Is it OK for kids to read books outside their reading levels?

Whether your kid is a naturally precocious reader or just happened to pick out an interesting-looking (but challenging) book, she'll need some guidance to avoid age-inappropriate content and frustration and improve her understanding of the material.

Here are some ideas:

Get an assessment. Many schools offer reading assessments to determine a child's reading level. A teacher or librarian can help pick out books that will challenge her but that don't contain material that's not appropriate or too difficult to understand.

If your school uses the Lexile Measure, you can find books that match her reading ability on Amazon. Here's an example of where the Lexile Measure may appear on Amazon product pages:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Use supporting materials. If she's chosen a complex book, supplement it with some lower-level reading to help her build her comprehension of the subject matter.

Write down unknown words. Ask your kid to keep a list of all the new words she encounters so she can look them up later.

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Comments

Teen, 13 years old written by plox

I love to read. Most of the reason I have a huge vocabulary and good writing technique is because I've never stayed at my reading level. I was reading the Harry Potters in first grade, and I never had problems with advanced words because I used context clues. My parents were very supportive, and that's why I'm the kid I am today. I agree with the others, though. Parents should check for inappropriate content.
Teen, 17 years old written by Line2023

Reading books outside one's reading level can give a kid a good challenge, and as long as it's not inappropriate it's fine.
Kid, 9 years old

Yes, I did find this article helpful. I have read a ton of mature YA books that are above my age group reading level (The Librarian Of Auschwitz, John Green) but I always make sure to okay them with my parents first.
Kid, 11 years old

Yes. If they are young kids, they might not even understand some of the inappropriate stuff in a book so you don't have to worry. Also, some kids (like me) don't like the type of books on their reading level.
Kid, 11 years old

also, when you think about it, there may be kids who dont like reading not because they cant, but cause they dont like the material on their level. mind you, I am on a high school level.
Kid, 8 years old

Yes, I've read all the Harry Potter books with no help. (I can read 7th grade reading level I'm gifted)
Adult written by bigskycamper

Yes! Reading levels(lexiles, guided reading levels etc.) are not a 1 to 1 match to a child's abilities on a given day or overall. Interest and background knowledge of a subject can greatly effect a child's ability to read a book as well. Due to specialized vocabulary, nonfiction books often get leveled fairly high, even if lower level readers can read them to to familiarity with the language or with picture clues. (With a young boy I find this especially frustrating as he is often told at school he "can't" choose books he's very capable of reading). Also, if kids never try and reach for harder books, they'll never know when they are ready for the next level. Kids should be encouraged to self-evaluate books as being too hard or just right instead of relying on outside metrics. Some good strategies are to have kids start reading and hold up a finger every time they get to a word they don't know. If it's more than 5 in the first few pages (or a page for a chapter book) maybe wait on the book or have an adult read it but if they are determined and highly-interested, why stop them? Reading levels were designed to mitigate kids who are frustrated by too hard books but if your child isn't frustrated, let 'em learn! A good rule of thumb on the flip-side, there is absolutely nothing wrong with reading below level or books that are "too easy" unless it's a time when kids should be specifically working on reading skills. Reading is like training for a marathon. While you will need to run some fast miles and do some speedwork, 90% of your training is about laying a solid base, which includes lots and lots of easy miles.
Parent written by [email protected]

Yes. There are 3 basic benefits to allowing this. 1. The obvious ones about increased literacy and the simple fact that each child learns at their own pace. Example: my son is not a great reader, but his appreciation of narrative is way advanced. So I read a lot of higher level fic to him at bedtime. 2. The not so obvious such as the 'rights of the reader' (Daniel Pannac) to choose what to read when they feel like it. As already pointed out adults choose to read up or down depending on their present mood, so why do we tell kids that a book is below or above them. Example: I may read Alain de Botton when I'm having a smart day, but often I read Wired magazine because I'm tired. 3. And finally, for the love. As a school librarian I often see 5yr olds with a Harry Potter under their arm. I know they won't read more than a few pages and so do they, but they want the Kudos of carrying it around. Love of books is a culture value that we all want to encourage, not just of the written word but the actual book as a culturally important artifact. This love of the book is chosen, and like all love, it cannot be forced.
Adult written by D-Rae

From special educator standpoint I have a lot of kids that want to read what their peers are reading. My students come back from the library with books that are so high above their grade level they would never be able to read, let alone comprehend them without reading with someone . When that happens I encourage them to take the book home and read with their parents but also borrow books that are at their level to read when reading by themselves . This allows them to save face in front of their peers . Remember though there are many high interest low-level books available .
Adult written by D-Rae

Absolutely!! Whether kids are reading above or below their level they are still reading! When kids are being graded on their comprehension level that is a little bit different story. In that respect they are being graded according to the reading level that they tested at throughout the year. If a high level reader wants to read a low level picture book, let them. It's enjoyable for adults to go down a slide or run through a sprinkler, isn't it? When kids read above their level and challenge themselves that's a great thing too. My daughters both read way above their grade level. This is only a concern to me when the content that they are reading could be too advanced socially and emotionally for them. For a long time I would go to parent review sites for books before I would allow them to read books that possibly contained inappropriate material. That's the main reason I signed up for Common Sense Media. This site along with a few others that I have found really help me decide if a book is something I want my child to read . Many of their friends read books that I won't allow them to read and it makes for some heated arguments but parents should always have the final say in what their child consumes, either by reading or by watching. You will find many parents that are way more liberal than you and you will find more parents that are more conservative than you. It's your child. As a side note, both boys and girls read high-level books books that are above their reading level. Common Sense Media, I am disappointed as well that you referred that girls are the ones reading above their levels.
written by Letsbeweirdtogether

I've been reading outside of my reading level since I learned how to read. This year I read Anna Karenina and The Portrait of a Lady. Maybe not too much when they're young so that the kid isn't exposed to content that could be considered inappropriate (so 1st-4th) but after that they need to start developing a good, solid vocabulary and sometimes -especially classic novels -it can teach a child a valuable lesson about life. To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, has been my favorite book since third grade and the first time I read it I learned not to judge people by what i hear or by how they look -because I didn't understand the significance of the court case assigned to Atticus and so I put more thought into Boo's story line and drew a good lesson form it for my age. Kids will ask questions if they want to know something and if they aren't interested enough they will take from each book what they need to.
Adult written by Bookwmn1

From my thirty plus years of experience in working in libraries with children and books, my answer is a resounding YES. Most often I encounter parents who do not want their child to read a book that is below their grade level. There is little harm in this unless the child is reading books for a competition or reward of some kind such as a class pizza party or reading club prizes. In those cases children are expected to be reading material on their own reading level. Adults enjoy easy leisure reading and children should have the opportunity too. If the material is too difficult for the child to read on their own they may tire of it and put it aside until later. Parents and teachers can greatly help in the ways already mentioned like keeping a word list and looking for additional less difficult materials. In learning language we can understand words when we hear them even though we may not be able to read or write them. This would be a great opportunity to read the material together and/or supplement it with the book on audio. This allows the child can hear and read the words at the same time. Additional media materials such as DVDs and games may also be available. Or course, as a parent I'd opt for the warm cuddly experience of reading aloud together.
Teen, 13 years old written by werewolf10100

I don't think it would be good for kids to read outside of their reading levels because kids tend to learn at a slow pace so forcing themselves to do something higher than expected could confuse them and they won't be able to understand whats going on.