Supportive not Suffocating Reader
June 4, 2022 9:03 AM   Subscribe

LIBRARIANS and TEACHERS - HELP! Kinder Kitty is an awesome reader. He loves reading, he is well above expected levels for his grade. Now he wants to read books that are beyond his current skillset. How do I help without crushing his spirit?

tl;dr - how to support a kid reading books that are objectively too hard for him without crushing his spirit?

Kinder Kitty is 6 years old, just finishing kindergarten, and is reading at a Guided Reading Level (GRL) as an independent G, instructional H.

He LOVES the "Magic Tree House" books and has set a goal for himself to read the whole series this summer. I love that - I love that he wants to read for fun! I love that he picked out a series of chapter books he loves and is motivated to read it. I 100% support that and am happy to help however I can - but I don't know how.

Magic Tree House books are GRL M. When reading the first book together, there were several words he didn't know - read incorrectly - or just skipped entirely as he was reading the chapter. Totally expected, but I am not sure how best to support him in reading books that are too hard. Do I correct at each word? Do I just let it go and let him get confident in his reading? Do we re-read sentences with incorrect words at the end of the sentence?

Kinder Kitty can get discouraged if corrected too much - so I want to balance strengthening reading skills with love of learning and a sense of accomplishment.

I emailed his teacher these questions and am waiting for a response - so thought I would ask the HiveMind as well.

So parents of readers, librarians, or teachers - how do I help my kid try a book series that is too hard without discouraging him from trying things that are too hard?
posted by Suffocating Kitty to Education (49 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Let him read them, and don't dwell on whether he's reading them "right". Answer questions if he has them. He'll vaguely remember those words later and learn them from context eventually, maybe "wrong", but who among us hasn't? I read lots of books that I didn't understand until I reread them later, and treating something as simple and fun as fiction reading as a serious chore to be Done Right is a recipe for anxiety.
posted by Lady Li at 9:14 AM on June 4, 2022 [39 favorites]

I'm none of those things, but I was a kid who read a lot and way above my grade level. That was how I learned. I was left alone unsupervised with lots of books and no one attended to my interactions with them. If a book was over my head (hello Hitchhikers Guide at age 8 or so!), I thought it was boring and put it down. I think just let him read. Don't correct him at all. He'll figure it out over time.
posted by shadygrove at 9:16 AM on June 4, 2022 [35 favorites]

Is kiddo reading out loud to you? Or reading to himself? You said you read it together. Is that what kid wants? He can skip words or ask about them or look them up as he wants. His choice, nothing you need to manage. We learn words by context. Definitely not something you need to stop and address, I don’t think.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:16 AM on June 4, 2022 [7 favorites]

And the best way to support kiddo as a reader is to go to the library regularly and let him pick out whatever books he wants and then let him read them or not. Let the kid direct and manage his own reading without concern for levels and such. He’ll put it down if it’s too hard. Let him read comics, manga, picture books, chapter books, whatever. If you want to choose a few sometimes, then great. Add them to the pile. But in a low key, no pressure way.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:20 AM on June 4, 2022 [17 favorites]

Based on my study of n = 1: if your kid is a precocious reader at 6 years old, your job now is to fill his world with books and stand safely out of the way. Also, weekly trips to the library might be a good idea.
posted by Horkus at 9:22 AM on June 4, 2022 [37 favorites]

I realize this is a very last millenium answer, but: Make sure he has a (paper) dictionary and knows how to use it, and get out of his way. He'll either pick up words from context, or use the the dictionary, or ask you.
posted by straw at 9:26 AM on June 4, 2022 [18 favorites]

Yeah I read way above my grade level and often bounced off too advanced books. It never effected my love of reading because I could just pick up another book from my huge library stack. Regular library visits multiple times a week with a mom who let me go nuts and read whatever I wanted as she went off to assemble her own huge stack of books to read for herself. She read by example, haha.

Your kid sounds right on to me, let him explore challenging books. He is reaching outside of his comfort zone, which is when learning happens! Also +1 to dictionary use!
posted by wellifyouinsist at 9:28 AM on June 4, 2022 [7 favorites]

Put the measuring sticks away. All the way away, as in "never so much as think of them again." Seriously. GRL, Lexile, all of it -- studiously ignore all the useless beancounting built by the joyless accusatory measurement-obsessed cryptids who are ruining learning at every conceivable level.

Just make sure your kid has a lot to read that fits their stated and apparent interests. And some stuff that might lead the way to new interests.

That's it. That's all.
posted by humbug at 9:40 AM on June 4, 2022 [59 favorites]

Get the audiobook and he can read along and listen.
posted by xo at 9:46 AM on June 4, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Also, when he finishes a book, ask him about it - have him re-tell you a summary of the story where you ask questions and make comments like, "Why did they do that?" and "Was that a tense scene?" and "That sounds like it was funny." Sometimes you might find that the child didn't understand the plot and you can help fill in the fuzzy parts. By calling attention to the tone of the book you can help find other books that they will like in the future.
posted by xo at 9:49 AM on June 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

Just....let him try. I learned how to read at the age of two and a half and regularly read way above my grade - and that is 100% because my parents just left me alone. Literally the only time I remember either of my parents challenging me on my reading was when I was ten, and my father was skeptical that I actually HAD read 7 chapters of Watership Down in a single afternoon, and asked me if I'd skipped anything. (I indignantly said "Nuh-uh!" and my father gave me a little "pop quiz" by flipping back about 20 pages and asking me a couple questions about what happened. I passed with flying colors, he apologized and handed it back to me, and I was apparently walking around with the house with a smug grin for the next half hour.)

When I was a kid and I was reading something I didn't "get", because there was a word I didn't understand, if it was a single word I'd usually just skip it and move on - nine times out of ten I'd pick up the general context. And if the overall theme or something was too "grown-up", I'd either get bored or confused and put it down and try later. And if there were pictures, I'd just look at the pictures; I spent hours browsing only the captions in our family copy of the Time-Life Nature Library, to the point that those books are ones I tracked down as an adult and have alongside my "favorite books from childhood" collection.

I would just let him try. If you want to check on him, maybe try once or twice just asking him all casual-like, "so, how's the book?" And if he then excitedly tells you all about the cool stuff that he just read about, then everything's fine. If he seems frustrated, then ask him what's up and let him tell you what the problem is and then work on solving it. It sounds like it's a vocabulary situation - he seems fine just skipping words he doesn't get, maybe he's also getting the general idea of what's happening through context.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:51 AM on June 4, 2022 [5 favorites]

I also came to say audiobooks. My junior kindergarten son probably isn't reading independently as well as your son (his school doesn't do levels and neither do I), but he is listening happily to all the magic treehouse books on audible and has listened to even more advanced books. The challenge at this age is finding books where can understand THE SUBJECT MATTER, not the words. Like his reading comprehesion for listening to books is middle-grade books, but those books are often set in school and he has no experience of traditionally-structured school. So the books assume a lot of knowledge he doesn't have. Solution: Any books with anthropomorphic animals or toys, magical worlds, sci-fi etc. etc.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:53 AM on June 4, 2022

Let him read! He won't understand all the words, to say nothing is the nuances -- but that's how he stretches his abilities & mind.

Our 8th grade teacher threw out my friend's book report on "I, Claudius" (which I haven't read, decades later!) because he said that "no teen-ager would read that." Hell, my friend had watched the BBC movie, too! Still makes me mad....

Anyway, let your son read widely -- in topic and sophistication. If he latched on to something, he can look up words in a dictionary (or right on a Kindle's screen). If he's curious about a whole idea or topic, nothing can stop him.

If there is content that you feel isn't age-appropriate.... Well, that's tricky. My parents never asked what I was reading, and some of it certainly had ideas and acts that were "beyond" me. All that happened long-term was an English degree and a discovery of poetry at age 40, so... *shrug* My kids read anything they want and they are smart and not criminals. Lord knows they will see worse on Tik-Tok and YouTube without even searching it out!
posted by wenestvedt at 9:57 AM on June 4, 2022 [5 favorites]

Ask your library's teen librarian about "safer" books in their collection. And then ask the children's librarian for the most advanced books in their side of the library.

Librarians have seen this before, very likely in the mirror. :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 9:59 AM on June 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: When reading the first book together, there were several words he didn't know - read incorrectly - or just skipped entirely as he was reading the chapter. Totally expected, but I am not sure how best to support him in reading books that are too hard. Do I correct at each word? Do I just let it go and let him get confident in his reading? Do we re-read sentences with incorrect words at the end of the sentence?

Librarian here but I don't have kids. We usually suggest just letting kids read whatever they want (if it's content you're concerned about, and I know it's mostly not in this case, you can just be on hand to help talk about difficult concepts or bad things that might happen). I used to be encouraged, as a precocious reader, to read a book with a bookmark in it where I would write down unfamiliar words and then look them up later. Kids are usually fine skipping stuff.

So yes, just presume there's no real such thing as "too hard" at this age unless HE is getting frustrated and discouraged in which case audio books (or sometimes pairing it with the printed book can be fun) can be a good way to get more sophisticated stories even if he's not a more sophisticated reader at this stage.
posted by jessamyn at 9:59 AM on June 4, 2022 [13 favorites]

Adding to the chorus, learning to make inferences about meanings from context is actually a very important reading skill! It's not cheating at all. So let him guess. Make sure a dictionary of some kind is available to him, but don't force him to use it.
posted by praemunire at 10:01 AM on June 4, 2022 [3 favorites]

Since he likes to read and is good at it, I'm with those saying let him pick out whatever books he wants and leave him alone to read them. That's what my folks did when I was a kid, and that's what I did for my own kid. We both read everything from age-appropriate kids books to stuff that was a fair bit above our supposed level. She read Jurassic Park at age 8.

Reading this way helped me learn organically, I believe. I was exposed to unfamiliar words, which I was often able to guess the meaning of by the context in which it was used. I'm sure I was wrong a lot of the time, and lord knows I mispronounced some stuff, but that usually sorted itself out when my parents later heard me use the word in a sentence and gently corrected me. I don't remember at what age I was taught to use a dictionary, but it was helpful in looking up unfamiliar words when I remembered to do so. I feel like winging it did not hurt me any, and in fact it feels like a very natural and unpressured way to have learned.

A child who is struggling might need more support and help, but if a kid naturally likes and is good at reading I'd just let them go for it.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 10:09 AM on June 4, 2022 [4 favorites]

I do have something to add to the "GET OUT OF THE WAY", though I do wholeheartedly agree with it. This is for books that your child reads to themselves. Don't limit it, don't slow it down, and provide access to books that child just "happens across" at the library. Don't even completely rule out comics/graphics novels - just limit them. (As in, if you get 10 books from the library each week, no more than two can be comics.)

The Magic School Bus books sound like they'd be perfect for your child to binge on their own this summer. Grab a children's dictionary and make sure they understand how to use it, and encourage them to look up words they don't understand. (If all else fails and that takes too long that it derails child from reading, heck, let them use Google or Alexa. Anything to keep child reading.)

Unless child is already extremely fluent and smooth at reading out loud, DON'T completely drop the reading out loud. Just don't do it with these particular books. Let the Magic School House be free reading, and choose something else for practice.

Do it in small amounts, VERY regularly. Somewhere between 10-30 minutes total a day, every day. Preferably not 30 minutes at once - break it into smaller chunks. These should be at or slightly above reading level, but not so far above that every other word is a mistake. No more than one "hard" word a page.

The goal here is fluency. To get that, one needs to be able to read smoothly through, and not have to sound out many words. It's teaching the brain to work more efficiently, and it's a necessary piece of being able to read silently with good comprehension and fluency.

*** If my library book quantity above sounds ridiculous, I'm sorry. As a child, I always had my two-book limit from the school library and my 5-book limit from the public library maxed. As a parent of four (with a 6.5 year age spread) and NO CHECKOUT LIMITS at either local library, it was nothing unusual for us to have 50-80 books out per week when the kids were in elementary school. It didn't slow down much when they were in upper grades, because we homeschooled.

I usually used a 50-50 rule for comics/manga/graphic novels, but since they were pretty good about managing it themselves, it was flexible. And items that had come in on the request shelf didn't get counted. They also worked together on it, so a stack of manga they'd be waiting on came in, they'd get home and chain-binge-read them, passing them off to the next kid.
posted by stormyteal at 10:10 AM on June 4, 2022 [5 favorites]

I spent my entire childhood with a stack of books and a dictionary by my bed. Read anything* and everything I felt like reading, certainly things far beyond my understanding, and the only thing it ever did for me was make me a better reader. I still use the dictionary tool on my kindle constantly, as an adult who knows most of the best words. Encourage independent dictionary use, let the rest go.

This isn't a thing you need to worry about.

*The only book in the house I ever recall being told I wasn't allowed to read was Lolita, which, ok.
posted by phunniemee at 10:17 AM on June 4, 2022 [6 favorites]

Not a teacher, was that kid: yes, please, just let him read. He won’t understand all the words or all the context and that’s fine. If he has questions, answer them. If he doesn’t, you don’t need to correct him.

Someday he will experience the time honored bookworm experience of finding out he definitely has been completely incorrectly pronouncing certain words in his head for years or decades because he never heard them aloud. This will become an entertaining and cherished memory/quirk and not an actual problem.
posted by Stacey at 10:17 AM on June 4, 2022 [7 favorites]

I was a voracious, above-my-level reader. When I was 12 or so we had to pick a book to read for a report. I chose "100 Years of Solitude". My teacher said I should pick something else because there were things in the book I "wouldn't understand".
A few years later, I read the book (in two marathon-like sessions), all the time waiting to find the parts that were so complex that I couldn't have understood them at twelve. I didn't find them.
A bit later, it hit me, the teacher was talking about the fact that there was sex in the book.
My point is: Adults are weird. Let the kid read whatever he wants.
posted by signal at 10:30 AM on June 4, 2022 [6 favorites]

Perhaps try to think of this almost as learning a foreign language and reading in that language - you don’t have to know every single word to understand what’s going on and enjoy the story. And he’s reading because he enjoys it. His vocabulary will expand as he goes without even trying. If he actually looks up some words and actively learns them that’s a bonus. If he’s able to read at a level beyond his age he already knows more words than his peers.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:32 AM on June 4, 2022 [4 favorites]

nthing the "free range reading" concept stated by many and also the idea of having a dictionary in their room so they can look things up if they feel like it. I would also, for my part, recommend an atlas - because I read things like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Sherlock Holmes, and Kipling, and other things where it was nice to go figure out where they were.
posted by TimHare at 10:36 AM on June 4, 2022 [4 favorites]

Came here to suggest a dictionary, and see it’s already been covered. I was also a voracious and precocious reader (and only child, so books were also my friends). Any time I found or heard a word I didn’t understand, I was told “look it up” (an adult would spell it for me if heard in conversation); many times, I ended up reading the dictionary. So many interesting words on the way to, or around, the word I was looking up! So yeah, paper dictionary ftw (okay, now I’m nostalgic for card catalogues at the library for the same reason).
posted by dbmcd at 10:45 AM on June 4, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Mother, grandmom, elementary & middle school teacher here: Everyone is giving you good advice. Instructional reading level is for instruction. I read Graham Greene, Rudyard Kipling, and Robert Louis Stevenson, as a kid and it never deterred me one whit that I had no clue what was going on.

Some teachers will try to tell you not to let your kid read above their level and I say bosh. Reading is not just about decoding words, except in school where you are hopefully teaching exactly that. When I was an English teacher, what I told the parents was (a) read to your kid (b) read with your kid (c) let them read what they want (d) treat buying/checking out books like buying food & clothing, as a necessity, not an extra (e) and read yourself. Please. Modeling is powerful. Kids imitate their parents. I could always tell when a kid came from a family where the parents actually read things. They just swam in reading, like porpoises, and they didn't care if they didn't understand the whole thing. Heck, I often don't understand the whole thing when I read something the first time. I'm re-reading Moby Dick once again for that reason right now.

Your kid may abandon the series and that's no big deal either.
posted by Peach at 10:46 AM on June 4, 2022 [8 favorites]

Best answer: GRL and similar is sort of nonsense. It's helpful for someone with a learning disability who really needs to track progress-- for typical kids it mostly tells you what you can't do (and discourages you from picking anything that doesn't have a test at the end for the points.) I don't like it as a librarian, because it discourages kids from reading anything at all.

A kid with enough interest and dedication to a series will power through. Dog Man is a perfect example of this-- it's rated at like P-S or something, but kids reading at E-K will still read and enjoy it because they're motivated (also the pictures give a lot of context that helps.) Also, the difference between his level and the rating for Magic Tree House is not that big, so it's more like a stretch goal than it is an impossible task. A kid who is trying to read "harder" than their level is doing exactly what they should be doing-- challenging themselves and following their passion.

For both kids who are reading above their level, and those who actually can't read at their level but won't read their level because they're embarrassed to be reading "baby" books, the solution is the same: give them a mix of books with some that are probably too hard that they're motivated to try, and some that are probably too easy but which are still compelling, and some where you think they're actually at. If he wants to read Magic Tree House, get the series from the library and get a mix of other books with them, some readalike titles at a lower level, some nonfiction with good pictures, and some graphic novels. With a mix of books, you're more likely to keep a kid from getting discouraged about reading in general if there are at least a few that hit the right mix of ability and interest.

My other suggestion is audiobooks. Book-listening has pretty much the same benefits as book-reading. If he really can't read Magic Tree House, but nothing else will do, get the audiobooks. They're pretty good, and most people can hear and understand at a higher level than they can read and understand. You may be able to find them as a combo, too, so he can read along while he listens.

As to correction-- let him lead on that one. If he gets stuck, offer help. If he reads it totally wrong but seems like he's getting the gist of the story, let it go. He will eventually figure it out if he keeps reading, but if he gets discouraged, he will stop reading which is the worst. So, let it go unless he doesn't know the word at all. And seconding getting a dictionary and modelling using it.
posted by blnkfrnk at 11:04 AM on June 4, 2022 [5 favorites]

And maybe read those books at the same time (or after he does.)
Then you can have some conversations about the book and how he experienced it.
Let him see you reading though- don’t just try to catch up on your own time.

And yeah, rides to the library but let him manage his own reading unless he hits a dry spell in finding good books.
posted by calgirl at 11:08 AM on June 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

it should maybe also be stressed that these are not "objectively too hard for him." you could more easily argue that for a new and developing reader, any book that hasn't got any words in it he's never seen before is objectively too easy for him. though I wouldn't. a book isn't an exercise that has to benefit him in measurable ways or a vocabulary quiz that can be failed.

a great way to help him is, if he asks you how to say a word or what it means, to tell him. with or without recourse to a dictionary, so that he can learn how to look things up by observing you. if he isn't asking questions and isn't giving up on the books he's reading, he doesn't need any help.
posted by queenofbithynia at 11:11 AM on June 4, 2022 [4 favorites]

On the practical side: buy some books for them so that they can underline words to come back to and look up later. They can even write notes and responses in the margins. It's nice to physically interact with one's own book!
posted by dum spiro spero at 11:22 AM on June 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

Dictionaries are not a bad thing to have around, but also getting used to figuring out words based on context, and knowing how to not get hung up on a single word you don't know, are important skills in and of themselves! (In fact they're skills that kids are often much better at than adults; kids are listening to language that's "above their level" from the moment they're born, and no one feels the need to define every single word for them or stick only to vocabulary they know. Which is how they learn.)

The one thing you might do occasionally (but just occasionally, if you're reading together and he just totally skips some word) is practice sounding out that word with him phonetically, because it's good to not be afraid to tackle unfamiliar words. Don't bother defining it for him though, unless he asks or it's a really uncommon word, like "sesquipedalian".
posted by trig at 11:22 AM on June 4, 2022 [4 favorites]

I think you have gotten a lot of good advice in this thread- especially about reading levels. They are supposed to be used for instruction alone, and only to show where a child is on the scale. They are not supposed to be used to choose books. If you think about it, you too might use different practical reading strategies when you are reading about a new subject, or when their are words in another language or are unfamiliar. And I think this is one place where your child can give you clues about their fluency and comprehension. My older kid loved The Series of Unfortunate Events books, but couldn't figure out the family name- so instead she called them "The Blueberries" instead of The Baudelaire's. Making this change was a great reading strategy, because knowing how to pronounce or read Baudelaire was not important to understanding the story arc. If your child is skipping words or mispronouncing them, but still enjoying themselves, that is what is important at this age. Listening to the book in the audio form might be helpful, but it won't necessarily help them to read better.
posted by momochan at 11:25 AM on June 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My kid is yours a year older and was reading the Magic Treehouse books at that age. She’s now on middle reader chapter books that are a huge vocabulary stretch. For hard words, if I’m reading I just sneak the definition into the text (like “she felt distraught - that means really sad and upset - and went for a walk to feel better”), and if she’s reading I let her ask or not ask depending on her mood, and if she’s feeling tolerant we do the “what do YOU think it means?” question.

I’ve actually suggested she reread the Magic Treehouse books now that she has a bigger vocabulary and see if the story feels different. Books that are a stretch do no harm! But don’t let your kid read the Civil War one alone unless you’ve already had the hard conversations about slavery - learned my lesson on that one.
posted by centrifugal at 11:37 AM on June 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

One of the things that makes books difficult is allusions -- but the more you read, the more allusions will make sense to you.

In the mean time, there's a Olde Timey trick: references! For example, Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, sometimes referred to simply as Brewer's, is a reference work containing definitions and explanations of many famous phrases, allusions, and figures, whether historical or mythical. There are similar books for mythology, literature, and the like. Having one of them on hand for the kid to refer to -- or to skim, like I did -- can be a stand-in for actually having reading all the great works.

A modern equivalent is "English Lit 101" by Brian Boone.

There's also "How to Become Ridiculously Well‑read in One Evening" to inspire him, and also

On another note, has he read the Geronimo Stilton books?
(I am not a teacher, just a parent of four. Uh, I'm on the town library board, if that gives me some credibility, though.)
posted by wenestvedt at 11:46 AM on June 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

Oh God, just let him read. I'm a lifelong free range reader who first read The Fellowship of the Ring when I was 6 years old. Learning to parse unfamiliar words from context gave me an enormous working vocabulary that astonished my elementary school teachers (and middle school teachers, and high school teachers, and college professors). If he bounces off of something, encourage him to move on to something else. The pleasure is the point.
posted by merriment at 12:04 PM on June 4, 2022 [12 favorites]

Here are some ideas:

1) Start with short readings, maybe 1 page, so he can get a sense of it and also start slowly;

2) Does he know how to look up words he doesn't know, on his own? Make that possible;

3) Let him do this without you supervising;

4) Let him make (or save in his mind) three questions to ask you about the reading;

5) You can set up a set of "hurdles" he has to achieve before getting to his Proust novel or whatever it is that he wants. Something like:

-- Read this one page thing you found/made

-- Get good at using the dictionary

-- Read this other slightly harder book first, then

-- Read this other other slightly more difficult book, and

-- Know all the words on this vocabulary list you'll make (it's awesome if you can pick out words that you know will be hard from the book he's into -- he'll be prepared ahead of time!)
posted by amtho at 12:23 PM on June 4, 2022

One more reason to basically let him be unless he actually starts getting discouraged or expressing difficulty: you want him to think of reading as (among other things) his thing, his own exploration of the world, that he can do himself, on his own terms -- not as something that can only be done properly with adult guidance or help. If he starts to feel that something's missing when he's reading on his own without an adult (or even dictionary) around, or worrying that he might be doing it wrong, I think that's a worse result than him pronouncing some words incorrectly or not being sure about the meaning.
posted by trig at 12:32 PM on June 4, 2022 [15 favorites]

I know I'm coming from a much earlier era, but it may prove useful, or at least interesting: among the jillions of other things I read, I had a paperback dictionary available (advanced grade school/junior high level), a set of children's encyclopedias, and a monthly copy of National Geographic, all of which were critical to my love of reading. I don't remember my parents didn't police my reading at all, and my teachers worked hard against the school librarian to try to keep me at my grade level, without success (thanks, Mr. Studer, you were the best librarian ever).

I read the dictionary for fun. Not sequentially, but often in the car when we went on drives or to visit relatives. The stories, one might say, were easy to get into and quick to get out of. When visiting my grandparents, I'd dive randomly into their 1950s-era encyclopedia set and their copies of Reader's Digest. I dug through the boxes of paperbacks my mom had stashed in the basement (I'm sure she would have policed me if she's known I was reading some of that stuff.

So yes, don't worry about skill levels, just surround them with books and get out of the way. Like humans before us, they will figure it out for themselves (while asking you for help as needed).
posted by lhauser at 1:20 PM on June 4, 2022 [4 favorites]

nthing that just figuring words out from context is fine. I was a voracious reader, and essentially unmonitored. As far as I can tell, the worst consequence I face at age late 30s is sometimes I make references my peers don't get, and every now and then I hit a word I've read but never had to say, and that feels a bit silly but it's not like anyone cares or it impacts my life. I think having my parents monitor what I was reading (especially focusing on levels and etc) would've freaked me out / made me less likely to read. I'm probably lucky my parents didn't really care about that sort of thing.
posted by Alterscape at 4:05 PM on June 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

Don't even completely rule out comics/graphics novels - just limit them.

I came back to disagree with this strongly. If your kid wants to check out 50 comic books, bring a bag. Let kids read what they want. There isn’t junk food for reading. We want kids reading with absolute wild abandon and we don’t want them not being able to read what they want. A kid pouring through 20 manga or comic books is a kid spending a lot of time reading and looking at pictures and connecting all this.

I say this as a librarian and also as a mom of a 19 year old who started reading academic political history a year ago, and who also had years when he read only manga.

If kid wants to talk about it, great. Doesn’t want to? That’s fine too! Don’t make it a chore or assignment or punishment. Make it leisure. Let kids read wantonly.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:16 PM on June 4, 2022 [16 favorites]

I am a voracious reader from age 3 or so.

If he is happy and curiously reading on his own, just make books and reading material very available. And don't place any expectations or limitations on the reading material. Or its format.

When I was that age I had a book with me just about all of the time and I would do things like, just grab and read the boring magazines and pamphlets in a doctor's office. My brain just needed words like water. I frankly could not understand why others did not read as much I did. My parents are also readers and they were just, thrilled that I was always looking at something. They didn't care what genre, reading level, anything. They didn't say, only so many comics, don't read that textbook, that might be too scary or too adult. And I deeply appreciated that more than anything.

The best question you should be asking your kid is like, "Do you want to bring something to read?" when you're leaving the house. My parents would be like, "Where's your coat, where's your shoes, where's your book?" Just, let it happen. It's called trust!
posted by panhopticon at 4:36 PM on June 4, 2022 [5 favorites]

I have no credentials other than letting my five year old do this, but even if he doesn’t “get it”, that’s not the worst thing. Our local bookstore has its kids section in the back, and the new nonfiction (i.e., the stuff I read) just inside the door, so even if we’re going to buy kids’ books, I usually stop up front to look, and consequently so does my daughter. And she usually has more luck than me, in part because she doesn’t really understand what the books are about. One time she picked out a construction guide for building tiny houses. She likes it so much that she sleeps with it, months later. It has some pictures, so she’s not completely lost, but honestly, she uses it more as a palimpsest for tiny house fanfic than for actual reading. So if I ask her what she’s reading, she’ll spin a story about a house and who lives there and why that has no relation to the actual construction of a loft bedroom or whatever, but I think that sort of imagination is actually what you read books for, not just to understand what’s on the page.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:08 PM on June 4, 2022 [9 favorites]

Yeah, man, my boyfriend learned English from comic books. No limits! Well, okay, maybe put Last Exit to Brooklyn and Naked Lunch on a high shelf.
posted by Don Pepino at 6:07 PM on June 4, 2022 [3 favorites]

One valuable lesson about reading widely when young is that you learn early on that you can abandon a bad book, or at least set it aside for a while.

Some adults hate reading because they don't feel like they "may" stop reading a book they don't enjoy -- I know it took me years not to feel guilty about it.

If a kid bounces off a book early, but gives it another try later and finishes it, that's a super experience!
posted by wenestvedt at 6:41 PM on June 4, 2022 [3 favorites]

Go to the library together, regularly. Help him pick out any books that looks interesting. Get a few extra books in case some of them are too advanced, not interesting, whatever. One of the great things about library books is: no risk. Ask him to help you pick out books for you to read. You'll both have fun thinking of books the other might like.
posted by theora55 at 7:06 PM on June 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

Reading ultimately isn't about language or vocabulary. Like any other art it's about how it makes you feel. Next time he reads something he'll see it differently.
posted by bendy at 3:40 AM on June 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

My uncle gave me a ten-year-old set of World Book Encyclopedias. I would grab a book, flip to a page at random, and just... read.
Do you know that other articles are referenced at the end of many articles? I would have a dozen books out at a time tracking down all the information. Bliss.
Avoid any encyclopedias that are not a complete set for that year. Lost articles would be maddening.
Check library book sales and school book sales while you still can. Online subscription is a gatekeeper for home enjoyment.
There's just something so satisfying about having bookmarks in multiple books, all laid out on the same topic.

My mom gave me a massive Readers Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary. It had a thesaurus. It had rudimentary foreign languages (Spanish, French, German). It had a dictionary of first names and their meanings. A dictionary of space. A dictionary of medical terms. A dictionary of American slang (1966 edition). Fantastic.

Get a thesaurus. The nuances of synonyms and antonyms are fascinating. Note to self: you really do not need to find multiple options for the word "said."

Encourage reading non-fiction as well as fiction. "How to build" books. State and local travel guides for things the family can do (let him plan his own adventures as he gets more independent). Cookbooks. Arts and crafts instructions. Animals, including habitat and care. History. Sports. Photography.
If someone enjoys it, someone has written a book about it.
posted by TrishaU at 4:25 AM on June 5, 2022 [3 favorites]

Reading beyond your skillset does expose you to things you don't (yet) have the prior knowledge, life experience, or tools to understand, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. That sense of, "I don't understand this, but I want to," can give a kid direction and motivation. And it can give parents an early indication of what they can prepare to help with or find help for. Some of those directions might be short-lived, but they build self-study muscles that will continue to pay off.
posted by dws at 1:25 PM on June 5, 2022 [3 favorites]

We had the Great Books of the Western World collection in my house. It was amazing. I read Plato, Homer, Dante, Marx, Freud, Darwin, and Melville like at 11. Didn't understand most of it, but it made me a stronger reader and informed my know-it-all persona today.
posted by signal at 6:32 PM on June 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

I just wanted to mention The Rights of a Reader because, as a lifelong voracious reader who was reading things WAY too hard for me probably starting at 5 and got lots of encouragement, I STILL need to be reminded that I CAN READ ANY WAY I WANT. I can NOT FINISH A BOOK. I can re-read it. I can read bits of it. I can skip ahead.

Impressing upon Kinder Kitty at 6 that he can read whatever he wants, stop whenever he wants, re-read as much as he wants - all of that - would be a wonderful gift to an enthusiastic reader.

Good for you for encouraging him. I'm so glad you want to nurture his love of reading. This is A+ parenting right here.
posted by kristi at 11:00 PM on June 6, 2022 [1 favorite]

« Older Did your U.S. elementary school have its own...   |   Gift ideas for elderly father? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments