Literacy, it’s a family affair

Who taught you to read? It was probably your parents. For most children, they are the first teachers. But what happens when Mom and Dad can’t read or write well? When they can’t help with your homework or read you a book?

A mother’s education level is the greatest determinant of her children’s future academic success, outweighing other factors such as neighborhood and family income. Children whose parents have low literacy levels have a 72 percent chance of being at the lowest reading levels themselves. These children are more likely to get poor grades, display behavior problems, repeat years and drop out. With many children forced to learn from home due to the corona virus, the impact of low literacy parents can even more of an impact on their learning.

The future success of every child is in many ways determined before he or she turns 8. In the early years you learn to read, and then you read to learn. Children who are not reading proficiently by the time they leave the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of school. Every year, one in six young adults in the U.S. drops out of high school — more than 1.2 million students.

Research shows that focusing on educating children without also addressing their parents’ needs for basic education and training will not solve the academic achievement gap. More than 36 million adults in the United States cannot read, write or do basic math above the third-grade level. According to the U.S. Census Bureau there are more than 73,000 adults in metro Richmond who lack basic prose skills – skills necessary to perform simple and everyday literacy activities. These adults cannot fully participate in society. They often live in poverty or are low-income, have health issues and have trouble finding and keeping jobs. They pass their low literacy and academic struggles on to their children locking families in a cycle of poverty that many find hard to break.


The READ Center provides adult literacy programs through small classroom instruction and one-to-one tutoring. Students come to the READ Center to improve their literacy skills so they can improve their lives and the lives of their families. Literacy touches every aspect of life, health, employment, housing, financial stability, parenting and poverty. The importance of learning to read is critical. Early childhood programs and intervention can help to break the cycle of illiteracy, but adult literacy is also important. For millions of adults who did not learn to read as children, improving their skills is critical so they can get and hold jobs, become financially independent and support their children’s education. Literacy is a family affair.


November is National Family Education Week. If you can read this, please thank your parents and teachers. If you would like to help adult literacy students who need to improve their skills, please visit the READ website for more information. Just two hours a week can make a difference in a student’s life.

Karen is READ's Executive Director.