When It Comes To Literacy… Is Timing Everything?

  • Parents Only

Have you ever wished life had a rewind button?  For those who wonder about the benefits of early literacy only after their child is struggling at school, this is the case. 

“We hear it all the time: ‘We wish we’d known about this program sooner!’,” says Michelle Mowbray, Director of Ready to Read, an early literacy program designed for the year before school.  “Our program is a proactive approach to early literacy.  Unfortunately, many don’t hear about us or think about literacy until their child is struggling at school – and it becomes a much bigger ship to turn.” 

It’s only natural – until something breaks, we don’t think about fixing it. 

When it comes to literacy however, prevention is better than cure.  Studies have shown that children who start school behind, often stay behind.  With a rich and broad curriculum in place, the pace of learning at school is fast; and the impact on a child’s confidence and behaviour as a result of falling behind, can exacerbate the original problem.

Studies have also shown that the years before school are a critical time in the acquisition of knowledge, vocabulary and basic literacy skills in order to perform well at school.  These are also the years during which children develop their personal learning styles, so they need to be exposed to a variety of learning opportunities of an auditory, visual and tactile nature.

Yes, play is important.

Yes, numeracy is important.

But literacy is the foundation for all learning.  For instance, a child can only excel in mathematics for so long without being able to read, comprehend and interpret mathematical problems.

Currently, 44 percent of Australian adults have below proficiency level literacy; and one in three have literacy skills low enough to put them at risk of unemployment and social exclusion.  These figures are quite frightening for a developed nation like Australia.  With continued dialogue around students struggling with literacy at school, it’s not looking like the situation is improving, with one in five students starting school lacking the necessary skills to learn.  Sadly, it’s our already disadvantaged communities who are suffering the worst with childhood literacy rates, where the ratio of unprepared children becomes one in three.

This is why government and not-for-profit initiatives are emerging to address the issue of poor literacy.  One such example is the Ready to Read Community Literacy Program, a not-for-profit collaboration which will see the long-running program available in the not-for-profit space for the first time.  “This is an exciting step towards our vision of enhancing literacy across all communities,” said Michelle.  “The benefits of literacy should be enjoyed regardless of socioeconomic background or any other societal factors.”

What can you do, as a parent, to ensure your child’s literacy is on track before starting school?  Here are some tips:

  • Talk about the sound that each letter makes – the simple skill of knowing these sounds (phonics) is essential for reading.  A sound chart can be helpful for this.
  • When out and about, talk about the names of places, people, items in the supermarket, etc. and highlight their beginning sound.
  • Read to and with your child, highlighting various concepts about print, including letters, words and punctuation; and encourage comprehension and imagination by asking questions.
  • Develop your child’s phonological awareness by singing nursery rhymes together; and clapping how many ‘beats’, or syllables, you can hear in selected words.


Michelle Mowbray is Director of Ready to Read, a unique, research-based early literacy program for 3-6 year old children.  Designed primarily for the year before school, Ready to Read has been helping children across Sydney start school with confidence since 2001. For more visit www.readytoread.com.au