Reading “Above Level” to My Kid: 4 Lessons Learned

by On August 29, 2013 in Childrens Books, General, Reading

Image credit: taliesin,


I’ve been hearing a lot of discussion about the goal of ensuring kids are reading at grade level or above by third grade (one indicator of later academic success, graduation rates, etc.)

Is the goal achieved by challenging kids to read (and/or have read to them) “above level” books??Or do we better serve and motivate young readers by offering more freedom to read books of interest, regardless of level?

The topic of reading levels came up for us recently, when our daughter asked us to read her a childhood favorite: Madeline L’Engles A Wrinkle in Time (AWIT).

I initially declined. “It’s written for older kids,” I explained to Hope, who is almost six.?But she kept asking and I relented, eager to share this book.

Result? We finished, she loved it, and we learned four useful lessons about reading “above level” to our kid:

1. Choose your “learning moments.”?

AWIT provided plenty of “learning moment” possibilities for Hope. We initially stopped at every difficult word and concept to try and teach, but this got old for everyone and disrupted a great story. We learned to stop mostly on key points, such as helping Hope think about time travel, a central AWIT theme.


2. Practice strategic editing.?

It can feel like sacrilege to skip a single word of a beloved book. Yet it was clear Hope’s engagement and listening comprehension were highest when we didn’t read verbatim. Instead, we learned to:

  • Skip or rephrase challenging vocabulary (e.g., swapping out a phrase like “intense loathing” with “hatred”)
  • Skip or summarize complex quotes and literary passages. I clearly remember tuning out my 4th grade teacher when she read the long, lofty quotes in AWIT, some in a foreign language! We spared Hope the same. When she is older, she can read it herself and learn.

3. Keep your child’s age and triggers in mind.?

Hope loved AWIT’s “children on an adventure” storyline, but got wide-eyed at numerous scary plot points. To minimize her fears, we ended our reading sessions mid-page on a happy or neutral passage, avoiding foreboding chapter-endings. She didn’t need to go to bed imagining the dark force overtaking the earth!

4. Prioritize the book over the movie!?

More than ever, kids ask about “the screen version” of a good tale. Hope did, too. I had no idea Disney created an AWIT television movie in 2004. (See comparison reviews.)?While tempted, we both wanted to finish the book before watching the movie online. Putting reading first was a great message here. It was also instructive to see that the movie’s music and visuals scared her where the book had not.

Hope’s conclusion: “They were both good, but I liked the book way better.”

That’s my girl!



Diana is a sociologist, freelance writer and mom, though rarely in that order. Her writing spans topics from parenting joys and challenges to prevention education. She writes a monthly parenting blog for Yahoo and has published feature articles on adoption, family rituals and the childcare industry for parenting publications. Diana earned her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California at Santa Cruz. These days find her hanging with her husband and book-loving six year old in the San Francisco Bay Area, while happily blogging and serving as a reading advocate for Bookboard.

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