Encourage Childhood Reading for Lifetime Success
Reading to children during the first five years of life is critical to lifetime success​. Image courtesy UTIA. 

The word is out—reading is in decline. Anything over 140 characters is considered “too long” and the response is “didn’t read.” But for University of Tennessee Extension specialist Matthew Devereaux, reading is an important stage of development that, if missed, puts children and teens at risk for falling behind in school, resulting in a life of challenges and difficulties.

Devereaux states, “Research shows us that reading to children during the first five years of life is critical to lifetime success. For the state of Tennessee, kindergarteners with literacy levels ‘below proficient’ will have an estimated 25 percent high school graduation rate, 4 percent college attendance rate, and a 1 percent college graduation rate. That’s one out of 100 kindergarteners who are likely to finish college if they start their education behind in reading.”

“The first five years of life is the sweet spot for development. After this point, how the brain develops and engages with information changes drastically,” says Devereaux. One UT Extension program to help take advantage of this developmental sweet spot is called “Preparing Your Child for Kindergarten.” UT Extension agents all across the state can help equip parents of young children and child care providers with tools to make reading a part of every Tennessee child’s life. 

“It’s never too early to start reading to your kids,” he says. Board books, cloth books and wordless picture books can offer babies something to feel, touch, look at and think about. As children get older, they can transition to simple story books and nursery rhymes. Thinking books that introduce ideas like up/down, in/out, and big/little are great for toddlers who are learning to explore the world.

The child development expert suggests parents do their best to cultivate reading as a lifestyle and that helping your child read more can be as simple as having age-appropriate books in your home. This can be accomplished many ways, from visiting the local library once a week to asking relatives to consider giving a book instead of a toy for birthdays and holiday celebrations.

No matter what your child’s age, it’s never too early, or too late, to make reading together a priority and a family value, the child development expert says.

For additional help, contact your county’s UT Extension family and consumer sciences agent at your local county Extension office. You can also visit the UT Extension Family and Consumer Sciences website at fcs.tennessee.edu.  UT Extension has also produced several reading “tips sheets” that are available online through its Center for Parenting. 

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Matthew Devereaux, professor and child development specialist, UT Extension, 865-974-7193, mdevereaux@utk.edu