|Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
As former English teachers, we heard it all the time: “I already read that book.” And the response was always the same: “Well, you haven’t read it with me.” Funny how the child(ren) who had already read that book never made a 100 on any assignment. Now why was that? Because they didn’t truly read the book. They read the words, but they didn’t understand the novel on the level it was intended to be understood.
Reading levels tell parents and educators a lot: what type of vocabulary to expect; what type of sentence structure to expect; the maturity level of content in the book; and more.
We know many children CAN and DO read above their grade level. We get it. We taught those kids. We also parent those kids. It can be difficult to find books that can challenge a gifted reader while still being age appropriate.
The problem comes in when adults think that just because the student can sound out every word means that they should read the book. Just because your 8 year old can read on a 5th or 6th grade level, does not mean they should read that book. Yes, his/her vocabulary is high. Yes, s/he is articulate. Many times the books designed for his/her age group are far below his/her reading ability. We get it. We have the same issues at our houses. And sometimes (okay many times) we hate the books that are age appropriate for our kids. However we allow our kids to read those books independently because the material is appropriate for them.
When her daughter was in first grade, Allyson read the Ramona series (4th grade level) together with her. Together, they read pages out loud, and her daughter read some silently. They discussed the book and all the topics that were in the book so she could truly understand the everything. They discussed parents losing their jobs, lost wages, the stress of family changes, and all the other subject matter she would have skimmed over had she read alone. Allyson encouraged her think about whether she was like Ramona or Beezus and why. They talked about the difference between frustration and anger and how sisters can hate each other but still love each other. They discussed doing the right thing when no one is looking versus being a suck-up. They discussed so many things.
Now let’s take the example of a truly amazing book that we both LOVED to teach (to junior high students): Number The Stars, by Lois Lowry. The book is on a 4th grade reading level (probably for vocabulary and the fact that the main character is 10 years old). Some first graders are certainly CAPABLE of reading the words in the book, but it is about the Holocaust. The subject matter is too advanced for a younger student to read by him/herself. Or what about some of Judy Blume’s books? Those are also considered 4th grade reading level. However some of the content is not appropriate.
Know that we DO NOT believe in censorship. Students will need to read about and discuss these more difficult things…when the time is right (which depends heavily on the adult knowing the child and his/her personality). As the adults, it is our responsibility to decide when the time is right for our kids to learn about certain topics.
It is fine if you let your child read books above their grade level….BUT READ IT FIRST! Make sure your child is capable of understanding the entire book and mature enough to read the book. We always recommend reading the books that your child reads! Not only does it stimulate conversation between you and your child, but it also allows you to stay on top of exactly what is going into their brains…and how their brains are processing that information. And believe it or not, when you read with them, it reminds them that you care enough about them to be involved in what they’re doing (no matter what they say).
You can also have them read aloud to you (although try to avoid correcting them every time they make a mistake). In this way, you can discuss the topics, define words they typically would not have known, and check for understanding as they are reading. They will ask you questions in that moment rather than forgetting later.
Children learn so much more than basic comprehension skills when reading. They learn about cause and effect, predictions, figurative language, imagery, making inferences, theme, author’s purpose, plot, character development, point of view, using context clues, and more!
The bottom line: stay informed, and know what your child is reading. Discuss things with him/her. And show them that you care about what they’re doing and reading, even when they act annoyed with you. 😉