From birth parents have the most important role in their child’s life. They are nurturers and educators. Those children who have been read to and have been exposed to rich vocabulary will enter school with many more skills than those who have not. Not all children are entering school prepared to learn to read and those skills need to be developed quickly to help students “catch up” with their peers. The trajectory of success continues to grow through high school and sometimes that gap never closes.
Even though some children of lower socioeconomic status (SES) households attend a Head Start program or other preschool programs, most stay at home with their parent(s). Regardless of where a child spends his day, parents can provide excellent literacy instruction. Just reading to your child 20 minutes and engaging in 10-15 minutes of purposeful play spread out during the day can increase those readiness skills.
Literacy does not mean that a child learns to recite his ABC’s. Although that is a good skill, that is not really how we learn to read. The sounds of our language is the basis of reading. When children learn to speak they don’t think “Oh, I am speaking words, syllables and sounds” they only know that what they say gets them what they want or need. Before and during elementary school, children need to be exposed to many areas of language. Rhymes, songs, word play, story telling, all of these elements of language help to develop all areas of literacy. When they enter kindergarten, teachers hope that students have had exposure to those elements so that they can then start to teach that words are made up of individual sounds and that letters represent those sounds. If a student has not learned to attend to sound through rhymes, songs, word play, and story telling then the teacher’s task becomes much more difficult. This exposure and practice of language makes a huge difference in their success in school.
Vocabulary development is another needed area in literacy. According to the research of Hart and Risley (1995), young children of all SES ask similar questions such as “Do I have to eat this?” The difference lies in the parent’s responses, “Yeah” as a opposed to “Yes, because it has protein and vitamins that will help you grow and get stronger.” This difference affects vocabulary growth. Joan Sedita, author of Keys to Literacy states that by age three children of low SES have acquired 500 words, middle SES 700 words, and high SES 1100 words. After grade three, students with few acquired words find reading difficult which lessens their exposure to new words which in turn continues to widen the gap. By the time students enter third grade the curriculum no longer concentrates on learning to read but reading to learn. If early intervention is not implemented a child’s life can be drastically affected. Research has shown that 60% of America’s prison inmates are illiterate and 85% of all juvenile offenders have reading problems. We as a whole society cannot ignore the importance of our future citizens’ literacy skills.
Rachel Varriale, MA CCCSLP
Speech Language Pathologist, Reading Foundations Instructor
Gaston County Schools