Early Literacy: Benefits of Early Reading Habits for Preschoolers

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Early Literacy: Benefits of Early Reading Habits for Preschoolers

Early Literacy: Benefits of Early Reading Habits for Preschoolers

Early literacy skills, and in particular good reading habits, benefit preschoolers in multiple ways. Not only does reading in the early years support kindergarten readiness, but early literacy builds a foundation for future academic success and overall achievement.

According to research conducted by the National Early Literacy Panel, the years from birth to age 5 are critical in a child’s development and learning, especially in the area of literacy. Providing young learners with the precursor skills to reading sets them up for achievement in the primary grades and offers them a path for critical language and literacy development. In addition, studies show that the more words parents use when speaking to their infants, the greater the volume of their children’s vocabulary by the age of 3.

Early literacy skills – defined as those which begin to develop in the preschool years – include alphabet knowledge, letter writing, phonological awareness, and oral language. Moreover, reading aloud has been singled out as the most important activity in acquiring literacy and as a strong predictor of reading success. Conversely, as published in the American Educator, children who miss out on early reading practice opportunities remain poor readers and have difficulty attaining average levels of reading fluency during elementary school.

Extensive research shows that reading aloud to young children derives the following benefits:

  • Improves speech and cognitive skills
  • Builds motivation, curiosity, and memory
  • Helps develop a love of learning
  • Develops a positive association with books
  • Early vocabulary has been linked to later reading comprehension skills
  • Strengthens the bond between parent and child
  • Promotes children’s understanding of the world
  • Enhances children’s social skills
  • Provides coping strategies during times of stress/tragedy
  • Offers children an opportunity to practice listening
  • Enhances concentration, attention span, and discipline, strengths which serve preschoolers well for entering K-12

Yet, as highlighted in the landmark 1995 Hart-Risely study on language development and in a recent 2013 New York Times article titled “Language-Gap Study Bolsters a Push for Pre-K,” a disparity in early literacy is distributed across socioeconomic lines. The early childhood literacy gap between wealthier families and low-income families significantly impacts how students fare in elementary school and beyond, with research showing the following:

  • Low-income parents typically have lower levels of education
  • Mothers with higher levels of education are more likely to read to their children than mothers with lower levels of education
  • Children from low- income families have less exposure to book reading and print
  • Race and ethnicity play a role in parental reading-aloud practices, with non-English speaking mothers less likely to read to their children than English-speaking mothers
  • Children from low-income families often lack crucial experiences for natural development of literacy
  • Statistics from the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics indicate that 64% of families whose incomes are at/above the poverty level read to their preschoolers daily compared to 48%of families below the poverty level
  • According to the Nation’s Report Card on reading, children from low-income families have lower reading scores than their middle-class peers, with a probability of up to 88% that poor readers at the end of grade one will remain poor readers by the end of grade four

The early literacy gap has resulted in calls for increased investment in universal pre-kindergarten programs. Bolstering this cause are findings by the National Research Council’s Committee on the Prevention of Reading Difficulties in Young Children which assert that most reading difficulties can be prevented by providing children with access to early environments that provide basic reading skills and that promote language and literacy development.

What can educators, teachers, and parents do to improve young children’s literacy skills, both in and out of the classroom? Here are some tips from the experts:

  • Hold positive attitudes towards reading
  • Share books with children
  • Read aloud in an engaging manner
  • Provide children with opportunities to develop core language and literacy skills
  • Play games such as ‘alphabet bingo’ to teach letter names
  • Use songs, rhymes, and poems to help children recognize sounds associated with the letters
  • Invest in preschool library furniture such as book displays, soft toys, pillows, and rugs to promote a love of language and reading
  • Begin with words that have high meaning for children, such as learning to identify the letters of/write their own name
  • Read books with many pictures, pausing to ask children questions about the pictures and what is happening in the story
  • Conduct interactive dialogues with children, incorporating new concepts/vocabulary
  • Ask ‘what, when, where, why, how, and who’ questions

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