Why Reading Levels Don’t Matter

“I can’t get that book for my daughter!  She reads at a much higher level.”  I stood there at my booth at a holiday bazaar a bit sad.  Not because I lost a sale, but because someone else had fallen into the reading level trap.  The mom said her daughter would like the topic of the book, but that it wasn’t “hard enough” for her.  In reality, that mom missed an opportunity because reading levels don’t matter!

Stop worrying about whether books are hard enough. The truth is that reading levels don't matter! Just let kids read to enjoy and learn!

The Pros & Cons of Easier Books

When I say ‘easier books’, I’m not referring to a specific reading level.  I mean books that are easy for your child to read and comprehend independently.  Giving your kids easier books can have benefits and problems.

  • They can read these books independently.  Being able to do something ‘all by themselves’ can go a long way to helping a kid feel proud and confident.  The more comfortable and confident your child feels after reading, the more likely they are to read more later!
  • It makes it easier to learn.  Think about this.  If something is at the very top of your ability to read, is it easy to retain what you’re reading?  Probably not, because most of your mental energy is focused on just understanding what you’re reading.  That’s why I chose easier books like the Who HQ and Hourly History for my Journey Through the USA, Journey Around the World, and Journey Through Time curriculums.
  • Sometimes books that are easier are specifically written to be of interest to younger kids.  So, they might be on topics that your older child or teen just isn’t interested in, like Thomas the Tank Engine or big trucks.
  • Even when the topic interests your kids, the books themselves may feel a bit too ‘babyish’ to them.  So, a 10 year old who is interested in machines and vehicles may not want to read books about them geared toward a preschooler.

The Pros & Cons of Harder Books

Again, when I say ‘harder books’, I’m not referring to a specific reading level.  I mean books that push your kids to the peak of (or past) their ability to read and comprehend independently.  Giving your kids harder books can also have benefits and problems.

  • Harder books can challenge kids to grow as readers and learners.  Sometimes we have to give kids a little (very gentle) nudge to try to encourage them to grow.
  • Harder books often have unique words that can increase your kids’ vocabulary.
  • When kids are repeatedly given books at the very edge of their ability to comprehend, it can lead to a lot of frustration.  None of us wants to have to work hard all the time!
  • As I was planning my Journey Through the USA and Journey Around the World curriculums, I ran into one major problem.  More difficult books are generally written for older readers, and that means they can have content that younger readers aren’t ready to handle!

Reading Levels Miss the Point of Reading

There are 2 main reasons to read.  First, we read for entertainment.  We want to have fun and enjoy the written word.  Second, we read to learn.  Whatever topic we’re interested in, we want to know more about it.  Focusing on the reading levels of books ignores both of those purposes.  We can enjoy books of all levels.  I’ve found several book series that I love and want to continue reading while preparing my curriculums (and I’m well past middle school and high school)!  We can also learn from books of all levels.  I learned so many things about Marie Curie while reading a book for my upcoming 20th century world history curriculum!  So, the next time you find yourself wondering if a book is the ‘right level’ for your child, ask yourself this instead, “Is my child going to enjoy this book and want to read or learn more?”

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