Publishers often identify children’s books by their apparent level of difficulty. To determine reading levels, they consider things like the number of words on a page, the size of the print, the illustrations, the picture cues, or the number of sight words. Surprisingly, most of these factors aren’t important or helpful when it comes to early reading.
We all love a beautifully illustrated book and big, bold type, but these things tell us nothing about the actual words in the book or how hard it is to decode them.
Phonics patterns and syllable types would be far more helpful when determining reading levels, but most publishers don’t consider them. Therefore, reading experts recommend using different strategies to help you choose a book for your child.
How to Tell if a Book is Too Difficult for a Child
One good approach to try is the “Divide and Conquer” method. In this method, you’ll size up a text for your child by the number of words they find too difficult to read on a page.
How do you determine how many words are too many difficult words? You can figure that out using the two steps of Divide and Conquer:
Step one: Before your child begins to read, count the number of words on the page. Then, ask your child to read the page to you. Count the number of words they read correctly.
Step two: Divide the number of words read correctly by the total number of words.
Step two gives you a rate for reading accuracy. Any number below 90% is too challenging. In fact, many reading experts recommend texts read with 95% accuracy or above for reading practice.
Make Reading Fun
Overall, reading time at home should be fun and not stressful! Try to pick a time that doesn’t compete with your child’s favorite activities. Make sure both of you don’t feel tired. Set a realistic target for how many pages you are going to read. We all like to know when we will be done!
It helps to know what literacy skills your child has already learned. When your child makes a mistake while reading, ask yourself: Is this a word or rule they’ve already been taught?
- If so, help your child sound the word out. Remind them of the rule.
- If not, and the word or rule has not yet been taught, simply provide the word and move on. Your child will learn it in the future.
Focus on Accuracy Over Speed
Don’t rush your child when they are reading. Focus on accuracy over speed; think “quality, not quantity.” Don’t ask your child to look at the pictures or guess at words. Remember, we want children to learn phonics patterns by recognizing the rules at their own pace.
While the “Divide and Conquer” method works well for many children, some kids require decodable text that permits them to practice exactly what it is that they are learning.
Check with your child’s teacher or your school’s literacy specialist about stories that would be appropriate to read at home. They may be able to recommend passages aligned with your child’s literacy instruction.
Explore Different Categories of Books for Beginning Readers
For beginning readers, books can be categorized in the following ways, with some falling into more than one category:
- Books with predictable text, like Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Eric Carle, full of rhyming patterns and consistent structure.
- Books with decodable text that offer ways to practice the sound-spelling patterns students are learning in their reading lessons.
- Books with authentic text, full of rich storytelling and fascinating facts, that help students develop background knowledge and reading comprehension.
Look for Decodable Books and Stories
You can purchase decodable books and passages on the internet; however, make sure you understand what skill level you are seeking (your child’s teacher or literacy specialist should be able to provide this info).
There are three main types of decodable text:
- Decodable stories with pictures
- Decodable stories in a chapter book format
- Decodable books and passages that are expressly designed for structured literacy instruction, such as Orton-Gillingham.