First Pages is attempting to close the ‘word gap’ between low and higher income students upon entering Kindergarten by ensuring that every child has access to a literacy-rich home environment. By intervening in the early stages, before kids even enter Kindergarten, we hope to disrupt this ‘word gap’ that also contributes to achievement gaps in later schooling.
Research shows just how important pre-literacy experiences before Kindergarten really are. Eileen Rodriguez and Catherin Tamis-LeMonda, New York University, found that of children in “high stable environments” for the first five years of life (frequent literacy activities, high maternal engagement, cognitive stimulation, provision of learning materials, etc), 70% performed at or above national norms for language, literacy, and cognitive skills. In contrast, of the children in “low rise environments” (infrequent literacy activities, low cognitive stimulation, few learning materials), a mere 7% met or exceeded these norms.
Rodriguez and Tamis-LeMonda go on to suggest with their research that the earliest literacy activities have the greatest impact, and that a lack of literacy and cognitive activities in the first three years of life cannot be sufficiently made up for during the final two years before Kindergarten.
These conclusions regarding home learning environments are echoed by many other studies old and new, over and over again. The numerous research findings regarding the importance of pre-literacy learning are what drive First Pages’ focus on children ages 0-5 specifically in an attempt to set them on a more successful reading path.
What prevents parents from providing pre-literacy experiences for their infant, toddler, and preschool aged children?
The three barriers to early literacy that First Pages hope to tackle are: access, knowledge, and language.
- Book purchases can be costly and are often a low priority during economic instability
- For a family struggling to make ends meet, purchasing children’s books for their toddlers is often a low priority compared to the more basic necessities of food, clothing, and shelter. When every dollar counts, books for a child are simply too cost prohibitive for some families.
- Free literacy resources are not easily accessible to all families
- While free and low-cost literacy resources for young children do exist, such as the public library system, they are not accessible to all families. For example, homes in which parents work but not receive benefits such as paid vacation (for example: several part time jobs, contract/short-term work, service industry jobs, etc) often can’t take time away from work to access literacy resources at the times they are available. Similarly, lack of reliable transportation, lack of home care for children or older family members, and other conflicts all present barriers to existing resources.
- Not all parents are aware of the importance and long-term effects of early literacy or strategies for fostering early literacy in their home
- As everyone knows, children don’t come with instruction manuals. When a child enters kindergarten, parents are often inundated with information from teachers about how to help their child become a better reader. However, parents often don’t receive information about the importance and effects of early literacy at home for their babies and toddlers BEFORE their child enters school. Depending on their own childhood experiences, parents may not know appropriate strategies for encouraging early literacy in their home.
- Not all parents are aware of literacy resources available to them in their community
- Parents may not be aware of some of the literacy resources available to them locally or how to access these resources.
- Parents who are not proficient English readers may feel unable to help their children prepare for English reading
- In addition to making access to resources and information gathering even more challenging, language and literacy barriers sometimes leave parents feeling like they are unable to help their child learn to read. Parents with limited English proficiency sometimes feel ill-equipped to help their child learn to read English, and at the same time may not have access to high-quality native-language or bilingual texts, thus foregoing attempts to foster early literacy in the family. Strategies that are publicized for improving early literacy may seem unrealistic, not applicable, unattainable, or overwhelming to families at different language and literacy levels.
- High-quality bilingual books are not readily available and are often cost prohibitive
- Truly bilingual children’s books (not books that translate just a few key words) can be difficult for families to find. Few stores have bilingual children’s book sections, but rather, the bilingual books (if any are carried in-store) are sprinkled among the English-only counterparts. Ordering books online through Amazon and other online retailers is not always an option for families who do not have reliable internet access, do not have or wish to use a debit/credit card online, do not have a stable shipping address, etc. When they can be found either in-store or online, the price difference between bilingual books and their English-only versions can be significant, further reducing access for some families.