Book Bands – Learning to Read at Home and School

This post will tell you what you need to know about book bands, but first let’s not forget the wonder and awe of sharing stories together with children. Learning to read is such an exciting journey for children and a fundamental skill in helping them to become life long learners. Immersing children in high quality books from as early as being in the womb helps to foster a love of reading and stories. The sharing of books together is such a special time and in my opinion should be something you continue for as long as your child will let you!

How do you help your child learn to read and love reading?

I like to consider two areas here. Firstly, there is the mechanics of actually learning to read. The second is having a joy and passion for reading. Sometimes there can be an overlap in these two, but especially for early readers it can be important to consider these as two very distinct ideas.

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In the UK synthetic phonics is the main way in which children begin their reading journey. Learning what sounds different letter combinations (graphemes) make and joining those sounds together to make words. If you’d like to find out more about phonics check out my phonics blog posts here.

Children build up their phonics knowledge and at each stage are encouraged to apply the skills they are learning in their reading and writing. As you can imagine, if you only know one sound that each of the letters S A T P I and N make – quality, thrilling adventure stories may be hard to come by! ‘Pat sat.’ Thankfully, phonics is only one part of learning to read and reading for pleasure.

Rich Texts

This is why it is so important as children start learning to read that they have the opportunity to practise their emergent skills through selected texts, but also continue to have a feast of rich books shared with them at the same time.

Short bursts, of what I like to consider ‘skills’ reading, ensures that phonics knowledge is having time to be applied. Doing two pages in a book aimed at targeting the specific skill they are learning is better than trying to get them to read the whole book if they’re not interested. Don’t be surprised if you have a child who loves applying their phonic knowledge though and doesn’t mind what they read. Go with it – some children get very excited just by the act of being able read the special code that is our language.

A Balance of Books

When I taught in early years and primary settings I used to say to children and parents that some books teach us to read and others get us to fall in love with reading. It’s about getting a good balance of both. As your child goes further in learning phonics you can be lucky enough to get books that do both!

Book Bands

Often books that come home from school to read are part of reading schemes and have ‘book bands’, ‘colours’ or ‘levels’ that children progress through. These give a guided, graduated approach to learning to read. You may have heard of some such as Oxford Reading Tree. Here’s a comparison chart and you can find lots of others online for different schemes to help you compare. However, feel free to drop me a message if you’d like some help.

The aim is that book banded books are not too easy that a child gets bored and there is no challenge. Not too challenging that they don’t want to try and can’t get the understanding of what they are reading (I’m not going to talk about comprehension much in this blog post. Just to say that a child understanding what they are reading is equally important as the actual mechanics of reading). A correct book band means they are just the right amount of challenge to move their learning on.

Book Band Help and Tips

  • Don’t be surprised when your child begins on wordless books (lilac) this is quite normal. Take this opportunity to talk about characters, settings and make up your own stories about what is happening. Ask questions about the stories they make up.
  • Do ask your child questions about what they are reading. It is just as important for children to understand what they are reading. If you feel that your child is reading a particular level well, but have not moved onto the next level, it could be that that they need to develop their comprehension skills. This is easier with a text they find easier to read more fluently.
  • Children don’t need to read every book in a level of a book band scheme before moving onto the next level in the scheme. Remember these books are designed to give the right level of challenge.
  • Children may be able to read words using their phonics decoding, reading schemes build up to develop fluency in reading. This is when children can read words without having to decode them.
  • It isn’t the end of the world if a book that you’ve had before comes home again. This is a great opportunity to develop fluency and comprehension skills. Can they recall what happens next?

More Book Band Help and Tips

  • Books in book band levels can vary significantly. As with most things in life, book bands are not discrete and form part of a spectrum. Therefore you will get a range of books within each band. If your child doesn’t get on with a particular book then get it swapped, they can always come back to it another time. Equally, just because your child has read a couple of books in a band easily doesn’t necessarily mean they are ready for the next level. It might be worth mentioning to the teacher though, as they may be able to direct your child to some more challenging books within that band.
  • If your child is on the same book band for an extended period of time it’s worth discussing with their teacher if you feel their reading isn’t progressing. A more graduated reading scheme may be more suitable for them. The teacher may not have had chance to ‘move them up’ or it could be that some additional support is needed to help them with their reading.
  • Rushing a child through book bands will not make your child a quicker, better reader. Don’t compare with other children, every child is unique and on their own reading journey.

Not Just Book Bands

Alongside these specifically chosen books there should also be a wealth of other exciting fiction and non-fiction books shared. This is where children get the joy of reading. You help give them access to a world that they can’t yet reach, yet in a silent promise letting them know it’s there for the taking as they learn to read.

Book Time

There is nothing that beats having a snuggle up together with a brilliant book, but if you can’t always find the time (but I really hope you can – even if it’s just for one story) then head to programmes such as CBeebies Bedtime Stories and Tata Storytime that you can access anytime and play while you’re preparing dinner. Both of these are brilliant to give you a diverse range of stories (authors, illustrators and characters) as well as a plethora of diverse readers.

Bedtime Stories – Ban Book Bands

My one plea – keep bedtime stories special. It’s been a busy day, the reading book from school is still in the book bag and you’ve got to add today’s entry. Don’t be tempted to get that book out for a bedtime story. That book banded book in their book bag is designed to practise their reading skills. It’s going to take them effort and they’re tired, you’re tired, you’re heading for disaster!

I don’t know of any teacher who would complain if that entry in the diary said – ‘shared The Gruffalo together tonight’. Much better to pick that book bag book out in the morning or the next day after school and do a page or two when they’re bright and ready.

Reading Books and Home Learning

Now as we are currently still in the middle of a pandemic, like many other parts of the world, you may well have no access to reading scheme books or book banded, levelled books. You may have one or more that are at home, that you can’t even consider reading more than the twenty times you already have. So, what can you do?

Firstly, don’t worry. Everyone is in the same position.

My top recommendation is to keep sharing books and reading with your child. Whether that be fiction or non-fiction, about unicorns, aeroplanes or jars in the kitchen! It doesn’t matter. Earlier I mentioned rich and quality texts and I feel I need to mention here that not all books are created equal. Luckily, the good ones are easy to spot.

Kallax Ikea unit with summery ocean books on the shelves

What do I mean?

You want to be sharing books with great characters, descriptive vocabulary that will really open up their imaginations and grow their own knowledge of words. Fabulously, illustrated so that they are catapulted into real or magical worlds.

There are books available that follow school reading levels/ book bands and books that help apply specific phonics skills. If you are continuing to support your child with their phonics do check out this blog post on how to say the sounds – it is so important to get this bit right.

Book Band Support

Depending upon the book level your child is currently working on there are picture books and chapter books that can be suitable for them to both read for pleasure, while also developing their skills. I will be adding more to the book bands section of the site for you to see books suitable for different levels. This will be a resource that I continue to add to and will hopefully be very useful for you.

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