As children enter school, it is perceived that this is where the learning journey begins. That a child’s empty plates of knowledge will be filled with nourishment that only a school can provide. But what if those plates of knowledge already have something on it before schooling begins and is it good or bad knowledge? New analysis from the Centre of Independent Studies reveals that 1 in 5 children who have started school this year don’t have the necessary skills required to learn at a proper rate. The study indicates that a child’s vocabulary is a strong indicator of their ability to succeed in their schooling life. This negative literary knowledge runs the risk of trickling down into other subjects as the need to understand key concepts in reading, spelling and writing can affect a child’s ability to understand and learn.

Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, is using these findings to emphasise the importance of reading to our youth at a young age. He urges parents to become an active part of the solution to a literacy rate that has been falling behind other countries since the year 2000.

“We’re absolutely at a critical point where we do need to ensure that Australian parents recognise that they all have responsibilities that sit alongside what happens in an early learning context and in a school environment,”

Education Minister Simon Birmingham

Developing crucial knowledge in literacy during early development is not a one way street of vocal learning, but a balance of building a child’s reading and writing through communicating and reading with children. Centre for Independent Studies research fellow, Dr Jennifer Buckingham, says that children begin to read and learn vocabulary through concepts like under and over word sounds and expose themselves to new words and meanings that spoken language doesn’t properly teach.

It is all about giving children the whole picture going into school. Children in the early development stage are incredibly observant of the world around them and will imitate the traits and quality of communication they are surrounded by. It is at this point that a child solidifies how they communicate and take in information and once that knowledge hardens on the mental plate of a child, no school claiming they have the cleaning power of a dishwasher can remove this foundation of learning; they will only add more knowledge onto a poor foundation.

The Facts 

  • 20 per cent of Australian students are deficient in vocabulary on entering school, rising to 30 per cent for those in disadvantaged areas.

  • Parents in professional employment speak 2000 words an hour to their toddlers, compared to 600 words an hour for those in welfare-dependent homes.

  • Children in advantaged households have heard 30 million more words than their peers by age 4 and developed a spoken vocabulary twice as big.

  • Reading to children three to five days a week can advance a child’s reading ability by six months for ages 4 and 5.

  • Reading to children six or seven days a week can advance a child’s reading ability by 12 months.

But rest assured there is something that can be done. It all comes down to reading and communicating to your children and the quality in which this is done at an early stage of development. Having clear and detailed talks with your child on anything from what is for breakfast to what noise a cow makes from a young age will create a process of reading and observation. Have an open dialogue during the early stages to help address areas of confusion for your child and to adjust them to quality communication methods.

Reading to your child at an early age bolsters a child’s understanding of words and meaning by showing them how they are used in practice. Children will observe, recognise and analyse stories they read. The ability to see, process and question lets children grasp reading, writing and spelling at an early stage, not to mention the creative minds you’ll be creating with your stories of dragons and princesses.

“In the same way you immunise your child against infectious disease, the best way to immunise your child against future reading failure is to read to them every day from a very young age,”

Murdoch Children’s Research Institute researcher Frank Oberklaid.

Parents of today have an advantage through the abundance of resources from books, to educational television and even educational developmental programs online. The ingredients for setting a healthy plate of knowledge are all around, all that’s left for you the parents is to plate up.


Marszalek, J 2016, The Courier Mail. January 31 2016.  Jessica Marszalek: Blog.  Available from: <>  [5th February 2016].