Reading child

The Rule of Fives

Reading child
The other five-finger rule: All five fingers clamped on the book you are reading.

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, as with four of them, we went quite often.

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.


  1. Like Cedar, I’ve been reading at a college level since… well, they measured my reading comprehension at ‘PHS’ (Post High School) in the Iowa tests in 7th grade. Its seriously hard for me to read a book and have five fingers raised by the end of it…. if i even tried something this silly. This is why in junior high, I was reading from the ‘9th grader’ section and still not ‘challenged’… (also why i read Dune for a book report in Advanced English and the teacher didn’t believe i had read it…)

    (Said teacher had fussed at me for reading comic books in class… I just love how so meany teachers underestimate the reading level for comics)

    Anyway, accessibility, enjoyment of story, etc… is far more a contributing factor to a child’s enjoyment of reading than ‘challenge’ Its more people like Kanye (who, in many songs… tells a story…) and the jocks and rednecks who wouldn’t crack a book unless forced to that makes kids think “reading is bad mmmkay” than not being ‘challenged’ by it.

    1. I have so many adults tell me, ‘oh, I don’t read’ and it startles me. I know they don’t mean they are illiterate (for one thing, some of them are in school with me) but that they have been convinced over the years that reading isn’t for fun, only for school or work, when forced to it.

      1. *Many* of my college classes avoided having textbooks, or expecting students to know what was actually in them, just because so many of my classmates were “oh, I don’t read” types.

          1. Oddly enough, some of my classes were (screen) writing classes. With people in them that didn’t read. Who were amazed that I combed Hollywood bookstores for screenplays. and read them. And that I had shelves and shelves of books, and a 75% or so (at the time) collection of Cinefex magazines…

            1. But, but… how did they LEARN?

              Although this explains a lot about why hollywood keeps recirculating the same old dreck. They think they’re being original because they have no idea what came before them.

              1. Ah, here we see the problem. We make an assumption that they are learning. Or, perhaps, that they are learning something that will be actually useful in the industry.

                  1. Or that they understand the difference between having an education and having a credential.

                    “Of course I have an education! Don’t you see this diploma/certificate? Don’t you know what this means?!”

                    And now I have made myself sad.

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  3. Now, how are kids going to provide their families endless hours of amusement mis-pronouncing word if the kids don’t read whatever they feel like? I spoke of the singing “chore” boys, dinghy boats and other things I won’t repeat.

        1. LOL- same here. Mom read aloud to us (and when we were older, we took turns reading aloud to the family) but there were still many many books I devoured, learning words from I had no clue how to say. I did have a mispronunciation dictionary at one point!

          1. I’m still running across ones I have to check with my husband… and then find out later I’m using the British English pronunciation, and there’s an alternate for American English. Oops.

    1. Funny. While practicing for a spelling bee in 5th grade, the adults who were helping me were having a harder time with pronouncing the words in the practice book than I did.

    2. In spite of the PResident’s famous mispronunciation, I still have the same issue with Corpsman, since I never use the word aloud, that’s how it sounds in my head when I read it.

    3. Because my vocabulary in English was mostly from reading, I tried to tell my host family we used to spend 3 months at the beach and well… horrified silence. After a while my host mother said “Are you calling someone a female dog?” I said “No, you know, the seaside.” “From now on, dear, say seaside, always.”

        1. When I was a fairly little kid, I was very startled to find out that “hors d’oeuvres” (pronounced by me “hores devores,” of course) were the exact same thing as “orderves.” At that young moment, I decided that I should probably never take French.

          It never occurred to me until this thread that the adults probably heard it as me saying another and naughtier word, which is probably why they thought it was so funny after they figured out the confusion….

  4. I’m another one who’s been reading forever. I don’t remember not being able to read, and I read whatever I could get my hands on as a kid. I still do, but – alas – the job rather limits reading time.

    Some of my book-related memories… Dad tearing through the house in search of his book because he was desperate for the loo and he couldn’t go without his book (often said book had disappeared into my bedroom…). The big bookcase (floor to ceiling height) full of books, with the ones that weren’t appropriate for me on shelves too high for me to reach. I could climb… But I had a degree of sense there: books that were way inappropriate I usually put back because they were “boring” (aka full of stuff that made no sense to an 8yo kid. They weren’t nearly so boring when I was 15…). Reading out libraries – there wasn’t anything left in them that met the two main criteria: “I haven’t read this yet” and “I want to read this”. In college, missing classes because I made the mistake of starting a book and lost track of everything until I finished the book.

    These days I refuse to keep reading material in the bathroom, because I know if I open a book in there I won’t leave until I finish the book. It’s a terrible failing. I’ve missed train stops because I was reading. I’ve had ridiculously late nights (okay, early mornings) because I was reading. It’s why I try to discipline myself to not read new books until the weekends when I can stay up late.

    1. I kept things like trivia books, collections of essays (Ban Franklin’s Fart Proudly was perfect!) and short stories in the bathroom, once upon a time. Maybe I ought to do it again… LOL

              1. Oooh, I don’t get that one, I might have a financial accident. (I’ve always wanted to build an RV-6, although now I’m thinking one of the new tandem models instead.)

    2. I actually started three lending libraries, by getting schools (elementary, high and college) to sponsor the effort. It was mostly self-serving. I was out of stuff I hadn’t re-read fifty times.

  5. I asked the 11-year-old in the house (a voracious reader) what he thought of the five-finger rule. He thinks it’s “stupid” and wants to know “What if I don’t know the word, but from context clues now I do?”

    I never would have survived that sort of thing as a child, but luckily, my parents let me read anything and everything in sight. With many, many trips to the library, because we didn’t have much money when I was small. And 15-year-old in our house can afford more books, but goes to the library anyway, because she’d bankrupt herself otherwise. 😉

  6. Another voracious bibliovore here. My parents also used the vertical book segregation method, or put them in drawers. I looked in one drawer once, read a few pages, got bored (it was a sex scene) and that was that. My dad’s military history collection got worn out before I was a senior in High School. I learned most vocabulary from context, mispronouncing a few things because I never heard them spoken. (I still do that, I suspect). When I flew full time, I hunted up books of poetry and short stories that fit in my headset bag to read during lay-overs.

    I didn’t encounter the “I don’t read” proclamation until I was in graduate school, when some of the younger grad students were whimpering about our reading load. Dear, you signed up for a history grad degree. What did you expect?

  7. I don’t know. 4-5 unknown words per page is quite a lot. Now, if that’s the only page in the book like that, no problem, but if half the book is that way, you’re going to hard pressed to have a good idea what the story was really about.

    1. Depending on the age of the reader… now, if I find a book like that, I’m going to wonder what the author was smoking when they wrote it! But a very young child… intersperse that with easy book to foster progress, maybe.

      1. The only time I found that type of thing — other than the book that took me a year to read. Dandelion Wine, the first book I read in English and which I literally read with the English Portuguese dictionary at my elbow — was when reading scientific papers/books above my level, and then I use the dictionary and make notes.

    2. Well, and as a commenter over at PG’s page pointed out – is it 4-5 words on a page with 20 words, or 4-5 words on a page with 300 words, fiction or nonfiction? I’ve slogged through geology and botany books with 10 unknowns per 300 words per page, granted not as a child. And most of those unknowns were regional terms for specific items (for example Brits, Kiwis and Europeans have a rock they call greywacke, North America apparently does not, or we use different terms for it.)

        1. Thanks! I spent most of my time with 1) petrogeologists, 2) glacier people and 3) volcanologists, which may explain why I always heard it called [formation name] sandstone.

  8. In fairness to Kanye West, there are naval gazing literary writers who are only interested in their own notions of art. And ‘educators’ do assign them as reading in coursework.

    I’m a reader, and I developed a strong distaste for James Joyce, in part due to being required to read some of his stuff in class.

    Yes, I have expanded the range of what reading level I read for enjoyment. Yes, I can now appreciate some of the characteristics of literary writing. That is mainly due to reading books whose writers like the literary stuff, but wanted to have the book stand just supported by the story and action.

  9. More than three words on a page that you don’t know?

    Is this for five year olds, or someone reading a medical text?

    It really doesn’t help that I’ve always been stupid-good at figuring out meaning from context. (Might have something to do with reading books that were very good stories— like how with a puzzle you can tell what the picture would be even if a piece is missing, if the artwork is good.)

      1. Figuring out from context is a desirable skill to develop, outside of reading – one of my pet peeves is user-maintained databases, where the users obviously couldn’t or didn’t bother to figure out how other users were describing or classifying entries, and so create duplicates and loose-cannon hard-to-find new entries. Totally screws up a potentially very efficient way of sharing knowledge.

  10. My mother studied to be a teacher, but life intervened in the form of a daughter. Brian and I came much later, in another marriage (Mom’s first husband died young…) by our time Mom was 35 and wise beyond her years; the house was full of books, but she never mentioned them. She just let us find them on our own.

    The first book I remember reading was “On Beyond Zebra”, by Seuss; I still have a copy. Later (but before I was 10) came London’s “White Fang” and “Call of the Wild”. I found an old copy of Wells’ “Outline of History” in the bookcase, and was swept away. Mom bought us inexpensive encyclopedia sets (the ones with the colorful collage covers) and the “How and Why Wonder Books”; we read them all.

    I remember asking mom what a word meant, and being directed to a dictionary. Years later I found Steven J. Gould’s collected volumes of essays on natural history, and read them with a paperback Webster’s in my lap.

    I read to all my kids from their earliest years, and all are readers. Once they picked up the habit I made sure that their particular passions were well-supplied, and let nature take its course. It worked for me, and for them.

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