Our son Erik was a visual learner who picked up the skill of reading quickly as a kindergartner after only two or three weeks of simple home phonics lessons. Once he “clicked” on reading, he read all the easy reading books he could lay his hands on. He usually read them through several times.
I thought he was ready for something harder the summer after first grade. By then he read easy books fluently, and he had a hardy attention span. He could sit attentively for a half hour or more at a time while we read him long children’s classics at bedtime like C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. So I suggested he try reading The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, a book he was familiar with because I had read it aloud to him.
He was ecstatic to find out he could read a novel length book. Every day he reported his progress: “Mom, I’m on page 67!” or “Mom, I’ve read 200 pages!!”
Not every child is ready to tackle such hard books at age 7. Two children, both equally bright, may reach reading readiness at different ages—even five or six years apart. Our son Matt was a late bloomer who finally “clicked” on reading at age 10. Yet he, too, was reading novel length books within two years after he really began reading.
For both boys the key to moving on to the hard books was twofold. First, as parents we built up our children’s vocabulary by reading them many stories that were written well beyond their reading level. Second, as novice readers the boys developed fluency in reading by reading many easy books over and over.
Author and educator Ruth Beechick states that encouraging reading fluency is an important step that parents (and schools) tend to skip by pushing children on to harder and harder reading materials. This is a mistake, she says, because reading lots of easy books helps developing young readers in several essential ways. First, it gives them practice with decoding skills until these skills become over-learned and automatic. It also helps them learn and relearn the common words that make up a large percentage of all books, including difficult ones.
It helps children read more smoothly and rapidly. It also helps them develop comprehension, instead of losing the sense of a passage while struggling to deal with difficult vocabulary and decoding at the same time. Finally, reading lots of easy books helps youngsters find out that reading can be fun. But what is an easy book? The answer varies from reader to reader.
Beechick explains that every child has three reading levels at all times: a frustration level, a learning level and a comfort level. (These levels provide a way to rate books, not a way to rate individual children.) (more…)