[This is an archived article]

Recommended Policies Essential for Achieving Developmentally Appropriate Literacy Experiences

Early childhood programs and elementary schools in the United States operate in widely differing contexts with varying levels of funding and resources. Regardless of the resources available, professionals have an ethical responsibility to teach, to the best of their ability, according to the standards of the profession.

Nevertheless, the kinds of practices advocated here are more likely to be implemented within an infrastructure of supportive policies and resources. IRA and NAEYC strongly recommend that the following policies be developed and adequately funded at the appropriate state or local levels:

  • A comprehensive, consistent system of early childhood professional preparation and ongoing professional development (see Darling-Hammond 1997; Kagan & Cohen 1997).

    Such a professional preparation system is badly needed in every state to ensure that staff in early childhood programs and teachers in primary schools obtain specialized, college-level education that informs them about developmental patterns in early literacy learning and about research-based ways of teaching reading and writing during the early childhood years. On-going professional development is essential for teachers to stay current in an ever-expanding research base and to continually improve their teaching skills and the learning outcomes for children.

  • Sufficient resources to ensure adequate ratios of qualified teachers to children and small groups for individualizing instruction.

    For four- and five-year-olds, adult-child ratios should be no more than 1 adult for 8 to 10 children, with a maximum group size of 20 (Howes, Phillips, & Whitebook 1992; Cost, Quality, and Child Outcomes Study Team 1995). Optimum class size in the early grades is 15 to 18 with one teacher (Nye et al. 1992; Nye, Boyd-Zaharias, & Fulton 1994). Young children benefit most from being taught in small groups or as individuals. There will always be a wide range of individual differences among children. Small class size increases the likelihood that teachers will be able to accommodate children's diverse abilities and interests, strengths and needs.

  • Sufficient resources to ensure classrooms, schools, and public libraries that include a wide range of high-quality children's books, computer software, and multimedia resources at various levels of difficulty and reflecting various cultural and family backgrounds.

    Studies have found that a minimum of five books per child is necessary to provide even the most basic print-rich environment (Morrow & Weinstein 1986; Neuman & Roskos 1997). Computers and developmentally appropriate software should also be available to provide alternative, engaging, enriching literacy experiences (NAEYC 1996b).

  • Policies that promote children's continuous learning progress.

    When individual children do not make expected progress in literacy development, resources should be available to provide more individualized instruction, focused time, tutoring by trained and qualified tutors, or other individualized intervention strategies. These instructional strategies are used to accelerate children's learning instead of either grade retention or social promotion, neither of which has been proven effective in improving children's achievement (Shepard & Smith 1988).

  • Appropriate assessment strategies that promote children's learning and development.

    Teachers need to regularly and systematically use multiple indicators--observation of children's oral language, evaluation of children's work, and performance at authentic reading and writing tasks--to assess and monitor children's progress in reading and writing development, plan and adapt instruction, and communicate with parents (Shepard, Kagan, & Wurtz 1998).

    Group-administered, multiple-choice standardized achievement tests in reading and writing skills should not be used before third grade or preferably even before fourth grade. The younger the child, the more difficult it is to obtain valid and reliable indices of his or her development and learning using one-time test administrations. Standardized testing has a legitimate function, but on its own it tends to lead to standardized teaching--one approach fits all--the opposite of the kind of individualized diagnosis and teaching that is needed to help young children continue to progress in reading and writing.

  • Access to regular, ongoing health care for every child.

    Every young child needs to have a regular health care provider as well as screening for early diagnosis and treatment of vision and hearing problems. Chronic untreated middle-ear infections in the earliest years of life may delay language development, which in turn may delay reading development (Vernon-Feagans, Emanuel, & Blood 1992). Similarly, vision problems should never be allowed to go uncorrected, causing a child difficulty with reading and writing.

  • Increased public investment to ensure access to high-quality preschool and child care programs for all children who need them.

    The National Academy of Sciences (Snow, Burns, & Griffin 1998) and decades of longitudinal research (see, for example, Barnett 1995) demonstrate the benefits of preschool education for literacy learning. Unfortunately, there is no system to ensure accessible, affordable, high-quality early childhood education programs for all families who choose to use them (Kagan & Cohen 1997). As a result, preschool attendance varies considerably by family income; for example, 80% of four-year-olds whose families earn more than $50,000 per year attend preschool compared to approximately 50% of four-year-olds attending preschool from families earning less than $20,000 (NCES 1996). In addition, due primarily to inadequate funding, the quality of preschool and child care programs varies considerably, with studies finding that the majority of programs provide only mediocre quality and that only about 15% rate as good quality (Layzer, Goodson, & Moss 1993; Galinsky et al. 1994; Cost, Quality, & Child Outcomes Study Team 1995).


Click the "References" link above to hide these references.

Adams, M. 1990. Beginning to read. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Anbar, A. 1986. Reading acquisition of preschool children without systematic instruction. Early Childhood Research Quarterly 1: 6983.

Anderson, R.C. 1995. Research foundations for wide reading. Paper presented at invitational conference on "The Impact of Wide Reading" at Center for the Study of Reading, Urbana, IL.

Applebee, A.N. 1977. Writing and reading. Language Arts 20: 53437.

Barnett, W.S. 1995. Long-term effects of early childhood programs on cognitive and school outcomes. The Future of Children 5: 2550.

Barron, R.W. 1980. Visual and phonological strategies in reading and spelling. In Cognitive processes in spelling, ed. U. Frith, 33953. New York: Academic.

Berk, L. 1996. Infants and children: Prenatal through middle childhood. 2d ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Bissex, G. 1980. GYNS AT WRK: A child learns to write and read. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Bond, G., & R. Dykstra. 1967. The cooperative research program in first-grade reading instruction. Reading Research Quarterly 2: 5142.

Bradley, L., & P.E. Bryant. 1983. Categorizing sounds and learning to read: A causal connection. Nature 301: 41921.

Bredekamp, S., & C. Copple, eds. 1997. Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs. Rev. ed. Washington, DC: NAEYC.

Brown, A.L., & J.S. DeLoache. 1978. Skills, plans and self-regulation. In Children's thinking: What develops? ed. R. Siegler, 336. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Bryant, P.E., M. MacLean, L. Bradley, & J. Crossland. 1990. Rhyme and alliteration, phoneme detection, and learning to read. Developmental Psychology 26: 42938.

Bryne, B., & R. Fielding-Barnsley. 1991. Evaluation of a program to teach phonemic awareness to young children. Journal of Educational Psychology 83: 45155.

Bryne, B., & R. Fielding-Barnsley. 1993. Evaluation of a program to teach phonemic awareness to young children: A 1-year follow-up. Journal of Educational Psychology 85: 10411.

Bryne, B., & R. Fielding-Barnsley. 1995. Evaluation of a program to teach phonemic awareness to young children: A 2- and 3-year follow-up and a new preschool trial. Journal of Educational Psychology 87: 488503.

Bus, A., J. Belsky, M.H. van IJzendoorn, & K. Crnic. 1997. Attachment and book-reading patterns: A study of mothers, fathers, and their toddlers. Early Childhood Research Quarterly 12: 8198.

Bus, A., & M. Van IJzendoorn. 1995. Mothers reading to their 3-year-olds: The role of mother-child attachment security in becoming literate. Reading Research Quarterly 30: 9981015.

Bus, A., M. Van IJzendoorn, & A. Pellegrini. 1995. Joint book reading makes for success in learning to read: A meta-analysis on intergenerational transmission of literacy. Review of Educational Research 65: 121.

Chomsky, C. 1979. Approaching reading through invented spelling. In Theory and practice of early reading, vol. 2, eds. L.B. Resnick & P.A. Weaver, 4365. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Clarke, L. 1988. Invented versus traditional spelling in first graders' writings: Effects on learning to spell and read. Research in the Teaching of English 22: 281309.

Clay, M. 1975. What did I write? Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Clay, M. 1979. The early detection of reading difficulties. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Clay, M. 1991. Becoming literate. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Cost, Quality, and Child Outcomes Study Team. 1995. Cost, quality, and child outcomes in child care centers, public report. 2d ed. Denver: Economics Department, University of Colorado, Denver.

Cummins, J. 1979. Linguistic interdependence and the educational development of bilingual children. Review of Educational Research 49: 22251.

Cunningham, A. 1990. Explicit versus implicit instruction in phonemic awareness. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 50: 42944.

Darling-Hammond, L. 1997. Doing what matters most: Investing in quality teaching. New York: National Commission on Teaching and America's Future.

DEC/CEC (Division for Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children). 1994. Position on inclusion. Young Children 49 (5): 78.

DEC (Division for Early Childhood) Task Force on Recommended Practices. 1993. DEC recommended practices: Indicators of quality in programs for infants and young children with special needs and their families. Reston, VA: Council for Exceptional Children.

Dickinson, D., & M. Smith. 1994. Long-term effects of preschool teachers' book readings on low-income children's vocabulary and story comprehension. Reading Research Quarterly 29: 10422.

Domico, M.A. 1993. Patterns of development in narrative stories of emergent writers. In Examining central issues in literacy research, theory, and practice, eds. C. Kinzer & D. Leu, 391404. Chicago: National Reading Conference.

Durkin, D. 1966. Children who read early. New York: Teachers College Press.

Durrell, D.D., & J.H. Catterson. 1980. Durrell analysis of reading difficulty. Rev. ed. New York: Psychological Corp.

Dyson, A.H. 1988. Appreciate the drawing and dictating of young children. Young Children 43 (3): 2532.Education Department of Western Australia. 1994a. First Steps reading developmental continuum. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Education Department of Western Australia. 1994b. First Steps writing developmental continuum. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Education Department of Western Australia. 1994c. First Steps spelling developmental continuum. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Education Department of Western Australia. 1994d. First Steps oral language developmental continuum. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Ehri, L. 1994. Development of the ability to read words: Update. In Theoretical models and processes of reading, eds. R. Ruddell, M.R. Ruddell, & H. Singer, 32358. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Ehri, L.C., & C. Robbins. 1992. Beginners need some decoding skill to read words by analogy. Reading Research Quarterly 27: 1326.

Ehri, L., & J. Sweet. 1991. Finger-point reading of memorized text: What enables beginners to process the print? Reading Research Quarterly 26: 44261.

Elkonin, D.B. 1973. USSR. In Comparative Reading, ed. J. Downing, 55180. New York: Macmillan.

Eller, R., C. Pappas, & E. Brown. 1988. The lexical development of kindergartners: Learning from written context. Journal of Reading Behavior 20: 524.

Elley, W. 1989. Vocabulary acquisition from listening to stories. Reading Research Quarterly 24: 17487.

Feitelson, D., B. Kita, & Z. Goldstein. 1986. Effects of listening to series stories on first graders' comprehension and use of language. Research in the Teaching of English 20: 33955.

Foorman, B., D. Novy, D. Francis, & D. Liberman. 1991. How letter-sound instruction mediates progress in first-grade reading and spelling. Journal of Educational Psychology 83: 45669.

Galinsky, E., C. Howes, S. Kontos., & M. Shinn. 1994. The study of children in family child care and relative care: Highlights of findings. New York: Families and Work Institute.

Gibson, E., & E. Levin. 1975. The psychology of reading. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Graves, D. 1983. Writing: Teachers and children at work. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Hannon, P. 1995. Literacy, home and school. London: Falmer.

Hanson, R., & D. Farrell. 1995. The long-term effects on high school seniors of learning to read in kindergarten. Reading Research Quarterly 30: 90833.

Hart, B., & T. Risley. 1995. Meaningful differences. Baltimore: Paul Brookes.

Henderson, E.H., & J.W. Beers. 1980. Developmental and cognitive aspects of learning to spell. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Holdaway, D. 1979. The foundations of literacy. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Howes, C., D.A. Phillips, & M. Whitebook. 1992. Thresholds of quality: Implications for the social development of children in center-based child care. Child Development 63: 44960.

IRA (International Reading Association). 1998. Phonics in the early reading program: A position statement. Newark, DE: Author.

Johnston, P. 1997. Knowing literacy: Constructive literacy assessment. York, ME: Stenhouse.

Juel, C. 1991. Beginning reading. In Handbook of reading research, vol. 2, eds. R. Barr, M. Kamil, P. Mosenthal, & P.D. Pearson, 75988. New York: Longman.

Juel, C., P.L. Griffith, & P. Gough. 1986. Acquisition of literacy: A longitudinal study of children in first and second grade. Journal of Educational Psychology 78: 24355.

Kagan, S.L., & N. Cohen. 1997. Not by chance: Creating an early care and education system for America's children. New Haven, CT: Bush Center in Child Development and Social Policy, Yale University.

Karweit, N., & B. Wasik. 1996. The effects of story reading programs on literacy and language development of disadvantaged pre-schoolers. Journal of Education for Students Placed At-Risk 4: 31948.

Katz, L., & C. Chard. 1989. Engaging children's minds. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Layzer, J., B. Goodson, & M. Moss. 1993. Life in preschool: Volume one of an observational study of early childhood programs for disadvantaged four-year-olds. Cambridge, MA: Abt Associates.

Leung, C.B., & J.J. Pikulski. 1990. Incidental learning of word meanings by kindergarten and first grade children thorough repeated read aloud events. In Literacy theory and research: Analyses from multiple paradigms, eds. J. Zutell & S. McCormick, 23140. Chicago: National Reading Conference.

Lundberg, I., J. Frost, & O.P. Petersen. 1988. Effects of an extensive program for stimulating phonological awareness in preschool children. Reading Research Quarterly 23: 26384.

Maclean, M., P. Bryant, & L. Bradley. 1987. Rhymes, nursery rhymes, and reading in early childhood. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 33: 25581.

Mason, J. 1980. When do children begin to read: An exploration of four-year-old children's word reading competencies. Reading Research Quarterly 15: 20327.

Mason, J., & S. Sinha. 1993. Emerging literacy in the early childhood years: Applying a Vygotskian model of learning and development. In Handbook of research on the education of young children, ed. B. Spodek, 13750. New York: Macmillan.

McGee, L., R. Lomax, & M. Head. 1988. Young children's written language knowledge: What environmental and functional print reading reveals. Journal of Reading Behavior 20: 99118.

McGee, L., & D. Richgels. 1996. Literacy's beginnings. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

McGill-Franzen, A., & C. Lanford. 1994. Exposing the edge of the preschool curriculum: Teachers' talk about text and children's literary understandings. Language Arts 71: 26473.

Morrow, L.M. 1988. Young children's responses to one-to-one readings in school settings. Reading Research Quarterly 23: 89107.

Morrow, L.M. 1990. Preparing the classroom environment to promote literacy during play. Early Childhood Research Quarterly 5: 53754.

Morrow, L.M., D. Strickland, & D.G. Woo. 1998. Literacy instruction in half- and whole-day kindergarten. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Morrow, L.M., & C. Weinstein. 1986. Encouraging voluntary reading: The impact of a literature program on children's use of library centers. Reading Research Quarterly 21: 33046.

Moyer, S.B. 1982. Repeated reading. Journal of Learning Disabilities 15: 61923.

NAEYC. 1996a. NAEYC position statement: Responding to linguistic and cultural diversity--Recommendations for effective early childhood education. Young Children 51 (2): 412.

NAEYC. 1996b. NAEYC position statement: Technology and young children--Ages three through eight. Young Children 51 (6): 1116.

NCES (National Center for Education Statistics). 1996. The condition of education. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Neuman, S.B. 1997. Literary research that makes a difference: A study of access to literacy. Reading Research Quarterly 32 (April-June): 202-10.

Neuman, S.B. 1998. How can we enable all children to achieve? In Children achieving: Best practices in early literacy, eds. S.B. Neuman & K. Roskos. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Neuman, S.B., & K. Roskos. 1992. Literacy objects as cultural tools: Effects on children's literacy behaviors in play. Reading Research Quarterly 27: 20225.

Neuman, S.B., & K. Roskos. 1993. Access to print for children of poverty: Differential effects of adult mediation and literacy-enriched play settings on environmental and functional print tasks. American Educational Research Journal 30: 95122.

Neuman, S.B., & K. Roskos. 1997. Literacy knowledge in practice: Contexts of participation for young writers and readers. Reading Research Quarterly 32: 1032.

Nye, B.A., J. Boyd-Zaharias, & B.D. Fulton. 1994. The lasting benefits study: A continuing analysis of the effect of small class size in kindergarten through third grade on student achievement test scores in subsequent grade levels--seventh grade (199293), Technical report. Nashville: Center of Excellence for Research in Basic Skills, Tennessee State University.

Nye, B.A., J. Boyd-Zaharias, B.D. Fulton, & M.P. Wallenhorst. 1992. Smaller classes really are better. The American School Board Journal 179 (5): 3133.

Pappas, C. 1991. Young children's strategies in learning the "book language" of information books. Discourse Processes 14: 20325.

Read, C. 1971. Pre-school children's knowledge of English phonology. Harvard Educational Review 41: 134.

Richgels, D.J. 1986. Beginning first graders' "invented spelling" ability and their performance in functional classroom writing activities. Early Childhood Research Quarterly 1: 8597.

Richgels, D.J. 1995. Invented spelling ability and printed word learning in kindergarten. Reading Research Quarterly 30: 96109.

Riley, J. 1996. The teaching of reading. London: Paul Chapman.

Roberts, B. 1998. "I No EverethENGe": What skills are essential in early literacy? In Children achieving: Best practices in early literacy, eds. S.B. Neuman & K. Roskos. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Rowe, D.W. 1994. Preschoolers as authors. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton.

Samuels, S.J. 1979. The method of repeated readings. The Reading Teacher 32: 40308.

Shepard, L. 1994. The challenges of assessing young children appropriately. Phi Delta Kappan 76: 20613.

Shepard, L., S.L. Kagan, & E. Wurtz, eds. 1998. Principles and recommendations for early childhood assessments. Washington, DC: National Education Goals Panel.

Shepard, L., & M.L. Smith. 1988. Escalating academic demand in kindergarten: Some nonsolutions. Elementary School Journal 89: 13546.

Shepard, L., & M.L. Smith. 1989. Flunking grades: Research and policies on Retention. Bristol, PA: Taylor & Francis.

Snow, C. 1991. The theoretical basis for relationships between language and literacy in development. Journal of Research in Childhood Education 6: 510.

Snow, C., M.S. Burns, & P. Griffin. 1998. Preventing reading difficulties in young children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Snow, C., P. Tabors, P. Nicholson, & B. Kurland. 1995. SHELL: Oral language and early literacy skills in kindergarten and first-grade children. Journal of Research in Childhood Education 10: 3748.

Stanovich, K.E. 1986. Matthew Effects in reading: Some consequences of individual differences in the acquisition of literacy. Reading Research Quarterly 21: 360406.

Stanovich, K.E., & R.F. West. 1989. Exposure to print and orthographic processing. Reading Research Quarterly 24: 40233.

Stauffer, R. 1970. The language experience approach to the teaching of reading. New York: Harper & Row.

Strickland, D. 1994. Educating African American learners at risk: Finding a better way. Language Arts 71: 32836.

Sulzby, E. 1985. Kindergartners as writers and readers. In Advances in writing research, ed. M.Farr, 12799. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Teale, W. 1984. Reading to young children: Its significance for literacy development. In Awakening to literacy, eds. H. Goelman, A. Oberg, & F. Smith, 11021. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Tierney, R., & T. Shanahan. 1991. Research on the reading-writing relationship: Interactions, transactions, and outcomes. In Handbook on reading research, vol. 2, eds. R. Barr, M. Kamil, P. Mosenthal, & P.D. Pearson, 24680. New York: Longman.

Vernon-Feagans, L., D. Emanuel, & I. Blood. 1992. About middle ear problems: The effect of otitis media and quality of day care on children's language development. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 18: 395409.

Vukelich, C. 1994. Effects of play interventions on young children's reading of environmental print. Early Childhood Research Quarterly 9: 15370.

Wagner, R., & J. Torgesen. 1987. The nature of phonological processing and its causal role in the acquisition of reading skills. Psychological Bulletin 101: 192212.

Wells, G. 1985. The meaning makers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Whitehurst, G., D. Arnold, J. Epstein, A. Angell, M. Smith, & J. Fischel. 1994. A picture book reading intervention in day care and home for children from low-income families. Developmental Psychology 30: 67989.

Whitmore, K., & Y. Goodman. 1995. Transforming curriculum in language and literacy. In Reaching potentials: Transforming early childhood curriculum and assessment, vol. 2, eds. S. Bredekamp & T. Rosegrant. Washington, DC: NAEYC.

Wong Fillmore, L. 1991. When learning a second language means losing the first. Early Childhood Research Quarterly 6: 32346.



Click the "Endnotes" link above to hide these endnotes.

This joint NAEYC/IRA position statement is endorsed by the following organizations: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Association for Childhood Education International, Association of Teacher Educators, Council for Early Childhood Professional Recognition, Division for Early Childhood/Council for Exceptional Children, National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education, National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of State Directors of Special Education, National Council of Teachers of English, Zero to Three/National Center for Infants, Toddlers, & Families.The concepts in this joint position statement are supported by the following organizations: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association of School Administrators, American Educational Research Association, and the National Head Start Association.

Add comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Our Literacy Blogs

Dr. Joanne Meier
Dr. Joanne Meier
February 14, 2014
"What an astonishing thing a book is. It's a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person ..." —

Carl Sagan