Early Literacy

Early Literacy topic editor: Joan Danaher

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In recent years, unprecedented attention has been focused on early literacy. Federal, state, and local initiatives are taking on the challenge of improving reading achievement with literacy programs involving families, local schools, and communities. Young children with disabilities and their families need to be part of these initiatives. Evidenced-based practices for teaching literacy skills to all young children can also inform literacy initiatives for young children with disabilities.

Federal Initiatives

Bridging the Word Gap Network

Research shows that children who are poor hear approximately 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers during the first three years of life. This "word gap" can lead to disparities in not only school readiness, but also long-term educational and health outcomes, earnings, and family stability. Bridging the Word Gap is a coordinated effort by the Department of Education (ED), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to help parents, caregivers, and teachers on this important issue.

Early Learning Language and Literacy Series

(October 2015) Preschool Development Grant Technical Assistance Program - This free new 14-module series is designed for professionals who are working to support the language and literacy development of young children, birth to five. Two key objectives for the series are: (1) to provide teachers with background information/research on early language and literacy, and (2) to provide evidence-based strategies to support the language and literacy development of young children.

Talk, Read, Sing Together, Every Day!

(July 2015) U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services in partnership with Too Small to Fail - Provides tip sheets in both English and Spanish for families, preschool teachers, and infant/toddler teachers and caregivers that can be used to help enrich children's early language experiences beginning from birth. The toolkit also includes a factsheet on the benefits of being bilingual and embracing children's home languages.

Early Literacy Website

An initiative of the My Brother's Keeper Taskforce, this website is designed to provide educators, administrators, policymakers and community stakeholders with basic information about the importance of effective reading instruction in the early grades. It focuses on the steps schools might take to ensure that all children in kindergarten and first grade, including children of color and children with disabilities, receive the supports they need to read on grade level by third grade.

WWW: What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) - Early Childhood Education

The WWC provides high-quality reviews of the effectiveness of replicable educational interventions. The Early Childhood Education reviews focus on curricula and practices designed for use with young children to develop cognitive and language competencies associated with school readiness. A number of these relate to early literacy.

WWW: Center for Early Literacy Learning (CELL)

This research-to-practice technical assistance center was funded by OSEP to promote the adoption and sustained use of evidence-based early literacy learning practices by early childhood intervention practitioners, parents, and other caregivers of young children, birth to five years of age, with identified disabilities, developmental delays, and those at-risk for poor outcomes. CELL products include practice-based research syntheses and summaries, evidence-based practice guides, and tool kits.

WWW: Reading Rockets - Launching Young Readers

This national multimedia project at WETA is funded by OSEP to provide accurate, accessible information on how young children learn to read, why so many struggle, and how caring adults can help. The Reading Rockets Web site provides a wealth of reading strategies, lessons, and activities designed to help young children learn how to read and read better. A Chance to Read, the ninth episode in Launching Young Readers, focuses on the challenges that young children with disabilities face in learning to read.

Position Statements

AAP Policy Statement - Literacy Promotion: An Essential Component of Primary Care Pediatric Practice

(June 2014) American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) - This AAP policy statement provides formal recommendations for pediatric providers to promote early literacy development for children beginning in infancy and continuing at least until the age of kindergarten.

Position Paper on Language and Literacy Development for Young English Language Learners (Ages 3-8)

(2010) Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) - Provides recommendations for program staff to help young dual language learners who do not speak English at home succeed in early care environments where English is the principal language of instruction.

PDF: Where we Stand on Learning to Read and Write

(2009) National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the International Reading Association (IRA) - Summarizes a joint position statement issued in 1998 on learning to read and write that provides guidance to teachers of young children in schools and in early childhood programs (child care centers, preschools, family child care homes) serving children from birth through age 8 years. See the related documents here.

Other Programs and Resources

From Crawling to Walking: Ranking States on Birth-3rd Grade Policies that Support Strong Readers

(2015) New America Education Policy Program - This report measures states on a broad set of policy indicators that can help ensure children are on track to read on grade level by the end of third grade. The report finds that most states are not taking a comprehensive approach to developing children's literacy skills.

Beyond the Word Gap

(October 2014) This multimedia web portal from ZERO TO THREE is designed to provide parents, professionals, and policymakers with resources to help close the word gap and support children's early language skills and all aspects of development. Resources are available in both English and Spanish, including mobile apps, interactive online tools, videos, infographics, podcasts, policy materials, and more. ZERO TO THREE also offers a collection of other resources for families and professionals related to early language and literacy.

PDF: A Governor's Guide to Early Literacy: Getting all Students Reading by Third Grade

(October 2013) National Governors Association - This guide describes five policy actions governors and other state policymakers can take to ensure that all children are reading at grade level by the end of third grade.

WWW: Lead for Literacy

(2012-2013) Language Diversity and Literacy Development Research Group at Harvard University - This initiative developed 16 memos for leaders dedicated to children's literacy development from birth to age 9. Topics range from assessment to professional development to family partnerships.

PDF: Developing Early Literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel, A Scientific Synthesis of Early Literacy Development and Implications for Intervention

(2009) National Institute for Literacy - This comprehensive synthesis of published literacy research on children from birth to age 5 ever provides an important basis for research-based recommendations to the early childhood community on promoting the foundational skills of life-long literacy. An PDF: Executive Summary is also available.

See also, Cornerstones: An Early Literacy Series - based on findings from the National Early Literacy Panel's report.

Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center

  • CB 8040
  • Chapel Hill, NC 27599-8040
  • phone: 919.962.2001
  • fax: 919.966.7463
  • email: ectacenter@unc.edu

ECTA Center is a program of the FPG Child Development Institute of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, funded through cooperative agreement number H326P170001 from the Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily represent the Department of Education's position or policy.

Project Officer: Julia Martin Eile

  • UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute
  • IDEAs that Work: Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education