Nichols-Frazer: Why literacy matters now more than ever

We have a literacy problem. The Annie E. Casey Foundation's Kids Count data show that 68 percent of America's fourth-graders are reading and writing below proficient levels. The foundation also released a report finding that children not reading and writing at proficient levels are four times more likely than their peers to drop out of school.

In an age of "fake news," teaching our children early literacy skills has never been more important. We now have constant access to information on social media and a rapid news cycle that bombards us with alarmist headlines and a president who tweets his inner thoughts with little to no editing and fact-checking. Our kids need to learn to analyze, assess, fact-check, and understand where information comes from and how to identify reliable sources. They are growing up in a world more full of information than ever before. This can give a voice to the previously unheard, but can also lead to a dangerous lack of understanding of where information is coming from and what it means.

It is often said that we are preparing a generation whose future jobs have not yet been invented. So how do we impart the necessary knowledge and skills for this generation to succeed in the future? One of the most important things we can do for our children's futures is to help them develop strong literacy skills. More than any other skill set, communication, vocabulary, and the ability to analyze and problem-solve will prepare our children to succeed in school and beyond.

Children are particularly at risk of losing literacy gains they made during the school year over the summer. Low-income kids, who may lack access to reading materials in the summer, are especially susceptible to this learning loss. According to the National Summer Learning Association, low-income kids typically lose two-to-three months in reading skills over the summer months. They call this the "summer slide," a term not nearly as fun as it sounds. The NSLA says that summer learning loss can account for as much as two-thirds of the achievement gap in reading between low- and middle-income students by ninth grade.

One way to counteract the risk of summer slide, especially in low-income students, is to ensure access to a wide variety of reading materials during the summer. Many public libraries also offer summer reading programs and incentives. Check out your local library to see what they offer during summer break. The Children's Literacy Foundation ("CLiF") started its Summer Readers program in 2006 to help combat the "summer slide" learning loss among low-income, at-risk, and rural kids in New Hampshire and Vermont.

CLiF sends inspiring storytellers to just about anywhere children in need spend time in the summer — from camps and recreation programs to summer schools and meal sites — and each child gets to choose two new books of their own. The professional storytellers get kids excited about reading and writing, and new books to take home offer fun new reading materials to explore. CLiF's Summer Readers program has grown by more than 1,500 percent since it began in 2006. In 2017, CLiF's Summer Readers program served more than 9,000 children at 127 program sites. In 2018, we anticipate reaching even more kids this summer!

Making sure your kids have access to a wide range of reading materials that interest them is one of the best ways to fight summer slide learning loss. Reading aloud with them and modelling reading for enjoyment are also good ways to ensure your kids maintain their literacy skills over the summer. Kids who read for fun are more likely to become stronger readers and writers and be ready for school when that summer break ends.

Erika Nichols-Frazer is the communications manager for the Children's Literacy Foundation.


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