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EXPERT AVAILABLE: Parents Must Take Responsibility for Their Children’s Literacy, MU Researcher Says

March 11, 2013

Story Contact(s):
Jesslyn Chew,

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

By Kate McIntyre

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Children read books for fun or for school much less often as they get older. Those who aren’t proficient readers by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school; children from low-income families are especially likely to suffer academically if they can’t read, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private charity that supports vulnerable American children and families. However, a University of Missouri human development and family studies expert says children from less educated or low-income families do just as well in school if they have access to books or if their parents read at home.

“It’s not the schools’ job to get kids to read; it’s the parents’ job, and schools can help supplement the skill,” said David Schramm, an assistant professor in the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences. “Reading starts at home. It’s great exercise for the brain, and reading together can strengthen relationships between parents and their children.”

Whether children want to reread the same beloved stories over and over, thumb through comic or picture books, or pick a new title on an e-reader, Schramm says parents should let their kids decide what to read. He adds that parents who want their teenagers to read more might suggest that they read books they’ve enjoyed as movies.

“It doesn’t matter what they’re reading; it’s the consistency,” he said. “The No. 1 reason kids don’t read is that they can’t find books they like, so parents should let their kids explore different genres or formats. Freedom of choice is the key to getting kids motivated and excited about reading.”

Schramm recommends that parents read with their young children about 20 minutes each day, potentially in five-minute increments rather than in one sitting depending on the children’s ages and the families’ schedules.

“Younger kids’ attention spans are fairly short, so parents should feel free to break up the time spent reading or use it as an incentive for other activities their kids enjoy,” he said. “Parents have to find out what works with their kids, because trying to push too much can drive kids away from books.”

Schramm is an assistant professor and Extension State Specialist in the MU Department of Human Development and Families Studies. He helped implement an initiative with the nonprofit coalition Columbia Cares for Kids that seeks to increase childhood literacy in mid-Missouri. “March Reading Madness” includes several events for children, parents, educators and caregivers that coincide with the NCAA basketball tournament. For more information, visit