Reading to Children

Susie McGee
Parent and child reading together

The importance of reading to children can't be overestimated. The statistics concerning kids' reading levels and skills are alarming. According to the National Institute for Literacy,"More than one-third of America's fourth graders read at levels so low they cannot complete their schoolwork successfully. Levels are not much better for 8th graders,12th graders, or even adults." It appears that a child's early reading progress may affect that child for the rest of his or her life, so it's crucial to begin working on this skill as early as possible.

Important Early Literacy Findings

National Institute for Literacy Findings

The National Institute for Literacy (NIL) has published a report concerning reading levels for children. The No Child Left Behind Act has tried to address some of these issues, but among the NIL report's findings:

  • Seventy-four percent of children who read poorly in the third grade continue to read poorly as they go through high school.
  • The level of reading and writing skills a child develops by age five has a significant relationship to his or her literacy skills later on in life.
  • Children from low-income families tend to be less prepared to succeed, and they may never be able to catch up to the same levels as children from more affluent backgrounds.
  • High-quality early education can have lasting effects on a child's ability to learn.

Further Findings from the National Early Literacy Panel

According to the National Early Literacy Panel's findings, which were published in the same NIL report, there are six variables that can serve as predictors of a child's later literacy achievements according to how well he or she performs at each variable. These variables include:

  • Knowledge of the alphabet, including letter names and sounds
  • Phonological awareness: the ability to detect auditory aspects of spoken language, even without understanding the meaning
  • Rapid automatic naming: the ability to quickly name a sequence of letters or single-digit numbers
  • Rapid ability to name objects or colors
  • Ability to write individual letters or the child's own name
  • Phonological memory: the ability to remember spoken information for a short time

Benefits of Caregivers Reading to Children

Many children don't have access to books except through their classrooms and school libraries. While reading to children at school is, of course, essential to a child's academic success, reading must begin at home. Some parents even begin reading to children while they are still in the womb. Reading expert Michael Maloney suggests that parents can help children improve their reading skills by encouraging reading and setting aside quiet reading times.

Reading to children is important for several reasons:

  • It gives children information on a variety of topics.
  • It promotes language development and literacy skills.
  • Reading regularly raises reading and comprehension levels.
  • It helps increase a child's attention span.
  • When parents read to their children, it promotes family relationships.

Reading Help

Many parents don't know where to begin when it comes to helping their children develop stronger reading skills. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Book recommendations - The American Library Association provides lists of notable children's books, Newberry Award-winning books, and top ten lists to help parents as they assist their kids in choosing appropriate reading materials.
  • Summer Reading Programs - You and your family can participate in your local library's summer reading program. These programs typically have planned activities throughout the summer. Certificates of achievement and gifts are also given to children who complete the program. These programs are free and open to the public, so be sure and check with your local library.
  • Accelerated Reader - The Accelerated Reader Program is often incorporated into school curriculums as a way to encourage students to read. Ask your school librarian if this program is available.

Other Tips and Suggestions

Reading to children doesn't have to be difficult or expensive. The following tips and suggestions will help you get started on that important road to reading with your child:

  • Be an example. Let your child see you reading books, magazines, and newspapers ever day.
  • Spend time reading together. Reading should be fun. Even if your child is a preteen or even a teen, you can share time together reading popular books and discussing what you've read, sharing magazine articles, and reading the daily newspaper.
  • Let your child read to you. Start out simple with easy-to-read books, and encourage your child to try new words.
  • Set aside daily reading times. You and your child can end your day by reading quietly together.

Seek Professional Help as Needed

Finally, if you feel that your child needs additional help in reading, talk to his or her teachers and pediatrician. A child may experience difficulty reading due to an undiagnosed physical disability such as poor eyesight; alternatively, he or she may have a learning disability. Getting a professional diagnosis can help put a child back on track for reading success.

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Reading to Children