By Nick Bertani
This is a common question of many parents with a simple 3 part answer. Start by understanding your child’s reading level. This is important as it will keep your child from getting too frustrated with books that are too challenging and it will not bore them if a book is too easy. Your child’s teacher should be able to provide a Lexile Level or Guided Reading Level. The great thing about a public library children’s department is that there are knowledgeable people who can help you locate appropriate books if you have an estimated reading level. If your child will be reading the book independently, I would suggest getting books at their reading level or one level below. They should be able to read these types of books with 95% to 100% accuracy, for the most part. In other words, if they are making two or more errors on a page, it’s probably too difficult for them to read independently. You can also use the Five Finger Rule as a guide.
I would also suggest getting a few books that are a few levels above their independent level. This is called their instructional level. These books can be partner read between the two of you. You can alternate pages or have the child echo read a page you just read. This will help them hear what fluent reading sounds like. You can then encourage them to “read it like me.” These books definitely need more parental support for decoding and understanding.
Lastly, look for books that your child wouldn’t be reading independently but are still of high interest. These books will be read by you to your child. Understanding the story and the vocabulary concepts are often more challenging in these books. Take the time to explain unfamiliar words and themes in the story. Encourage your child to visualize in their head as you read. Ask them, “What kind of pictures do you see when I read those words?” Suggest they picture the words flowing into a movie that is coming alive. Visualizing is a skill that takes time to develop, for some. Continue to encourage your child to “make a movie in your head.”
One last thought, there are many kids who can decode the words of a story but don’t understand what some of them mean. This can negatively affect your child’s comprehension. I worked with a 1st grade student (he now attends an elite Ivy League College) whose mom told me he read the book Holes in first grade. While I didn’t disagree that he was able to accurately decode at a good rate and read the vast majority of the words. In my head I questioned if he understood the deep themes of character conflict, flashback, and problem/resolution. Similarly, I could probably accurately read the words in a manual on how to build a rocket but I doubt it would make much sense to me due to a lack of understand of the vocabulary and terminology. So be careful about your young fluent reader independently taking on difficult themes. Remember, the ultimate goal of reading is to read for understanding whether it’s to learn something or for pleasure.
Nick is a reading specialist with over ten years experience. He received his undergraduate degree from The University of Illinois-at Chicago and his Master’s degree from National Louis University. He is currently a reading specialist working with CES and at a public school in the Chicago area. Nick has also taught in the classroom as a 2nd and 5th grade teacher. In addition to being a reading specialist Nick also works with kids outside of school and coaches for youth sports. He is certified in Wilson Level I and Reading Recovery and has a vast amount of knowledge regarding various reading and writing intervention programs.