3-6, 5-7, 7-12, Books, Children, Musings

The Harm of “Too Hard” for Reluctant Readers

I want to talk about this but I figure I should give a disclaimer:

This is my personal opinion.  It is the opinion of someone who worked in the children’s section of a book store and heard time and time again, “Oh no, you can’t have that one, it’s too hard for you.” In various tones, from disgruntled exasperation to affectionate concern.  

I want this to stop.

Why? I hear you ask, it is just our way of getting our kids to put down a book that they aren’t ready for and pick something closer to their own reading level.

When you use words like “that is too hard”, or “that is not for you”, you are telling the child that a book they are interested in (even if it is only on an aesthetic level) is wrong, or that they are wrong for wanting it.  The English language is a remarkably versatile and malleable language.  There are ways to explain your concern so that the kid doesn’t feel shut down, discouraged, or in some cases indignant.

I had a teacher tell me that the easiest way to tell if a book is the proper reading level for a child is to use what she called “the five finger rule”.  You open to a random page, it could be the first page, the last, but I would suggest somewhere in the middle, and have them read.  For every word they can’t figure out (meaning they are allowed to take their time and sound it out, with your help if you wish) but if they give up they have to put up a finger.  [note: this excludes made up words or names as the child will likely not have heard them before] If all five fingers are up then the book is too challenging for them.  So rather than looking at the size of the book, the recommended age bracket, or any of that, sit down with them and take a minute.  See if they can read a page.  If they can’t then you ask, “is this a book that you still want to read?”

A lot of the time if it was too hard for them they will say themselves that it was too hard and put it down.  If they do still want to read it then ask if they want to read it together (I am going to make a post where I talk about reading aloud and how it shouldn’t stop when kids can read for themselves).  Sometimes they will agree and other times they want to struggle through.  In this case, I find it best to say, okay this is a book that we will get to challenge you, but let’s also find a book that is a little easier so you can give your brain a rest.  This way you are not saying the book is wrong for them, or they are wrong for the book, you are encouraging them to work hard and if they are truly interested in the subject matter they will be more willing to muddle through.  Often times when they find an easier book that they are also interested in they are willing to let go of the harder one because they realize that it was too hard but didn’t want to walk away empty handed.

I completely understand when parents tell me they don’t want their reluctant readers to become completely despondent.  They know that the kid will  have to write reports for years to come and if they make the wrong move it will become a never ending struggle to get their kid to complete simple assignments.

Kids aren’t born hating books.  In my experience all children love being told stories, they like flipping through books, they like being asked questions and having opportunities to show their knowledge.  The thing that discourages them from books is either feeling humiliated (how many people remember popcorn reading and how there would sometimes be that one kid who would hate reading aloud and they somehow were asked to read the most) or through deciding that books aren’t for them.  The latter is generally a result of people they either love or respect using discouraging language: Books are too hard, you aren’t good enough, that is for kids like your sister (who is two years older and therefor a stronger reader in general, you would be surprised how kids take this as meaning that they need to find something else to do when reading is their sibling’s “thing”).

If you make reading a family affair. (Think of reading aloud to the family as the new family game night, although I’m all for family game night as well).  Try and pick books that are interesting to you, your spouse, your child or children.

I am going to try and create a tag where I label stories I think are great read aloud books for older kids as I continue on this journey so that you have a resource.  If you ever have any questions regarding that please ask me as well on any of my socials.

This post, wasn’t meant to be a reprimand, or really to discourage parents at all.  It was simply to say that the words that we use have an effect.  They are internalized.  Books are important.  Stories are a great way to learn lessons in a safe environment.  They allow kids to ask questions.  They let parents introduce new topics with a predefined structure.  Don’t lose them over something so trivial as “too hard”.

I hope this helped.

If it didn’t, please feel free to tell me why in the comments down below, I might make another posts on this topic in the future when the little one in my life is older (he’s two and really just likes pointing to farm animals and saying their sounds, not so picky)

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