As a child, I read books over and over again. Even as a fourth and fifth grader, I would sit on my bedroom floor on rainy days and read my entire set of “I Can Read” books in one sitting. Titles like Mouse Soup, Morris the Moose, and Julius are still some of my favorite children’s books, not because of the masterful writing or storytelling, but because they made me feel like an accomplished reader.
Most parents know that a Lego or Minecraft book is not at the same level as a Kate Dicamillo or Roald Dahl book. But it’s also true that all books are not created equal for every child. For instance, I cannot tell you how many parents I’ve seen in the last fifteen years buying Magic Tree House books for their first grader to read independently. These are great books for new chapter book readers! However, there are VERY few first graders who can read these books on their own.
In my classroom, it always made me laugh to see third graders occasionally choose Bob books as one of their free choice books to read, but I could see that students gained real pleasure from reading these “easy” books to themselves and to the younger students in the class. As a teacher or parent, it is difficult to watch a child read something that you think is not challenging them. Trust me, I know my son’s Lexile to a tee, and it is a silent torture for me to watch him work his way through the entire Boxcar children set of books which are below his level. As parents, we want our children to challenge themselves, but independent reading for most students should be at a level they have already mastered.
You can always introduce more challenging books and read them with your child! At the same time that my son is reading the Boxcar series, we are starting A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens as a nightly read aloud. This mirrors our teaching in the classroom, where we give students accessible books for them to read independently, but we challenge them with the complex plots and rich vocabulary of our read aloud texts.
As you think about what books to buy your children (or check out from the library!) this Christmas, think about getting books that they can read by themselves. A good way to check for your child’s independent reading level is to have them read you the first paragraph of the book. If they have less than five errors or stumbles per page, then that is a good book for your child.
Fill your holiday with some great stories this winter break!