A 15-Minute Prescription for Boosting Literacy Rates


While there is no vaccination against low literacy when a child is born, there is substantial research on the need for this vital prescription to be issued to families: Read aloud 15 minutes every day with your child.

Research shows that reading aloud is the single most important activity parents, grandparents, childcare providers, and teachers can engage in with a child to develop critical, early language and foundational skills for learning how to read. These emergent literacy and developmental skills include building vocabulary and comprehension; promoting print awareness, letter recognition, and word structure; sparking imagination and creativity; fostering listening and attention skills; forming interpersonal bonds and self-esteem; and establishing a positive association with books and a love of reading. In addition, reading aloud in the early years exposes children to story and print knowledge, as well as to words and concepts uncommon in conversations or digital media.

Reading aloud also stimulates brain activity. During the first three years of life, a child’s brain makes trillions of connections, the fastest it will ever grow. This is a crucial time for teaching and learning. To illustrate, children learn language rapidly, and with appropriate interactions and stimuli,   can quadruple the number of words they know between ages 1 and 2.  By age 4, a child’s brain has reached 80 percent of its mature size. That is why it is critically important that adults and children have quality interactions and engage in learning experiences early and often.

Unfortunately, fewer than half of children age five and under are read to aloud each day. In a landmark study, researchers Hart and Risley (2003) found that by age 4, low- income children hear 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers. Furthermore, children of affluent families have an 1100-word vocabulary, as compared to only a 500-word vocabulary for children of families on welfare. These are dramatic disparities that can have long-term consequences. In fact, if children lack foundational reading skills when they enter school, they are at risk of needing costly interventions and special education services, being chronically absent, dropping out of school, becoming pregnant as a teen, and being incarcerated as a youth - all of which affect the ongoing cycles of poverty and dependency.

Help us spread the word about the importance of reading aloud 15 minutes each and every day by sharing this article with friends and family or incorporating this information into your family literacy or parent engagement programs.