Children Living in Poverty and Access to Reading Material
Let’s now pull this all together. Here is what we have established:
- In general, children from higher-income families do a lot better in school. Among other things, they do better on tests of reading and vocabulary.
- The importance of summer. The difference we see in how well children read, as well as their growth in vocabulary, appears to be heavily influenced by what happens over the summer. Studies show that children of the poor and children of higher-income families show similar growth over the school year; children from higher-income families, however, make much more progress over the summer. Over time, the contribution of summer reading growth appears to be enough to account for the difference in performance on reading tests between these two groups of children.
- The crucial activity that occurs during the summer, the activity that causes the difference in growth in literacy, is recreational reading. Children from higher-income families read more over the summer.
- The reason middle-class children read more over the summer is that they have more access to books. They have more access to books at home, live closer to bookstores, and live closer to public libraries. Also, public libraries available to the children from high-income families are better. They have more books, more staff, and are open longer hours.
- Other research confirms that children read more when they have more access to books.
- Other research also confirms that children who read more, read better, and show better development of vocabulary, writing, and grammar.
- Research also confirms that children of the poor have little access to books in general.
This summary leads us to an inevitable and simple conclusion: Children of poverty need more access to reading material. And as Jeff McQuillan has pointed out, it doesn’t matter where they get their reading: It can come from school, home, or the public library.
We close this section with one more confirmation of the importance of access to print: Emery and Csikszentmihalyi (1982) compared 15 men of blue-collar background who became college professors with 15 men of very similar background who grew up to become blue-collar workers. The future professors lived in a much more print-rich environment and did far more reading when they were young. All of them came from low-income families—but one group had access to print and took advantage of it.
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