Don't you find it amusing when you learn something new from people you don't expect to and when you least expect it? Well, that's exactly what happened to me recently when I spoke to some primary school students about one of my favourite topics: books! One of the little treasures told me about the priceless "5 Word Test" that can help a child and their parents figure out whether a potential book is too hard, too easy or just right for them. Think Goldilocks of books!
The idea of the "5 Word Test" is that when a child picks up a new book for the first time (before it's bought or loaned), they should open a page and count how many words they don't know the meaning of. If they find five or more words that they don't know, they should put the book down and step away.
The "5 Word Test" is an easy, common sense indicator of whether a book is age appropriate for a child. Don't get me wrong, of course it's wonderful to learn new words and expand the vocabulary, but there is a fine line here: a few new words is terrific, too many new words, not so great. And, keep in mind, that the "5 Word Test" is just an indicator of how hard or difficult the book will be to read. Trust your instincts. And, remember, it doesn't mean you can't return to those more advanced books at another time, when your child is older. Six more months with books your child loves and can read well, can make the world of difference.
So, why is finding age-appropriate books for your child is so important? Because if your child reads books that are too hard, they lose interest and feel discouraged. On the flip side, if they read books that are too easy, they also lose interest and feel discouraged. In both cases, their connection with books are diminished, and when they lose their connection with books, reading enjoyment drops, less books are read, and children miss out on the many wonderful benefits of reading. A tragedy!
As a parent, I am faced with the same issues as every other parent: how to get my children hooked on books. I am constantly challenged about getting the right book for my children, all with varying interests and reading levels.
As a family, we choose books to buy or loan that we think are great: their covers are awesome, the author brilliant and the blurb enticing. We might look a new book up on Goodreads, talk to the Librarian or Bookseller and check that it was written for their age group, and in a genre they generally like. We buy or loan the book and take it home, excited. Sometimes it works - bingo - and I do my silent 'oh yeah' chant. And, sadly, sometimes it doesn't.
There are many reasons why it doesn't quite work, but I think one of the key reasons we can easily overlook, is simply because the book didn't quite match their reading level, which is different for each child, even if they are the same age. Usually, for us, we have been too ambitious and the book is a bit too hard. My child not quite ready. And, when my children don't connect with their books, they lose interest in reading. Picture my hand on head, while wilting a little.
One of my children was recently reading a book that we thought would be terrific. But, let me tell you, it was s-l-o-w going! We kept at it, determined to finish it, no matter what, but we couldn't just get there. Eventually it was cast aside and another book picked up and read in two days. I kid you not. Two days! A novel!
Why did the second novel get read so quickly? Because it was not too hard, not too easy, but just right!
And, to think that all of this mumbo jumbo might have been avoided by using the '5 Word Test.'
I know there are a lot of ways to find the right book for your child, and sometimes there is no amount of research that can guarantee success, but I do believe that, as a parent, it is handy to have a few tricks, like the "5 Word Test" up your sleeve, taught to us by someone's clever child.
As parents, it is critical that we strive to keep our child's connection with books alive. Anything that takes that away from this, or dampens the glow, should be avoided. There is always a way forward, and the best thing to do, when you take the wrong road (as we all do), is to find your child the right book for their reading level, a book they enjoy reading. This will immediately increase their love and connection with books, leading to an increase in the number of books your child will read.
I am convinced getting children to read more, and become a frequent reader (who reads, on average, 45 books a year), rather than an infrequent readers (who reads, on average, 17 books per year) is easier than we all think. But, all starts with parents knowing and embracing the critical role they play in their child's reading journey.
To help parents, I have created the "3 Step Milne Frequ3ncy model" that is simple to understand and follow. Please forward or share this post with your friends and family who you think might be interested. We are all in this parenting business together at the end of the day, and we can always learn, even from those we least expect it.
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Wishing you the best of luck in your families reading journey!
I'm a passionate about helping children read frequently - forging a life-long connection with books. In this blog, you will also find helpful, practical advice for parents to help support them in their families reading journey.