African American Family Reading Together


Literacy statistics for African American youth across the country are grim. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 53 percent of African American 4th grade students scored below the “Basic” level on the NAEP reading test and 44 percent of African American 8th grade students scored below the “Basic” level.  Students in the ninth grade, in urban, high-poverty areas are three or more years below grade level in reading.  The population of students who never graduate from high school, are typically those with low literacy skills.

Students who are already one or more grade levels behind in reading struggle with reading comprehension, vocabulary development, identifying themes and recalling key details and facts. State assessments have become more rigorous through the new Common Core State Standards and if the recent 2013 score reports for the Common Core English Language Arts exams are any indication of how students are doing in literacy, our young people are in trouble. If we are to impact our children’s learning and close the achievement gap, parents and families must take an active role in ensuring that we make reading a priority—that we ensure our children will achieve the level of literacy skills needed for success in a world that demands we think critically and respond to information in both printed and digital formats.

Parents can be at-home literacy educators, ensuring your child’s reading growth which will ultimately impact their achievement in the classroom and beyond. Reading at home on a regular basis will boost a child’s reading abilities and help them become avid readers, good writers and lifelong learners.

Here, 10 tips to build your child’s reading skills at home:

  1. Apply for a library card in your child’s name if he or she does not already have one.  Regular visits to the library to check out books is a cost effective way to keep your child engaged with reading.  Having their own library card means your child can become more accountable for his or her learning.

  2. Help your child choose books at their reading level, for reading enjoyment.  If the reading level of a book is too difficult, they will not comprehend what they are reading and they will be more likely to put the book down.  If the vocabulary and concepts in a book appear to be too challenging, it is not the right fit for your child.  Choosing books that are just right for your child, means they can read the book independently.

  3. Carve out time to read to your child and discuss books together.  Consistent reading time with you will enable your child to share his or her excitement and respond to questions.  Asking questions about a story as you read it together, will boost your child’s comprehension skills and help them to think critically.  Questions you can ask your child during reading include:  Making predictions – “What do you think will happen next?”  Author’s purpose – “Why do you think the author wanted to share this story?” Characterization – “How would you describe this character?  Why do you think the character chose to act this way?”

  4. Create a home library for and with your child that they can explore. Having a variety of books to choose from will keep your child from becoming bored with reading selections.  For early readers, include picture books on a variety of topics.  For elementary readers include a range of books, both fiction and nonfiction (Science, History and current events), for middle and young adults, also include a range of books across genres including poetry, biography, graphic novels and chapter books.

  5. Support your child to get in the habit of reading for at least 20 minutes at home, each day.  Reading for 20 minutes or more each day will help build reading stamina and boost your child’s vocabulary.

  6. Use every day print materials such as mail, signs, coupons, labels and newspapers to model language and vocabulary. Everything from junk mail to neighborhood signs can be used to build early literacy skills for children.  Before you throw those unwanted mailings away, see if you can use them with your child.

  7. Write and read grocery and to-do lists together. Your child can make the list, read the list and check off items from the list.  Lists can also be used to teach spelling.

  8. Download children’s books on a Kindle, Nook or iPad to incorporate digital reading. More and more schools are using iPads in the classroom for reading and project based learning.  If you have an e-reader or iPad at home, it’s a great tool for engaging children with technology and digital literacy.

  9. Keep a dictionary and thesaurus on hand as a reference. Reference materials are always needed to help children with spelling, definitions and grammar.

  10. Subscribe to educational children’s magazines. Children’s magazines such as Scholastic News, Highlights, National Geographic for Kids and Time for Kids help students stay informed about current events, science, history and other subject matter that is covered in school.

For more information on reading with your child and choosing just right books, visit the following links:

I Can Read – Just Right Books

Reading Rockets – Choosing Just Right Books

Building Blocks – Choosing the Right Books for Your Child

DuEwa Frazier is a New York-based educator, poet and writer whose work has appeared in Essence, Reverie Journal, Kweli Journal,, Mosaic Magazine and other publications. DuEwa , who earned an M.F.A. in Creative Writing at The New School, is the author of Goddess Under the Bridge (2013) and the editor of the NAACP Image Award-nominated anthology, Check the Rhyme: An Anthology of Female Poets & Emcees. She writes about the arts and education at

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  1. As a librarian, I love tip No. 1! The library is an awesome resource; use it as much as you can! I have to say that I slightly disagree with No. 2. I think if you are reading to your child, it is always good to read some books above what you think their level is. They may surprise you! I was reading 2nd grade level science books to my son before he was even in preschool because he enjoyed learning about reptiles and the North and South Poles. These books offered the opportunity to talk about complex topics and increase his vocabulary. He obviously couldn’t read them to himself, but he did immensely enjoy having them read to him.

  2. We do pretty all of these and it truly helps. My daughter was too excited when she actually recognized the words from one of her ‘My First’ books. It made me so proud as a parent to see the pride she had for herself for having learned to read those words!

  3. 11. Read, and enjoy reading, as a leisurely activity so your child associates reading with pleasure as a result of your example.

  4. Thank you! Thank you!Thank you! Thank you!Thank you! Thank you!Thank you! Thank you!Thank you! Thank you!Thank you! Thank you! Oh, and thank you!

  5. @Elita Yes it’s about knowing your child and what works for him or her. Every child is different and if you can read a variety of books to your child that peaks his interest, even if he cannot read the text independently, that is another strategy in preparing him for reading success. Thanks for your comment!

  6. @K. Elizabeth Brava! It sounds like you and your daughter are also on a great path toward reading success! Thanks for your comment!

  7. @Joyce You’re welcome!

  8. I really like your website! I always like to see links to the original source, in this case, The NAEP report. Thank you!

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