At Coram Beanstalk we're often asked how best to support children in specific year groups and sometimes we can find ourselves becoming overly concerned by a child’s reading age or ability and what level books they “should” be reading.

Learning to read Vs Wanting to read

We know that schools are robustly and rigorously teaching children to decode levelled texts through the use of phonics from EYFS into KS1, equipping them with the vital skill of being able to read. But we know that having the ability to decode alone is not enough to sustain children’s desire to read and children need to be encouraged to find the joy in books and remain motivated to continue reading.

This is where the 1:1 support which Coram Beanstalk reading helpers provide becomes even more valuable. In these sessions, children of any age have the opportunity to discover who they are as a reader, rather than what their level is. Our reading helpers encourage children to choose the books that they are most interested in and want to read, regardless of their reading level.

As our reading helpers spend a big part of their session reading aloud, taking the pressure off the child, children are able to access texts above their reading level and experience books that may have previously been out of reach. Children are also able to build their confidence in reading in a safe space, away from the pressure of their classroom and the scrutiny of their peers.

Our reading helpers encourage and support children when they choose to read aloud themselves, and set them up to succeed with any book they choose by engaging in meaningful book chat before, during and after reading.

“That book’s too hard for you”

Often children (and their parents or carers) have pre-conceived ideas about what type of books they should be reading, for example a child in Year 4 who only wants to read thick chapter books because they think picture books are for reception, or a Year 2 child who is not allowed to choose a book because it is not fully decodable at their level.

It is here that our reading helpers can help to change children’s own perceptions of their reading identity by exposing them to a variety of genres, including wordless books, graphic novels, non-fiction and poetry at varying levels.

This freedom of choice and power over what to read and when to read is what really helps children start to shape and understand who they are as a reader.

When can age recommendations be helpful?

If you find a book you are sharing with a younger child includes themes or language that you feel they are not ready to explore yet, it is important that you recognise this. In these cases - and this can also apply to any books which deal with topics which might be sensitive for certain children - you must use your own judgement to decide how best to approach this with the individual child.

Equally if you find that a book where the majority of the vocabulary is too challenging (even with support) for the child to grasp what’s happening, then this is an opportunity to find and explore a similar themed text at a more manageable level.

Find out what motivates them

Working with children in any year group presents a wealth of experiences and challenges, and children’s confidence in reading will vary hugely during their journey to becoming a reader. Rather than focusing on ability and ensuring children are reading at the right level, we encourage our reading helpers to think about the child in front of them and really focus on the individual.

What are their interests? What approach helps them to engage best? What type of reader are they? What genre of book do they engage most with? Are they confident, reluctant, enthusiastic, or lacking in self-esteem? Do they simply need someone to listen to their needs and guide them with their reading?

It is when these questions are answered that reading helpers will feel confident they are supporting each child in the best way possible and children in turn will feel valued, engaged and motivated to read.