Congratulations: Your child is ready for the upper grades! Between 3rd and 5th grade, they’ll be mastering the basic concepts introduced in grades 1-2 and laying a solid foundation for the middle school years ahead.
While children in these grades are still very much children, developmentally, the curricula in grades 3-5 will encourage them to think more deeply and make connections within the material. In short, they’ll be set up to learn more independently and depend less on teacher guidance.
Readers in grades 3-5 become more sophisticated as well in how they navigate texts. In addition to reading a broader array of material, like plays, poetry, and nonfiction, they’ll compare and contrast how different genres of writing address the same issue or theme. Your child will begin to learn how to gather information from source material — whether data from nonfiction or character quotes from fiction — to answer questions and prove ideas.
To be successful in the classroom, it’s important that your child continue reading. A daily commitment can make their transition to the upper grades a smooth one. Joe Saenz, a 5th grade teacher in New Jersey, recommends these seven tips for building a better independent reader in grades 3-5.
1. Read aloud with your child. The read-aloud routine you started from birth will still be used in the classroom as a strategy for pointing out different perspectives within a text. Now that your child is older, you can take turns reading chapters from a book of their choice. There’s no age limit for being read to!
2. Encourage all reading. Always keep a variety of quality reading materials within reach. These can be books, magazines, newspapers, or digital content if your children use the internet. Books should be age-appropriate, but don’t discourage their interest — advanced readers enjoy re-reading favorites from childhood as much as they do trying books above grade level.
3. Record (and look up) unknown words. Your child will encounter many more unknown, particularly multisyllabic, words during the stretch between grades 3-5. Make learning these words fun by encouraging them to write down any unknown words in a journal, then you can look them up together in the dictionary. Here’s a tip: Have your child try to identify the meaning of the word first using context clues.
4. Encourage reading for information. In the upper grades there’s an expectation your child can analyze and summarize complex concepts. Nonfiction demonstrates how information can be packaged and presented for deeper understanding, whether through graphs and charts or a chronology of events. This includes news, which you can read with your child daily and talk about at the dinner table.
5. Discuss the books your child is reading. Being able to talk about different character (or narrator) perspectives and how they affect the overall content of a book is a hallmark of the upper grades. Ask your child about what they’re reading: what an author’s main theme is, how the characters are alike and different, what your child likes and dislikes about the story, and how it compares to other books they’ve read.
6. Expect plateaus. Following some big leaps in their progress, your child may stay at the same reading level for several months — and that’s OK! Encourage them to read what interests them, even if it’s an old favorite. If they’re struggling with a text, reading the same material along with them will give extra motivation to finish.
7. Set a good example. You are your child’s best role model. If you want them to love reading, show that you do, too. Read in front of them every day, for pleasure and for information.