A friend of mine brought up an interesting dilemma this weekend. Her daughter is finishing third grade but reads well beyond her grade level (eighth grade according to AR scores). How does she keep her daughter challenged as a reader without exposing her to material beyond her maturity level?

This situation reminds me of any child-development situation where the child’s gifts are obviously accelerated in a particular area. Should a record-setting ten-year-old swimmer move up to a practice group made up primarily of teenagers? Should the twelve-year-old math whiz be allowed into the math special for high school freshmen? 

I’ve noticed that, at least in this little slice of Colorado, most educators and coaches say “no” to exposing younger children to older themes and peer groups. Instead, these youth leaders take the challenge to meet the needs of gifted children in other ways, such as initiating special goal-setting sessions or strengthening the school-to-home connection.

I applied this logic to the reading dilemma. Out of curiosity, I chased down a few interesting websites that give reading options and book descriptions for different reading levels.  

One site offers reading lists that were started as part of a librarian collaborative project, All Together Now (ATN).  The lists are sorted a number of ways, including by themes and by values. 

Another site out of New South Wales lists challenge-level books for grades K – 2, 3 – 4, 5 – 6, and 7 – 9.   

Having been an advanced reader myself, I thought back to what I was reading the summer prior to fourth grade.  While not at eighth-grade reading levels, many books had and I believe still have content that is very thought-provoking for a young child. The quality of the content is what my friend is really seeking for her daughter.  She might try books like Harriet the Spy, A Wrinkle in Time, or The Chronicles of Narnia.   My daughter recommended a recent book she’s taken with — The Mysterious Benedict Society

No matter what your child is reading, follow-up questions about the book will make all the difference in the reading experience.  What does your daughter think about the concept of a time machine?  To what time period would she go if given the chance?  What character qualities would be important if you were on a team to save the world from destruction?  And so on.  Many libraries and local bookstores now have mother and daugher book groups that act as a forum to explore the deeper issues in a children’s book. 

Happy reading! 

Mama J (Diane Fromme) is a Northern Colorado writer, parent, and stepparent who still loves to read and write.  For more information on her book, Stepparenting the Grieving Child, go to www.dianefromme.com

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