Although many of us take the ability to read for granted, developing literacy skills is a process that is central to a child's development. The United States Department of Education reports that 13% of adults have such low literacy skills that they can't complete basic life tasks like reading a restaurant menu or entering information on a job application form.
Failing to learn how to read can have lifelong consequences. According to the National Institute for Literacy:
- 70% of state and federal prisoners are classified as illiterate
- 85% of all juvenile offenders are functionally or marginally illiterate
- 43% of people whose literacy skills measure at the lowest levels live in poverty
A few more distressing literacy statistics can be found on the Begin to Read Web site:
- 75% of people receiving food stamps perform at the lowest two levels of literacy skills
- 90% of people receiving welfare are high school dropouts
Reading and Academic Success
Why is reading important? Essentially, learning to read is a process that sets the tone for a child's entire educational experience. Research indicates students who don't read at grade level by the end of first grade only have a 10% chance of ever achieving grade level proficiency. By the time students enter the fourth grade, they are expected to be able to read unfamiliar content to acquire new information. For this reason, teachers often talk about "the fourth grade wall" as a major obstacle for children who failed to get a proper start in their literacy education. They not only have trouble in English class, but also struggle in science, history, geography, and math. If the problem isn't addressed, the difficulty grows every year.
Promoting Literacy in Your Home
To promote literacy, one of the best things you can do is simply to read aloud to your children. The U.S. Department of Education recommends that parents begin reading to their children when they reach six months of age and continue the tradition of family story time throughout the elementary school years.
Unfortunately, recent research indicates only about 50% of children ages three to five have a family member read to them on a daily basis. The numbers are lowest for low-income children with parents who have minimal education. However, even in homes with above average incomes and college-educated parents, only about 70% of children are read to on a daily basis.
Reading aloud to your children doesn't need to be difficult. Experts say kids get numerous benefits from being read to for just 15 minutes per day. Bedtime stories are a popular choice for many homes, but reading can also be part of your morning routine or something that you enjoy immediately after your evening meal if that is more convenient for you. If you have more than one child, you can read to all of your children together. Kids will still benefit even if they are occasionally hearing stories that are a bit above or below their age level.
Other ways to promote literacy within your home include:
- Set aside a special area as the family library, place children's books on an easily accessible shelf, and provide a comfortable spot for reading
- Start a tradition of giving books as gifts for birthdays, Christmas, and other special occasions
- Share the stories you enjoyed as a child with your kids, such as Aesops Fables
- Pick out books for yourself when you take your children to the library and let your kids see you reading for pleasure instead of watching TV or playing video games
- Have your family get involved with First Book, a charity that provides low income children with age-appropriate reading materials
Why is reading important? For more information about this topic, turn to the Reading Is Fundamental Web site. This excellent resource has general information about children's literacy, tips for making the reading experience more enjoyable, and age-based recommendations for books your children might enjoy..