Early Reading and Language Skills

The fundamentals of reading are learned before children reach school. Even immediately after birth, the areas of the brain that store language skills are already in place. So it’s clear that experiences during the first few years of life play an important role in how children learn language and reading skills.

Baby's brains are primed to learn reading and language from birth! Tweet this!

Children with poor reading skills are more likely to repeat a grade, setting the stage for a pattern of failure in school. If children have not learned to read easily by third grade, they are 4 times more likely to drop out of high school. Moreover, some researchers have identified early predictors of dropout in children before they are enrolled in kindergarten. It is increasingly evident that school dropout prevention must begin as early as possible.

Family Routines and Public Policies Boost Early Reading

Throughout March, we’ll be discussing ways that parents can grow early reading and language skills in their home, and how our community can help improve reading skills among all of our children.

Reading books together, for example, is a way for parents to expose children to language that is more complex and has more variety than normal everyday speech. And starting early is important: shared reading with babies as young as 8 months has been linked to later language abilities. As early as 18 months, infants can use picture books to guide their actions with real objects.

Parents who read with their young children, tell stories, play word games, and provide books create a strong reading environment, especially if they maintain a sense of fun. Reading activities that allow children to follow their sense of play are more likely to be effective and to foster children’s interest in reading.

Many early reading skills involve learning how printed language works. As adults, we take these fundamentals for granted, but children have to learn that letters represent sounds, that words are read left to right, and how punctuation works.

Public spending on programs that promote reading is a smart investment. Interventions targeted at children during the first three years of life can prepare them to enter elementary school with appropriate language skills. Children who attend high quality early childhood education have lower rates of being held back for a grade, higher levels of academic achievement, and a higher high-school graduation rate.

Strong language skills can counteract the effects of poverty and other risk factors.

Studies of children in poverty demonstrate the importance of the home learning environment. For low-income infants and toddlers, shared book reading during the first three years helps to develop thinking and reading skills, regardless of a wide range of parent and child characteristics.

For children at risk of low achievement because of poverty and other risk factors, strong language and reading skills can help level the playing field. Overall, poor children are likely to have fewer children’s books at home than their middle-income peers. But poor children in strong home reading environments score as much as 25 points higher on standardized cognitive and language assessments, compared to children with few home learning opportunities.

Stay tuned throughout March as we take a more in-depth look at these critical issues, and what parents, caregivers, and community stakeholders can do to help.