In 2012-13 the Australian Government funded the Murdoch Childrens' Reserach Institute to implement a 12-month Let’s Read national early literacy campaign. Building on existing evidence-based programs, the Let’s Read campaign engaged families, professionals and communities to promote high quality early literacy environments for children from birth to 5 years.
This literature review was conducted during the 2012-13 Let’s Read campaign by the Centre for Community Child Health to ensure that Let’s Read is based on the current research evidence. This literature review highlights the need to focus on the years prior to school entry (birth to 5 years) as a critical stage in a child’s journey toward literacy.
It describes the evidence base linking poor literacy to lower education, employment, income and wellbeing outcomes and examines the current state of literacy in Australia. The review also provides a focus on identifying factors, activities, programs and interventions that provide the conditions and experiences necessary for all children to develop sound literacy foundations prior to school entry.
Language literacy and child development
This literature review highlights the enormous impact of early experiences on brain development and the complex interaction of biological and environmental factors on both language and literacy development. It examines the research that demonstrates the early years (from birth to age five years) are critical for developing the skills that form the foundation of literacy in school years and throughout adulthood.
The foundations of literacy start very early in life and a child’s early literacy skills can predict later literacy and academic achievement. Why is literacy important? Literacy is one of the most important foundations for success in school and life. However, in Australia almost half of the adult population still does not have the minimum standards of literacy to meet the demands of everyday life and work (ABS, 2013). As a result, the issue of literacy development is a major source of focus and concern. Research shows that in Australia:
- not all children arrive at school ready to take advantage of the learning opportunities provided at school 1 in 5 children start school behind – poorly equipped to benefit from the social and learning opportunities (ABS, 2013)
- those who do not arrive at school with early literacy skills sometimes never catch up (Duncan et al., 2007; Chatterji, 2006; Roberts et al., 2005; Lonigan and Shanahan, 2010)
- currently our primary school children are some of the worst performing internationally in literacy (PIRLS, 2012).