed by a publisher. It also limits the child if he or she is not matched with the correct level. Reading is all about expanding our horizons, not holding us back.
As linguist and education professor Stephen Krashen writes on his blog in response to the same WSJ article, “Restricting children to reading at a certain level makes the incorrect assumption that readers must know nearly every word to understand and enjoy texts.”
While assessing a child’s reading level is important, there are more imaginative ways to do so other than through formulaic books. Of course, basic reading entails certain skill-building—practicing sounds and syllables, recognizing letters and words. Leveled readers are decent tools for this as well as for reinforcing accuracy, rate, and comprehension.
But reading also requires critical thinking, even at the most basic level. Can children make sense of what they are reading and learning? Do they connect to the book? Can they connect the book to reality? These are the assessment markers we have the luxury of considering over the summer.
ASSESSING YOUR CHILD’S READING LEVEL
The best way for parents to assess and help their children with reading and comprehension is to observe their growth in reading and see where their reading interests lie.
As a learning specialist, what I’ve noticed over the course of three decades of working with children is that actively engaging with them when discussing the nuance of language and the connection of text to other ideas or interests stimulates thinking skills that enhance beginning literacy more than any single-factor leveling system can.
CHOOSING A BOOK
Perhaps your child will choose to read a leveled reader. Perhaps she will choose to read about Clifford, the big red dog, or about George and Martha, hippopotamuses who are best friends, or one of Dr. Seuss’s many wonderful books.
Your child may love to read poetry. Or Hemingway, whose sentences are short, clear, and concise. The point is not which book or level of book your child is reading—any book is great—but that your child connects with the story. The more meaningful the interaction is with the text, the more a child can activate important critical thinking skills.
Ultimately, reading is a way for a child (and an adult) to make sense of the world. We use language as a way to communicate and speak, and also as a way to think about our lives and how we connect with the rest of the world.
Stay tuned for our next blog post on tips for helping your child cultivate reading skills.
Image courtesy of Jessica Genetel, Flickr.com