Reading to Your Child Ends “Word Hunger”

Disparity between children’s educational success isn’t so much a matter of economic poverty as it is “word hunger.” Research reported in the Journal of Human Resources suggests that one change in parent behavior changes educational outcomes in just half an hour a day.

Parents who engage in face to face conversation and read books to their very young children nourish them with words during a critical period of neurological and cognitive development. Children who have not experienced daily face time conversations and books will start school with a 30 million words deficit when compared to their “word-wealthy” peers. Talking and reading with small children daily provide the language experiences they need to be ready for school at age five. The effect of inadequate exposure to language cannot be easily remedied by later interventions.

According to a 2012 report by the Brookings Institution, less than half of poor children show up to school prepared with the early math and reading skills, emotional and behavioral control, and physical well-being needed to be ready to learn, and that disadvantage persists into adulthood.  Even after adjusting for differences in family background, students who start school with higher levels of school readiness at age five are generally successful in grade school, likely to finish high school, and will usually earn more as adults.

Child’s Trends Analysis of the National Households Education Survey compared the amounts of family time spent reading with children ages 3 to 5 years. Overall, less than half of American parents find time to read with their children seven times a week. Only 28 % of mothers without high school diplomas read with their children regularly. The amount of reading time goes up only slightly to 31% for mothers with a diploma or GED.  Forty-four percent of mothers who attended Vocational/Technical School read daily and sixty-one percent of mothers who are college graduates read with their children seven times a week.

Professor Susan E. Mayer, dean emeritus at University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, led a research team to test an inexpensive technique to change parent behavior to increase read aloud time.

The intervention was simple. During a six week period parents set goals for reading with their children. They then received daily text message reminders, weekly feedback as well as the social reward of sharing their success with other parents. Results were that parents in the treatment group doubled the amount of time they spent reading. They read an average of five books a week compared to members of the control group who read two or three books. Three months after the experiment, the new parent behavior was still evident.

Professor Mayer acknowledges that the study did not take into account effects of poverty, “Behavioral tools can support parents in going the “last mile” in reaching their goals for their child’s development so long as parents have the desire, knowledge, and minimally sufficient resources.”

While goal setting and reminders may be enough for parents with easy access to books there are many families in In Dona Ana County who must overcome additional barriers. Children’s Reading Alliance (CRA) is helping families overcome challenges associated with poverty. Parents who participate in First Teacher/ Primer Maestro classes receive information, tools, and encouragement to prepare their children to arrive at school ready to learn.

Participants report considerable increases in time spent reading, talking and playing with their children.

94% of parents read more or much more than before

94% talk to their child more or much more than before

100% play learning games more or much more than before

87.5% understand more or much more about how young children learn after

93.75% enjoy learning times more or much more after completing the FT/PM classes.

Find out more about CRA and First Teacher/Primer Maestro by visiting or calling Maria Zuniga 575 522 3713.