10 Ways Parents Can Support Reading at Home
Learning to read is a vital skill. A child’s literacy success or failure can affect his or her life for decades. Research shows that compared to proficient readers, students who don’t read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma.
Understandably, schools prioritize literacy among nearly all other skills.
Parents Play a Vital Part in Helping a Child Learn to Read
One of the most important roles that parents can play in their child’s education is supporting and nurturing their child’s reading abilities and love of reading. As the poet and children’s author Emilie Buchwald has said, “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.”
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Despite decades of intense focus, many schools struggle to teach all students to read. In the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2022 KIDS COUNT® Data Book, researchers found that 81% of fourth-graders in low-income families scored below proficient in reading. These students, the data show, were about one-and-a-half times more likely to fall short of reading proficiency when compared to their more affluent peers.
Both poverty and race exacerbate this problem: For Black and Latino students, the combined effect of poverty and poor third-grade reading skills makes their high school dropout rate eight times greater than average. Even proficient third graders who have lived in poverty graduate from high school at about the same rate as subpar readers who have never been poor.
Parents can exert a powerful influence on a child’s literacy development, reading abilities and attitudes around literacy — and this influence starts at an early age, the research consistently shows.
Yet, from 2015 to 2016, a large share of kids were still missing out on regular story time. Over 40% of all young children, ages 5 or under, had a family member read to them less than four days a week, according to researchers. Narrow the view to American Indian, Latino and Asian and Pacific Islander kids, and the share of children missing out on regular reading sessions jumps even higher — to 50%.
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For many parents, helping their kids to learn to read can be intimidating. Young children’s literacy skills encompass many aspects, among them:
- knowledge of the alphabet;
- awareness of the sounds that letters make;
- ability to connect sounds with letters; and
Early literacy skills do not emerge spontaneously — they require time and practice.
How can parents support literacy development and help to set their child up for future achievement? Luckily there are many proven ways for parents to support reading at home.
Advice for Parents of Early or Emerging Readers
Here are a few tips to help early readers:
- Read Every Day
- Make a Space for Reading
- Make Reading Silly
- Visit Your Local Library
- Librarians Are Resources
- Seek Out Adaptations
- Encourage Writing
- Build Literacy With Other Activities
- Partner With Teachers
- Lead by Example
Find a time to read with your child every day. Even a brief daily commitment can convey that reading is an important priority for you.
Create a comfortable, consistent place in your home where you can read together, enjoy books and chat about them. You might even make it a place where food and drink are welcome — these signal that reading can be a social activity.
Don’t be afraid to get silly. Reading should be fun. Meet your child where he or she is, and don’t insist on “serious” or “classic” books. Silly books, comics, animé or other art-driven books are a good way to get many children interested in reading. If possible, act out or sing the words of stories or find other ways to enjoy books.
Plan trips to the library. Getting your child a library card can get them excited about books. Don’t worry about reading every book — library trips should be fun. At first, these visits may simply consist of spending time wandering the rows of books and meeting librarians.
Ask librarians which books are appropriate for your child and which books kids are excited about.
Read books that are being adapted into movies, and compare one type of media to the other.
Encourage your child to write thank-you notes, letters, journal entries and stories about their daily life and experiences. If your child is uncomfortable writing, suggest that he or she create a comic strip.
Enjoy puzzles, mazes, crosswords and other games, which enable your child to build literacy skills while having fun.
Work with teachers to understand their approach to literacy and ask how you can help at home. Find ways to extend school literacy lessons when you’re home or out with your child.
Show your child that you love books, reading and writing — and that you partake in these activities every day.
Casey’s Role in the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading
The Casey Foundation served as a founding member of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a collaborative effort by more than 70 foundations and advocacy groups to move the needle on early literacy. The initiative calls for an integrated approach, which starts at birth and ensures children develop the social, emotional and academic skills needed to read by third grade. This grade level is considered a pivot point in education, where children shift from learning to read and instead begin reading to learn.