Homeschooling,  Literary Pursuits

How Important is Your Child’s Reading Level?

It truly baffles me when parents say things like, “My 5-year-old is reading at a third grade level. He would just be so bored with the first grade level books.”

Apparently they haven’t thought through what that actually means: that once a person has reached a certain level of reading ability they will never enjoy reading something easier again.

Do you think that’s true?

I don’t.

I was almost seven when I started to school. My birthday comes early in the school year, and kindergarten wasn’t offered where we lived at that time, so I started school in first grade. I was way past ready.

My class didn’t learn to read the first day of school, much to my disappointment. Instead we were supposed to learn to write our names and color a picture of a squirrel. I had been writing my name for years and I knew how to color perfectly well. I thought we were supposed to work hard and learn things at school.

Later that week we started with a pre-reading workbook with interesting, colorful pictures but the work was oh-so-boring. I was told we had to finish those workbooks before we could learn to read actual stories. I thought we would never get through with them.

Needless to say, I was in the first group to finish the workbooks and start on our first primer reader: Tip. Finally a real story. The phonics rules made sense to me, and with that code in mind I could read practically anything.

By the end of first grade I was ready for chapter books. The summer following first grade I read the entire Little House on the Prairie series. I was still seven.

I also read countless picture books and easy readers for years after I started reading chapter books. I had no idea that I was supposed to find them boring.

In second grade I read chapter book series by Beverly Cleary and Carolyn Haywood, and The Boxcar Children, plus Curious George, Babar, Dr Seuss books, Gus the Friendly Ghost, and dozens more picture books.

In third grade I read the entire Oz series by Frank Baum, and as many of the Childhood of Famous Americans biographies as our library had.

My mother took my four siblings and me to the library almost every week. As I recall she limited us to 2 (or maybe 3?) books each. I always chose chapter books because I know my younger brothers and sisters would choose easier books. Naturally I read all 10 (or 15) books every week.

In fourth grade I discovered mystery series: Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Trixie Belden, and The Three Investigators. Since I was limited to 2 or 3 books (of my choosing) per week, it took me longer than I would have liked to get through all of those series.

My fourth grade teacher had a whole shelf of extra reading books in the classroom that we were encouraged to read for fun when we finished our other work. That was enough of an incentive for me. I read through the entire collection well before the end of the year. I was hoping she would get some more books at that time, but no, she gave me some boring Language Arts exercise book I had to do instead.

Do you see the theme? I was bored with busy work, but never with stories. And reading level really had nothing to do with it.

In fifth grade I started in on books by Grace Livingston Hill (wholesome vintage romance novels), while still continuing to read and re-read from the other authors and series I had discovered at a younger age.

I honestly have no idea how many times I’ve read all the Little House books over the years, but I would guess it numbers in the dozens. I also read other classic girl books… the Anne of Green Gables series, Gene Stratton Porter, and Louisa Mae Alcott.

By high school I had ventured into my dad’s westerns by Louis L’amour… as well as pure twaddle such as Harlequin romances and the sappy novels of Barbara Cartland. I also read The Scottish Chiefs, Jane Eyre, and The Last of the Mohicans. It was definitely an eclectic selection.

There was always a novel on top of the stack of textbooks that I carried back and forth to school. I was amazed that teachers didn’t care if you read whatever you wanted during study hall or other non-class time at school.

Our high school literature textbook had excerpts from larger works. I remember reading Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God by Jonathan Edwards. (Yes, in public school!) Also, short stories by O. Henry, Edgar Alan Poe, and Mark Twain. And Shakespeare.

The teacher would assign reading for homework, then she would leave the room so we could get started on it. My classmates discovered I liked to read aloud, so they would beg me to read the assignment to them. After I had done that a few times, the teacher found out and thought it was great. So for the rest of the year I read the literature textbook to the rest of the kids.

I was out of high school and in my second year of college when I discovered Winnie the Pooh and The Chronicles of Narnia. No one told me my reading level was far too advanced to enjoy those books.

Even now, some of my all-time favorite books are considered children’s literature. One of the greatest joys of parenting for me has been to share all of my favorites with my children, and discover new favorites right alongside them.

These days I find myself gravitating more toward literary fiction, biographies and memoirs, and yes, YA novels.

And always, over the years, no matter what genre of fiction I am currently enjoying, there are always stacks of non-fiction books mixed in as well. You see, I’m obsessed with learning. I may not have a college degree, but I’ve got book learning to spare.

The way I figure it, I’m in about the 43rd grade.


    • KarlaCook

      To quote Louisa Mae Alcott on the whimsical little hanging ornament you gave me once: “She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain.” (Remember that?) Maybe that’s why I remember stupid stuff like so many of the books I’ve ever read.

  • Mary Hill

    We have so much in common. Have you ever read Betty Cavana? I loved these books in third grade. They were about high school students! Also I read Mary Stewart’s ya novels. She is famous for The Crystal Cave. Thanks for sharing you reading journey on Literacy Musing Mondays.

  • Kristen

    I love reading. I always carried around a book with me in high school to read before classes started. I remember sitting in my English class reading many books and my English teacher talking with me about my books, what I liked to read, etc. Even now I have two or three books that I am reading at the same time.

  • Hope

    ‘The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.’ Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey
    Always loved this quote by Tilney…Everyone can enjoy a well written story, no matter the age or grade level!

  • mamabeanaz

    Sometimes I still enjoy reading “below my grade level”! I’m so buys it’s nice to have an easy read. I am excited now that my oldest is reading. He reads with such a great voice, I can’t wait to share these titles with him!

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