Literacy opens the door to a brighter future. A child’s early years are critical in shaping their development and lifelong learning potential. However, if a young child struggles with reading, they risk falling behind and may never catch up. In fact, if children don’t get the help they need to learn to read, then the gaps between struggling and strong readers widen and worsen as they grow.
Poet and author Emilie Buchwald wrote, “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” But for children living in poverty, and those with few books or no one to read to them at home, the chance to become a lifelong reader may seem out of reach. In fact, children in poverty are less likely to attend preschool and often live in households where early learning activities are few and far between.
That’s why Save the Children’s education experts support children, parents, caregivers and schools to develop literacy skills from birth. There are many things you can do to support child literacy as well, and ways you can get the children in your life reading and succeeding, as a result.
Statistics about Reading and Success
According to the Department of Education, the more students read or are read to for fun on their own time and at home, the higher their reading scores, generally.1 However, in the United States, more than 60% of low-income families have no children’s books in their home.2
In many rural communities where Save the Children works, the school library is the only place where children can access books. When children don’t have access to books or have family members regularly read aloud to them, their reading scores dive far below the national average. By the time they’re 3 years old, children from low-income families have been exposed to 30 million fewer words than their more affluent counterparts.3 Reading and being read aloud to has an impact that extends beyond just hearing stories.
When children are read to at home, they are able to count to 20 or higher, write their own names, and over 1 out of 4 of those children are able to recognize all members of the alphabet.4 Children who read at home also score higher in math.
What is the best way to teach a child to read?
The first step on the path to literacy is teaching children letters and the sounds they make. You can read along with a child to help them identify and sound-out the different noises in a word. As children take these precious first steps towards literacy, parents should gradually expand their selection of reading material to help children learn new words.
Children need to learn to read accurately and with understanding. The best way to teach a child to do that is to ask them questions and encourage them to think carefully about the words. As anyone who has learned a second language can tell you, learning these skills once is not enough. Children need to develop fluency, which only comes from practice.
How can I improve my child’s reading skills?
Nearly every parent has asked themselves, “How do I help my child read at home?” Let’s reframe that question. Instead, think of how you can make reading more enjoyable for your child.
It can be a big mistake to turn reading into a power struggle, or to unintentionally train children to see reading as something done just for a reward instead of for enjoyment. Kids like to read when it’s fun and when it’s relevant to their interests.
Parents will notice their children are full of questions. If your child shows curiosity about a specific topic, visit the library or bookstore and get them a book on the subject. If they have a favorite TV or movie character, see if there are a line of books that continue that character’s adventures on the printed page. In addition to wanting to read more, your child will also expand his or her imagination.
At what age should a child be able to read?
Although every child is different, most children are able to read between the ages of 4 and 7. Some children start learning to read and write their letters, or recognize signs and symbols as early as 3 years old. Gradually, their reading proficiency grows and they start to ask questions about words they can’t sound out or do not understand. While some children are slower to develop reading skills, most should be able to read with fluency by the time they’re 7 years old.
However, children who do not develop literacy skills early-on can face serious disadvantages in the classroom. When a child’s reading skills are not in-step with the timetable for their school, those children fall behind. Poor reading skills may not only affect their grades, but also take a toll on their confidence or create educational problems in other areas.
How can I help my Dyslexic child learn to read?
Dyslexia is a disorder that affects children of all ages and learning levels — even children with above average intelligence. Dyslexia is a learning disorder that affects the way the brain processes information. For children with dyslexia, certain parts of their brains process words on a page differently than most people, which makes reading much harder for them. Dyslexia is typically diagnosed during pre-school or elementary school years.
Dyslexia can be overcome. Kids with dyslexia can work with a teacher, tutor, specialist, or their parents to improve their reading. In particular, dyslexic children need extra help memorizing sight words. Parents can help by trying to engage all of their child’s senses when learning something new. For example, if a child is struggling to remember a letter, encourage them to use their finger to trace-out the shape of the letter.
Repetition is also important to helping dyslexic children overcome their challenges. Similarly, talking about what they read and/or heard can help them better understand what they’ve read and increase comprehension skills.
Helping Children in Need
“Here’s the good news,” stated Save the Children Trustee Jennifer Garner when testifying on Capitol Hill about the importance of early childhood education in March 2017. “It takes so little – a ball, a book, a parent who is given the encouragement to read or talk or sing to a child – to make a life-changing difference.”
Supporting Save the Children’s literacy programs ensures that children in the U.S. and around the world will be introduced to reading and writing at a young age, and that they will be given the opportunity to reach their full potential.
To learn more about the work Save the Children has done to support child literacy and help set children up for success, visit our website.
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3. Hart, Betty and Todd R. Risley. “The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3.” American Educator, Spring 2003. 6 Isaacs, Julia B. and Katherine Magnuson. ↩