Today, 25 million children in the United States are not proficient readers. While this is, indeed, a crisis, it’s one that I firmly believe we can solve. Reading is the fundamental building block required for life’s journey. From being college ready to launching a successful career or even managing personal finances, every child must first learn to read.

Reading opens doors to a whole world of possibilities. It prepares kids to take advantage of limitless opportunities and gives them the confidence to strive. Today, reading has stiff competition for our children’s attention, from instant access to all forms of media to more time spent on social platforms. The first step in helping children on a path to literacy and future success is to focus on ways to excite and engage them in the joy and satisfaction of reading.

The importance of book ownership and the ability of children to have a choice in the books they select are directly tied to reading motivation, confidence, and performance. In fact, Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) commissioned an independent meta-analysis in 2010 that found that giving children access to print materials is associated with positive behavioral, educational, and psychological outcomes. The report concluded that access to print improves children’s reading performance, is instrumental to helping children learn the basics of reading, increases reading frequency and length, and improves attitudes toward reading and learning.

At RIF, our model for impact is to provide choice and access to books along with engagement opportunities for these children and the educators, parents, and caregivers that nurture them. When kids are empowered to select their own books, it increases the likelihood they’ll actually read the book. The simple truth is that if children have access to books and literacy resources and the option to choose the books they want to read, they are more engaged. For example, if a student is passionate about wildlife and could select reading materials grounded in science and nature, this choice might spark an interest or ignite a passion that shapes the child’s future path. And, because they are learning to read, that passion can turn into reality.

(Next page: How to support literacy in the classroom)

About the Author:

Alicia Levi currently serves as president & chief executive officer of Reading Is Fundamental. Throughout her career, she has worked to transform the lives of children through smart strategies to improve academic outcomes. Prior to joining RIF in 2016, Levi served as vice president, education for the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and oversaw all of PBS’ educational efforts in developing digital education services for PBS, local public television stations, students, and teachers nationwide. She was responsible for PBS’ strategic partnerships, digital media production, professional development, and other emerging products and services that support the PreK-16 education market. Before joining PBS, Levi served as vice president, educational publishing at Discovery Education, helping design comprehensive educational media solutions for K-12 classrooms.