How To Determine Your Child’s Reading Level And Choose The Best Books

Mom reading on the ground with daughter

When you sit down to read a book, you’re most likely reading for the simple enjoyment of it. That’s what we want to encourage kids to do, too!

It helps to consider the different factors that allow kids to enjoy the books they read (does it tie into their interests, and is it at an appropriate reading level?) so you can make sure they’re reading books that are just right for them!

If your child is in school, you’re probably no stranger to jargon like “reading level.” But what exactly does Lexile Framework, Guided Reading Levels (GRL), or Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) actually mean?

Additionally, if your child isn’t in school yet or is learning from home, how can you figure out what reading level is right for them? If any of these thoughts have crossed your mind, you’ve come to the right place.

We’re here to answer your questions so you and your child can sit down and enjoy a good book together!

What Is A Reading Level?

parents reading with child at appropriate reading level

A reading level is simply a measure of your child’s ability to read text. It reflects how well your little one can read independently. Importantly, reading levels help you choose books that are a good match for your child while still presenting a challenge.

These levels are meant to be helpful, not stressful. They don’t limit your child but, rather, help them blossom into a fluent, excited reader.

When your child reads books that are appropriate for their current reading level, it boosts their confidence so they can truly enjoy reading!

Why Is Determining Reading Level Important?

Happy family on the couch reading storybook at home in the living room

It’s helpful to determine your child’s reading level so you can find books that are appropriate for them to read on their own: not too difficult but challenging enough to encourage growth.

Reading level classification is a convenient tool you can use when searching online or at the library. And when you provide books that are on your child’s level, you create excitement and build their confidence, which can lead to a lifetime love of learning and reading!

If you’re looking for ways to help your little one read at the best level for them, Our new app HOMER Learn & Grow has a Stories section that gives age-appropriate story recommendations!

This is a great resource that takes your child’s specific interests and recommends stories just for them. What’s more, your child can choose to read along or read on their own.

How Is Your Child’s Reading Level Measured?

mom helping daughters at their reading level

Your child’s reading level is usually measured at their school, and we’ll show you how that’s done in this section. Here’s a tip: since your child’s teacher knows their reading level, consider asking the teacher (or the school librarian) for books your child can read at home.

Don’t worry if your child isn’t in school yet or if they’re homeschooled. We’ll show you how you can measure their reading level at home, too!

Before we dive in, it’s important to note that we think of books for kids at three levels: independent reading, instructional reading, and frustrating to read.

As the names indicate, independent reading books are ones a child can read with ease and without support from an adult.

Instructional ones are the books just above independent that teachers might use to stretch a child’s reading as they offer support while the child makes that next step. Finally, frustrating books are too hard for a child to read even with adult guidance

Now that you have an idea of how to think of the different books your child might encounter, let’s talk about the tools used for determining or describing reading levels.

Lexile Framework For Reading

Lexile Framework For Reading is an educational tool that ranks books by order of their difficulty using a scale called a Lexile. Usually, your child’s teacher will determine their reading level and then choose books that have a matching score.

The Lexile score, or measure, describes your child’s reading ability and matches them with books and other reading materials. This measure ranges anywhere from 0L to 2000L.

Kids are encouraged to read within their Lexile “range” — 50L above to 100L below their actual level. For instance, if your little one is reading with a Lexile measure of 500L, they would read books ranging anywhere from 400L to 550L.

Using standardized assessments, schools will often measure a child’s reading level several times a year to help them select books that are appropriate for independent reading.

Guided Reading Levels (GRL)

GRL is a guided reading system used in some schools.

To determine reading levels using GRL, children sit one-on-one with their teacher and read from a book that’s considered standard for their grade level — a “benchmark” book. GRL books range from A to Z with A being the easiest.

While reading these books, the teacher will take notes on any missed words and ask comprehension questions, such as “When did the story take place?” or “What was the problem in the story?”.

Through guided instruction, the teacher will gradually move children into more difficult books.

Teacher helping student with reading

Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA)

DRA is a standardized reading test given by teachers or reading specialists. As with GRL, children sit individually with the test administrator and read a book.

Several factors are taken into consideration to determine reading level, including:

  • Reading comprehension
  • Phonemic awareness
  • Fluency

DRA books are labeled with an A for the easiest books and then move into a numerical grading system. The levels range from 1 to 80 with 1-3 representing a kindergarten reading level and 80 representing an eighth-grade reading level.

Once a child has a DRA or a GRL level, a teacher or parent can search for the reading level of any particular book and can usually discover either the Lexile, DRA, or GRL of that particular text. Here’s a chart for your reference.

At-Home Reading Levels

If you’re looking for a way to find out your child’s reading level without using any of the methods listed above, you might try the five-finger rule.

For the five-finger rule, choose a book and flip to any page. If your child seems to have trouble reading more than five words on the page, it’s a good indicator that the book is too advanced for them.

To be sure, though, you can have your child try another page, especially if they seem eager to read a particular book.

This can be a helpful strategy, but it’s okay to let your child try a book and see how the reading goes. If a book is too hard, most kids will figure that out — and there is nothing wrong with reading books that are too easy!

No matter which method you choose as you’re working to determine your child’s reading level, remember that every child is different and learns at different speeds.

When you find that your emerging reader seems overwhelmed by one book, you can always give the five-finger rule a try with other books until you find the right match.

And keep in mind that if your child is particularly interested in a topic, you can always read the book to them and stop on words you know they can read.

Tip: Most libraries and bookstores have books arranged by reading level so you can easily choose the best one for your emerging reader!

Feel free to ask librarians and knowledgeable staff at bookstores to offer suggestions. You could even say something like, “My child happily read a Clifford book; can you suggest others at the same level?”

Tips For Reading Level Help

Young mother and her son reading book in a bed

As we mentioned earlier, you can easily determine your child’s reading level at home so that you can help them choose books that are just right! We suggest starting incorporating some of the tips below.

Start With Clues

  • Is your child using “sounding out” techniques to figure out unknown words?
  • When your child reads, are they getting tripped up by sight words — common words that are hard to sound out?
  • Is your child using pictures to help them understand what is written on the page?
  • Is your child using context clues to figure out what word makes sense to come next as they read sentences?

Check Vocabulary

  • Play games with your child to see what words they know. For example, say a sentence and point out one word in the sentence. Then ask them if they can come up with a different word (synonym).
  • Play synonym games to see what words your child knows. For example, challenge yourselves to think of 10 or more ways to describe speaking (shout, whisper, mumble).

While you’re talking with your child, describe something specific from your day. Make sure to use interesting adjectives, and don’t hold back from using sophisticated vocabulary when talking with your child.

You can help your child’s vocabulary grow through day-to-day conversations and activities!

Ask Comprehension Questions

Understanding what they read is an important part of your child’s reading journey.

  • To check for reading comprehension, we suggest pausing every other page to talk about what you’ve just read. Make this a natural reaction to the story, like you’re thinking aloud about the story or characters, so that it doesn’t feel like a test.
  • Consider encouraging your child to act out and retell the story (for younger children).
  • Try discussing themes/lessons with your child (for older children). Remember: this isn’t a test, but a conversation between book lovers!

Discover Your Child’s Favorite Books

  • Children often choose books that are a little below their actual reading level. At home, this is a good thing. It keeps reading fun and exciting!
  • We recommend choosing books that interest your child — with a certain character or activity they like — so they’re curious and excited about reading.

Reading books your child enjoys together can encourage their love of reading. And letting them read those same books to you can boost their confidence over time.

Together, these two activities increase your child’s fluency and reading enjoyment!

Is Reading The Same Book Over And Over OK?

Just like you might pick up an old favorite book to read, your child may do the same, and that’s OK! At least you know they’re enjoying a good book and the process of reading!

What’s more, reading familiar books can actually help build your little one’s fluency. It allows them to learn the words and helps them become familiar with narrative structure or storylines (i.e. beginning, middle, and end), which builds reading comprehension later on.

So feel free to let your child choose the same book over and over!

Reading For Fun

Parent reading with child at appropriate reading level

From assessments to the five-finger rule, determining reading levels varies across the board. No matter which method you choose, remember these measurements are meant to be helpful and encouraging, not stressful and limiting.

At the end of the day, the way reading makes your little one feel is more important than their reading level. Each child learns in a way that’s special and unique to them.

The HOMER Road To Reading

The road to discovering how to read can be a fun ride, but sometimes it’s bumpy. This is why we’re more than a learning program. We’re your learning partner.

If you’re looking for a resource to help develop your child’s love of reading and learning, consider taking a look at the HOMER Learn & Grow app. It’s full of stories curated based on your child’s reading level!

There’s nothing better than finding stories your child is excited about and seeing the doors to new opportunities in reading swing wide open!

And when your child develops a love for reading, they’ll move up to the next level before you can say “Developmental Reading Assessment”!