For ELLs, Storytime with Mom Leads to Learning in Kindergarten

Young children who are English language learners from low-income homes perform better in kindergarten when their mothers read to them beginning when they are just six months old, says a new study.

Researchers at the University of Utah analyzed the impact of early literacy initiatives on 40 low-income Latina immigrant mothers and their children. All of the families had incomes below the federal poverty level, 87 percent of the mothers were from Mexico and 44 percent of mothers had not completed the 8th grade.

The mothers all participated in the Reach Out and Read program, in which children and families are given books and advice during medical checkups. Doctors and nurses speak with the parents about the importance of reading. In the clinic studied, most of the doctors were bilingual. The parents were first offered books in Spanish because of their language skills, and then gradually given bilingual books. Parents were provided reading instruction. The clinic also had a library and bilingual librarian available in part through the Salt Lake County Library System.

An estimated 37-45 percent of the children were identified as at high risk for reading difficulty during the summer before kindergarten, but they actually fared quite well during their first year in school. Kindergarten teachers identified 60 percent of the children as intermediate or proficient in reading; the children had average or above average literacy skills by the end of the year. Teachers also responded that 77 percent of the children in the study were average, above average or far above average in their reading ability when compared with other children in the same grade.

When the children were interviewed before they began kindergarten, researchers found that 76 percent of them could name a favorite book, half were able to identify a word and 56 percent were able to write their first name.

Families are given about 10 books through the program, and half of participants reported owning 25 or more children’s books. About 59 percent of the mothers said they had read to their child the day before being surveyed, compared with a daily rate of about 36 percent for all low-income children.

Do you know of early intervention programs in your community? The Reach Out and Read program has sites in multiple states. In addition, I’ve blogged before about the HIPPY and AVANCE programs, which both teach mothers about the importance of literacy and emphasize their role as their child’s first teacher.

A thank you to Education Week’s Learning the Language blog for calling my attention to this study. The study, “Kindergarten Readiness and Performance of Latino Children Participating in Reach Out and Read,” was published in the Journal of Community Medicine and Health Education.

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