Importance of Early Literacy

By age 5

From day one, a child’s brain begins forming connections very quickly—connections which build the foundation for all learning he or she will do later in life. In fact 90% of children's critical brain development occurs by age 5. Children who are read to, sung to, and talked to from a young age develop bigger vocabularies, become better readers, and are more likely to succeed in school.

 
Research indicates that when children are reached with high quality early learning experiences, they are 40% less likely to fall behind in school and 70% more likely to graduate from high school. In fact, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, half of the school achievement gap between economically-disadvantaged young children and their more affluent peers starts before kindergarten.

Access to Early Education

Too often, poverty plays a role in educational opportunities. In our own community, 39% of children (0-5) in Tucson live in poverty and are in danger of falling behind before they even enter kindergarten. Nearly 7 of 10 economically-disadvantaged young children in our community are not on track in their cognitive development when they start kindergarten. Often, when children enter school behind, they rarely catch up. Research indicates that children who are struggling readers in 1st grade are 88% more likely to be struggling readers in 4th grade. When children struggle to read in 4th grade, they are four times more likely to drop out of high school. That’s why there is so much attention on 3rd grade reading scores in our community and across the nation because if children are not on track by the end of third grade, their chances for success decrease substantially. It is far easier to reach children starting from birth with quality early education experiences than to try and catch them up later with interventions in the kindergarten to third grade years.

Right from the Start

Vocabulary development at age three has been found to predict reading achievement by third grade. The quality and quantity of language that children hear in their first three years contributes to their cognitive development, and the interactions children have with language in their earliest years form the foundation of their ability to be able to read and to comprehend what they read later on. When children are read stories, they encounter new words beyond the words that they would hear as families go about their “daily business” together, as they eat, get ready for bed, go to the store, for example. When parents read to children, they hear more complex and sophisticated language which become the building blocks of their literacy and language development. Researchers have found that families who share books tend to have more “extra talk” beyond the daily “business talk” that happens as families move through their day and routines together. This “extra talk” also tends to contain more affirmations, which contributes to children’s self-esteem. In a study conducted by researchers Hart and Risley, they found that the children who received exposure to more words and affirming content had larger vocabularies and more sophisticated verbal and literacy skills as measured by third grade tests.

Opportunities for Success

Access to books is essential to developing basic reading skills, leads to longer and more frequent shared reading between parents and children, and produces increased enjoyment of books and improved attitude towards reading and academics.

Research shows that early reading experiences, opportunities to build vocabularies, and literacy rich environments are the most effective ways to support the development of pre-reading and cognitive skills that ensure that children are prepared for success in school, including grade-level reading, and throughout life.