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Literacy in America

Why Early Reading Is Fundamental to Child Development

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Literacy remains the key to lifelong achievement. Research shows that a child’s brain goes through a period of critical brain development between birth and age four. Children who aren’t proficient at reading by the end of fourth grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school, and there is a clear connection between poverty in adulthood and literacy levels.

Parents and educators have long recognized the importance of early literacy, but what’s often lost in the push for success is the power of books to help children cope with challenges, as well as a crucial aspect of literacy: fun.

Reading as entertainment

“Books and stories have the powerful ability to show kids how to believe in themselves,” says Kevin Donahue, co-founder of Epic!, a subscription-based digital library of children’s books and videos. “Seeing familiar, relatable characters and situations in a book helps kids navigate a complex world by demonstrating creative solutions to problems.”

In order to unlock those benefits, however, children must perceive reading as an enjoyable activity. “When students see reading as a chore, they can become resistant,” says elementary school teacher Courtney Myers. “As a teacher, this can be a real challenge to reverse. I spend a great deal of time reading new children and young adult books to share with my students,” says Myers. “My students are so excited to share new books that they found.”

One feature of Epic!’s app is the Read to Me function, which highlights the words on the screen as the app reads aloud. “Students should be empowered to read books that pique their interests,” says teacher Aaron Decker. “This creates a fun reading atmosphere and gives students the ability to read books that are above their level, improving their reading skills and their view of themselves as readers.”

Some of the Read to Me titles available on Epic! are especially engaging, with multiple voice actors and sound effects. Seven-year-old Nina described the experience as “reading a movie.”   

Real benefits

Helping kids discover that reading is fun sets them firmly on the road to future success, but books can also help children contextualize their world and deal with their specific challenges — like struggling with reading in the first place.

Kelly Thompson is giving her kids an early start in literacy. “My kiddos got to the point of asking to read books on their own and asking for library visits during the week,” she says. “My daughter has struggled with reading the wrong letters at times and having difficulty spelling. Reading so often has helped her to be more fluent and confident in so many ways.”

Reading can also help children deal with heavier problems, notes Mr. Decker. “I had two students that viewed themselves as being different and misunderstood because they were autistic,” he says. “The book ‘My Special Needs Family’ helped them realize that the differences in people are to be understood and celebrated, not pushed away or embarrassed by.”

When a radio station did a feature on one of Epic!’s books, the Fields Family was moved to write in with their inspiring story. “My nine-year-old has childhood absence epilepsy (a non-convulsive seizure disorder). This left us to play catch up with his peers; reading has been an especially discouraging barrier for him. I downloaded the Epic! app and he loves it so much he won’t put it down!”

It’s never too soon (or too late) to encourage your child to read and to help them fall in love with books, says Mr. Donahue. “All children love to learn,” he says. “Giving kids control, particularly of what they read and how they read it, allows them to freely explore their interests and passions, which leads to an innate curiosity and love of learning.”

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