When I taught elementary and secondary literacy courses to education majors in college, on the first day of class I would start by asking students to take out their textbooks-open to chapter one and point to the first word on the page. I would get puzzled looks. “How many literacy skills did you just use to complete that task?” Responses included; we read left to right and top to bottom, where the front cover is, the difference between a word and a picture,  and what’s first. I would follow with asking if they had anyone read to them when they were young? Imagine a child who has never sat on a lap and had a book read to them. They would not know any of these early literacy skills.

Children growing up in poor families are less able to recognize their letters, count to 20, write their name, or read or pretend to read a book (Lindsay, 2010).

Not only do poor children have fewer books in their homes, but they also live in communities with fewer books in the classroom, school, and public library. If their neighborhood even has a public library, they are likely to have reduced hours and limited funding for replenishing and updating the collection (Neuman & Celano, 2001; Krashen, 2012).

Children in middle-income neighborhoods have multiple opportunities to observe, use, and purchase books (roughly 13 titles per child); few opportunities are available for low-income children who, in stark contrast, have approximately 1 title per 300 children Neuman & Celano, 2001).

One out of six children who do not read at grade level by the end of third grade will not graduate from high school (NCES 2015).

While the connection between poverty and illiteracy is startling, it’s not surprising. What can you do about it? Getting books into the hands of kids who want to read them can make a difference. What my teacher education students learn every semester after their fieldwork placement in an urban school district is the perception that kids don’t want to learn and don’t value education is simply not true.

I’ll stop with the pontification about poverty and literacy, as that’s not the point. Do you have children’s books in your home your kids have outgrown? Do you have a school, library, day care center, or after-school program that could benefit from these book?

Consider donating them. Maybe the next time you’re at a book pick up a few of your own children’s favorite stories, or favorites when you were a kid. Write something inside the cover, sign your name so the children know where the book came from. Pay it forward.

These are my reflections for today.

Author: Meg White

I am a lifelong educator and I hope to use this blog to reflect on what's happening in public education. These are my musings, opinions, and reflections. If you learn from them, good for us. Ignorance is no excuse. I have co-authored a book, "Questioning Assumptions and Challenging Perceptions: Becoming an Effective Teacher in Urban Environments" (available on amazon)

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