childhood / family / parenting / passion

The Rule of Fives

a boy, reading books!

My son, ready to check out at the library.

Mirror-posted at Mad Genius Club today.

I found a post on Passive Voice about the Five Finger Rule, which I wasn’t familiar with. I had a good chuckle over his one-finger salute of it, and read the comments for further insight.

In the comments, Will Entrekin came up with a lovely rebuttal, and one I think bears repeating and dispersing widely, as it may be the future of reading.

Five-touch rule:

1) Touch app icon.

2) Touch book cover.

3) Resume reading. When you come to a word you don’t know, touch the word and choose “dictionary” to display the definition. Continue reading while building vocabulary.

4) Touch number of stars you’d rate the book on completion.

5) Touch social media icons to share that you’ve finished (and enjoyed) the book.”

So what was the original five-finger rule?

“1.         Open to a page of the book.

2.         Begin reading.

3.         Each time you come to a word you don’t know, hold up 1 finger.

4.         After you finish reading the page, check to see how many fingers you are holding up.

Too Easy: 0 – 1 fingers

Just Right: 2 – 3 fingers

Too Hard: 4 – 5 fingers”

Now, I don’t know about you, but had I heard about this as a child, I would have been just as incredulous as I am now. I’ve talked on the blog before about reading the dictionary for pleasure, reading at age 4, and reading on a college level by the time I was eight. I couldn’t have done that if I were constrained to what was ‘on my level’ as that was a moving target. For my own children, I made sure they had ready and easy access to reading material of all levels. There was a ‘kids bookshelf’ that was about 4′ tall and easily 5′ wide. It was loaded with titles, from board books and Hop on Pop to Alice in Wonderland, the Black Stallion, and Have Spacesuit Will Travel.

My own books were not off limits to them, either. With a few rare exceptions that I kept inconspicuous for appropriateness, they were allowed to read them. I read aloud to them on occasion, although not nearly as often as I wanted to. They read aloud to one another, and now they all read voraciously.

I think that’s the key, making books easy for them to get. Which is why I gave all four of mine a kindle for christmas. Not the latest and greatest, both for budget reasons and because I didn’t want them to be able to play games on them. They have almost 200 books in their collective archive, and they were delighted with the gift. I’m looking forward to hearing what they say about some of the classics I loaded on their readers.

Although studies like this one point out that access to books improve literacy (duh) they also go on to say that the poorest families don’t have this access. I call BS. In modern America, families have options. There is the library, various programs that sponsor books for families, and my favorite, the thrift shop where kids books could be had for as little as a dime. We used to be given a book per child every time they went to the doctor’s office, through some program promoting literacy. My kids loved that one.

Which leads me to think it’s not about access. Its about the adults in their lives, whether they love reading and value it as a skill, or not. Kanye West, a non-entity who has attracted a lot of press, and sadly, a lot of influence on kids through that press, said this: “Sometimes people write novels and they just be so wordy and so self-absorbed. I am not a fan of books. I would never want a book’s autograph. I am a proud non-reader of books.”

With examples like that, no wonder kids have trouble reading. Even more troubling are the methods and limitations placed on kids in school when it comes to reading. The rule of five fingers, the lexile score, sight reading, the list goes on and on. Some clever teachers manage to side-step it, but sadly many of them are victims of that education themselves.

So find a child near you and read to them. Give them a book (I recommend picking up clean, lightly used books in yard sales or thriftshops for pennies and having them on hand). Don’t eschew the unusual: as a children’s performer I was part of a team that shocked librarians and teachers with Captain Underpants when it first came out, but it is a wonderful idea that is now embraced. If you don’t have kids of your own, nieces, nephews, grandkids… any will do.  Give the gift of love, and read often.

Boy Reading

The other five-finger rule: tightly clamped around the book they are reading.


6 thoughts on “The Rule of Fives

  1. “Which leads me to think it’s not about access. Its about the adults in their lives, whether they love reading and value it as a skill, or not. ”

    A few years ago, my wife and I volunteered to work with a program intended to “enrich” youth’s lives by mixing a sports program with tutoring/mentoring etc. Our biggest impediment was the apathy of the children’s parents if not outright hostility.


  2. Ironically, one of the most intelligent non reader friends was the son of two English professors. They made reading such a stress-filled, loaded act that he avoided books proudly like the plague– save his RPGs. That little trap goes both ways.

    Ironically my early love of reading came from the fact my folks didn’t want me teaching myself to read at an early age. They thought that so-called “learning disabilities” were endemic in our family because ancestors were always teaching themselves how to read at age three. No, it just made me crazy to get a hold of books and learn how to read. My grandmother thought it was all nonsense and would read street signs out loud in the car– so I studied street signs and started figuring out things before I got to school.

    It didn’t work– I learned how to read when “I was supposed to” and still had “learning disabilities”. The sad part is *insert rant about how smart kids are crippled by a system designed for the LCD*. At any rate, I think gently encouraging reading, and having loads of books available is a good way to do it. Just don’t get overstressed on it. Because it becomes like DARE– the least successful cultural campaign since run, duck and cover.


  3. We had a very small home library, no school library (one-room country schoolhouse), no access to the small-town library–but I loved to read. We had cereal boxes and other food containers with words on them–I learned to read those. As long as we had school classes called “reading” and “spelling,” those were my favorite classes. Another girl and I nearly always tied for first place in spelling bees. In high school I, also, read the dictionary (and was made fun of for doing so).

    Reading is fun. Writing is fun.


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