It is difficult to overstate the impact literacy has on the lives of children, as it is widely recognized by scientists, educators, and healthcare advocates. In fact, according to Get Caught Reading, "Early reading experiences are now recognized as being of such importance that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that 'pediatricians prescribe reading activities along with other instructions given to parents at the time of well-child visits.'" In the same article, the President of the Academy, Dr. Robert E. Hannemann, states: "We strongly recommend daily reading to children from six months of age."
The Impact of Literacy Development
The development of literacy skills directly impacts a multitude of issues in a child's life from an early age, including cognitive development, the ability to communicate effectively, early and future performance in school, the nurturing of creativity and imagination, overall motivation, temperament, social skills, and ability to feel empathy. It is a powerful list. Could we possibly be overstating the significance and impact of literacy skills?
According to Encyclopedia of Early Childhood Development, "Estimates show that about 40% of fourth graders struggle with reading at even basic levels." That difficulty has led to issues in language skills, as "literacy is an essential vehicle for furthering children's language competencies in both the preschool years and during early and later schooling." This lack of literacy skills hinders students' success early on and makes learning much more difficult later. As noted in Children's Bureau, according to Early Moments, with reading comprehension comes "a stronger self-discipline, longer attention span, and better memory retention, all of which will serve your child well when she enters school."
The Power of Communication and Its Connection to Literacy
According to the International Literacy Association, there are millions of people around the world without access to literacy education; 781 million people worldwide cannot read or write. How does that limited access impact their lives? According to Nal'ibali, literacy is vital to human development, because it allows us to "explore and communicate what we think, feel and know; find out about other people's experiences; and discover different ways of seeing the world." It also helps us learn and explore new things and ideas through the writing of others. It can help us see through other people's experiences and grow our capacity for empathy.
Reading helps us develop our language skills, and vice versa. The ability to communicate effectively is essential for us to understand others and to be understood. Without the ability to fully understand and be understood, it is difficult for individuals to have a sense of agency. The ILA asserts that the "ability to read, write, and communicate connects people to one another and empowers them to achieve things they never thought possible. Communication and connection are the basis of who we are and how we live together and interact with the world."
Impacting Motivation, Creativity, and Temperament
People do not often acknowledge the significant role of creativity and curiosity in learning and excelling in the workplace, but ideas are in many ways the capital of both realms. The building blocks of wonder, creativity, and imagination are oftentimes found in books. Studies show a link between low literacy and anxiety and depression. For example, when the lack of communication skills negatively impacts an individual's social life, there is the potential for the person to feel isolated or depressed. According to the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, addressing the literacy issue improves the symptoms of depression. Improved literacy helps us build social skills and gives us a vocabulary to express our realities and our imaginations.
Preparing Them for Future Success and Avoiding Failure
Whether or not a child achieves proficient reading skills by fourth grade is a significant factor in determining their potential for academic success or failure in the future. Researchers have shown time and again that students who fall behind by this age are at serious risk of struggling academically and are more likely to eventually drop out of high school. The Urban Child Institute states, "Early literacy development is vital to later academic success. Children with poor reading skills are more likely to repeat a grade, which too often sets the stage for a pattern of failure in school."
According to Children's Bureau, "… the more words that are in a child's language world, the more words they will learn, and the stronger their language skills are when they reach kindergarten, the more prepared they are to be able to read, and the better they read, the more likely they will graduate from high school." The early impact of literacy on children has the ability to empower or to derail their forward trajectory. Its ramifications reach far into the future. Addressing issues early is the best way to avoid long-term, devastating results.
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