Putting the science into action: helping children benefit from reading

October 29, 2014 Susanna Block, MD

It is astonishing to me how important it is to read to children from an early age. Research tells us there are short term and long lasting benefits from exposing children to books and language from the beginning. In an exciting progression, the idea of early literacy has moved from academia to policy. Supporting parent engagement and early literacy programs is a core part of Washington’s Early Learning System.

Early literacy does not mean early reading. Early literacy emphasizes positive exposure to a literacy-rich environment. Many important reading concepts begin before kindergarten. Studies show us that a child’s early literacy environment (age 0-3) plays a crucial role in school success and reading ability. Children enter kindergarten with different knowledge levels. Those who enter with the least knowledge of beginning reading skills are at academic risk.

The benefits of early literacy do not stop at kindergarten; it continues throughout the school years. Frequent positive literacy experiences in preschool is directly associated with:

  • Improvement in teacher rating of oral skills at 5 y/o and reading comprehension at 7 y/o
  • Success on reading achievement in second grade.
A US Department of Education report (Feb 2000) states that US kindergarteners who are living in poverty, from single parent homes and non-English speaking families have fewer reading and math skills and exhibit more behavioral problems in school. The frequency of parent-child reading increases when parents receive support from policies that encourage early literacy. There is a demonstrated increase in the expressive and receptive language scores of children who are involved in reading promoting programs.

The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) released a new policy statement on June 24, 2014 recommending pediatricians and policy makers promote reading aloud to children daily, beginning in infancy. Some parents and caregivers don’t have the tools to read aloud to their children daily. Supporting parent engagement and early literacy programs is a core part of Washington’s Early Learning System. Consider this when you are looking at your ballot this election season.

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