The fact that children in the U.S. born into poverty are at an immediate disadvantage should come to a surprise to no one. What is surprising, is that there may be a relatively simple solution – requiring virtually no money – to help children born into poverty have more of an equal footing as they head into the classroom for the first time.
The answer: reading out loud more to children.
While it’s assumed that this is already common practice, research shows that it is not happening as often as one would think. And in households living below the poverty line, the numbers are even less encouraging.
In a landmark study published nearly twenty years ago, that largely still holds up, social scientists discovered that children in poverty, hear on average, thirty million fewer words than their peers by the time they start kindergarten. More recently, Stanford University found that this word-gap is evidenced as early as 18 months.
“The disparity means that many children find themselves immediately playing catch-up and having to work harder to keep pace.”
The disparity means that many children find themselves immediately playing catch-up and having to work harder to keep pace. Unfortunately, research suggests that improvement is difficult. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a child not reading at grade level by the end of the first grade has an 88% chance of not reading at grade level by the time they are in the end of the fourth grade.
These sobering numbers led a number of educators, pediatricians and community leaders to start a group called Read Out Loud 15 Minutes. Since starting back in 2008, the group has grown to include over 10,000 local and national partner organizations.
Their mission is simple: encourage parents and adults to read out loud to children in order to prepare them for their future. Since launching, the organization has garnered the support of a broad swath of organizations, companies, medical professionals, educators and policymakers that agree that we need to read more to our children to prepare them for an increasingly competitive workforce.
Among Read Out Loud 15 Minutes’ biggest supporters include Sen. Rob Portman (R-Oh.) that recently took to the floor of the U.S. Senate to introduce a resolution declaring March, Read Out Loud Month, in the hopes of raising awareness on the need to read out loud more to our children, including toddlers and even infants.
In fact, to make the point, the group recently launched a tongue-in-check Public Service Announcement (PSA) of a father-to-be reading to his wife in labor.
Besides speaking on the Senate floor, the Junior Senator from the Buckeye State also took to Twitter to share to his more than 76K followers to share portions of his speech and saying:
At a time when policymakers are having a hard time coming together to agree on much these days, including how to improve our educational system, Sen. Rob. Portman’s simple, but powerful idea to read more to our children – even if it just for a few minutes a day – may be exactly what we need to ensure that we are able to empower all children.
In his speech on the Senate floor, Portman made sure to say that his resolution is just a way to raise awareness to the issues, because ultimately it is up to us. “The solution is not going to be about Washington, D.C. doing anything…. Except in encouraging people to spend time with your kid,” Portman concluded.
In Washington, D.C., that is as close as policymakers will come to legislating how to be a good parent and if enough parents heed the advice, it may do more than spending another dollar from the government.
Israel Ortega is a Senior Writer for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter: @IzzyOrtega.