When you sit down to read a book, you want to enjoy the story in front of you. You don’t want it to be so frustrating you can barely get through it. The same is true for your child. That’s why uncovering your child’s reading level is an important step in fostering their love of words from a young age!
Reading is among the most important Core Skills, one of the 5 C’s at the heart of the Begin Approach to helping kids thrive in school and life. Developing strong Core Skills sets kids up for greater academic success later on, and they’re as important today as they’ve ever been.
The Short Cut
- Reading levels are a measure of how well a kid reads—they build confidence by guiding kids toward books that will challenge but not frustrate them
- Schools usually measure a student’s reading level by giving them a Lexile, Guided Reading Level, or Developmental Reading Assessment test
- If you know your child’s reading level, look for books close to it for them to read alone or slightly above it to read together
- It’s fine for kids to read books “below” their reading level at home—any reading is good practice!
There’s an enormous amount of jargon out there around reading levels. Lexile Framework, Guided Reading Levels (GRL), and Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) can all help you pick the right books for your kids, but what do they actually mean?
And if your child is starting to read on their own (or already reading independently) and is learning from home, how can you figure out what reading level is right for them?
You’re in the right place to find out. It’s not as complicated as it sounds, and we’re here to help so you and your child can sit down and enjoy a good book together!
What Is a Reading Level?
A reading level is simply a measure of your child’s ability to read text. It reflects how well your little one can read independently. Reading levels help you choose books that are a good match for your child while still presenting a challenge.
Keep in mind these levels are meant to be helpful, not stressful. They don’t limit your child, but, rather, help them blossom into a fluent, excited reader.
When your child reads books that are appropriate for their current reading level, it boosts their confidence so they can truly enjoy reading! Also, knowing what level your child is at allows you to work with them to improve their skills.
That being said, it’s important to remember that children are unique and develop differently. Comparing your child to their peers isn’t necessarily the best approach when trying to assess their reading ability.
Why Is Determining Reading Level Important?
It’s helpful to determine your child’s reading level so you can find books that are appropriate for them to read on their own: not too difficult, but challenging enough to encourage growth.
Reading level classification is a convenient tool you can use when searching online or at the library. And when you provide books that are on your child’s level, you create excitement and build their confidence, which can lead to a lifetime love of reading!
If you’re looking for ways to help your child read at the best level for them, our app HOMER has a Stories section that gives age-appropriate story recommendations!
This is a great resource that takes your child’s specific interests and recommends stories just for them. What’s more, your child can choose to read along or read on their own.
How Is Your Child’s Reading Level Measured?
Your child’s reading level is usually measured at their school in first or second grade, and we’ll show you how that’s done. Here’s a tip: since your child’s teacher knows their reading level, consider asking the teacher (or the school librarian) for books your child can read at home.
Don’t worry if your child isn’t in school yet or if they’re homeschooled. We’ll show you how you can measure their reading level at home, too!
Before we dive in, it’s important to note that we think of books for kids at three levels: independent reading, instructional reading, and frustrating to read.
As the names indicate, independent reading books are ones a child can read with ease and without support from an adult.
Instructional ones are the books just above independent that teachers might use to stretch a child’s reading as they offer support while the child makes that next step. Finally, frustrating books are too hard for a child to read even with adult guidance.
Now that you have an idea of how to think of the different books your child might encounter, let’s talk about the tools used for determining or describing reading levels.
Lexile Framework for Reading
Lexile Framework for Reading is an educational tool that ranks books by the order of their difficulty using a scale called a Lexile. Usually, your child’s teacher will determine their Lexile reading level and then choose books that have a matching score.
The Lexile score, or measure, describes a child’s reading ability and matches them with books and other reading materials. This measure ranges anywhere from 0L to 2000L.
Kids are encouraged to read within their Lexile “range”—100L below to 50L above their actual level. For instance, if your child is reading with a Lexile measure of 500L, they would read books ranging anywhere from 400L to 550L.
Using standardized assessments, schools will often measure a child’s reading level several times a year to help them select books that are appropriate for independent reading.
Guided Reading Levels (GRL)
GRL is a guided reading system used in some schools.
To determine reading levels using GRL, children sit one-on-one with their teacher and read from a book that’s considered standard for their grade level—a “benchmark” book. GRL books range from A to Z with A being the easiest.
While reading these books, the teacher will take notes on any missed words and ask comprehension questions, such as, “When did the story take place?” or, “What was the problem in the story?”
Through guided instruction, the teacher will gradually move children into more difficult books.
Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA)
DRA is a standardized reading test given by teachers or reading specialists. As with GRL, children sit individually with the test administrator and read a book.
Several factors are taken into consideration to determine reading level, including:
- Reading comprehension
- Phonemic awareness
DRA books are labeled with an A for the easiest books and then move into a numerical grading system. The levels range from 1 to 80 with 1–3 representing a kindergarten reading level and 80 representing an eighth-grade reading level.
Once a child has a DRA or a GRL level, a teacher or parent can search for the reading level of any particular book and can usually discover either the Lexile, DRA, or GRL of that particular text. Here’s a chart for your reference.
At-Home Reading Levels
If you’re looking for a way to find out your child’s reading level without using any of the methods listed above, you might try the five-finger rule.
For the five-finger rule, choose a book and flip to any page. If your child seems to have trouble reading more than five words on the page, it’s a good indicator that the book is too advanced for them.
To be sure, though, you can have your child try another page, especially if they seem eager to read a particular book.
This can be a helpful strategy, but it’s OK to let your child try a book and see how the reading goes. If a book is too hard, most kids will figure that out—and there is nothing wrong with reading books that are too easy!
Sometimes a child may be interested in a book that’s a little too hard for them. If this happens, we encourage you to read aloud to your child. You can also read together by alternating pages, paragraphs, or sentences.
It’s important not to completely avoid books that may be a little above your child’s reading level.
Even if your child struggles a bit to read them without assistance, these books can still be beneficial in helping build their vocabulary, improve comprehension, and increase general knowledge—not to mention encourage their love of reading!
When your emerging reader seems overwhelmed by one book, you can always give the five-finger rule a try with other books until you find the right match. And if your child is particularly interested in a topic, you can always read the book to them and stop on words you know they can read.
Also remember that when a child is really enjoying a book and highly motivated to read it, they will read at a higher level than if the material is not as interesting to them.
Tip: Most libraries and bookstores have books arranged by reading level so you can easily choose the best one for your emerging reader!
Feel free to ask librarians and knowledgeable staff at bookstores to offer suggestions. You could even say something like, “My child happily read a Clifford book. Can you suggest others at the same level?”
How to Help Your Child Become a Stronger Reader
As we mentioned earlier, you can easily determine your child’s reading level at home so you can help them choose books that are just right! We suggest incorporating some of the tips below to help your child become a stronger reader.
Start with Clues
- Is your child using “sounding out” techniques to figure out unknown words?
- When your child reads, are they getting tripped up by sight words—common words that are hard to sound out?
- Is your child using pictures to help them understand what is written on the page?
- Is your child using context clues to figure out what word makes sense to come next as they read sentences?
- Play games with your kid to see what words they know. For example, say a sentence and point out one word in the sentence. Then ask them if they can come up with a different word (synonym).
- Try synonym games For example, challenge yourselves to think of 10 or more ways to describe speaking (shout, whisper, mumble, etc.).
While you’re talking with your kid, describe something specific from your day. Make sure to use interesting adjectives, and don’t hold back from using sophisticated vocabulary—it helps them learn new words.
You can help their vocabulary grow through day-to-day conversations and activities!
Ask Comprehension Questions
Understanding what they read is an important part of your child’s reading journey.
- To check for reading comprehension, we suggest pausing every other page to talk about what you’ve just read. Make this a natural reaction to the story, like you’re thinking aloud about the story or characters (“Hmm, I wonder if the gingerbread man can trust that fox. What do you think?”), so that it doesn’t feel like a test.
- Consider encouraging your child to act out and retell the story (for younger kids).
- Try discussing themes/lessons with your child (for older kids). Remember: this isn’t a test, but a conversation between book lovers!
Talk to Your Child
When people implement strategies to help their kids improve their reading skills, they sometimes forget about the importance of verbal communication. It’s essential to talk to your child frequently in short and simple sentences.
This includes singing songs, telling them wonderful stories, reciting fun nursery rhymes, and describing the world around them. All of this exposes kids to lots of different words. It also helps them learn that language is a powerful tool for communication.
Discover Your Child’s Favorite Books
Kids often choose books that are a little below their actual reading level. At home, this is perfectly fine. It keeps reading fun and engaging! We recommend choosing books that interest your child—maybe with a certain character or activity they like—so they’re curious and excited about reading.
Reading books together can encourage their love of reading. And letting them read those same books to you can boost their confidence over time.
Together, these two activities increase your child’s fluency and reading enjoyment!
Create a Reading Corner
Establishing a reading corner in your house can help your child learn to read. The setup doesn’t need to be elaborate. This can be a simple, quiet, private area where they can confidently read independently or with you.
It’s also great for the spot to be well-lit and filled with lots of books your child enjoys reading.
Is Reading the Same Book Over and Over OK?
Just like you might pick up an old favorite book to read, your child may do the same, and that’s OK! Rereading books can have many benefits for a child.
1. It allows children to get more from the text. Have you ever developed a deeper understanding of a story after rereading it? That’s because the more you engage with a story, the more you can take away from it.
You can pick up on new information, establish connections between yourself and some of the characters, and even improve your understanding of the overall story.
Similarly, allowing your child to read their favorite books for the second, third, fourth (or more) time will enable them to get more from the story.
2. It encourages bonding. Did you know that rereading books can help bring your family closer together?
Many of us remember a couple of books that our family read together regularly. Often these are holiday books or a favorite story. Rereading is a great way to get the whole family involved, as everyone can take turns reading and connecting on the same story.
What’s more, reading familiar books can actually help develop a young reader’s fluency. It allows them to learn the words and helps them become familiar with narrative structure or storylines (e.g., beginning, middle, and end), which builds reading comprehension later on.
So feel free to let your child choose the same book over and over!
FAQs about Reading Levels
What Reading Level Should My Child Be in Each Grade?
It’s challenging to answer this question because each kid is different and will naturally develop at their own pace. For example, just because your child’s friend has started reading fluently doesn’t mean your kid should be able to do that yet.
While no parent wants their kid to be a little behind compared to their peers, putting too much pressure on them to “catch up” might actually have an adverse effect. They might feel overwhelmed and develop a negative attitude toward reading.
It’s also important to note that there’s no direct link between a certain Lexile measure and a specific grade level. When using any of the reading level measures we mentioned, remember that they are an estimate of a kid’s ability and shouldn’t be interpreted literally.
Also, if you’re really concerned about your young learner’s development, you can always talk to their teacher or another professional like our KidPass Tutors. They can offer tips and advice on how to best work with your child.
Finally, remember to be patient and positive no matter what. With time and effort, your child will develop a lifetime love of reading!
Who Can Help Me Choose Books That Match My Child’s Reading Level?
The best place to start is your child’s teacher. They will have the expertise to guide you in buying the right books for your kid.
It’s also possible for you to look up most books online and find their reading levels. For beginner readers, there are also publishers that label books in stages with age and/or grade suggestions attached.
If you’re homeschooling, you can also reach out to your local librarian or bookseller. They often know what’s popular with kids and may be able to recommend a few interesting books at your child’s reading level.
What If My Child Is Reading at a Lower Level?
It can be worrying to hear that your child’s reading level isn’t on par with their peers. So what can you do if, after a school assessment, you find out that your kid is reading below the average grade level?
Firstly, it’s important not to panic. Kids develop reading skills at different rates. Some will be early readers, others will take longer, and that’s OK.
The most effective way to help your child improve their reading level is by continuing to encourage reading at home—pick books about things they like (even if that’s Minecraft) and make it fun! While reading, remember to discuss the content to ensure comprehension.
Reading for Fun
From assessments to the five-finger rule, determining reading levels takes time and effort. No matter which method you choose, remember these measurements are meant to be helpful and encouraging, not stressful and limiting.
Keep this in mind when assessing your young learner. You don’t want your kid to think you’re stressed about their abilities, as this might overwhelm them and have an adverse effect on how they view reading.
While reading is an essential early learning (and lifelong) skill, you want your child to LOVE reading and not view it as a test of their intelligence.
At the end of the day, the way reading makes your child feel is more important than their reading level. Each child learns in a way that’s special and unique to them.
The Road to Reading with Begin
Learning how to read can be challenging, but it’s one of the most important skills for giving kids their best start to achieving their fullest potential. We know that, and we’ve spent years developing an award-winning reading app to help. Just 15 minutes a day with HOMER can improve early reading scores by 74%!
HOMER is full of stories curated based on your child’s interests. From favorite books to read-along songs to reading games, it has everything you need to help your kid discover that reading is fun. And when they develop a love for reading, they’ll move up to the next level before you can say “Developmental Reading Assessment”!