What to Do If Your Child Is Reading Below Grade Level

Here are some of the best practices for improving reading skills.
May 23, 2022

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What to Do If Your Child Is Reading Below Grade Level

May 23, 2022

When your child is reading below their appropriate grade level, it can sometimes be difficult to know where to begin supporting their unique needs. As a parent, understanding reading levels and how best to encourage your child to continue reading even when they’re feeling discouraged is one of the best ways to turn things around. 

Most of the time, children fall behind on reading levels because they haven’t found books that they’re interested in, and can become frustrated with the reading process. Whether they’re struggling with reading comprehension or with basics like phonics and sounds, the good news is, this can be turned around with a few best practices that you can do at home! 

Karen Burke, senior vice president of data analysis and academic planning at Scholastic, has some helpful tips on what to do to improve your child’s reading levels at home. 

1. Identify What's Challenging Them

First thing’s first: Identifying when and why your child is struggling with reading will help you better figure out the best approach on how to improve a child’s reading. Not all reading problems are the same — for example, your child may be struggling with reading comprehension, basics like phonics, or even the number of words they’re able to read per minute. 

It’s important to recognize the signs when they first appear, be it when you’re reading together at home or when your child is in school, by communicating with their teacher. 

“Be sure to reach out to the school and your child’s teacher to understand your child’s areas for growth as a reader,” says Burke. “Some signs that your child might be struggling with reading are avoidance, slow labored oral reading, or selecting books quite a bit below the grade level and perhaps still struggling. The child shows difficulty in decoding words.”

Sometimes, the underlying cause of reading struggles is dyslexia. Screening for dyslexia requires a trained expert. The best way to get help and guidance is by connecting with your child's school district for support.

2. Understand Reading Levels

Getting to know reading levels and their importance in your child’s ability to read will also help you come up with a game plan on how to improve reading level.  

“Reading levels help parents understand where a child is at a certain time and how the child is progressing over time,” says Burke. “Educators always want to see a child grow a minimum of one year in every grade level regardless of where they start. Children who are behind need to grow more than one year.” 

There are several measurements by which your child’s reading level is determined. Each of these methods of reading level determination are administered at the beginning of the year by your child’s teacher. Normally, your child will read a benchmark book to their teacher and discuss it. Your teacher then determines reading comprehension, fluency, and accuracy and scores your child based on those factors. From there, you can accurately determine how best to get their reading level up if needed. 

Ask your child's teacher what your child's reading level is. You can then easily find the reading level of every book on The Scholastic Store, no matter what leveling system your child's teacher uses, to find the appropriate books to help them progress. 

3. Read Constantly

Parents who regularly read themselves will model this love of reading for their children from an early age. When your child sees how excited you get to read your own books and to dive back into them each day, it’ll spark a similar response in your child. Similarly, starting a conversation about what thrills you about your own books will encourage your child to do the same. 

“Voluminous reading is key to helping a child acquire both vocabulary and knowledge,” says Burke. “Oral language and conversations that are rich in ideas and concepts are key to building background knowledge and building confidence.”

Routines are incredibly helpful in this endeavor. Reading books together and asking questions of your child to get their feedback on the material will feel like the joyful experience reading really is. 

“Creating a reading routine at home demonstrates the importance of reading,” says Burke. “Having books in the home library and rereading favorite books is a terrific way to build confidence in vocabulary and fluency.” 

Create a cozy environment to read in — even building a blanket fort adds to the magic! — and designate it as their special reading space, where it’s quiet and they can concentrate. 

4. Find the Right Books

When you speak with your child’s teacher, asking them for recommendations for the best books for your child’s reading level will be a helpful tool in improving your child’s reading skills. 

“Books in a series can help children deepen their understanding of the plot and characters by adding information about the characters as they read the next book in a series,” says Burke. “The books have a style and design that children become accustomed to and they can begin to anticipate how the author will share the story.”

Early chapter book series and graphic novels are wonderful ways to bridge the gap in reading comprehension, and can provide the step children need to graduate from picture books and read-alouds to independent reading. 

Keep in mind to indulge their interests when creating a reading list, too. “Have children pick books that interest them,” says Burke. “Have them read various books with the same theme or topic. Reading every day is critical to improving skills.”

5. Make It Fun

Don’t forget to make the process enjoyable! Very often, children become discouraged from reading because they come to view the activity as a chore, rather than a fun pastime. In addition, many children often just do not find the right books that spark their interests. 

In order to start fresh and teach your child that reading is fun and adventurous, consider thinking outside the box and creating fun activities around reading as well.

“Have children write stories, draw pictures of their favorite characters, and write words to describe them,” says Burke. “Talk with children about what they are reading, read aloud even with older children, model what fluent readers do. Partner read — take turns reading a page each. Sharing the reading can be a fun way to experience the story together.”

Shop popular books for improving reading skills below! ​​You can find all books and activities at The Scholastic Store.

For more tips on finding books at the right level for your child, visit our guide on reading levels for kids.

For more quick tips and book recommendations, sign up for our Scholastic Parents newsletter!

You'll also get 10% off your first order at the Scholastic Store Online.

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