I recently reviewed the latest Scholastic Kids and Family Reading Report (2014) and was struck by the many interesting statistics shared through this well-designed survey about book reading by children and families.
For example, 60 percent of the more than 2500 parents surveyed said they received the advice from someone that reading books to children from birth onward is powerful for language and literacy development. That is a good thing for the children whose parents received the advice, especially those parents who acted on it. But what about the children who belong to the parents who didn’t take that advice or the 40 percent who didn’t get the message in the first place? That’s over 2 million children born each year whose families don’t understand the amazing power of reading aloud to small ones.
While this piqued my interest, the finer details of that finding are what really caught my attention, specifically that fewer than half of the families from the lowest-income households reported being given the advice about the power of reading with children. That’s appalling when you consider that children living in or near the poverty line constitute nearly half the children in the U.S. Meanwhile, 74 percent of families from the highest income households were evidently encouraged to read with their babies. Now, neither of those statistics is particularly complementary to educators, midwives, librarians, child care providers, pediatricians and other people who touch the lives of littles—all of whom should know and most of whom are well-positioned to add this little bit of sunshine to children’s lives.
Much is known about the myriad ravages of poverty on families. The impacts of economic deprivation on five year olds include for them lifelong food and personal insecurities. Many living in Book Deserts, locations where fewer than 100 books are likely to be found in homes, are also growing up with attendant language and experiential differences. Never encountering the world beyond an impoverished home certainly handicap them in learning to read and can leave them ill-equipped for the challenges of schooling and life beyond the classroom.
There is a relatively simple solution, however!
School success is one of the surest paths out of the poverty into which nearly half of our children are born. And nothing can ameliorate language differences of children as cheaply and as easily as reading with them from accessible picture books. Children’s school preparedness could almost be guaranteed if the categories of folks mentioned above did nothing else for families but deliver the rock solid rationales, friendly encouragements, and a few minutes of modeling of reading to and talking with their youngsters about what’s in those books.
Now certainly there are abundant explanations for why reading aloud might not occur in families living in economically and socially dire straits: no books at home, no time for reading, no money for books, and no convenient libraries or bookstores. A natural first step is issuing to parents a free library card for each of their newborns. Having addressed the central issues of mother and child health, volunteers from local schools, which are in fact those most likely to benefit from children entering Kindergarten fully prepared, might arrange to share a simple handout or infographic focused upon the whys and hows of reading aloud and the huge power of talking with children about books. As a bonus, volunteers could give a brief demonstration (and the handout might contain URLs for videos of that) of what read alouds might look like for an infant, a toddler, a preschooler and for children nearing Kindergarten age.
Surely we could do just these two rather simple things to obtain closer to 100 percent of children and their families in this country benefiting from reading books together.