Monday, January 2, 2017

Parenting the MG Reader

Being both a mom and a writer adds a lot of complexities to the task of developing my children as readers. It has been heavy on my mind the past couple of months as I've watched one child blossom and the other struggle in my own home over their school reading requirements.

I don't know about the rest of the world, but in our school district the kids are on the Accelerated Reader program (AR for short). Which means they read a book and then take a comprehension test on it, which earns them "points" toward their goals for the term.

Within this system the kids are also given reading levels and goals to reach in that regard as well. For Super Spawn, who is now 9 and in 4th grade, he's reading at a 7th grade level as of the beginning of winter break. Curly Girl is 7 and in 2nd grade, and she's reading at a 3rd grade level. Which is great!

Until I take them to the book store.

Super Spawn is big into middle grade fiction, which is wonderful. I've been sharing some of my all-time favorites with him this year. HARRY POTTER, PERCY JACKSON, MAGYK, and more! The issue arises when we're standing in front of a shelf of hundreds of books and I have to pull out my phone and plug the titles into the AR search to see if 1. there's a test for this book, and 2. if it's in his pre-set range. Let the frustration begin.

New releases? Not in the AR system. Could take months for it to show up there.

What does he want to read? The newest LAST KIDS ON EARTH book, of course.

But guess what, even though it's now in the AR system, it's no longer in his range. He's moved above it level-wise. Except he loves this series, and he wants to read it no matter what. 

 And I'm supposed to tell him what? Sure, I'll get it for you and you can read it, but it can't count toward your school goals? 

Sorry, but that's a load of crap. It's almost like a punishment for reading something he loves just because it's below his level. I hate that for him. However, I still bought him the book.

With Super Spawn I also have the added challenge of appropriateness. Yes, he reads well above his grade level, and only continues to improve. We're reaching the point where books like DIVERGENT are falling into his reading range. Now, I LOVE that series. I own all the books and movies. But just because it falls within his capacity to comprehend it, doesn't mean he's at the right maturity level for it. *Cue freakout because he wants to read it, and he knows I've read it, and it's staring at him on our bookshelf begging him to read it*

Our kids are being pushed to challenge themselves to read more complex stories, which is fantastic. Until you hit that wall where they've leveled up beyond their maturity and their teachers are still pushing them farther.

In the case of Curly Girl she's being pushed really hard to read higher level books, which causes her to take less tests, to struggle with her goals, and to not want to read her AR books at all. They're pushing her too fast. Let her just be a 2nd grader for a minute! She will grow at her own pace! The transition from early readers to novels is a hard one for kids. Super Spawn struggled with it too. It just takes time.

All of this to say that I'm not sure putting all of these restrictions and guidelines on our children's reading is as beneficial as we (as parents) are told it is. Isn't there a better way? Wouldn't more freedom to choose help to grow their passion for reading far more than shoving a certain level of book down their throat?

As I writer I worry the implications this has on the novels we put out. What if, because of my sentence structure, my book is labeled as a 6th grade reading level, but the content is appropriate for a high school level of maturity? Is that going to automatically put my book in that "you can read it but it won't count" crowd? I'm not sure I like that one bit.

Do any of you have thoughts on this or similar experiences to share? I'd love to hear them.

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