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Children's Literacy Skills Have Lasting Effects in Adulthood

Gaining proficiency in literacy skills positively impacts all stages of life.

Often, discussions about literacy can revolve around how to best educate children to read and write. While all young children should learn these skills, literacy also remains important long past childhood. According to the National Literacy Trust, literacy is defined as “the ability to read, write, speak and listen in a way that lets us communicate effectively and make sense of the world.” Gaining proficiency in reading and writing, as well as other vital communication skills, has positive impacts in all stages of life.

Success in school and the job market

It is important for children to develop proficient reading skills by the end of the third grade. Those who do not are four times more likely to become high school dropouts, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Early Warning Research Report. This is especially critical for children from low-income families. Students who fail to read proficiently and were “poor for at least one year” have a 26 percent failure of graduation.

Students who fail to read proficiently and were “poor for at least one year” have a 26 percent failure of graduation.

For the students who do not drop out, it can still be difficult to be successful in school. Whether science, history, or math, many subjects require reading and writing, meaning low literacy skills hinders students’ ability to learn.

Low literacy also impacts job chances after high school. According to Concern, a non-profit working against poverty, “a lack of basic literacy and numeracy skills means that many people are immediately disqualified” from attaining higher-paying jobs. Having better literacy skills can help individuals to succeed in the job market and obtain a job to support themselves.

Reduced poverty

Low-income families often have less access to books, which is a “major reason” the children are less skilled in reading than children from higher-income families, according to L. E. Berk’s Child Development. This gap in literacy can still persist throughout all education. It also contributes to the cycle of poverty, with low-literate readers finding it more difficult to help their own children with schoolwork. Improving these literacy skills can help break this cycle of poverty.

Enhanced vocabulary and everyday skills

Literacy is also invaluable for learning. Dr. Carol Anne St. George, an associate professor and literacy expert at the University of Rochester, states that “reading is necessary for learning” because it expands children’s vocabulary and knowledge of the world. According to The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease, children’s books have 50% more rare words than TV shows or college students’ conversations. Individuals who have a wider vocabulary can better understand different conversations, articles, and resources.

While reading and writing are also intertwined with many academic disciplines, they can also further skills outside of school. Literacy skills enable individuals to continue learning different skills in order to better navigate life. The non-profit National Literacy Trust explains that many daily tasks require reading, from understanding road signs and completing paperwork, to following cooking instructions and using the Internet. Low literacy skills can hold a person back by preventing them or making it more difficult to accomplish everyday tasks.

Improved quality of life

Literacy also improves one’s quality of life, both physically and mentally. Individuals without education are “more likely to be vulnerable to health problems,” according to the Plan International UK, a children’s charity focused on education and healthcare. However, proficient readers are able to educate themselves on different health conditions. In addition, literate individuals will also be able to search more easily for healthcare resources.

Literacy also improves one’s mental well-being. According to the National Literacy Trust, children who are “more engaged with literacy have better wellbeing”. In addition, they can also experience higher self-esteem. Non-profit organization Concern explains that poor readers often struggle to verbally express themselves. This struggle to read and communicate can result in feelings of shame and inadequacy, as well as depression and anxiety. Obtaining better literacy skills can lead to increased confidence and self-esteem as individuals learn to share their thoughts and opinions.

Children who are "more engaged with literacy have better wellbeing.

Increased connections and understanding of different perspectives

Literacy can impact how individuals interact with others. Being able to articulate one’s thoughts, as discussed earlier, helps develop friendships and connections in both professional and personal settings. It also enables discussions about different topics and interests.

In addition, reading also means literate individuals learn and experience different perspectives. They “develop empathy through the stories they read,” according to Bill Potter, senior education and youth development specialist at Education Development Center. “Empathy leads to social awareness and fosters more supportive communities.” By fostering empathy, literacy helps individuals work with others who share different viewpoints and creates a more welcoming environment for everyone.

Children’s literacy is important so that individuals can learn to support themselves as adults. However, with literacy impacting all stages of life, from success in school and work, to personal health and well-being, to forming new connections, literacy is vitally important for everyone. Literacy can enable individuals to interact with new ideas, concepts, and people—which can help better our world.

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