Do Reading Levels Matter? Yes – But Passion Comes First

Written by Gabrielle Murray

When a child chooses a book off the shelf, their mind whirs with electric possibility. Something about the cover has drawn them in, and their exploration is just beginning.

The adult in the room, however, is looking for something very specific: Is that book age-appropriate, in content and in reading level? Will this book challenge them without discouraging, or is it “too easy”?

When pairing a child with a book that will make their imagination soar and pave the way to a lifetime of literary love, both these qualities — a child’s passion and a book’s propriety — must be considered. But while the adult tends to place emphasis on reading level, the importance of a child’s interests can’t be overstated.

The trouble with tests? They’re inconsistent.

Formal reading assessments, which pair children with books based on a concrete scale of readability, are the backbone of literacy education in elementary schools. While this approach seems pragmatic at first glance, most assessments don’t take into account the child’s engagement with the content.

Not only do engaged children read more fluently, they retain more information and remember it longer. When texts aren’t engaging, children may not score as well as they would if they were reading something they cared about. On top of that, each test is different enough that multiple assessments will produce divergent results.

To raise readers, let children choose what they read — and withhold your judgement.

It’s true that reading slightly above assessed reading level is a great opportunity for children to stretch themselves cognitively and learn new vocabulary, especially if it’s a topic they’re interested in or knowledgeable about. But what about the books that seem “too easy”? Is there still something to be gained from a book below reading level?

Consider this: How many of us constantly challenge ourselves with the books we read, never picking up a pulpy paperback, an old favorite, or something someone dubbed a “beach read”? If you want to raise lifelong reader, now is the time to solidify the association of books with pleasure.

Reading should be fun, interesting, and accessible.

Susan Donovan, a Montessori educator working with elementary students, says she came from a place of being critical of reading assessments. “The [assessment] texts were so dry, I found them insulting to children — and I wasn’t sold on the results.”

These boring benchmark texts are the crux of the issue. Sure, you can read the dictionary cover-to-cover — but do you want to? There’s a reason it’s easier to read 300 pages of the latest bestseller than a 50-page technical manual.

“I understood that books should be beautiful works of art,” says Donovan. “I’ve never stocked my shelves with ‘Cat on the Mat’ type books.”

The result of Donovan’s passion-first approach is that book choice in her classroom is driven by a child’s interests, and the classroom library is vibrant and varied.

“I was always of the mindset that if they enjoy the book, let them enjoy the book. They wouldn’t stick with it if they weren’t getting something positive from reading it… Even if, as with Harry Potter, [the] positive responses from peers are just from carrying around a heavy book.”

Joining a book club helps you find the best books, stress-free.

With the expectation that books need not only be appropriate but also engaging, parents can feel overburdened to choose the “right” books when shopping for their children. Children’s book clubs, like Literati, were created with the intention of helping parents cut through the noise.

Literati, which curates book selections for readers from birth through age nine, keeps the choice in their members’s hands with their try-before-you-buy model.

After a week to read and explore five books each month, parent and child keep only the books they love and send the rest back.

Reading should be joyful, engaging, and stress-free. When kids are in charge of their reading, passion and motivation pave the way to a lifelong love of literature.

Try Literati today and get your first month of membership for free with offer code PASSIONFIRST2.

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