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The Early Literacy Crisis: A Mom Congress Special Report


  • Sign up for Parenting's Mom Congress. Our grassroots initiative is dedicated to making sure every child gets what he or she needs to succeed in school. You'll have the chance to connect with other moms who are fighting for greater access to early childhood education through our forums and get the latest education news on our website. Plus, you can enter to win great prizes every month, like this one: a set of children's books from Little, Brown for Young Readers, worth $500! Join now at

  • Get behind the bills. At press time, the House of Representatives had approved The Early Learning Challenge Fund, which, if it passes the Senate and is signed into law, would allocate $1 billion a year for eight years to fund state initiatives that increase the number of disadvantaged children who participate in high-quality early learning programs. Stay updated on pending legislation

  • Demand more public pre-K programs. At the website, you can sign up for their newsletters and to receive notices about supporting pending legislation in your state.

  • Donate books, time, or money. These groups are working to get books to kids and volunteers into classrooms to read:


Here's what parents can focus on to get their child on the road to reading, according to National Early Literacy Panel chair Timothy Shanahan, Ph.D.

  1. Print concepts: When you read to your child, you show her that you read words (not pictures), where you begin on a page, what direction you go in, whether print is right side up, and that you turn the pages of a book one at a time.

  2. Alphabet knowledge: Help your child first learn to name letters, then the sounds that each letter makes.

  3. Phonological awareness Preschoolers also need to hear and remember the separations between words in a sentence and to hear the sounds within words -- such as the "c" sound in "cat." Rhyming books and songs encourage phonological awareness.

  4. Oral language: Talk to your child about what you're reading, asking basic questions about the characters and the story line. You can also extend your child's language skills by repeating and paraphrasing what she has said to you: "Yes, this is an elephant!"

  5. Writing: Encourage any drawing or scribbling. If your child is too young to start practicing letters (many are ready by age 4), let her see you write her name, a story that she tells you, even your grocery list.

Correction: August 19, 2010:
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that "there can be a difference of 30 million words between the vocabularies of children growing up in well-off households versus the vocabularies of children in poorer ones." The difference is in the amount of words heard by the child, not the amount in a child's vocabulary.