Saturday, June 13, 2009


One of my (many) pet peeves is treating reading like a race: children have to be reading at four!* Reading Animal Farm in 4th Grade! None of those babyish books, give them the books that can then be checked off the list, so that the parents can modestly brag about how their darling read Harry Potter at six and now at thirteen it, in its entirety, is just too childish for their genius. Reading books is a huge race to see who is going to finish reading all the books first.

So it was with great interest that I read Jen Robinson's Reading Ahead Of Grade Level, Or Not. Which led me to All in the Timing: Why Reading Ahead of Your Grade Level isn't Necessarily a Good Thing at Babble. Great conversations going on in comments to both Jen's post and the Babble article. I particular like the comments which admitted to "showing off" about their reading, and how they quickly gave up "showing off" when adults stopped reacting and the books proved boring.

My favorite quotes from All in the Timing: "But I'm cautious too, knowing that reading a book at the wrong time can be worse than not reading it at all." Talking about reading The Princess Bride at 11: "Golding's lampooning of fairytale conventions is hilarious for adults. But as a child, it just hurt my feelings."

Of course, the bottom line is two-fold: Don't make reading a race. Respect a child's reading choices.

*A whole other rant is the parents of said children insisting that this is a reflection of their superior parenting skills. They read to their child since the womb! Have many books in their house! Go to the library and bookstore and model reading and if you had only done all this, your child would be reading Charles Dickens at five, also, instead of those baby books. At which point the parent of the child reading on (or under) level thinks, "I did all that, also" and wants to resort to violence. And it's another rant on why we want all children to be lockstep; some people will discover the joy of reading at 5. Others at 25. It's all good.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy


christine M said...

I'm one of those people whose kids read early. And yes, my son read Harry Potter at five, and tried to read Dickens at 8, but lost interest. Now he's reading Goosebumps.

I hope I never considered it a race - but I did want them to be challenged. Not "challenged" in the sense that reading becomes a chore and no fun, but there does come a point where the easy readers aren't cutting it (with both of my kids, this was completely by their choice) and it was time to move on to the bigger chapter books.

Once you are a fluent reader it matters less if the books you are reading are 3rd or 6th grade reading level - but if you are a fluent reader in 1st grade or kindergarten it can seem like the choices are limited. And schools can be one of the places doing that limiting.

When my daughter was in kindergarten and first grade the school librarian would only let children in those grades take out books from the picture book and easy reader section. She was not allowed to take out chapter books - not even Junie B. Jones. So she would grab a picture book off the shelf, check it out and bring it back the next week without having looked at it - because she had a pile of chapter books from the town library that she was reading.

Like water finding it's own level, readers find the books they enjoy - if allowed to.

Mary G Librarian said...

Oh, good - there's nothing I like better on a Saturday morning than a good rant . . . The librarian at my kids' elementary school also has restrictions on what books the kids may take out in which grades. Which might make more sense if the grade range in the school was wide, but it's a K-4 school where the kindergarteners don't have access to the library. I agree with Christine M. that for many kids, these restrictions become frustrating and counterproductive, turning the kids off from reading rather than letting them expand their horizons. (BTW, my biggest pet peeve in this area is the 5 finger rule when stated as a rule rather than as a guideline.) So far, my only rule for my kids and their reading choices: when you're reading for fun,you get to choose the book. All 3 of my kids are reading well above grade level according to their DRA scores, but if they pick up a book that is beyond them, either in vocabulary or content, they put it back down and choose another. They don't need anyone to tell them what interests them. And even when the book as a whole is beyond them, they often surprise me with the little nuggets that they manage to glean from the whole.

Mary G Librarian said...

Two things to add. Books that my kids have put down as uninteresting (usually books that are advanced for their ages) are often picked up again weeks or months later and read voraciously - kids know when they're ready to read a book. And my kids will often go back and reread favorites that are well below their current reading level. As Liz says, it's all good.

Carol H Rasco said...

Maria Salvadore had interesting observations at her Reading Rockets blog Page by Page recently ( in a post titled "Listening to kids talk about books" which is related in part to Mary G's comments about "...the little nuggets that they manage to glean from the whole."

Bridget Callahan said...

I'm one of those children who read everything really early. But it wasn't because my parents forced me to. They just left a lot of books around the house, and didn't have a tv. I could have done anything I wanted. They did make a practice of reading to me every night before bed, but that was the only "forced" reading.

To me, this is the best way to parent - provide the options and let the child choose what they most want to do. Just make sure the options are healthy ones.

Katherine said...

Sometimes I wonder if I push learning to read too hard but I can honestly say I have no interest in bragging to anyone nor do I have any preference which level of books she would read. I think, at least in my case, it is that my oldest (now 3 1/2) craves attention from people. She is an extroverted people person. I'm the exact opposite and while I enjoy reading to her some, I dream of those days when reading will be something she can do to occupy herself without demanding I play something with her every minute of every day. She does have a 1 1/2 year old sister (who I likewise dream she will enjoy reading to one day) and they do play together some but her little sister is still young enough that she begs for lots of play time with adults. All the same, I try not to worry much or push it if she wants to dictate which words I spell and gets bored trying to sound out letters.