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Growing a Nation of Great Readers

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album

Reviewed by David Diehl, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

It’s so amazing to watch a child go from just learning how to put sounds and letters together to reading fluently and with enjoyment. As a parent, this was one of the milestones I looked forward to the most.

Unfortunately, many children struggle with becoming strong readers in the early grades. Yet being able to read proficiently by the end of third grade is really important. Children who do not meet this milestone are four times more likely to drop out of school—a decision with major life consequences. And according to 2013 data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 66% of all fourth graders—and a sobering 80% of all low-income fourth graders—just aren’t where they need to be when it comes to reading skills.

Progress for Some–Others Left Behind

There is some good news on this front. Over the past ten years, most groups have made progress, meaning that more children are now meeting reading goals. However, another trend has become obvious during this time period, too. The gap in skills between low-income and higher-income children has widened notably.

How to Help?

What do parents, schools, and policymakers need to do to make sure that progress continues—and to close that gap? It’s certainly a big question to answer. But a report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation points to some possible solutions.

#1: Quality Preschool

First, there’s a lot of evidence that high-quality preschool and early education programs can change things for children, giving them a better chance of entering kindergarten ready to learn. Ensuring that young children (especially kindergarteners and first graders) miss as few days of school as possible is also key. Children with good attendance rates do much better than those who are frequently absent.

#2: Summer Reading Support

Summer programs that support kids’ academic and socioemotional skills (like library summer reading programs and good day camps) can also help. The “summer slide,” which occurs when children’s skills regress over the summer, is a well-known problem, especially for poorer children.

#3: Stable, Healthy Homes

All children deserve a safe, stable home environment where they get enough food and their health needs are met. Stress, illness, and family instability can make it difficult for children to learn effectively. Supporting children’s health and nutrition and working to nurture strong families is key.

#4: Parental Support

Parents also have a key role to play in helping make sure their own children develop strong reading skills. First, from birth, make sure you share rich and meaningful conversation with your child, asking questions and talking to him or her about the things we see around us. Children who hear more words and grow up in language-rich environments do better.

Second, read with them! Starting when your child is an infant, make time to read at least 15 minutes a day, every day–and don’t stop once your child can read on his or her own. This simple and enjoyable step supports your child’s learning year after year.

Finally, if your child is struggling with reading, seek out help. Talk to teachers and the school, and consider having him or her checked by a pediatrician for problems with sight and hearing, too. For more, visit the resources in Further Reading.

Further Reading:

Reading Success By 4th Grade Reading Tips

The Basics — Helping Your Child Succeed in School

Reading Aloud with Children of All Ages

Reading, Literacy, and Your Child

How to Create a Successful Reading Experience for Your Child

The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity

Helping Struggling Readers


Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2014). Early reading proficiency in the United States. Retrieved from

Fiester, L. (2013). Early warning confirmed: A research update on third-grade reading. Retrieved from

Photo Credits: sam74100/iStock/Thinkstock