Age ratings for children’s books do not accurately reflect the unique skillsets of individual kids.
Some children’s books come with an age-based rating system designed to help you assess reading level, but these ratings systems are woefully inadequate. All kinds of products for children—from books to toys, for education and entertainment alike—come with suggested age ranges. The truth is that when it comes to learning to read, age ranges are not useful or relevant.
People master different reading skills at different ages because of individual differences and the particular instruction they have been given. Age-based rating systems cannot communicate with accuracy whether your child will be capable of recognizing or sounding out the words in a book.
The only thing that age range recommendations can be helpful for is communicating whether the thematic content of a book—the subject of its plot—is appropriate for your child. Even when using age ratings for this purpose, it is best to consider them mere suggestions. As a parent, it is your prerogative to determine when a topic is appropriate to introduce to your child for discussion (especially when it comes to emotionally fraught topics like death, discrimination, or the birds and the bees).
Therefore, when I consider a book’s “appropriate reading level” for a particular child, it is not about the thematic content of a book, but the actual words it contains, and whether that child has mastered the specific phonetic skills required to read them. I ignore all age-based rating systems because they can’t really tell me anything about an individual child’s reading skills. An actual appropriate reading level is determined by how many letters and letter combinations your child can match to the sounds that they make. Stay tuned to future blog posts to learn more about my systematic method for determining whether a book is at the appropriate level. If you suspect a book falls beyond your child’s reading level, but you love the content and want to share it with them, that’s ok! Just read it to them. Your child can gain a lot from this, especially if you follow our guidelines in this post on how to read to your child for maximum literacy gains.
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