Skip to content

Get Kids Reading at Level by 3rd Grade

“Use your words,” is a common refrain for teachers and parents trying to work with a child. But what if the child doesn’t have the right words? How can they express themselves if they don’t have the tools to do so?

Language proficiency at age 5 is the best indicator of reading proficiency at age 7. Reading proficiency at age 7 is the best indicator of high school graduation. This is regardless of poverty or parental education status. Students who cannot read proficiently at their grade level by the end of 3rd grade are four times more likely than their proficient counterparts to drop out of high school and are more likely to experience long-term behavioral and mental health issues.

In Georgia, only 32% of 4th graders are reading at the proficient level.

The good news is that we do not need fancy programs or expensive interventions. All of us have the tools necessary to help kids get the language tools they need.

#1 Talk to children

#2 Read to children 15 minutes a day

Parent, caregiver, and child interactions at home are key to helping kids develop language, learning, and social skills that are important for kindergarten readiness.

– The Mayo clinic

Investing in your child’s health and well-being at home can promote positive outcomes for learning to read, kindergarten readiness, and psychological health.  Here we expand on a few recommendations that were provided by the Mayo Clinic for parents to promote kindergarten readiness for their children.

Step 1: Read Together

Shared reading between parent and child using described as a catalyst from brain growth during child development. Parent and child shared reading has been shown to be associated with brain activation in regions that support vocabulary knowledge and visual imagery as a child is listening to stories. Shared reading builds language and cognitive skills that are important for future reading ability!

  • 15 min a day of reading starting at age 6 months is the number one way for kids to enter Kindergarten ready to learn to read.
  • Limiting screen time and increasing exposure to books and other reading materials between the ages of 3 and 5 leads to better neurological development. Library cards in Georgia are free for all Georgia residents through the Pines Library system. These library cards provide access library books and online resources. Some counties issue temporary e-cards if you are unable to apply for a permanent.
  • We acknowledge screen time happens and is sometimes the only way dinner gets cooked, laundry gets done, or parents get 10 min to themselves. Bearing this in mind, parents should apply closed captioning to as much programming as possible. Closed captioning improves word recognition, ability to decode language, and supports vocabulary acquisition.
  • Turn daily tasks into learning opportunities. Examples: placing labels on objects at home, having your child read labels at the grocery store, and reading signs out loud.
  • Access free online reading resources such as PBS Kids, Get Ready to Read, and Reach Out and Read.

Reading Tips

Based on brain development data, Read Aloud recommends reading to your child for at least 15 minutes per day. Thank you to Reach Out and Read for these amazing resources.

Books Read Aloud


Get an e-Library Card from GA Public Libraries

Step 2: Engage in Learning

Libraries offer educational programs and services that support childhood literacy development. Virtual museums allow children to learn about ancient civilizations and art with a click of a button! National Geographic Kids also encourages children to learn about the world’s animals through cool videos and games!

Step 3: Get Moving

Physical activity for 60 minutes per day can build stronger muscles and bones and reduce likelihood of poor mental health or disease. Physical activity could include doing jumping jacks or dancing to your favorite song with your loved-ones in the living room! Make it fun and exciting for everyone!

Step 4: Establish a Routine

Family routines has been shown to be linked to social and academic success for developing children. Implementing a schedule for eating, sleeping, physical activity, and down-time can be important for your child’s every day wellness. Routines can be fun and it’s okay to deviate from your schedule. Life is all about being flexible!

Sleep health is also important! Check out the National Sleep Foundation to find out your child’s age recommended sleep duration! 

Step 5: Enroll Your Child in Pre-K

The Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) works to address early education needs for children and their families in Georgia. They provide Pre-K programs, Georgia Childcare and Parent services (CAPS) and much more!

Frequently Asked Questions about Early Childhood Literacy

How does Pre-K an Kindergarten readiness contribute to reading level achievement in K-12?
Participating in high quality child care programs, prekindergarten, Early Head Start, and Head Start increase and improve a child’s literacy level before entering grade school. Pre-K standards should be aligned to K-12 readiness standards to ensure maximum success as a child transitions into grade school. Alignment strategies include improving teacher preparation and instruction and implementing developmentally appropriate assessments such as student interviews that gauge each child’s individual skill level. The effect of quality preschool persists over time. Studies have shown that preschool programs provide the foundational skills necessary for later academic success. For example, early counting skills during the transition to kindergarten can be a good indicator of a child’s future performance on advanced mathematics assessments.
What kinds of mental health and behavioral issues can affect children who do not meet literacy milestones?
Kids who have reading difficulties can experience anxiety or depression as a result of not meeting the appropriate milestones. Being unable to read or understand class content leads to decreases in self-worth and self-esteem, and an inability to express frustrations. Internalizing frustrations may lead to poor mental health. Externalizing frustrations may include misbehaving in school and getting into physical fights beginning a destructive cycle of detention, out-of-school suspension, and decreased class-time.
What is a home reading environment?
A home reading environment is a concept that is used to describe how much exposure children are having to books at home and/or if they are being read to at home by a parent, caregiver, or guardian. Parents and caregivers who read to or with children at home and that have books at home are associated with increased activation of certain parts of the brain that control visualization.
Factors that can influence a child’s reading and comprehension skills can include the home reading environment, maternal reading fluency, maternal mental health, and a child’s physical health.
What is the Get Georgia Reading campaign?
The Get Georgia Reading campaign was created in 2013 in response to low third grade reading achievement statistics throughout the state of Georgia. Private, public, state, and local organizations have come together to apply a four-pillar framework aimed at helping all Georgia third graders reach their corresponding reading level. The four pillars include access, language nutrition, productive learning climate, and teacher preparation and effectiveness.
Language nutrition refers to adult-child interactions that are rich in language and therefore critical for brain development. Access refers to children and families having access to support services and high-quality early childhood and elementary education. Productive learning climate refers to the impact of the school climate on social-emotional development, attendance, and engagement as well as long-term success. Teacher preparation and effectiveness refers to teachers being prepared to deliver high-quality, evidence-based instruction, specific to the unique needs of each child.
How does maternal reading and writing affect child literacy?
Lower maternal reading and writing levels are linked to decreased development of reading and language networks in a child’s brain. Mothers who are more proficient at reading are able to provide high quality reading that fosters the acquisition of reading skills in children.  Parental literacy programs can improve a parent’s reading and/or writing skills and, in turn, the skills of their children.
Why is maternal mental health significant for a child’s literacy development? At what stage does it have an impact?
Current research has not yet indicated that there is an exact age at which a child’s reading and comprehension skills are impacted by maternal mental health. However, maternal depression and anxiety can affect a child’s physical and mental health starting from the prenatal stage to adolescence. Infancy and toddlerhood may be marked by lower cognitive performance, anger, passivity, and less creative play. A child who is school-age may experience attention deficit or hyperactivity disorders, anxiety and/or depression that affects academic performance.
Does physical health contribute to childhood literacy?
Poor physical health can be a contributing factor to low child literacy if a child is chronically absent to due to illness or distracted by constantly feeling unwell. Low attendance means a student will miss out on key learning opportunities and peer interaction. School-age children can concentrate better and retain more information if they have a healthy diet. Exercise helps children develop coordination of large and small muscles which are important for daily tasks such as using scissors, writing, and getting ready for school.
What effect do home air quality and toxins have on development?
An often-overlooked risk factor for reading problems and learning disabilities is exposure to neurotoxicants in the environment. Many of these exposures occur prenatally.
Lead exposure via paint, water, or soil can also have varying degrees of impact on the development of the brain. Children living in homes built before 1950, or government housing are at an increased risk of being exposed to lead and experiencing permanent brain damage.
Polybrominated diphenyl (PBDE’s), a compound that used to be commonly uses as a fire-retardant in fabrics, furniture, electronics, wire insulation, and infant products, can induce structural and functional changes in the brain of a developing fetus. The compound crosses the placental barrier and impair the development of functional connectivity in the reading network of the brain. While they are being phased out – avoiding ripped or torn furniture with exposed foam, can cut down on exposure.
Columbia University Center for Children’s Environmental Health out together guides on how to avoid common toxins in the home.
What is the difference between “At Grade Level” and “Proficient”?
At Grade Level – understand the words, answer simple questions, get through the written material in a certain amount of time.
Proficient – Ability to read, write, and comprehend. Ability to make reasonable inferences from the material.
At Grade Level means that children can get by, proficient means they are qualified for high-skilled jobs.

Percentage of 4th grade Georgians in 2019 as measured by the NAEP Report Card
31% – at grade level
32% – proficient
What is the difference between rural and urban literacy rates?
The percentage of students achieving proficient learner status or above on the 3rd Grade ELA Milestones is disproportionately higher in urban areas, namely the Metro Atlanta area and surrounding suburbs compared to more rural north, middle, and south Georgia. In smaller urban areas like Savannah and Macon, there are pockets where 49.5 to <92.6% of third grade students are achieving proficient learner status or above.
Is there a racial disparity in reading rates?
Black and Hispanic children face significant barriers when it comes to literacy and education in the U.S. compared to their White and Asian counterparts. In 2016, the percentage of children under 18 who live in poverty was higher for Black and Hispanic children that it was for Asian and White children. The percentage of children receiving center-based care (e.g. daycare) was lowest among Hispanic families. In 2017, there was a 27-point difference in reading achievement scores between Black and White children. The difference in scores was 19 points between Hispanic and White Children. Black children also have higher rates of out-of-school suspension than any other ethnic group. The high school completion rate is highest among White students compared to Hispanic and Black students.


Learn More:

Article Attachments

Was this article helpful?

Ask A Scientist

Just your first name is alright. So we can write you back in our response article (think "Dear Sally" style)
In case we have any follow-up questions so we can properly answer yours

Science for Georgia is a 501(c)(3). We work to build a bridge between scientists and the public and advocate for the responsible use of science in public policy.

Back To Top