First, Love Reading; Then, Reading Growth

I find that many of my gifted students are “lop-sided” in their achievements.  An overwhelming number of gifted students are advanced in their math studies but not their reading skills.  Sometimes parents recognize this; sometimes this is not discovered until a child comes to me for an academic evaluation.  These students are fully capable of being strong readers, but they’re either not reading or they’re reading books far below their abilities.  

Many students are reading, but they still do not possess strong reading skills.  The parents of these students are often shocked when they discover that their child is testing closer to average when, often, these students were early readers, and they love to read!  And yet, these habits do not always lend themselves to reading growth.  Often, I find that students are stuck in a reading rut, still reading and re-reading the same series that they started years ago.  This child may have started reading Magic Tree House books years before their peers, but now, 3 years later when everyone else has started reading them, this student still hasn’t moved forward.  While it is perfectly normal – and acceptable – to become attached to favorite characters and stories, it’s also necessary to add additional (more challenging) reading material into the mix to promote reading growth.


Other students are reading new books, but these books are still comparable in complexity to the books they’ve been reading for years.  Many times these students are frequent visitors to their school library; however, their school library doesn’t carry books beyond the average reading level of the school.  As such, if the child is in 3rd grade, and 3rd grade is the highest grade level in the school, but they are ready to read books at a 4th or 5th grade level, and the school, they do not have access to books that will promote their own reading growth.  Trips to the bookstore often result in similarly low-level books as it’s difficult to find higher level books that appeal to a younger audience.  


Typically, those students who are not reading tell me that they do read, but further investigation usually reveals that these students only read books assigned by their school.  Reading only the books assigned by school is sufficient if you want your child to be a perfectly average reader, but that perfectly average reader, statistically, will never have college-ready reading skills. In fact, only 12.9% of US Adults possess level 4 or 5 literacy skills, demonstrating command of higher-order information processing skills. 

Children who enjoy reading will be stronger readers so long as they have access to quality literature.  Unfortunately, so many students simply do not enjoy reading.  In 2016, the National Literacy Trust found that 6 in 10 children enjoyed reading. Historically, this was the highest rate of reading enjoyment this study has found, but this still means that 40% of US children do not find reading enjoyable.  They also found that, “At age 14, children who enjoy reading have an average reading age of 15.3 years, while those who don’t enjoy reading have an average reading age of just 12 years, a difference of 3.3 years.” 


Raising a child that loves to read is a life-long journey. Whether your child currently loves to – or hates to – read, it’s up to their parents, guardians, mentors, and teachers to ensure that they are provided with books that ignite and delight them. By providing books that spark enjoyment, children will find joy in reading and, thus, become stronger readers.  For those children that already enjoy reading, it’s important to continue to provide them with quality reading material so that they do not lose that passion for reading. 

These books should be:


  1. At or slightly above your child’s reading level

While it’s perfectly fine to re-read our favorites and to read books just for fun, it’s important that at least some of the books your child reads are at or slightly above their reading level.  Books that fit into this category will have the strongest effect on your child’s reading growth as your child will be able to use context clues to define new vocabulary, to make level-appropriate inferences, to re-tell the story, and (most importantly)to enjoy the story or learn new information from non-fiction texts.  

Picking books that are at or slightly above your child’s reading level doesn’t mean they should feel limited by their assigned reading level from school.  There are over a dozen different leveled reading systems that use different algorithms to assess student reading abilities and the complexity of texts.  Most of these systems divide a single grade level of ability into many more finite levels, micromanaging a child’s access to books.  Instead, I recommend picking books around that level. 


I’ve broken up reading from birth to college-ready reading skills into seven “levels” or groups; they can be seen by the colors on the reading level conversion chart.  Picking books somewhere in there will provide your child with books that they can read with some challenge.  Some books may be easier, some may be harder.  If a book is slightly too challenging, your child will be able to self-screen without feeling overwhelmed or frustrated.  


If you are not sure what your child’s current reading abilities are, you can sign them up for a reading assessment at HEROES Academy.  They can complete this assessment at our school or virtually from anywhere.  

2. Targeted towards your child’s interests

Everyone has different “tastes;” just as everyone has a preference for different foods, tv shows, movies, and hobbies, everyone has different preferences for books.  If sports bore you to tears, you’re unlikely to want to watch a movie about sports.  Similarly, if you are really interested in cooking, you might enjoy a cooking show.  Books are no different.  Assigned books at school can make students feel as if reading is just for homework, and often, these books are not related to a child’s unique interests.  Providing your child with access to books that pique their interests shows your child that reading isn’t always assigned; it’s a form of entertainment too!  


If your child already loves to read but needs new books at a higher level, using their favorite books to find new books is a great place to start.   Taking a look at all the books a child likes or hates helps to determine what aspects of the book delighted your child.  Do they just LOVE anything about a dragon?  Or was it the writer’s style that held their interest?  


If your child has lost their interest in reading and/or has never had an interest in reading, use their other interests to find books. A child’s favorite toys, TV shows, video games, movies, and hobbies can guide reading selection.  A child that loves to play Dungeons and Dragons may enjoy science fiction and fantasy books.  A child that collects baseball cards may enjoy reading biographies on famous baseball players, world-record books, or sports-success stories.  Trying books within the topics of their interest and tracking which ones they love or hate can help you figure out what your child likes in a book.  Do they like non-fiction? Fiction? Books in prose?  Short chapters?  Books with humor? Are there certain styles of writing that they seem to prefer?  Constantly re-assessing the books they’ve read and loved, started but not finished, and even declined to begin can help inform decisions for future recommendations.


3. Appropriate and accessible to your child’s age maturity level

Once-advanced readers often get stuck in reading ruts because it’s difficult to find books that are appropriate and accessible to them AND meet their needs as advanced readers.  Books written at a 5th grade level are also written FOR the 5th grade student.  This means that they’re often conquering problems and topics relevant to the 5th grade student – not the 2nd or 3rd grade student!  Books written at a 3rd grade level are written FOR the 3rd grader and, thus, appeal to the 3rd grade student!  Finding books that are at a higher level that also appeal to a younger audience is challenging, and most parents don’t have the time to pre-read their child’s books to determine whether or not they’re a good fit.  

Websites like common sense media help parents screen out books that are inappropriate and can provide some guidance as to interest level, but every child is different.  The topics that one child is ready for or interested in at a certain age are not necessarily the topics that YOUR child is ready for or interested in at the same age.  

You can find some recommendations of higher level books appropriate for younger children here or you can sign your child up for Reading HEROES to receive monthly personalized reading recommendations based on your child’s unique interests, maturity level, and reading level.  If you have a particularly sensitive child or a younger child ready to conquer some older topics but not all, let us know, and we’ll use that to guide our recommendations! 

4. Chosen by your child!

Children need guidance to find books that will meet their needs, but they should also have the freedom to choose.  It’s okay to judge a book by its cover.  The book cover is a book’s only opportunity to make a first impression, and that impression matters.  Moreover, your child should have the power to not finish a book.  Just because they start a book, doesn’t mean they need to finish it. 

In addition to picking the perfect book, show your child that you value books by making space for books in your home.  Take advantage of the library for some (or even most) of your child’s reading material, but your child should always have access to books in their home that they can call their own.  Even if you’re on a budget, your local Buy Nothing Group can be a great way to find like-new quality books that kids read once and never again.  Yard sales and Friends of the Library Sales often sell like-new or gently used books for $1 – $2.  In fact, I’ve sourced a decent percentage of our school library from Friends of the Library sales.  And, if you have the budget, a regular trip to the bookstore to pick out some favorites or new publications can make a great family outing.  

If you’re struggling to find the perfect books for your child, sign them up for Reading HEROES, and we’ll do the work for you.  The Reading HEROES program provides students with personalized monthly reading lists based on each child’s reading ability and interests.  This program is designed for students of all levels — from those learning to read to emerging readers and “fluent readers” looking to develop college ready reading skills.

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