How Does Early Literacy Knowledge Affect Health Outcomes?

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What is Literacy Knowledge and Why is It Important?

Literacy knowledge, put plainly, is the ability to read and write. While not always obvious, it is needed in everyday life. Anything from reading a street sign, to researching a medical condition, being able to perceive the world around you through written language is essential. Equally important, literacy learning starts from the moment a child is born. A child’s ability to develop their cognitive skills at the proper rate is largely dependent on their familial environment. Did their parents engage in conversations with them from a young age? Did they have books available to read once they got a little bit older? While these two questions only reference two factors which impact a child’s cognitive development, call and response communication and access to physical books, there are constant barriers to literacy development preventing children from under-resourced communities from receiving the knowledge they need to develop their literacy skills. 

Parental Knowledge Matters:

According to an article in the Journal of Pediatrics, parents of low socioeconomic status (SES) who were more knowledgeable about child development at birth were more likely to foster cognitive development. The study highlights the importance of promoting anticipatory guidance to parents of low SES from the birth of their child, in order to positively influence the trajectory of their child’s cognitive growth. The study also highlighted misconceptions among the parents surveyed. Interestingly, more than half of the parents had misconceptions surrounding the effect of screen time on their infants’ vocabulary learning. 

“’Reading is a major public health issue,’ said Laura Bailet, who oversees the BrightStart. Studies have shown a connection between low literacy and poor health, and children who struggle to read in school often manifest physical and emotional problems, she said.” 

(Christina Samuels, Education Week)


What is Being Done Now?

Image by the TMW Center at the University of Chicago

One of the most promising initiatives I found while researching this topic is the work being done at the TMW Center for Early Childhood Literacy. In addition to carrying out extensive research on early childhood literacy, the center provides evidence-based interventions and tools. These intervention tools aim to translate early-literacy development research into substantive strategies that parents and caregivers can implement when caring for their children. These interventions are also designed to be integrated into the existing education and healthcare systems to improve childhood literacy on a large scale.

One of these tools is called SPEAK (Scale of Parent’s/Providers Expectations And Knowledge), which is an online questionnaire used in order to assess a caregiver’s knowledge about early literacy development. This tool can also be used to test the impact of various initiatives.

To learn more about TMW center’s research, click this link. You can also explore the page to look at the center’s ongoing initiatives.

My “For Now” Response:

Idea 1: “Literacy Check-Ups”

My first idea is to incorporate literacy “check-ins” into doctor’s visits, the same way that a child has physical check-ups every year. In addition to the doctor assessing a child’s literature abilities, this could be a place where physicians could assess parents’ knowledge about literacy and educate them about the importance of early-literacy development, emphasizing that literacy development is as vital as physical health.

Idea 2: Literacy Pamphlet:

In almost every doctor’s office, there are pamphlets lining the walls with essential information for patients. When a baby is born, the same way that a new parent receives information about infant nutrition and care, it should be required to educate parents and give them the resources to nurture literacy development.  Written literature in the form of an easy to follow pamphlet could supplement in person instruction. The pamphlet would be written in many languages at an easy-to-understand level, to ensure that it is widely accesible.

Literacy Statistics from Uncanny Kids

What Can We Do Now?

There are many easy ways to get involved in your community, and help to promote literacy awareness! This can include:

Book Donations:

I am collecting and distributing books for young and elementary school aged children to under resourced communities in my local area. Fill out this form and I will send you information about where to send  book donations for children in need.

Monetary Donations:

Donate to the World Literacy Foundation, which gives literacy packs and ebooks to underprivileged children.

Donate to Reading is Fundamental, to provide books to children in the U.S. who are in need.


  • Reach out to your local government officials via email and express your concerns surrounding the disparities in early childhood literacy. Policy change is incredibly important! You can also provide a link to this page.

Please leave your feedback in the comments! Also, if you plan to pursue any of the actionable steps I listed above, let me know in a comment as well!


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