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Reading at Grade Level & Homeschooling: Should I Worry?

How Important is Reading at Grade Level?

Grade level…As in, all seven-year-olds should read at this level and all ten-year-olds at that level. If your children attend school, I’m sure you’ve heard about reading at “grade level” and even worse…AR tests. If you homeschool, I’m sure you’ve wondered if your child is reading “at grade level”. It can be a wonderful feeling to know that your five-year-old can read at “a third-grade reading level” and devastating to know that your twelve-year-old reads at that same level.

Reading at grade level. How important is it and when should I worry?

Learning Read

Most of my children have picked up reading with very little effort. It came right along like crawling, walking and talking. At different times and different paces, but with very little concern.

Then Enoch threw me for a loop. If you’re new around here read this post about his reading. He mastered the basics of reading at six, but it didn’t come easily enough for him to read for pleasure. Age seven found us at the same point. Just after his eighth birthday, he began to read on his own.

Check out what he is now reading at nine.

Not reading at grade level...should I be worried?

From Bob Books to Michael Crichton

Yes, that is Michael Crichton’s 416-page novel, Jurassic Park. This is not a kid’s version or abridged version. This is the real thing. We did nothing special. No “remedial reading classes” or “special help”. Just let him come along at his own pace (I’m not saying those things are not necessary at times, just that I had confidence that my son had no underlying issues).

Now, I don’t what “reading level” Jurassic Park would be, but I’m pretty sure it’s beyond the 4th grade that he’s in.

Jurassic Park as a Springboard

And while we’re on the topic of Jurassic Park, let’s shift gears a bit. Chuck and I have been fans of Michael Crichton’s books for years. The children have seen us read them, and naturally. the cover of Jurassic Park has brought on questions from our children. I mean really, Chuck and I are reading books about dinosaurs? Apparently, I stopped Judah from reading the book when he was six, feeling it too mature for him. He recently saw something that reminded him of the book and asked again if he could read it. Since he is now 12, we decided it would be fine and requested it from the library. Adalia (13), Tilly (11) and Enoch (9) then proceeded to read the book. The great thing about a book like this is it is impossible to discuss it without talking about evolution, genetics, and cloning. Look- science class. Just like that.

At the library yesterday, the children brought home several books on the topic of cloning and biogenetics. How can you read Jurassic Park and not be interested in those subjects? Oh, and we, of course, brought home The Lost World. So, once again, “school” and “learning” arrive spontaneously through the children’s own interests.

I can’t wait to see where this interest leads us.


  1. Angela

    Renee, you are one of the most amazing people I have met. And, yes, public schools do put panic in us parents and possibly discourage children. Looking forward to date nights starting again, hope the girls haven’t outgrown it yet. 😉

  2. Kate Alva

    Amen on the reading!!!! I wonder how many adults HATE reading because they were forced to learn before they were ready? Just a thought. I was reading way before kindergarten – I just picked it up because I was read to everyday (Thanks mom!). I remember fighting with the school librarian in 1st grade who wouldn’t let me into the ‘big kid’ section of the books. My mom had to intervene.
    As a mom, we have books for our 1 year old in every room, in the car, attached to the stroller. We aren’t going to ‘force’ her to read, but she gets read to everyday. And now, at 14 months, she walks up to us with a book in both hands and wants to climb on our lap and read a story. Melts my heart!
    Hurray for Judah! Even I haven’t read Crighton!!!!
    Have you read any of the #1 Ladies Detective Agency series? They girls might like them. They take place in Botswana, with a very likeable heroine. And, they are clean!!!! Unlike many modern mystery/detective fiction which I find really crass and disgusting.

  3. Jacey

    I’ma teacher, and yes, we want children to be able to read at their age level. But we do understand that there are children who read below it – and we do everything we can to get them up. There are also children who read well above their age level (and we say age level, because that’s how books are grouped – at the level that is the most appropriate for that age – both in content and in structure of the text). If children are reading above their age level- that’s fantastic! It’s great that they can achieve somethign like that, and have more texts available to them. TH emost important thing is the appropriateness of the text – which I’m sure you’re on top of. Usually it’s about the comprehension of it – do the kids understand what they’re reading. Ifnot, there’s no point. Yeah, they can read it for reading miles, and for learning a few more words. But if they don’t understand it… they’re not getting much out of it.

  4. Renee

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Jacey. I have met many a parent who was stressed because their child wasnt reading where they should be. Their children were in special reading groups, etc. I knew w/ my son there wasnt any problem time wouldnt fix. Often I think there is a problem because teachers feel pressure if a student is behind. I love that with homeschooling, I dont need to worry about it. Ive had four year old readers and eight year old readers and everything in between.

  5. Jo Abair

    I read books long before I could understand them as a child, this wasnt a problem for me. I read once that someones gift was “more than a pound.” I learned years later that it was money, not weight. It didnt hurt to not know though. I now can read a book a night, a text book takes 2 nights… I am not the smartest person by far, but my reading ability allows me to go very far. My son was behind grade level for 2 yrs, he read at a K level until nearly age 8. And now at 9 he can read anything he can pick up and he comprehends it well. My 7 yr old daughter wont read english books, she refuses so I read to her. I read her math directions, she is in 3rd grade math. She will read spanish, though she isnt fluent at speaking. So I purchased 1st grade spanish readers! I think it helps her accent and comprehension when we are doing rosetta stone together. She will read when she is ready as her brother did. I think homeschool is amazing because we can relax about our kids, she can move ahead in math and not stress about reading. I can let him take his time on written reports because in school he would have to be on ADHD drugs. So if he can do oral reports and they are clear and well put together, then hurrah for confidence in public speaking! If she can add and subtract non common denominator fractions but only reads spanish, I am cool with that! I love your homeschool posts renee, they really boost a mamas spirits about differences in each kid.

  6. June

    Hi! I love your blog. Thanks so much for this post….this is my first year homeschooling….having pulled my kids from Christian school and being in the “system”, I’m constantly struggling with the wonder of are they on “grade level”. Your post has really encouraged me. Your family is beautiful….such a lovely representation of Christ! Great job! Warmly, June….mom to Josiah 10, Luke 8 and Sarah 18 months….birth & adoptive mom!

  7. Jacey

    Renee – I agree. There is a LOT of pressure on teachers – from both parents, and the school/government – to have children reading at their age level. I find this difficult to understand, because generally even if a child is behind, they just need time and that extra help/guidence to move ahead. Often it’s about the enthusiasim for what they’re reading, about understanding it, or about the pressure they’re getting from school or home, to read well. It’s hard for a child who finds reading difficult, to enjoy it.
    I’ve found that the best approach, is to make reading fun, and to not force the issue. In my class (second grade) we have reading time, where the children read with me, with grounds, with partners, or by themselves. They have reading activities, and comprehension activites… and I try to make it enjoyable. There are also opportunities throughout the day for them to read, if they choose to do so. I don’t force this. There are other options for those children who don’t enjoy reading. I also read a lot to them, and pick books based on what they’ve enjoyed before. I encourage parents to not force the issue, but to help their kids pick out books that they’re going to get excited reading.
    It’s obvious that Enoch enjoys reading, and that thrills me. Nothing is more important to me than a love of reading and literature…. but it’s something that can take time to grow. For some of us – like Enoch, it’s something that just happens – for others it’s somehting that grows over time.
    Parents (in my experience) can often get quite upset when their child isn’t reading where they *should* be…. but like I said, it’s a time thing. Some click quickly, others don’t. If they don’t, they get that extra help, but it’s not a huge issue until it becomes obvious to the teacher that it’s something that might hold them back. That’s when you take the next step and call in some reading experts.
    The children in my class ALL went up at least one reading level this year. I had some who went up 5. I had some, like one girl who was reading 2 years below her age, who only wentg up one. But for her? That’s HUGE. That’s an achievement she’s never felt before. She’s never gone up a reading level since starting school. It’s never clicked for her before, but suddenly she’s reading with this look of joy on her face, because even though she’s not reading what the kids who are reading at a 12 year old level are reading, she’s reading up a level. She’s moved up a group, and she’s done something with all that effort she’s put it. It’s an amazing sense of satifaction and pride for that child, as a teacher.

  8. Lou

    I LOOOOOOOOOVE “The Lost World”. (And “The Poison Belt”, also Arthur Conan Doyle.)
    I (as a teacher) used to worry a bit about “grade level”. (Not too much as I taught profoundly deaf kids who rarely read at grade level.) But my best friend’s kids both started reading quite late (had reading assistance at school etc) and now read all day every day. The 10 yr old reads some adult books, the 8 yr old reads kids books. But they are both complete book lovers and just came to it in their own time. Made me worry a lot less.

  9. Sarah

    Go you! And your kiddos! I remember reading Jurassic Park about fourth gradeish too. My Dad and I shared an interest in Crichton’s books, but when a new one came out, I always finished it first because I could get our copy while he was at work. 🙂 I agree it is much more important to enjoy reading than it is to read “at grade level.” I was lucky enough to have parents (and some EXCELLENT teachers) who instilled that in me, to the point that over summer vacations sometimes my mother would have to forbid me to read any more books in a given day (usually after my little peepers had gone bloodshot), dump me out in the back yard, lock the door behind me and tell me to go play in the dirt, LOL. The only problem I ran into was reading things that I should not have been reading at my age. Another of Crichton’s books (don’t remember the title) dealt with topics like drug abuse and back-alley abortions, and I think I was still in elementary school when I happened upon that one. My parents had no idea what was in that, because I was the only one who read it. Eeeep. In seventh grade I had a sympathetic teacher who lent me some of John Grisham’s books…some are scarier (topic-wise) than others. But I’m pretty sure you won’t have that problem (at least not nearly to that extent) with your kiddos, because of the homeschooling thing and because you’re so involved with what they are reading and learning and studying. And if they should eventually happen upon mention of an unsettling subject, I’m sure they know that they can come to you and discuss anything–so super important. Keep up the great work, Momma! I love reading about your family. 🙂

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