The Not So Secret to Success in School


As a parent and a teacher, I’m often asked about keys to success in education. Although there are many factors to discuss, including daily attendance, positive relationships with teachers and peers, being engaged in classroom activities, in reality, none of these matter if students don’t have basic literacy skills.

In short, research has noted again and again that early literacy (more specifically vocabulary acquisition) is the key to long-term academic achievement. “Many research studies show that vocabulary is the best single indicator of intellectual ability and an accurate predictor of success in school.” (Elley, W. B. 1988) But how do children, especially young children, acquire vocabulary?

According to an article by,  there are three key methods:

  1. Listening and taking part in oral conversations with adults using a large range of vocabulary
  2. Being read to (i.e. by an adult or older reader)
  3. Reading independently

Notice how reading comes up in two of those methods? Essentially, the habit of reading needs to be emulated by parents/guardians at an early age, then slowly transferred to the child when they are ready for independent reading. But how often should you read with your child or ask them to read independently?

Daily – or as often as you can, for at least 20 minutes. “Starting in kindergarten, if a student reads 20 minutes a day at home, they will hear 1.8 million words per year. They will have read for 851 hours by 6th grade and on standardized tests, they will likely score better than 90% of their peers.” (

Although reading may not seem like the most important thing in your family’s schedule next to the packed calendar of activities and responsibilities, it is the single most important thing you can do to ensure your children’s educational success. Setting a regular time daily to read, like early morning, after school, or before bed,  will ensure that the entire family acknowledges the importance of reading and establishes the habit in your household.

Remember, children look to their parents and/or older members of the family for guidance and leadership. If reading is not modeled at home, kids won’t see it as important either.Final word? Set aside 20 minutes a day to read to (or beside) your child today, and tomorrow, and the next day!