From birth through elementary school, we bring our children to regular doctor visits where the focus is on the basics of a child’s development —height, weight, vision, hearing, etc. We all look forward to hearing the percentiles; to finding out, for example, how much taller Ben is since the last check up, or how much weight he has gained. The pediatrician records those numbers — adding more information to an ever-expanding file on Ben’s development — and we celebrate the latest milestones.
But as important as physical development is, there is reason to be equally focused on the journey towards successful reading, which takes place during those very same years—from birth through the elementary grades.
That’s why we think that to make sure Ben is on track to become a successful reader, his parents should know if he is reaching milestones in the skills he needs as he grows. For example, they should have concrete data on how his language is developing as a toddler, and whether, as a preschooler, he’s paying attention to letters and is both interested in and understanding stories. By kindergarten they should know how many letters and sounds he knows, and by first and second grade, Ben’s parents should know how he’s putting those letters and sounds together to read words, and how his vocabulary is growing. Such benchmarks serve the same purpose as the percentiles in the doctor’s office: they give a window into the basics of development, helping his parents know whether Ben is on track for his age, giving them information about how they could boost his learning while they go about their days together, and especially helping them catch any problems as soon as they appear.
Why is it parents who need to know all along the way? Because no one else is tracking and monitoring Ben’s progress towards strong reading from the beginning.
Our mission is to help Ben’s parents, and all parents, create a Child’s Reading File with their child’s name on it, and add to it regularly. From the time Ben is a baby, we want them to keep tabs on whether he is meeting milestones that point to later reading success. Why? Because like parents everywhere, Ben’s parents are the people most invested in their child’s life, and they are the constant through those foundational years – the adults who can keep an eye on it all.
Given how much reading well matters for academic and personal success, someone needs to have and hold onto a child’s reading growth chart, and monitor how reading is coming along. Otherwise, Ben may not reach his potential as a reader and a student, as many of today’s children don’t. Or he may end up as a low reader in 3rd grade when he could have had help years before that –the early intervention that has been shown to prevent later difficulties altogether, and help avoid the low-self esteem that often goes along with reading problems.