Specific kinds of educational experiences provided for children by both parents and teachers, from preschool through high school, can make a significant difference in their reading ability as young adults. Two national studies have recently confirmed the particular home, school, childcare jobs and extracurricular experiences that impact an individual’s reading achievement over the course of development. These studies analyzed comprehensive data gathered from 3,959 high school students in 24 school districts across the U.S. The first study, the Kindergarten Reading Follow-up (KRF) Study, examined the long-term effects on children of being taught to read in kindergarten (Hanson and Siegel, 1988; 1991.)
The second study, the Reading Development Follow-up (RDF) Study, analyzed the same data to identify the specific kinds of experience, from preschool through high school, that foster high levels of reading achievement in high school seniors (Siegel, 1987.) The results of these two policy studies provide parents, educators, and policy makers with some straightforward guidelines for cultivating literacy development. The implications are quite clear: students who are provided with more of these specific kinds of experiences across their development will have higher reading achievement levels as young adults than those who have less.
Early language and educational experiences for children were found to be particularly critical to adult literacy levels. Although early childhood experiences have long been known to be important in terms of general intellectual development, the RDF Study confirmed that the specific kinds of early educational experiences students have are highly predictive of later reading abilities as well. That is, those high school seniors who were provided with more reading, language, and other kinds of both direct and indirect educational experiences during their preschool years had higher overall levels of reading competency than those provided with less. Such preschool activities as learning nursery rhymes and stories, watching Sesame Street, playing word and number games, being read to, attending nursery/preschool, and participating in special lessons such as swimming, dance, or music were all positively related to students’ reading ability in high school. Finally, later “high stakes” schooling experiences, such as placement in remedial/developmental classes and/or a particular type of high school academic track, could be linked to the students’ level of involvement in early educational experiences.