Reading and Literacy in Children

Reading and writing skills are important factors towards your child’s success in school and work. In addition, reading can be a fun and imaginative activity for children, which opens doors to all kinds of new worlds for them. 

How do reading and language skills develop?

Research has identified five essential early reading skills:

  • Phonemic awareness — the ability to hear, identify, and play with individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words
  • Phonics — the ability to connect the letters of written language with the sounds of spoken language
  • Vocabulary — words kids need to know to communicate effectively
  • Reading comprehension — the ability to understand and get meaning from what has been read
  • Fluency (oral reading) — ability to read text accurately and quickly

How can I make reading part of my family’s lifestyle?

Parents play a critical role in helping their children develop not only the ability to read, but also an enjoyment of reading.

  • Turn off the screens.  Start by limiting your family’s screen viewing time. 
  • Teach by example.  If you have books, newspapers and magazines around your house, and your child sees you reading, then your child will learn that you value reading.  You can’t over-estimate the value of modeling. 
  • Read together.  Reading with your child is a great activity. It is a wonderful way to foster a language rich environment in your family. Reading not only teaches your child that reading is important to you, but it also offers a chance to talk about the book and its themes.  Books can really open the lines of communication between parent and child. 
  • Hit the library.  Try finding library books about current issues or interests in your family’s or child’s life, and then reading them together.  For example, read a book about going to the dentist prior to your child’s next dental exam, or get some books about seashore life after a trip to the coast.  If your child is obsessed with dragons, ask your librarian to recommend a good dragon novel for your child.

How do you read to a baby?

  • Use small, chunky board books that your baby can easily hold onto.
  • Talk about the pictures with your little one.
  • Sing the text to keep baby's attention.
  • Play peek-a-boo with lift-the-flap books.
  • Help your baby touch and feel in texture books.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends daily reading to children beginning by six months of age. The interaction between parent and child is an important part of looking at books together. Digital books (eBooks) can be filled with lots of bells and whistles that get in the way of this parent- child connection.

What if my child is having trouble with reading? Some children have difficulty learning to read.  You may hear from a teacher that your child has difficulty with language, or you may have noticed some difficulties that your child has. When reading and language difficulties are identified, special teaching can be given to help your child reach their full potential.  Talk to your pediatrician about resources in your community, and check out some of the suggested resources at the end of this article

Adults and literacy  
Just as some kids have trouble reading, some adults do, too—or may have never learned to read at all.  In fact, one in five adults has real trouble reading.

If you or a parent you know needs to learn to read better, talk with staff at your neighborhood library, community college, or city or county human services office.  You can also explore adult literacy resources through one of the following links:

Additional resources:

Reviewed by Heather Burrows, MD Updated April 2017