Books At Home Predict Academic Achievement, Especially For Low-Income Families

May 12, 2015

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There’s a simple, inexpensive way parents can promote academic success in kids. Surround them with books.

Researcher Mariah Evans headed a 20-year, worldwide study that found “the presence of books in the home” to be the top predictor of whether a child will attain a high level of education.

More so even, than the education level of their parents. Those from highly educated and higher-income families however, may not feel the difference quite as significantly.

“One of the things that is most striking to us about it is that the book’s effect appears to be even larger and more important for children from very disadvantaged homes,” Evans told Steve Kraske on Up To Date.

She said the effects can be seen both in academic performance, and in how much education children complete.

And there are several organizations in Kansas City, who are taking unconventional routes to get books in disadvantaged families’ homes — before they ever step foot in a school.

Reach Out & Read partners with 46 clinics across the Kansas-Missouri state line. Each time a child comes in to these clinics for their “well-child” check up between the ages of 0-5, they receive a new book along with prescribed advice from a trusted doctor to parents: read together, share these books as a family.

By the time a child turns five, if they go to all their scheduled appointments, they could have 13 new books to call their own. Plus, any other time they see a doctor, they can select a gently used book from the waiting room to take home.

“The idea is that in low income families, the medical provider is a very trusted person in these people's lives, so to receive that advice from a medical provider is important,” Mark Mattison, executive director of Read Out & Read told Kraske.

He said another benefit of working through clinics is that they can start building a library for children before they reach school age. Evans said that is the time of a kid’s life when books have the greatest impact.

United Way of Greater Kansas City has partnered with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library in their Fight for Literacy campaign. Leslie, who called in to Up To Date, said that volunteers are canvassing some of Kansas City’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods to sign families up for the program, which sends a new book to the family each month.

Mattison sees potential for a great partnership between this initiative and Reach Out & Read.

“In the [doctor's] visit when we’re giving out the free book and the prescriptive advice on how to share books with kids [we can] tell them about how they can also sign up for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library and get a free book every month.”

Through such efforts, these organizations can ensure that families and children continue to get more bang for their book.