In the U.S. today, a stark disparity exists between the reading abilities of low-income and higher-income children. Only 50% of low-income 4th graders read at or above the basic level according to the Department of Education’s 2007 Nation’s Report Card. The implications of the growing literacy gap extend beyond the walls of our homes and our classrooms. According to Dr. G. Reid Lyon, Chief of Child Development and Behavior at the National Institute of Health, "surveys of adolescents and young adults with criminal records indicate that at least half have reading difficulties, and in some states the size of prisons a decade in the future is predicted by fourth grade reading failure rates."
According to the National Commission on Reading report, Becoming a Nation of Readers, “the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.” However, The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study found that only 36% of kindergarten students of a low socioeconomic status were being read to every day by their parents. In total, low-income children hear only half to one-third as many spoken words as children in more affluent households.
By reading aloud with low-income children, we can help bridge the literacy gap. To accomplish this, we need a national campaign that emphasizes the importance of parents, teachers and community volunteers reading aloud to children at least 20 minutes a day from birth through high school. Similar to the national physical activity campaign that encourages kids to get their 60 minutes of physical activity every day, we need a similar campaign aimed at encouraging kids to get their 20 minutes of reading aloud every day.
By reading aloud with children, we can improve their interest in and attitudes toward reading and improve children’s fundamental literacy skills, including reading comprehension, vocabulary, reading ability, listening comprehension, attention span and ability to articulate thoughts. Being read to by an adult also helps build a child’s self-esteem and confidence.
A national “Read to Kids” campaign could engage national and local literacy organizations, schools, teachers, parents, authors, publishers and nearly every sector of business and society that understands that our nation's future depends on our children's literacy skills.
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