“Can you help me find books in my child’s reading level?” “My child is in first grade. Where are the first-grade books?” “My child is in second grade and his teacher says his Lexile level is 650L. What does that mean?”
Librarians hear these questions, along with multiple variations, over and over again. Choosing books for children can seem like a daunting task, especially as children get older and enter school. Then, not only are parents concerned with finding books that they can read and enjoy together with their child but now they also need to find books that will help promote their child’s reading development so that they can keep up with the fast-paced rigors of the classroom. Throw in terms like “Accelerated Reader” and “Lexile” and things can get even more confusing!
Thankfully, there are a few tried-and-true methods to help you and your child in the search for that “just right” book. One of the more popular ways that children are taught to choose books in school is known as the “5-Finger Rule.” When following the 5-Finger Rule, children select a book and choose a random page. They try to read that page and hold up a finger for every word with which they struggle. If, by the end of the page, they are holding up five or more fingers, then the book may be too difficult for them to read independently. If they hold up one, two, three, or four fingers then the book is probably a good fit because it allows them to practice new skills while not being too frustrating.
Another important element associated with reading is comprehension, or understanding what you read. Children are learning to use their brains to simultaneously sound out words and to make sense of what is happening in the story. Therefore, it is a good idea to check your child’s understanding of a text to see if the difficulty level is appropriate. For example, a book may be too difficult for a child to read independently if they are able to read all or most of the words on the page, but cannot recall what happened in the section they read. This could mean that the content is not at the right level or the child is still using the majority of their concentration to figure out the words. Ask your child to read a page of their book to you and then ask them to tell you what happened in their own words. This is a great way to check for understanding!
Ultimately, our goal is to nurture reading independence within our children. However, that is not to say that a book that is considered too hard or too easy has no place in their reading repertoire! For example, books that are considered to be more difficult, provide fantastic opportunities for adults and children to read together! Parents and caregivers are a child’s first teacher! Therefore, reading together with your child can help them practice new skills while also showing them that you value reading! On the other hand, books that are thought to be too easy are confidence-boosters. Children occasionally want to read a book that they have read before and sometimes even know by heart. This is absolutely okay because it helps build their confidence in their reading abilities. Also, don’t discount books that focus on your child’s interests. These are great reading motivators! Check them out even if they don’t fall into your child’s “reading level!”