Growing Healthy Readers

A strong start. That’s what all third graders need to achieve reading proficiency. As early as age three, a child’s vocabulary can predict their likelihood of being a proficient reader by the end of third grade. We know that learning begins long before a child enters kindergarten, so if developmental challenges aren’t addressed early, that child has already fallen behind before he or she ever stepped foot in the school house. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), early childhood development encompasses the physical, social, emotional, and language domains of a child’s development. Each element, equally important, influences a child’s well-being, mental health, competency in literacy and numeracy, criminality, and economic participation throughout life. WHO states that, “what happens to the child in the early years is critical for the child’s developmental trajectory and lifecourse.”

The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading has identified five developmental and health priorities as community solutions to grow healthy readers in communities around the country. They include: providing prenatal care, comprehensive developmental screenings, follow-up and early intervention, oral health, asthma management, and nutrition/physical activity. At Turn the Page KC, we’re focused on bringing these solutions to Kansas City so that our kids enter kindergarten ready for success.

As a community, what are we doing to give kids a strong start?

We’re screening some children for developmental delays.
  • Many organizations including Parents as Teachers, Early Childcare Providers, Head Start Programs, and Pediatricians provide annual developmental screenings for kids ages 0-3 metro area.           
    • Cerner Healthe Kids and KUMB Score 1 for Health provide annual health screenings for many K-5 students in the metro area.
    • Currently, approximately 19,100 kids in the metro receive a health screening.
We’re providing follow-up (but we could be doing more). 
  • Missouri First Steps provides interventions for kids with 50% or more developmental delays.
  • Start at Zero is working to provide parent education informed by developmental screenings to families with children enrolled in four local charter schools.
  • The OneSight Vision Van provides visually impaired students with glasses.
  • Dental clinics at Sam Rogers, Swope, Seton Center, KC Care, Goppard Family Residency Clinic, and others provide free dental care for qualifying kids.
  • Children’s Mercy provides interventions through its Division of Developmental and Behavioral Sciences
We’re providing resources, but they are not always easy to access. 
  • Many babies receive their very first book when their parents pick-up their birth certificate.
  • The Family Conservancy widely encourages parents to Talk, Read, and Play with their babies every day and they provide resources to help parents incorporate brain building activities into their daily lives.
  • Many families receive one book a month for their kids (up to age 5) through the Dolly Parton Imagination Library
  • Parents can check out developmentally appropriate books and toys through dozens of United Way Success-by-Six Centers throughout the metro area.
  • Most library branches provide storytimes geared toward infants and toddlers.
  • Early next year, Turn the Page KC’s Early Learning Hub will open as a place to connect parents with the resources they need to provide their children with the best possible early childhood experiences.

What more could be done?
Currently, approximately 5,200 children in Kansas City are living with moderate to severe developmental delays. There are many more children living with unidentified and unaddressed issues. As a community, we must work to build the capacity of agencies currently providing developmental and health screenings so their services can continue to expand to serve more kids and serve them better. Unscreened children are at risk of falling through the cracks during the same time  they are building a foundation for reading proficiency. Even though we are collectively screening thousands of kids, we must remember that the follow-up to these screenings is key. If kids do not ultimately receive an intervention post screening, then we’ve failed to provide them with the tools they need to overcome issues identified in the screenings.

Turn the Page KC’s community work groups are working to streamline follow-up referrals so that families can easily access the resources the need to overcome the challenges their child may face. It is not only parents and early childhood providers who can provide interventions to developmental delays, especially mild to moderate ones. As a community, we can increase access to developmentally appropriate books, toys, apps, and other literacy rich resources. At Turn the Page, are working to make these things widely available, even in unconventional locations like barber shops and grocery stores.

As we continue to move the needle towards 3rd grade reading proficiency, we are working to find solutions to address the holistic needs of kids in our community, starting at birth. When they have a strong start, they are destined for a healthy and productive future. Contact Mike English ( if you are interested in learning more about how to grow healthy readers in our community.

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Published by

Jordan Frazier

Third grade teacher