KIDS
November 4, 2010

When Moms Read, Kids Excel

For young children in poor communities, having a mom who reads is a huge boost to school success.

A study funded by the National Institute of Health has found that the greatest single predictor of a child's academic success is his or her mother's reading skill.

The study was undertaken to better understand the reasons for the disparity in achievement that exists between children from rich and poor neighborhoods.

The study can't show exactly what is passing between mother and child that boosts a child's test scores when a mother is literate. But it suggests that it's vital for this to happen early in the child's life.

The research suggests that one way to help level the playing field for children from poor neighborhoods is through adult literacy programs.

The researchers looked at the math and reading test scores of 2,350 children, aged 3-17, from April 2000 and December 2001. They then tested how mothers' reading scores, individual family income and community income as a whole influenced the children's test scores. The children were from 65 different Los Angeles communities that were representative of Los Angeles as a whole, not drawn solely from poor neighborhoods.

For children aged 3-8, the mothers' reading scores were the best predictor of the children's test scores. Between ages 8 and 17, average neighborhood income had the largest effect on the children's test scores.

The study can't show exactly what is passing between mother and child that boosts a child's test scores when a mother is literate. But it suggests that it's vital for this to happen early in the child's life. If children are acquiring a love of reading and learning from their mother, it seems to be taking effect by the age of eight.

Growing up in poverty is not a recipe for success. While addressing economic inequalities would certainly be helpful for children in low-income families, the researchers suggest that encouraging mixed-income neighborhoods, improving early childhood education and boosting mothers' reading skills can all play a part in helping low-income children succeed academically.

The study was published in the August, 2010 issue of the journal Demography.

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