This is a guest post from Earl Martin Phalen, the CEO of Reach Out and Read. Book Riot donates 2% of all revenue to charity, and the Book Riot community selected Reach Out and Read to receive our first donation of 2012.
“Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery.” – Horace Mann
One of the cornerstones of American life is that education is our great equalizer. We are taught that our access to free and public school systems gives us all the same opportunity for success from the start.
In 2012, in our country, nothing could be further from the truth.
Too many of our children start kindergarten with their destinies already set. It’s not just that our education system that is failing them. The problem starts well before the first day of school.
America’s parents are not reading aloud to their children. In fact, fewer than half (48 percent) of young children in the United State are read to daily. The percentage of children read to daily drops even lower (to 36 percent) among low-income families, whose children face the highest risk of literacy problems.
Why aren’t they reading? There are parents who have low literacy rates themselves and don’t think they have the skills to effectively read aloud. (In actuality, a parent who talks about pictures in a book or even sings to a child can help develop early language skills.)
There are families who live in poverty and lack money for new books, time to read in between jobs, and access to public libraries. And there are parents who were not read to as children themselves and may not realize the tremendous value of reading to and spending that quality one-on-one time with their children.
That’s where Reach Out and Read comes in. Since 1989, we have been on the ground in communities across the country promoting the importance of reading. Through a network of more than 28,000 pediatricians, we are empowering parents to take control of their children’s futures.
Starting at the six-month well-child visit, pediatricians give children a brand-new book, and parents critical advice on the importance of reading aloud. This early intervention continues through the pre-kindergarten visit. The message comes from a trusted voice, and slowly, it is being heard.
We know that Reach Out and Read works. Our broad evidence base shows that reading aloud to a child beginning at birth helps put him or her on track for success in school, and eventually in life. When children love to read, they are excited to learn. And when they are excited to learn, they dream big and reach high.
On the flip side, when a child starts school behind, he or she is likely to stay behind. It’s not difficult to understand that 88 percent of first graders who are below grade level in reading will continue to read below grade level in fourth grade (Juel, 1988).
School buildings may not be ideal, district budgets may be getting cut, and too many teachers may not be committed to the success of our children. All these things matter.
Yet, a child can still get excited about learning and succeed.
It all starts at home with parents who have the desire – and who are enabled with the tools – to make sure their child is on the road to a bright future.
It all starts with reading from birth.