My six year-old son gets very excited about Lego Chima and Ninjago, and when we go to the library, he specifically asks me to find books about them. I want to indulge his enthusiasm for reading. The problem is, the books are targeted for around ages 8-9+, which puts it beyond his ability both in terms of vocabulary and length. I insist he also get books appropriate to his level, but he is completely unable to focus on them when he knows a Chima book is available in his backpack.

What he does is read aloud for 10 minutes or so, glossing over the many words he doesn't know, which we fill in for him or make him sound out. Then he declares he is going to read silently, so he won't "bother us," which is a lie that we know means he will just stare at the pictures and pretend to read.

On one hand, he is stretching his reading ability, albeit in small intervals, and he is enthusiastic about books, which we don't want to squelch. On the other hand, the lying about pretending to read and the neglect of ability-appropriate reading material concerns us.

Do you have any ideas for channeling his enthusiasm into more ability-appropriate reading?

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    is he happy looking at the pictures? is he frustrated when he tries to read? If this is an overall positive thing for him, I wouldn't worry about it. It may motivate him to improve his reading, but if it doesn't, so what? Refusing to let him borrow those books wouldn't either?
    – Chrys
    Dec 31, 2013 at 20:18
  • He's perfectly happy looking at the pictures. The concern is when those books are available, he is not happy reading anything else. He reads at grade level and is improving, but he gets bored with it very quickly at the smallest difficulty, and I don't want reading to be a negative experience for him. He is homeschooled, so his reading at home isn't merely a supplemental bonus. I'm looking for ways to help him be enthusiastic about reading books at his own level. Dec 31, 2013 at 20:46
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    I truly believe that few kids actually enjoy reading at this learning stage. Even the reading prodigies among us, who only seem like they skip this stage because they go through it so young (no one is giving a 36-month old reading homework they must do). If you still read to them, and they love that, and they see that you love to read, then they will in their hearts believe you (no matter what they say when frustrated) when you tell them that they will love it too, once their reading pathways have formed. The "I hate reading" I got was not pleasant, but by 2nd grade I had a reader. Jan 2, 2014 at 12:38
  • Read it to him, or 'share' the reading when he gets fed up? I wouldn't consider that a cop-out: I met some unschoolers recently who still regularly read to the teenage children, even though they're perfectly able to read themselves.
    – Benjol
    Jan 6, 2014 at 14:22

4 Answers 4


First of all, don't worry too much about his "lying" about whether he is really reading. I think at that age, looking at the pictures is part of reading, though for us it is not so.

And, BTW, I think it's great that your son, who sounds like he's still in that phase where lack of fluency makes reading a frustrating and unpleasant experience, is choosing to try reading this difficult book for ten minutes! Of course his brain gets exhausted -- even if it were not too hard for him, reading before the pathways have formed (i.e., forming those pathways), is mentally exhausting. My daughter also went through this stage when she was six, and I was treated to lots of frustrated yelling how she hated reading and was never going to read books when she was an adult, etc.... her knowing full well that reading was one of my favorite things, of course.

One thing I would suggest about the Chima books is: Can you re-write them? Make your own simpler version of the story to go with the pictures, print it out and tape it (with removable tape!) over the text, so he can be reading that instead? Because you're right, he needs to be reading "ability appropriate" books (my daughter's school calls them "just right" books), and BTW he will get more benefit out of these things (the way they're written now) from your reading them to him, than in struggling through them himself -- if you can find something else ability appropriate for him to read himself.

Other than that, I'd say keep going to the library and persist in trying different things. Something else will eventually click. It took my daughter trying many, many different "just right" books before she found something interesting enough that she actually enjoyed reading it (and then several of its sequels, which were not so clever, sigh). Though, of course, part of her success was in being forced to read something for fifteen minutes every school night for several months, which meant she got good enough at reading to not find it frustrating.

(What worked for her? In the altruistic desire to be helpful to my fellow sloggers in the parental trenches -- and the knowledge that I can post completely anonymously -- I will mention, in case you want to try it, that the perfect, "just right" book that was my daughter's first love, the book that opened her eyes to the delights of reading a book to herself -- as opposed to being read to -- that amazing book she adored and started a series that she had to be forcibly pulled away from every time we had to go somewhere ... was Captain Underpants. YMMV.)

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    Oy, there's nothing wrong with Captain Underpants! And as you said, a true interest in reading anything is better than complete disinterest in everything.
    – Doc
    Jan 23, 2014 at 21:08
  • You're right, of course, @Doc. The first Captain Underpants book is quite clever -- the concept is brilliant, even -- but after that they're sort of all the same, nothing there for an adult. And of course it makes it harder to hold the line in the battle against potty humor when your kid has seen you grinning and chortling with delight at George and Harold's antics. For a first- or second-grader, the line between funny and gross is no more than a glare in their parents' eyes, at this point. Jan 29, 2014 at 18:27

This question is still receiving attention, so I thought I would post a follow up answer with the benefit of hindsight. It turns out there was no cause for worry. We continued to insist that most of the books he checked out were just outside his comfort zone. We continued to insist that he try to read more advanced books he chose for himself. We continued to read with him.

In a few months it was a moot point. Out of the blue he started passing our "can you read it" test at the library on the books he wanted. According to online reading assessments, he is now reading approximately two grade levels ahead. I believe the advanced books he wanted to be able to read are a big part of that. I also subsequently learned of research which says most kids aren't really developmentally fully ready for academics until age seven, and I think he really blossomed once he hit that milestone.

To other parents with the same concern, I would say to hang in there and continue to give your children access to books they are interested in, even if they're not quite ready to read them yet.


I believe there are 2 things at play here and both can be used for your son's advantage:

1) He has a desire for something currently beyond his immediate level and is willing to put some effort into it.

By embracing his desire, you can harness it for his betterment. You might try activities taken from the book, such as

i) Drawing pictures about a particular page or chapter (if his attention will handle an entire chapter) which are not also drawn in the book;

ii) Choosing 1 or 2 "Words of the Day" from the book and exploring their meaning, even using them in other sentences;

iii) Letting him act out (if safe and age-appropriate) a scene (maybe using toys?) as a presentation to you;

iv) Taking a somewhat-tough sentence and working as a team to rewrite it into something he'll better grasp.

Doing those things won't allow him to fully grasp the entire book, but it will use the book as a basis from which he can grow.

2) Some kids (like my own) are a bit too conscientious about how what they're doing affects their parents and try to hide it.

When my daughter takes such an attitude with a particular "thing", I will "beg" her to do something else (in your son's case, read a different book?) and then schedule specific time with me to do the particular thing as a team.

By dedicating a specific period of time and showing a passionate interest in what she's interested in, it no longer becomes a perceived bother or embarrassment, but a looked-forward-to activity. It may even be worthwhile to have him look at the book for 15-30 minutes beforehand (depending on attention span) so that he can ask you any questions he has when you're working on it together -- he will either formulate the questions or spend his time just looking at the pictures, but he won't feel that anything needs to be hidden.

Hope that helps!

  • No, I am not per se... I have always been a believer, though, that my daughter's education is my responsibility, so I am actively involved in her education (and other aspects of her life, ofc). I'm just someone very proud to be a father and have worked very hard to try and provide her the best I can... I joined here to share what I can and pick up more along the way. Jan 2, 2014 at 18:12

My homeschooled daughter and I have encountered a similar problem. The books she chooses for reading are often a little too challenging for her to successfully read out loud (and include every word - especially if it means correct pronunciation), but even without pictures, she still does very well on comprehension tests (of texts generally leveled for Middle School Students) even while I know she is dropping some words exactly as your son is doing.

Something to think about in regard to beginning reading: Stopping to sound out every word really does mess with fluency and comprehension. The more focused on each individual word he has to be, the less likely he is to understand the entire sentence, paragraph etc. In pure text, if they understand 85% of the words, they'll get the gist of the text. Add pictures, and they need even fewer words to attain understanding. The reality is that he has pictures there to fill in the meaning so he can still comprehend the story - and his brain is still "seeing" the word and getting experience with it (which, overtime, expands his vocabulary naturally). Even we adults, when reading silently, often don't really "read" every word. Good readers do drop superfluous words frequently. I understand he isn't dropping words because they are "extra," in terms of the adult experience, but in his context, they are extra gibberish he doesn't need because he does have the info from the pictures.

For those who are not homeschooling,kids gets reading assigned at school that forces the issue in terms of practice with sounding out and getting reading that is "at level." For these kids, the answer is simple, if you aren't forcing them to read the words they don't know, they won't feel the need to lie to you. Allow for skipped words, if that is what the child wants to do. Don't put him in the position where he feels the need to "lie" to you about what he is doing.

Now, I am not saying this means you should forget about it and never insist on reading that includes sounding out every word- that is also important! Since you homeschool, you must also provide this experience for your child. What I am suggesting, is finding a way to strike a balance and do both. So, here is how I think about and talk about reading with my daughter and it has generally worked really well to this point.

It is important to understand that we read for a variety of reasons. Even adults, read for pleasure, for information (news, street signs etc.) and for learning. Some of the reading we do "for school" is to expand vocabulary, some is to learn new information about a topic or how to do something. Some reading lessons are for the purposes of practicing the skill of reading - sounding out, gathering meaning from context, and increasing fluency. . . We need different kinds of books for different purposes.

Your son can know the learning objectives you have for his lessons (in fact, it often helps them meet those objectives sooner if they know what the objectives are) and he can help choose some of his lesson books if he keeps your objectives in mind while choosing them. By offering him understanding about why choosing leveled books while still allowing a measured amount of choice is likely to improve his outlook at least somewhat. It'd probably feel like a very nice compromise to him and engage him further in his responsibility for his education than most kids have the opportunity to be engaged. Perhaps he'd like to choose books related to a topic that interests him and do most of his "lesson reading" in non-fiction?

He'll know that when he is done reading the "other" book you "assigned" for him (or chose together with the purpose of reading practice in mind), he can go read his "interest" books his way. This eliminates his feeling that a lie will help him, because his lesson books will be chosen at an appropriate level and he knows ahead of time he needs to work through every word. Of course, this applies to lesson objectives that necessitate his reading every word. With subjects like science, maybe you can choose books one level up and take turns and have him do some of the reading while you do most of the reading. There are also a certain number of "classics" you may feel he needs to be familiar with, but that you can read to him and he can do comprehension activities about without actually having to physically do the reading. He'll also know that he can "read for pleasure" as part of his day when he can read out loud to you his way - no pressure.

For kids who attend a mortar and brick school, the teachers will generally assign the "lesson books." Parents then should only force a reading of every word and total comprehension for homework/schoolwork - but not for all reading. Over Holiday breaks (Winter or Summer) you can still incorporate a "reading for practice" session in the day, in addition to "reading choice" time if you want.

Because I also homeschool my daughter, ideas offered by Jeremy Miller and Ossum's Mom are great ones. Jeremy Millers list includes activities I use frequently and agree they are also a wonderful set of resources for you too. Your son could choose a Chima book for some learning objectives with these activities in mind and still not have to read absolutely every word. In fact choosing "words of the day" from books that are above his reading level is a fabulous way to expand his vocabulary and honor his favorite books at the same time.

The ideas offered by Jeremy were ideas I also used with students when I taught in a classroom, and they would certainly be appropriate over the summer break for any kid at home with mom or dad. In fact, it will help in preventing a "summer (back)slide." But I can also say, for kids who attend mortar and brick schools, they get A LOT of reading in school and the activities that go with it. The school day is filled with it, so activities like re-writing a story, or choosing "words of the day" at home too can become an exhausting chore for both child and parent since they are already doing that at school as well. Therefore, while school is in session, I recommend against them, and I certainly recommend against using them for everything your child reads - homeschooling or not.

I'd also like to recommend a few websites that are wonderful resources for finding book suggestions and sorting through the many books available out there in the world with/without your son while you search:

Lexile - while many kids haven't done the testing to have an assigned and up-to-date lexile score, you can approximate a score by age and grade-level if your child is of pretty average ability for his grade level. Then you can up the score a bit if the books listed seem too easy, or bump the score down just a bit if they seem too hard. This resource is wonderful for finding good books to read in topical interest areas or specific genres he takes a liking to, or you wish to use in your son's education.

What should I read Next? which helps find books your son might like based on the books you already know he likes - though it isn't "leveled".

Book Adventure This website helps you create "reading challenges" for your son. It has a catalog of books from which to choose that also have comprehension quizzes that go with them. You can also create your own quizzes - there are all kinds of helpful items. Often, there are reading contests in which you can participate as well, we did one to read "winter stories" when Alice was 4, and she earned Snowmen at Night as her reward.

  • In the OP's comments, it was stated that the child is homeschooled. :) Jan 1, 2014 at 20:56
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    @JeremyMiller thanks for the heads-up, I thought he might be based on other interactions I've had with the poster, but didn't register it for sure. I've changed the focus, but still think the distinction between lesson time and reading for fun time and the both are important is supremely important for both this poster's child, as well as the children of future visitors to the site and question. As I said, you offer some great ideas - that I use with my own child too. Jan 2, 2014 at 15:52

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