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Childhood Wellness

For Children, Literacy Starts at Home

Parents’ reading and writing skills have a profound impact on their children’s academic success and beyond.

The numbers tell the story. Low literacy affects 43 million adults in the United States according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

“That’s one in six Americans,” explains Caitlin MacSeamus, senior marketing manager at ProLiteracy, the largest adult literacy and basic education membership organization in the nation. “Adults at the lowest literacy levels often struggle with daily tasks. Increasing adult literacy rates puts adults on track for economic mobility, thereby helping them best support their families.”  

A family affair

According to MacSeamus, children of less-educated parents are much more likely to become low-skilled adults. U.S. adults with low levels of education who have parents with low levels of education are 10 times more likely to have low skills than are those who have more highly-educated parents.

“We can bridge the gap for children by first acknowledging the interdependence of a child’s literacy with their adult supports. In order for children to have optimal success in their education journeys, we must also address the literacy levels of parents. “

MacSeamus says a mother’s reading skill is, in fact, the greatest determinant of her children’s future academic success, outweighing other factors such as neighborhood and family income. 

A hidden problem

“For many of us, the ability to read, write, and process information is as simple as breathing,” MacSeamus points out. “It‘s ingrained into our everyday activities, and it’s not something we could even think about. Many friends and family of adults with limited literacy skills are not even aware they have issues with basic reading, writing, and math.

“Unfortunately, there is a stigma attached to adults who struggle to read, as many who are uninformed assume all adults had their opportunity when young and failed.”

Raising awareness

“Literacy is intergenerational,” says MacSeamus. “Parents’ literacy skills are critical to meaningfully engaging with their children’s early reading abilities and, therefore, their educational trajectory.”

“Defined as the ability to understand evaluate, use, and engage with written text to participate in society to achieve one’s goals, literacy is the keystone to an individual’s personal success and well-being,” MacSeamus explains. “Beyond the fact that literacy is a basic human right, advocating for increased literacy is critical, because a more literate and educated society leads to a positive impact on so many broader social issues. Literacy rates are inextricably linked to issues such as income equality and mobility, immigration, employment rates, and healthcare.” 

Raising adult literacy rates

There are thousands of adult education providers across the country that can help with all levels of reading abilities.

“The vast majority are free and offer instruction at multiple times to accommodate the work and family schedules of adults,” MacSeamus explains. “If there is someone you know who may be looking to improve their skills, you can direct them to the National Literacy Directory. This website directory will connect them with a local literacy service provider. ProLiteracy works with literacy providers nationwide to help them best serve adults.” 

ProLiteracy believes that every adult has a right to literacy. To find out more about adult literacy education and explore volunteer opportunities, visit

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